By Siddhi Jain
Book: Coming Round the Mountain; Author: Ruskin Bond; Illustrator: Mihir Joglekar; Publisher: Penguin; Pages: 117; Price: Rs 250
Life for some thirteen-year-olds even now, in many ways, could mirror what popular children's author Ruskin Bond recalls in his third memoir, "Coming Round the Mountain". His small world of stern teachers, sports and snacks, was made comfortable by books and his three friends -- who together made the Fearsome Four.
The teenage life of 1946 and 2019, however, differs in one significant way. That time was filled with the joy of soon breathing in a free country -- but also the impending trauma of Partition. In this memoir, the Landour-based author, who was still coming to terms with teenage years, reflects on his experience of the year of India's independence from British rule - and of parting with friends.
The Kasauli-born Bond, as his readers would know, is an Indian author of British descent. When he was young, his mother remarried, an Indian this time, which meant Bond was here to stay.A
In his illustrated memoir, which follows "Looking for the Rainbow" and "Till the Clouds Roll By", he candidly recalls his friend Azhar, and a conversation with him over "a paper bag full of jalebis, obtained from the local tuck shop". The scene is set in the mountains of Shimla, and more specifically in Bishop Cotton Boys' School, where Bond was schooled.
"Independence is coming. All the British boys are going away," Azhar, who belonged to Peshawar, says. "My father says the country may be cut in two."
"That's terrible. How can you cut up a country? The war is over," Bond said. He was referring to World War II.
"There are different kinds of war, I suppose. Different races, different religions, all wanting their own place," Azhar opined.
"People are different, I suppose -- unless they love each other. Friends must remain friends," said a young Bond, oblivious to the political bloodbath that led to the emergence of two nations, the rival neighbours -- India and Pakistan.
He recalls musing then: "Do wars solve anything, or do they just lead to more wars?"
The "Blue Umbrella" author, who turns 85 years on May 19, 2019, goes into a deep reverie, in this classic that spells his own life.
The 117-page book, beautifully illustrated, gives sneak peeks into an "age of inkwells and penholders with nibs that could be replaced". It harks back to the days the grand old author was seen on the playgrounds, contesting for his school in hockey and football.
Like most of his books, "Coming Round the Mountain" ends too soon, with his younger self being given a copy of Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography, "The Story of My Experiments with Truth".
"I was to learn to learn about the saintly individual who had helped win freedom through non-violence and passive resistance. We could not foresee that in a month's time this great leader would lose his life to an assassin's bullet."
As the memoir shows, life changed dramatically for the Fearsome Four, and for everyone in the Indian subcontinent. The memoir captures how exactly.
(Siddhi Jain can be contacted at email@example.com)