Another day in Mussoorie

March 19 2009

Let’s stay where we were.

I have corrected the last post in one important detail after reading Saili’s book. Ruskin Bond is entirely (or at least officially entirely) English by descent. I had assumed there was an Indian element. He is the third generation of his family in India from his father’s side and the fourth from his mother’s. In India Bond is sometimes called “white”, but you could equally well call him Indian. (A BBC radio documentary a few years ago discovered some “white” Anglo-Indians in Calcutta who had been born into good circumstances under the Raj and were now begging in the streets.)

I have rewritten the summary of his life. He moved to Mussoorie at the end of 1963. Landour is a suburb of, or contiguous with, Mussoorie. They are about 35 km distant from Dehradun (Uttarakhand).

Himmel, Himalayas, heaven. I love these leafy, damp, dripping, upland villages and towns, which are often above the clouds. It must be disturbing to see the snow gradually melt and look across to deforested hillsides. You see these empty hillsides in the distance on photographs in travel brochures for idyllic places.

Wikipedia: “Mussoorie suffers from over-development of hotels and tourist lodges, given its relative proximity to Delhi, Ambala and Chandigarh, and has serious problems of garbage collection, water scarcity and parking shortages, especially during the summer tourist season. Landour, Jharipani and Barlowganj have fewer such problems.” Saili says that Mussoorie attracts the rich. It can certainly only be a matter of time before Europeans start retiring to such places en masse. They are already doing medical tourism in India. It must have been a charming place when Bond first moved there. Perhaps it still is.

Bond isn’t the only literary inhabitant of Mussoorie. There is also his friend Bill Aitken, to whom he refers in the passage I quoted in the first post, a Scottish-born (in the same year and month as Bond) naturalised Indian who studied comparative theology at Leeds and hitch-hiked to India in 1959. He writes books about India and according to Wikipedia is “the long-time companion of Prithvi Bir Kaur, the widowed former Maharani of the erstwhile Sikh princely state of Jind”.

Aitken and Bond

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Ruskin Bond (he was named after the Victorian) signs books at the local “Cambridge Book Depot” (why are bookshops often called “depots” in India?) and receives visitors from all over India, whole classrooms and individual pilgrims.

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Saili quotes Bond:

“If I write my autobiography, it will, I think, be called Writing For My Life. Ever since I started freelancing, on my return from England in 1955, I have been writing in order to sustain the sort of life I like to lead – unhurried, even-paced, sensual, in step with the natural world, most at home with humble people. I have never aspired to cars, houses, or even furniture. Property is for the superstitious [wonderful phrase]. I have no assets except the books I have written and the few that may still be lurking in the innermost recesses of my mind. ‘I give to the world that which is in my heart,’ wrote the composer Franz Schubert, and I have tried to do the same. Hopefully it will outlast the furniture. Yet there are times when I do love my art. And because I have loved it, I think I have been able to pass through life without being any man’s slave or tyrant. I doubt if I have ever written a story or essay or workaday article unless I have really wanted to write it. And in this way I have probably suffered materially, because I have never attempted a blockbuster of a novel, or a biography of a celebrity, or a soap opera that goes on forever. The prospect of spinning out thousands of words of little or no consequence seems a dull and dreary way of earning a living.

“‘Writing is easy,’ said Red Smith. ‘All you have to do is sit at your typewriter till little drops of blood appear on your forehead.’ That’s true for some of us. But I refuse to suffer. At the first sign of drops of blood or perspiration, I get up from my desk and do something totally different – make myself a sandwich, water my ferns, take a walk, or discuss politics with the milkman. If the writing isn’t easy, if I’m not enjoying it, I know I’m better off doing something else. And yet writing is easy if I’m happy with my theme. Ask me to write a piece on petunias, and I’ll turn out an enthusiastic essay on this underrated flower. I might even write a story about someone who grows petunias, because such a person must obviously have sterling qualities. I might even delve into the love life of a petunia-grower because those who love flowers must, by their very nature, be loving, even sensual and passionate people, from The Rose Garden of Sa’adi to Wordsworth’s field of golden daffodils. Of flowers, lovers, melons and moonbeams, I can write reams. But ask me to write the life story of a great leader or media tycoon or match-boxmaker, and I’m stumped and stymied. Those little drops of blood threaten to appear. I cannot breathe life into these subjects, noble though they might be. Their true personality, the essence of their natures somehow eludes me. It is not that they are too complicated, but rather that one has to peel off too many layers of protective armour to get at the flesh and blood that lies beneath the skin. Why is humility so hard to come by? Most religions teach the wisdom of humility, but who listens? We all know that life is finite, that human civilization, for what it’s worth, is self-limiting. And yet the most educated of men will strut about their little world like actors on a stage; they assume the mantle of immortals, deluding themselves into thinking they are indispensable, until eventually they join all those other indispensables who have reached perfection in the form of dust or ashes.

“Why so much pride when a little humility can get us far more by way of love and peace and happiness? Better to efface yourself like the cricket that is heard but seldom seen than to flap your wings and crow like a cock before ending up as someone’s tandoori dinner.

“Happiness is an elusive state of mind, not to be gained by clumsy pursuit. It is given to those who do not strive for it: to be unconcerned about a desired good is probably the only way to possess it. ‘I enjoy life,’ said Seneca, ‘because I am ready to leave it.’ If we can disencumber ourselves of nine-tenths of our worldly goods, it should not be difficult to leave the rest behind. But it’s amazing how most of us hang on to our bric-à-brac, hoping maybe that it will be treasured and valued by those who come after us … ‘How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable!’ sighed Hamlet in another context, although he might well have been commenting on the values of our own time.”

Landour. Does one begin to see something east Asian in the line of the roofs in the distance?

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Even in his house in Mussoorie, which seems to me to owe something to Chinese vernacular? Would such a cultural diffusion have been possible?

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Mussoorie

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Flickr credits: Mussoorie Writers, ShayarGautam, Anu Anand, Gautam, Kartika Suardana, Anu Anand, Anu Anand, Amit.Priya.

3 Responses to “Another day in Mussoorie”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Bond has written a historical novella, A Flight of Pigeons, about the Indian Mutiny, or rebellion.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    On cultural diffusion, clearly yes. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police has its HQ in Mussoorie. There are many Tibetans in Delhi.


  3. […] Newest Oldest Title Publisher More from dominic braganza: Miscellaneous Sort Share davidderrick.wordpress.com       4 minutes […]


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