The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, December 22, 2002

An enchanting world
Jaswant Kaur

Rusty: the Boy From the Hills
by Ruskin Bond. Puffin by Penguin Books, New Delhi.
Pages VIII+209. Rs 199.

Rusty: the Boy From the HillsRUSTY—the sweet, quiet and sensitive boy from Dehra Dun—is back, this time in a different style, in a new package.

If R.K. Narayan—the Malgudi master—portrayed the peculiarities and ironies of life in as sensitive a manner as possible, Ruskin Bond turns an ordinary of life into an extraordinary story with an equal ease. Sometimes making the reader laugh with his self-poking, gentle humour and sometimes arousing his sympathy with his subtle depiction of human suffering.

A writer of substance, Bond has a strong liking for Dehra Dun, its surroundings, its people and Rusty—his "alter ego." Ever since his appearance in "The Room on the Roof," Rusty has figured quite often in his stories.

The book under review is an attempt to bring these stories under one title and in the order they actually happened. First in a series, it takes us back to the pre-independence Dehra Dun where Rusty lives with his grand parents.


Situated on the outskirts of the valley, Rusty’s house is surrounded by trees of different kinds—limes, mangoes, oranges, guava, eucalyptus, jacaranda and the Persian Lilac. His grandfather, a lean active man of about 60 and a retired officer from the Indian Forest Service, has a variety of pets, including a monkey, a tortoise, a python and a Great Indian Hornbill.

His father works in a rubber firm in Burma and his mother no longer lives with them. The household consists of women—his grandmother and the visiting aunts who are not very appreciative of his grandfather’s hobby.

All this forms the small world of Rusty who spends most of his time with the pets and his grandfather. Though not the adventurous type, strangest of things keep happening around him, which keeps the reader glued to the book till end.

The most representative story of all, and arguably the best, is "Monkey Trouble." Tutu, the female monkey, enters a jewellery shop where Aunt Ruby and her fiancé, Rocky, go to buy a ring. Following the example of others, Tutu tries on a necklace. No sooner does the shopkeeper realise than it makes her way into the crowded street, followed by Rusty, Rocky and the angry shopkeeper. Others, who have no idea of what it is all about, too, join the chase. Finally, Tutu, tired as it was, flings the necklace into the canal, much to the relief of the jeweller who ultimately retrieves it.

The monkey trouble ends on a happy note. Aunt Ruby gets married and is all set for her honeymoon, of course without the troublesome Tutu. But there is more for Rusty who leaves for Java to visit his father.

Back in Dehra, there is Uncle Ken, granny’s nephew, who cannot stay on a job for more than two months. Ultimately he decides to stay with Aunt Emily in Lucknow where he impersonates, Bruce Hallam, a famous cricketer, for a free lunch at a match. After hitting a boundary, he goes back to the pavilion with a satisfaction of having a sumptuous meal and adding another four runs to the cricketer’s grand total. Bravo! Uncle Ken. Be it the free tonga rides with Bansi Lal, the mysterious ghost in the garden, or his friendship with an unfortunate princes in an isolated tower, Rusty’s life is full of activity.

Things, however, are destined to change. Rusty’s father dies of malarial fevers. His mother, who never cared for him, suddenly appears and takes him away to her house. His world is shrunk to a single room, a four-walled structure of cement and bricks.

After about a few months of restlessness, Rusty goes back to his granny’s house. Half-heartedly, they sell their house (his grandfather had passed away by then) and leave for England. However, by a strange turn in circumstances, Rusty comes back to Dehra after his grandmother’s death.

Rusty’s world is full of enchantment, we are lucky to experience it, though in small doses. Written in a lively style, these stories show Bond’s love for nature and his capacity to derive pleasure from all that is around him. Even the tiniest of creatures insects—do not escape his eye. The book is a reminder to a world which has all but forgotten what nature has in store for it.