Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Book Review - "Tales of the Open Road" by Ruskin Bond

  There are great writers in this world who have given something new to the world in the form of their writings. Among them there are two classes : one whom you can't help but admire for their beautiful penmanship, and the second with whom you, unconsciously, fall in love. For the second class, admiration comes after love. The speciality of writers like J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkein is that you can't help but fall in love with their writings, the worlds that they have created, beautifully crafted and designed. You marvel at their ingenuity and their ability to grasp your soul with a brilliant involvement.

Ruskin Bond
Picture Courtesy : Rusty's Photo
Among them in my list there is another guy who isn't a fantasy writer but who is so much in love with his own world that you must also fall in love with the world that he pens down and the view that helps him and you, through him, access the vista of that world. That guy is none other that our dear old Rusty or Ruskin Bond. His writings soothe your soul when you are down and give you a hope that apart from all the bad, there is another aspect of life which is always going to remain beautiful and pleasant no matter what. Those things are nature's bounties, its people, their general goodness, animals in the wild, rhododendrons of the mountainous valley, glitters of dew on them with the freshness they bring, a little girl who is very happy to see all this and an old soul who has found himself after being lost in these. When you read a Ruskin Bond, in all there experiences perhaps you have never been there, but you find yourself becoming a Ruskin Bond.  I have been in love with whatever he pens down from the time I have started to appreciate the small things in life amidst all the crisis we face everyday. The bad thing in this love, as in any other love, is that I can't find a flaw in him which as a book critic, that I am trying to be on this blog, I should be, as the tradition dictates. But I generally don't do that well in presence of a dictatorship. SO, please pardon me if you find lack of criticism boring or un-deserving but such is my love for Rusty. I apologize for the length as well! With your forgiveness, lets move forward. :)

This post is dedicated to 'Tales of the Open Road' by, yes, our dear old Ruskin Bond. As would be anyone for to guess, this book is a collection of travel pieces. It has been written over a time line of fifty years, and hence is as rich and as varied in point of view as fifty years of experience may entail one to, but united in the essence. The spirit is that of a wanderer who is in love with his wanderings and his places and peoples of wanderings...

The book starts with tales of highways and the GT Road, and Rusty takes us to those silent corners of the well trodden dusty road where he just spotted a cheetal, or just missed a leopard who was supposed to be there as per his driver. He, then, narrates his own story of running away from school with his friend Daljit, how they posed as tourists to avoid detection once and some long lost sikh relative of a friendly truck driver another time to make that journey which will just be a start to their grand voyages to Rome, New York, Dubai, London and so many exotic places in the world. He discovers in his journey the people of India and added to the cunning they let grow in you, he realizes some soft but some bitter truths about the roads , less or more but, travelled and unforeseeable surprises when the supposed and real ends do not meet. There are splashes of joy, spatters of disappointment, marvellous young ideas of adventurous school boys and a simple innocence that bind you to the tale. Rusty's roads are more about the bliss of travel rather than the ecstasy of the destination which not many times end in joie de vivre.

Picture Courtesy : Book Cover

Then follows the plain tales of the plain towns. Beer at Chutmalpur or the Rose Rum Factory of Shahjahanpur which brings back the forgotten nostalgia of Bond grandfather on his fore-passed road tales before 1857, and a cheer(s)-ful remembrance to the to the famous Solan Brewery in Simla. He talks about the lesser known Monsoon in Meerut in a crummy guest-house that belongs to sole survivor of the forgotten tribes of lost Englishmen in independent India. He talks about his summer road rages in Delhi. How he could never fall in love with Delhi but found a temporary respite in scorching summer walks in the city and how he always yearned for the hills while being there. Then he goes to Agra, but remembers more of the kites and the kite-makers and the endangered species of kite-fliers; not the Taj Mahal and its grand tribute to 'love'; but a lazy afternoon conversation with a young boy he met while searching for a shade beside. Then he ascribes the pilgrims' of Ganga, the devotees of Rhishikesh and Haridwar, his inquisitive friend Kamal and the Delphic sadhus they met on their travel. Oh so much of India! Can you take it any more?

Finally he comes back to the hills. He is at peace there. He reflects full of nostalgia on the changes that have hugged the high himalayan hills of India. Once sitting on an erstwhile rat infested royal chair in a wayside teashop, he tries to understand its owner whose life, health plans are all dependent on a road that will be build in god knows how many years and a few buses that will pass through that road; and how there is still hope till there are a few bank managers in unknown villages who get all excited about a freshly blossomed flower. Passing along a moonlit dark alley in his city he comes to tryst with one of the profound truths about humanity and succumbs to his Hillel-ian ethics that say,
“If I am not for myself
who will be for me?
If I am not for others
what am I?
If not now, when?”

Now coming to it, what do you think of Ganga? A holy river revered by Hindus, embraced by Indian customs and beliefs of rituals and purity although ecological reports differ! But how does Rusty's Ganga looks? She is not just a river, but almost a character full of fun and frolic, dangerous and lovable. She almost imbibes the personality of the path it traverses ('or is it vice-versa?') before pouring herself down at the Bay of Bengal. The gradient of her character and transformations, somewhere smooth and somewhere abrupt, amazes the reader. Alaknanda geographically the true-born one is the more atrocious one. She moves with an unrest and roars as the thunder on her way to Devprayag. She is as scary as she is temperamental. Whereas Bhagirathi, traditionally the more respected one due to her patience and control and choice of the path that reflects her beauty and greenery, is as if the elder sister, the calmer one, who finally meets Alaknanda and both assume the character that the plains' devotee worship as mother Ganga. You can almost feel his love and admiration for the attractive Mandakini ('the river, not the actress though both lovely beauties to look at and admire!' ;) ).

Living in the aftermath of the 2013 Uttarakhand tragedy, you can relate to how the characters of these rivers, just as Rusty described, were fateful in deciding the destiny of the devotees. That is the genius of the writer and the prowess of his observation. The description of the deodars, silver-firs, spruces along the coasts, the silky rocks polished by the raging river, and a writer's judgment on her character, the usual Indian tourist trivialities and so on are what attracts you to this trail of Ganges, and you will always feel that connection re-establish when either Rusty or you return there one day.

You can read Mr. Ruskin Bond's tales as if you were there, beside him, as a silent observer on these trails, and then the wanderlust strikes you. If you once fall in love with Bond, there will always be a part of his character that will live inside you no matter where life takes you.

I give Ruskin Bond's “Tales of the Open Road” full 5 stars.

So, you are packing your bags now, right?

Happy reading! :)