Ruskin Bond and the Dehradun of Days Past

Ruskin Bond
Ruskin Bond.

If you’re one of the countless children that grew up reading books, you’re undoubtedly well acquainted with the remarkable talent that is Ruskin Bond. Not only that, but you also know the beautiful valley of Dehradun as if you grew up there. Almost every collection of stories by Bond contains his memories of living in the small town then known as Dehra.

Ruskin bond grew up in Dehradun and Mussoorie for most of his childhood and was a Bishop Cotton School Shimla student. He grew up with such a solid connection to the mountains and always preferred the simplistic lifestyle of people in the hills rather than European culture.

As a Dehradun resident myself, I’ve always felt a deeper connection with Ruskin Bond’s stories. It is almost a bittersweet experience, for the Doon of his stories is no longer a reality.

When it comes to Dehradun is a popular tourist destination that has gone through many changes since the forties. Today you can only search for the Doon of his stories but to no avail. In Bond’s stories, we see a city that is calm and laid back. That is full of lush greenery and clean air. The weather changes constantly, and the rain-soaked roads are a true sight to behold. While growing up in Doon, I would almost feel nostalgic reading his stories; indeed, we couldn’t be talking about the same city?

Story collections such as “Our trees still grow in Dehra” have a nostalgic feel to them. He speaks about the old days of his carefree childhood in a town full of innocence, where everyone knows and cares for one another.

Ruskin Bond’s writing style is known to have a calming effect on readers, you could be reading a story about two boys running away from home or about a hotel full of ghosts, yet you’d find yourself relaxed and all your tension releasing. Just like his stories of young children and their adventures, I always relate Ruskin Bond to my childhood, to a carefree time when all we wanted was to read as much as possible.

In many of his stories, Ruskin bond mentions the Paltan Bazaar, the main market area of Dehradun, where everyone goes shopping and has a good time. Today that area, thanks to commercial development, has been changed completely. The streets are smaller and packed with people, while the shops have turned into complexes. Of course, one can argue that development and change are necessary, but the memories of days past, cyclists and Tonga rides tend to make me feel gloomy.

As the town turned into the state’s capital, more and more people took residence here. Today there is no trace of those canals and rivers Ruskin would write about, and the mango orchards are shrinking while the weather gets hotter each passing year. Public spaces such as the bazaars have lost their charm, and people don’t have time to sit by and watch a flower bloom. There are no more cycles on the roads and too many cars. Moreover, we have unfamiliar strangers who meet in the markets but are too caught up in their own lives.

In his poem, ‘Dirge of Dehradun’ Ruskin Bond states:

Is this the place you celebrate?

In prose you made it sound so great!

It was….. before I knew it was fate.

The old Dehradun has faded, one flyover and shopping complex at a time. Merely a stop for tourists on their way to hill stations, soon all that was beautiful about Doon will be gone, lost in the smoke from cars and factories.