Book Review: Roads to Mussoorie

much to like about Ruskin Bond’s Roads to Mussorie

There is much to like about Ruskin Bond’s Roads to Mussorie. It is like a warm cup of tea on a cold winter morning, something you’d love to have when you are on a hill station. One of the finest Indian authors takes us through his personal memory lanes as he talks about Mussorie, Dehradun (Dehra), Landour, and nearby places, as he walked, read, talked, ate and lived those streets. It’s a beautiful timeless collage.

“I walk among the trees outside my windows often, acknowledging their presence with a touch of my hand against their trunks.”

He talks about the forgotten decades and the roads and the various journeys he had taken as a youngster at an idle pace. There is much to savour as you read about the hikes and the trails that are either forgotten, or are no longer existent. The landscapes have changed as the nature of the tourist economy has changed the very soul of Mussorie. Yet, even for those who have walked those trails holding someone’s hands talking about sweet nothings, this memoir might just add a few more colors to their memories – of that forgotten birch or the unheard coo.

“I think a person who has subdued settled despair in his mind would all of a sudden feel a kind of bounding and exalting cheerfulness which will be imparted to his frame by the atmosphere of Duiri Tal”

“I supposed Hinduism comes closest to being a nature religion. Rivers, rocks, trees, plants, animals and birds, all play their part, both in mythology and in everyday worshop. This harmony is most evident in these remote places, where gods and mountains co-exist.”

He talks about the idiosyncracies of the mountain life in these regions. The various people, the permanent fixtures and how they have evolved over the last few decades. There is the eye of the keen observer, the chutzpah of a seasoned storyteller, and the personal and anecdotal references of a monk. There is much humour as Bond takes us through his own life, the pictures, the theater manager, Mrs. Santra. Even funnier is the section where he relives the weirdly eclectic mix of people who come visit him – like couples seeking blessing from an old bachelor, or people asking him to sign books as Mark Twain, Daniel Defoe, or… Ian Botham.

The book is short and warm. It leaves you with a nice fuzzy feeling, wanting to take a vacation. Preferably, one with no return planned. It doesn’t romanticize Mussorie. Or any other place for that matter. It just makes you watch as you would (or should) when you become one with your surroundings. It is as much nature as it is a small city life. Or, still life, as an art connoisseur may refer to it as.

“Always a creature of impulse, my life has been shaped more by a benign providence than by any system of foresight or planning.”

The quips are as one has come to expect out of a Ruskin Bond book. They are not coming at you furiously. Yet, they are never too far out. The sense of humour is dry and quirky. Mr. Bond is no stand up comedian. He is the guy you’ would want telling stories in an intimate setting. Lacing it with humor, never to let the humor take over the story, never to let the story over take the need for some humor in our life. His portrayal of characters is as nuanced as Premchand’s (for those who have read Hindi literature too). Through anecdotes, he makes you look inside their souls.

There is an entire chapter dedicated to watching cinema at a theater. Or pictures, as many would call them in small towns. Lets go to a picture. Rather than talk about the chapter and spoil, I will leave you with a few lines:

“And until the lights came on at the end of the show you were in their world, far removed from the troubles of one’s own childhood or the struggles of early manhood.

Watching films on TV cannot be the same. People come and go, the power comes and goes, other viewers keep switching the channels, food is continually being served or consumed, family squabbles are ever present, and there is no escape from those dreaded commercials that are repeated…”

As I said, there is much to like about this book. It’s pace falters every now and then, and it may not even be close to Ruskin Bond’s best works. But, given the weather, it is a perfect read.

Title: Roads to Mussoorie
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher/ ImprintRupa Publications
Pages: 125
Genre/ Sub-Genre: Fiction/ Drama
Rating: 4.50 of 5.00
Reviewed for: Personal Copy

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