An Extinct Dehra of Ruskin Bond | An Overview
By Shivani Sharma
Ruskin Bond in his description of “Dehradun”, which was called ‘Dehra’ during the 40s and 50s cannot be found in any historic text written by the historians of that era. Though drastically changed in these 70 years his stories play a major role in highlighting those things which were once a pride of this small town. As bond mentions in his poem “Dirge of Dehradun,” he personifies the evolution of the city from what it was, back in those times.
“I wonder where the green grass went,
All buried under the new cement.
I wonder where the birds have flown,
They have gone to find another home.
I wonder where the footpath’s gone,
Right underneath your car, my son.
I wonder where the old folks go,
The nursing homes will surely know.
What grows so fast before my eyes?
A garbage dump, a million flies.
Is this the place you celebrate?
In prose you made it sound so great!
It was……..before I knew it was fate.
“Dehra”, what made him write about a place he wasn’t fond of initially? Why does every verse by him sing of this valley? Maybe, because he was enthralled by the simplicity and imperfections of this place, maybe, because he was born here and being one of the Englishmen he never fancied his own style of living. Everything related to nature mesmerized him either it was misty mornings or nights on terraces watching the lights twinkle in Mussoorie, breezy drives and many more things that are worth admiring. He spent much of his childhood, boyhood, and early manhood at this place which was less crowded and easy- going. In these three periods of his life he stayed at different places, during his childhood he stayed at his grandmother’s place on old Survey Road. During his school days he would come and stay with his mother and stepfather somewhere near Rajpur Road and after he returned from England he started living on his own in a small flat above Astley Hall which was owned by Bibiji, his step father’s first wife. That was the place where he wrote stories after dark, by the light of Kerosene lantern.
His first book “Room on the Roof” which he wrote when he went to England at the age of seventeen says a lot about “Dehra”. The character ‘Rusty ‘reflects how this city has changed his perspective in several ways. The way of life that never entertained him lead Bond to wander around Rajpur area where he used to go out for early morning walks sometimes on the road leading to clock tower beyond which one could find the heterogeneity in Indian culture along the bazaar up to the railway station.
His favorite places for fictional milieu were Maidan (Parade ground), bazaar (Paltan Bazaar), Litchi gardens (Dalanwala), Tea gardens (Old Rajpur), Sal forests (Near Rajpur) and most important Railway station which hasn’t changed much.
The city was limited only till the railway station, after clocktower at Astley hall was a market which had showrooms and big stores that were mostly used by English men which were living at Rajpur and considered that the area beyond clock tower was of the untouchables, but that was the place where Indians lived and the typical vista of earlier Indian lifestyle could be observed.
“Cries of vendors and the smell of cattle and ripening dung, Children playing hopscotch in alleyways or gambled with coins, scuffling in the gutter for lost Anna. And the cows moved leisurely through the crowd, nosing around for paper and stale, discarded vegetables; the more daring cows helping themselves at open stalls. And above the uneven tempo of the noise came the blare of loudspeaker playing a popular piece of music” (Room on the roof)
In many of his stories, he has mentioned the bazaar which was the favorite place for kids and youngsters where they would spend their whole day loitering around or having snacks served on the banana leaves at their favorite chaat corner. Children mostly fancied the toy seller and balloon man, apart from that the bazaar was more of Hawkers selling fruits and vegetables, boys on cycle, babies in prams, school girls chattering, housewives quarreling and old man gossiping. If you have observed the old tamarind tree in the premises of clock tower was the tree under which women used to sit and talk upon various household matters. The place which was so subtle and full of life at that time has now become one of the most crowded and polluted places of Dehradun, vehicles swarming in from different directions making it difficult for people to cross the road to get into the bazaar. The roads which were used mostly by a great number of pedestrians, cyclists, tongas, scooter rickshaws, handcarts, and cows have been taken by a large number of vehicles. “The Road To The Bazaar” is one of his books that describes how lively the town was, though very small but it had all colors of life, children used to hang around the city, mostly they used to spend time playing cricket or football in the maidan, the only cinema hall called ‘apsara’ in the bazaar where people used to fight to get in, there were trees all around the town and that orchard of litchi, mango and guava were vanities of this town. When he describes Fields and tree gardens on the other side of the song river and those women in bright red saris picking up the tea in his story “Mukesh keeps the Goat”, induce a kind of imagination which is very much alien for the current scenario of Dehradun.
As the town was subjected to change with the growing population it expanded far beyond railway station, and there is no trace of those canals that he mentions in most of his stories. Those orchards and several bungalows with lawns are very limited in number, the brooks that turned into rivers during monsoon carry sewage water, The pavements which were used mostly by pedestrians are no more present, the place where men used to interact with the only public space of the town i.e. clock tower is a very dangerous place moreover people do not have much time to talk to each other, they are rushing from one place to another. It has become a place where tourists halt for a while to visit hill stations around. Soon this city will be hidden under flyovers and there would be no cityscape which would be worthy enough to be described in any piece of literature.
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