With “Ruskin Bond: The Mussoorie Years…” Ganesh Saili documents the life of a friend of four decades in a town both call home

For a change, this one’s on — not by — Ruskin Bond. In Ruskin Bond: The Mussoorie Years… (Niyogi Books), Ganesh Saili puts together a photo feature on the life of his friend of a few decades, “a log of coming to Mussoorie, settling down here and finding home.” As Saili tells us on the phone from Mussoorie, “I logged it from his arrival in Musssoorie to today, which is about 43-odd years. And I thought I would be the only guy who’d have a complete log of his evolution as a writer and the different phases of his life — days in Maplewood, days in Prospect Lodge, Saket and, finally, Ivy Cottage.” In short, the settings of innumerable tales of humour and adventure become the backdrop for another story, told by a person who’s hardly a stranger to the places or the people inhabiting them.

A result of two years’ effort by Saili, Ruskin Bond: The Mussoorie Years…, while starting off with story of how the journey from Delhi’s Rajouri Garden to Mussoorie happened, offers glimpses into Bond’s brand of self-deprecatory humour and instances of freely distributed generosity. But having already penned a book on Ruskin Bond way back in 2004 — Ruskin: Our Enduring Bond — Saili turns to photographs to take the story forward here. There are sepia images of a just-born Bond from 1934, of childhood in Jamnagar, his parents’ wedding, of letters written from father to son, years in Delhi, and, of course, with friends and extended family in the hills. Each photograph accompanied by a brief description, occasionally interspersed with quotes.

As Saili informs us, “Eighty per cent of the pictures are my own. Apart from the family album, most of the pictures have been taken by me at different periods. That way, even my photography has grown with him.”

Saili’s no stranger to telling stories through photographs, having worked on 30-odd books already, mostly on Mussoorie and the Himalayas. For basing one on a person, though, this is a first.

Biographies are a tricky thing, due to expectations simultaneously sitting on opposite ends of a scale — of personal insights that outsiders are not privy too, of an objectivity that a friend cannot be logically expected to bring in.

“It is a double-edged sword,” Saili says. “However, the thing with Ruskin is, he’s a very simple person. There’s nothing that one would brush under a carpet and try and forget. He’s extremely giving, extremely helpful to younger writers. So many of us owe it to him in the sense that he encouraged us to get going; ‘Chalo, chalo, don’t worry about those pink rejection slips. Keep going, keep going.’ Therefore there’s not much one can reveal as it were. He’s a very private person, does his own thing. Stays out of political and social circuits, happy to just sing his song and do his writing. Therefore, it’s not difficult writing about him. There’s not much you’re hiding. Or revealing, at the same time.”

He adds, “Ruskin was a well-known figure way back in the 1960s, when his first book (‘The Room on the Roof’) had come out, and he made a bit of a splash in the The Illustrated Weekly of India. They were serializing ‘The Room on the Roof’ 60 years ago and, therefore, he was in his own right recognisable… We all looked up to Ruskin, we still look up to him.”

What was his protagonist’s response to the book? “A 95 per cent good job. He said, ‘As long as I see Nelson Eddy and Laurel & Hardy on the posters in my house, you’ve done a good job.’”

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