Sunny skies and good vibes: Room on the roof

Room on the roof (1956) is a timeless classic and the first book written by beloved writer, Ruskin Bond. The book is the story of a sixteen-year-old Anglo-Indian boy, who is an orphan and is forced to live with his guardian in the claustrophobic European parts of Dehradun. He is  rebel of all sorts and his tender age makes him react in ways we all have done and that makes the story so special. In the introduction written by Ruskin Bond for the book, he has mentioned that he has never tried to change a word or made any revisions because he wanted this book to be about adolescence by an adolescent. This book will remind you of an adolescent  inside all of us who still longs to live its dreams, above love, friends, family, career or about touring the world. Fasten the seat belts and get ready to go on a roller coaster ride filled with nostalgia and relentless charm.

About the author

Born in Kasauli (Himachal Pradesh) in 1934, Ruskin Bond grew up in Jamnagar (Gujarat), Dehradun, New Delhi and Simla. His first novel, The Room on the Roof, written when he was seventeen, received the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. Since then he has written over 500 short stories, essays and novellas (including Vagrants in the Valley and A Flight of Pigeons) and more than forty books for children. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India in 1993, the Padma Shri in 1999, and the Delhi government’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.
He lives in Landour, Mussoorie, with his extended family.

Premise of the book

The book revolves around a character named Rusty which sounds very much similar to the first name of Ruskin Bond and gives some nostalgic and poignant accounts from Bond’s life. You can find this character repeating often in the books of Bond and keeping this in mind, a TV series was made by Doordarshan named “Ek tha Rusty” which is a lovely series and you should give it a watch if you love Ruskin Bond. The story is set in favorite place of Ruskin, Dehra but we don’t get to explore Mussorie much in this book, it’s more situated in Dehra.

Also read: Land of dreams, Queen of hills, , Mussorie 

The cover of the book aptly describes major setting of the book. A barsati, nature, and a lonely Rusty with a longing for friendship and love. The story starts by sketching the character Rusty, an Anglo-Indian living in Dehra with his guardian, Mr. Harrison, who is nothing but abusive and authoritative. Coming from a walk one day , he finds three kids, Somi, Ranbir and Suri and they later turn out to be the anchors of his life, especially Somi. He gets to explore the bazaar with them, taste chaat and golgappas with them in the place which is forbidden for Anglo-Indians- the Baazar. When his guardian finds it out, Rusty gets a beating so severe that he isn’t able to sit or sleep on his derriere.

It’s the festival of Holi and Ranbir invites him to play Holi but Rusty is hesitant as he will be punished badly if his guardian finds out.

“Holi, the festival of colours, the arrival of spring, the rebirth of the new year, the awakening of love, what were these things to him, they did not concern his life, he could not start a new life, not for one day…. “

But somehow Ranbir persuades him to come and he spends the entire day playing colors, roaming outside and eating his favorite things. The trouble begins once he reaches home and his guardian tries to punish him again with the cane. But something else happens

“Rusty grabbed Mr. Harrison by the collar and pushed him backwards, until they both fell over on to the floor. With one hand still twisting the collar, the boy slapped his guardian’s face. Mad with pain in his own face, Rusty hit the man again and again, wildly and awkwardly”

Rusty runs away from home, all alone with no money or shelter. Somi helps him by keeping Rusty in his home and gets him a job of an English tutor to Mr. Kapoor’s son, Kishen. Rusty finds a new life with the Kapoor’s. He has a place to live, food to eat and company to cherish and that’s how he gets the room, the room on the roof. The room becomes an elementary part of Rusty’s life as he sits there to welcome squirrels who enter and exit as per their wish and the rain, the rain which enters Rusty’s room as he does not want to close the window shut because the flower branch comes inside his room through the window.

Also read: Our trees still grow in Dehra by Ruskin Bond 

Rusty soon develops a deep connection with Kishen and his mother, Meena who is still in her youth but is forced to live a sad life with her alcoholic husband, Mr. Kapoor. Rusty loves Meena from the day he sees her.

“I am bored”, Meena said, “so I am going to give you a haircut. Do you mind?”

“I will do anything to please you. But don’t take it all off.”

“Don’t you trust me?”

“I love you.”

They share an intimate moment while being in a jungle on a picnic. While everybody is busy eating or playing, Meena and Rusty are in a jungle and finding solace in each other’s company.

“But he has unable to release his hold and Meena made no effort to free herself. She laughed into his face but he stifled her laugh with his lips. It was a clumsy, awkward kiss, but fiercely passionate, and Meena responded, tightening the embrace, returning the fervor of the kiss.”

Bond often tells stories of his character’s indulgence in love affairs but they mostly end on a sad note, either with Binya or in Shamli or with Meena. Perhaps these are stories of unrequited love from his own life or they can be his wild imaginations as we all know how much of a story weaver Bond is. Coming to the story, Rusty’s world turns upside down as Meena dies in a car crash while being on her way to Delhi with Mr. Kapoor. He has lost his love, his job, the family and the room of the roof. As he plans to leave India and head to England, he receives a letter from Somi to wait for him till he comes and then they can live together.

“Rusty folded the letter carefully, and put it in his shirt pocket; he meant to keep it forever He could not wait for Somi’s return but he knew that their friendship would last a lifetime, and that the beauty of it would always be with him. In and out of Rusty’s life, his turban at an angle, Somi would go, his slippers slapping against his heel for ever…..”

While leaving for London, he goes to meet Kishen at his aunt’s house but he is shocked to know that Mr. Kapoor has re-married after death of Meena and Kishen has run away from home and become a local goon. After much attempts, Rusty finds Kishen and convinces him to go back home, to Dehra, back to the room on the roof.

Kishen is perhaps the anchor that Ruskin has been searching all his life, a friend, a confidant that would give him a reason and company to live in India with him. Now when he has settled in India, I think he does not need that anchor anymore but he did need it when he was Rusty, a sixteen year old boy looking for an identity and a room on the roof. Ruskin is nothing short of a blessed writer, he could manage to write a masterpiece at the age of seventeen and he still weaves magic at the age of 85. He is a timeless writer.

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