Books

Shelf Help: Because they are there

“Living in the mountains is not a romance for everyone,” cautions Ruskin Bond while introducing Himalaya: Adventures, Meditations, Life (Speaking Tiger), an anthology he has edited along with Namita Gokhale. “Wresting a living from the stony, calcified soil does not leave much time for poetry and contemplation.” Yet, the rugged mountain range has drawn all kinds of people, adventurers, loners, mystics, ne’er-do-wells, and perhaps no one has been as open-heartedly hospitable to strangers as have been the inhabitants of the Himalayas. This anthology may not capture the totality of experience of the mountains, but it comes pretty close.

Essential to any anthology consisting of writings about life in the mountains are Bond’s own writings, and the two samples included here are among my favourites: ‘Mountains in My Blood’ and ‘A Night in a Garhwal Village’. The first of these is an account of his longing to be back in the Mussoorie hills while living in England. The outskirts of the hill station are unchanging, and his nostalgia for Clouds End, with its mesmerising view of the Dehra plains beyond, is one that has assailed any number of visitors and former inhabitants over the years. ‘A Night in the Garhwal Village’ rings as true today as when it was first written, folding into the narrative the rhythms of the admittedly-tough but good-natured life of the hill folks.

In a collection brimming with writing of emperors and explorers, a special gem is ‘A Full House in Almora’ by Jiya, recollecting her life in the Kumaon hills. Her story from childhood, through the tumultuous time of the freedom struggle, to her older years, it is almost a social history of Almora. And Jiya reminds us of the necessity of a 360-degree appraisal of her hometown: “The magic of the hills has always resided in its music. The peculiar cultural harmony between the different sections of society in Kumaon is reflected in its music— the blending of folk and classical forms, of influences from all over India, and even across the border in Tibet.”

The anthology covers the entire Himalayan range, but it’s tempting to move from Bond to Jiya and then to Jim Corbett for ‘The View From Cheena’, with his crystal-clear prose on the terrain around Nainital. Besides the beautiful vistas, the stories of explorations, his emphasis is also on the proud, hospitable people of these parts: “You can be assured that the welcome we received on arrival, and the invitation to return soon, are genuine expressions of the affection and goodwill of the people…”

mini.kapoor@thehindu.co.in

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 11:58:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/Shelf-Help-Because-they-are-there/article16668407.ece

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