This charming book delivers exactly what it promises: an indulgent account of the Dehradun that Ruskin Bond knew and grew up in. This is a small collection of short stories and essays that are mainly divided into his childhood memories and those of his youth. Through them you learn about the life of the boy Ruskin; the aftermath of his father's death and the mostly lonely life of a boy who was at odds with his mother and stepfather. For Ruskin, his true friends live in the big Banyan tree: the squirrels and the birds and the white rat and the lady squirrel and their white squirrel babies! You learn to smile at the image of the boy Ruskin lounging up on the tree with an apple and a book in his hand on hazy afternoons, keeping an eye on the road below. He writes with fond memories of his various friends: Somi, Dipi, Dal and Bansi the tonga driver.
Reading this book it was possible even for me, a person who's never been to Dehra to picture the beautiful, sleepy town that it was towards the end of the British Raj. Ruskin Bond has so wonderfully described a town and a people that did not quite know what to make of themselves when the rest of the country was caught in the throes of the independence. Dehra in the late 1940s was full of English expats who were caught between worlds: they had nothing to go back to in England and they couldn't remain in India. As you read you get the sense that in this magical, Ruskin Bondy place, time has frozen and you can see the lichi trees and blue mint, lush woods and deep pools with clear pebbled beds.
There are stories that made me laugh and some so heartbreakingly longing that they made me quite weepy. There were funny ones; poignant ones that give you glimpses into the life of a man, who, even know lives within striking distance of his beloved Dehra. Some stories that I think deserve special mention are: "Dehradun - Winter of '45", "The Old Gramaphone", "The Photograph", "As time goes by", "Meena", "In search of a winter garden" and "The Dilaram Bazaar".
This is a book to be savoured slowly; in bed at night with the monsoon raging outside or on a long bus ride to while away time. The writing might lack finesse at times but it is more than compensated in the beauty of the pictures he paints and the emotions he evokes.
As I was reading, I asked myself about the Dehradun of today. What is Dehra like? Has it become like that other heartbreak story from down south - Ooty? I long to go to Dehra but I am scared because you see, I want to go to Ruskin Bond's Dehra. That place with the empty roads and lichi trees; when the pace of life was not so frenetic and when people were more forgiving.
I am in love with this book. With all its faults, yes, I am so in love with this book.