BOOK TITLE: Our Trees still grow in Dehra
AUTHOR: Ruskin Bond
GENRE: Non - Fiction / Semi autobiographical essays
NUMBER OF PAGES: 108
SERIES / STANDALONE: Standalone
HOW I GOT THIS BOOK: A timely gift from a fellow bibliophile, this book was the Book Of The Month in a book club I belong to. Some gifts are precious because they arrive at the right time, bringing with them immense joy. A Ruskin Bond classic from a great friend? I am more than happy.
Fourteen engaging stories from one of India's master story-tellers Semi-autobiographical in nature, these stories span the period from the author's childhood to the present. We are introduced, in a series of beautifully imagined and crafted cameos, to the author's family, friends, and various other people who left a lasting impression on him. In other stories we revisit Bond's beloved Garhwal hills and the small towns and villages that he has returned to time and again in his fiction. Together with his well-known novella, A Flight of Pigeons (which was made into the film Junoon), which also appears in this collection, these stories once again bring Ruskin Bond's India vividly to life.
The book was small, comfortably small. The print was small and had very less paragraph spacing, but all those minor issues did not matter. The mere excitement of holding a Ruskin Bond book, a gift at that, compensated for just about every thing. I found faults, those that I will carefully record here, but then the overall effect of a fan girl did not fade. The majestic cover, of a tree silhouette against a darkening twilit sky was the perfect cover for the book.
Some book demand reviews to be written, not only for praises, but also for thrashing. But then there are some other books that make you want to shout out to the world, tell other readers and maybe casual passers by why you liked it so much that you would want others to read it too. Then there are books that will give you quotes to take back with you, those snippets that you will remember long after the book has been read and take back with you, to be remembered at different moments, making you realise that some books are forever. The review for this book is going to be in parts, one for each anecdote.
From the first quote, the book attracted me.
"The town's grown hard, none know me now or knew my mother's laughter. Most men come home as strangers."
More was said in this quote than in any other part of this book. This book is about Bond's memories, those that he treasures and brings back from his childhood and early adulthood. Each anecdote is a gem by itself.
Maplewood : An Introduction
'If it has gone, don't write and tell me. I'd rather not know.'
In these words, he expresses the pain of someone who has grown out of his old native town and is ruing it. Though it is called an introduction, this clearly shows that the author pines for Maplewood the place, as much for the people.
Escape from Java
The story details Bond's escape from Java during World War 2. He speaks about how he and his father escape Java and how the war changed the outlook of the Javanese people.
'Although the Dutch were unpopular with the Javanese people, ther was no ill feeling against individual Europeans. I could walk safely through the streets.'
One of his biggest concerns about evacuating Java was leaving behind Sono, his best friend. The childish enthusiasm and innocence is evident in Sono's words.
"We will go everywhere, and no one can stop us."
The Bent Double Beggar.
The story of Ganpat, who has words of wisdom to give. The story of how he got his wealth and subsequently his bump. This keeps the folklore and legend alive, reveling in the simple beauty of the tales native to a village. The bent beggar gives more wisdom and profound words than most philosophers.
'They didn't believe the truth (who does?), but it gave them something to think about and talk about and they left me in peace for a few days.'
'It is difficult to love your enemies. Much simpler not to have enemies.'
'If all the troubles in the world could be laid down in one big heap, and everyone was allowed to choose one trouble, we should end up by picking up our old trouble again.'
'In this life, all our desires are fulfilled, on the condition that they do not bring the happiness we expected from them.'
A story where we get a glimpse of untouchablity from the eyes of a ten year old. In the author's own words, this was his first short story, written when he was sixteen. A tale of how little kids are taught prejudice, rather than be born with it. The story of a 'cleaner boy' who is an untouchable and how Bond ends up befriending him.
All creatures great and Small
An engaging narrative that speaks about how Bond's grandfather raised exotic pets in the house. Bringing about the brilliance of those old days. His love for animals and where that came from is quite evident in this narrative that won my heart. It is, by far, the most interesting story ever, and one that made me smile more than once.
'Mail ponies, he [Grandfather] told me, were difficult animals, always attempting to turn around and get into the coach with the passengers.'
The episode with the ticket collector tickled my funny bone, while the one with Aunt Mabel and the python amused me.
'Aunt Mable had another set of hysterics when she saw him [the python] admiring her from under a cusion.'
'... Then he [the python] was back on the dressing table, admiring himself in the mirror.'
Coming Home to Dehra
Having read about Bond's childhood, this story that dealt with his experiences in boarding school and how the death of his father affected him, was a sad and poignant one that made me hate his headmaster as much as he did, just with his words. This is easily the saddest story, with the tale of a small boy who had lost his only caring parent and had to live with a mother and a step father who couldn't care less.
'I suppose if one is present when a loved one dies, or sees him dead and laid out and later buried, one is convinced of the finality of the thing and finds it easier to adapt to the changed circumstances.'
What's your Dream
A very short story that speaks about dreams and the importance of having them in moderation. An English speaking beggar approaches Bond and talks about having a dream. Bond, whose biggest dream was to have a room of his own at that time, responds so and receives one of the best life lessons of all time.
"...because it's so easy to lose it all, to let someone take it away from you. Or you become greedy, or careless and start taking everything for granted, and - Poof! - suddenly the dream has gone, vanished!"
The Last Tonga Ride
His innocent account of his life with his grandmother and his tonga rides with Bansi, the tonga man and his 'dost'. Bond's classic writing is evident in the way he talks about Ayah, and seriously declares that she is jealous about his friendship with a lowly tonga driver because she did not have a tonga for herself invokes a smile that only a child could bring. He also talks about his friendship with inanimate objects, the first being a tree.
'The tree made the first move, the first overture of friendship. It allowed a leaf to fall.'
Bond's celebration of Christmas in his lodgings, with his friend George from Trinidad brings to mind the scenes as they would have happened. The first kiss he shared with Lucy and how she subsquently moved off gave a strange magic to the title and made it much more memorable.
'Little did I realise that an invitation to George would be interpreted as an invitation to all George's friends and relations - in fact anyone who had known him in Trinidad - but this was the way he looked at it.'
The Last Time I saw Delhi
This story brought back favorite memories of developing photographs from negatives and how Bond gifts a developed photo of his grandmother to his mother while she is in the hospital, dying. He speaks about the charm of Delhi and the story of its Punjabi folk in the slightly amused tone he takes. His conversation with his mother highlights the feelings of a child of separated parents in a subtle, seemingly dispassionate manner.
'In Delhi there is a feverish desire to be first in line, the first to get anything... This is probably because no one ever gets around to dealing with second comers.'
The Good Old Days
A nostalgic tale of 'the good old days' everyone likes to reminisce about. Bond visits Miss Mackenzie and gets talking with her, carefully gossiping about people they knew. His interest in listening to stories is quite obvious and makes the reader wonder that maybe, just maybe, that was why he was so successful as a writer too, one that managed to pen beautiful stories that held the imagination of many people captive.
"Fatal", I said, "Never admonish a drunk."
Miss Mackenzie ignored me and carried on.
Binya Passes By
The quintessential 'music in the hills' story where the author is captivated by a song he hears in the hillside, sung by a simple village girl. The story brings out the beauty of the hills and has every element to make it one that everyone will relate to. Of how a totally unexpected person would make a huge impact in your life that you will never be able to forget them.
'Binya... I take your name again and again - as thought by taking it, I can make you hear me, come to me, walking over the moonlit mountain.'
As Time Goes By
A story of Somi and Dal, of diaries that had memories and little boys who go on sneaky midnight adventures and revel in them. Bond sees someone who brings his childhood to his mind, and it shows just how suddenly these memories could surface and how they are all just under the surface.
'7th September : 'Do you like elephants?' Somi asked me.
'yes, when they are tame'.'
From Small Beginnings.
A beautiful quote by Rudyard Kipling began this story. In this story, we get to know about Prem, who, we know from previous accounts, was an important part of Bond's life and therefore deserves a story of his own. Bond is so moved by his presence that he writes poems, verses that would speak volumes about friendship.
If I am not for myself,
Who will be for me?
And if I am not for others,
What am I?
And if not now, when?
Death of the Trees
Short, shocking and moving - about how building roads for comfort and convenience would destroy trees and the quiet of a village as it is. But the life moves on, people get used to the comfort. Perhaps Bond ended this story the best.
'Never mind. Men come and go; the mountains remain.'
The Bar that Time Forgot
The beginning of the story confused me for a moment because I had gotten used to the first person narratives. But starting like the account of a Maharani frightened of cockroaches. It talks about one of Bond's favorite haunts and how it lay forgotten after years.
'The word gay had yet to be used in any sense other than happy in those days'
Bond's experiences in Jodhpur, on deserts and snakes. A fitting end to a beautiful book.
WHAT I LIKED:
- The stories and the language
- The simple tone and the casual narrative that has the moving power to take the reader back in time.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER:
- The font size and typeface are a bit straining on the eyes
A book that stays in with me, in more ways than one. A brilliant read, gives me the satisfaction of having read a nice book after a long time!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ruskin Bond's first novel, The Room on the Roof, written when he was seventeen, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. Since then he has written several novels (including Vagrants in the Valley, A Flight of Pigeons and Delhi Is Not Far), essays, poems and children's books, many of which have been published by Penguin India.
He has also written over 500 short stories and articles that have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies.
He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1993 and the Padma Shri in 1999.
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BOOK LINKS: Amazon