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Simplicity personified is one way of describing stories and books penned by Ruskin Bond. ‘The Blue Umbrella‘ is true to this very description. It may be dismissed a little too easily as a simple children’s story but it works at many levels.  The story revolves around a young girl-Binya who lives with her mother and brother-Bijju- in the hills in India. One day she comes across a group of picnickers while she was searching for her grazing cows in the evening. Binya immediately falls in love with a blue umbrella which one of the ladies has and hesitantly exchanges her lucky charm of a leopard’s claw for the pretty blue umbrella. It soon becomes her prized possession and also the envy of the entire village particularly of Ram Bharose who owns a tea stall. He badly wants to own that object for its beauty but fails in all his attempts to acquire it. One of those attempts almost brings him to ruin. Eventually Binya herself gives him the umbrella and Ram Bharose gives her a bear’s claw in return.

The Blue Umbrella‘ has a Blakean feel about it as the story flourishes on innocence, simplicity, childlike wonder and awe and imagination. The story proffers a simple juxtaposition of the ways of the people of the plains and the mountains as well a juxtaposition of children and adults. The people of the plains are greedy and materialistic while the people of the mountains are inherently joined to the nature and appreciate its value and beauty to the fullest. The adults can be fixated only with meaningless objects while children also do feel awe for objects but they realize that other aspects are of more importance and value which is why Binya willingly gives the umbrella away as she believes that people are more important than objects. She is easily able to forfeit the umbrella as if she wasn’t attached to it at all. This may seem to be a very binary and simplistic analysis but this is what Bond does best-takes the simple things and blows on them the kiss of the extraordinary which will perhaps be able to teach us a thing or two about life and its mystery.

The landscape, as always, is an integral part of Ruskin Bond’s stories and is given quite a lot of spotlight even in ‘The Blue Umbrella‘. The beauty, whims and vagaries of nature are all spread out for the reader to enjoy. The purity of the hills is reflected in the purity of Binya and Bijju’s behavior.

The Blue Umbrella‘ may seem very childish to some ‘old’ and ‘erudite’ readers. However Bond’s genius lies in revealing many profound truths in that very simplicity. These profound truths are as useful to children as to adults.  The story is even relevant in today’s overtly materialist  and consumerist society. We can all depend on our gadgets and designer coffees but at the end of it all that is not what makes life. Its the people, the family, nature, our emotions, feelings,our actions and more importantly-our ability to let go- that matters.

Go ahead, pick up ‘The Blue Umbrella‘ and see if you fail to find some meaning within this’ mere simple tale for kids.’ Be adventurous and accept this challenge.

Feel free to comment about your experience of reading the story and if you have watched the 2005 film adaptation of the same story, do let us know how it turned out to be.

I always wanted to read Ruskin Bond books when I was in school. My mother always urged me to buy them particularly the Rusty series. However, somehow, I never got the time, being busy with Enid Blyton, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, a few children’s classics, Hardy Boys and Agatha Christie, to actually peruse his novels except a few short stories taught as part of the syllabus. Even when I entered college, a boy in class discussed how immensely he loved the simplicity of Bond’s stories and language. That really encouraged me to pick up his books but I was still too engrossed in Harry Potter, Agatha Christie and Sidney Sheldon.

Taken from goodreads.com

Now when I am finally 19 years old, I issued a Ruskin Bond book,’Rain In The Mountains-Notes From The Himalayas‘ from the library, read it silently and thoroughly enjoyed  it. My fears of the book being too kiddish for my tastes were dispelled just as I began reading the prologue. Moreover, I understood what that boy in my class meant when he said that Bond’s stories and language is simple.

I cannot think of any other word except-BEAUTIFUL-to describe this novella. Let me clarify that this isn’t really a storybook, but rather a collection of short stories, poems, journal notes, essays etc. that Bond penned. Thus it is not only beautiful but also very personal at the same time.

All the writings in this books magnify and vividly describe all things natural that surrounds Bond’s home in Mussoorie. All his experiences are a lengthy ode to the beauty of the Himalayas. Such is the power that when I used to read the book in the train, I would forget the city air, the rants, the loud talk and laughter of the women in the compartment and be transported to an ethereal place up in the Himalayas. I would be going on trek on a glacier with Bond, admiring a whistling thrush, the majestic deodars, imagining fairies on Pari Tibba, meeting the villagers, meeting Prem and his family rather than traveling in a dusty, stinky, hot local train of Mumbai.

His writing style is very simplistic, his use of language and words is such that they are not only comprehensible to children and adults alike but also effortlessly convey Bond’s experiences and the mountain’s fresh air. They are not childish but far from it. His poems are not masterpieces, barely have a rhyme scheme but paint a vivid picture of nature in all its glory nonetheless.

His short stories, notes, articles etc. make us-urban people-come in touch with two things we don’t seem to revere: nature and people. All the writings in the book describe the supreme delight Bond feels by observing or sensing the simplest of all things. Like a ladybird, a walnut tree, the discovery of a new stream, a messy garden, the rains, an old lama,a school boy, a window, a postman,a sea shell, a bank manager, a praying mantis etc.-things we hardly stop to think about, things we do not take a pleasure in because we are too busy deriving pleasure from fickle, material things, like car, bike, jewelry etc.

The book thus rekindles a love for nature, of people. It creates a serenely happy feeling yet when Bond mentions that these gems of natural beauties are being destroyed, a sad, forlorn feeling creeps up. This book should be read by all heartless corporations, mining companies, government officials who fail to see the throbbing of life in nature, who will swiftly destroy all beautiful, natural wonders for their own selfish gains without realizing the damage they have done, the loss they have created.

 

Switzerland Alps are world famous. For us Indians, they have captured our imaginations through endless Bollywood movies where the hero and the heroine romance in them. Many have seen them in travel shows and many know the Alps only for endless snow sports or Roger Federer. However before the advent of films and travel shows there was an amazing, innocent book called ‘Heidi’ by Johanna Spyri that extolled the Swiss Alps beautifully.

‘Heidi’ is a marvelous classic and a must read.

‘Heidi’ is the name of the protagonist, a five year old orphan who is sent by her aunt, Dete, to live with her gruff, old grandfather in the Swiss Alps. As time goes by, Heidi merges with the surroundings and comes to love the mountains dearly. Her grandfather’s rudeness and hostility also begin melting by Heidi’s copious warmth and innocence.  However, all does not remain blissful up in the mountains. One day, her aunt comes back to take Heidi to Frankfurt to be a loving companion for a rich invalid, Clara. Over there, in a big city, away from the mountains which she sorely misses, Heidi becomes good friends with Clara but she can never forget her beloved Alps. She eventually falls grossly ill and the only remedy for her is to return. In summer, Clara visits Heidi in the Alps. Clara’s stay and the healthy mountain air help cure her.

‘Heidi’ is an immensely touching story. Its vivid and mesmerising descriptions are memorable  long after the reader has finished the book. Heidi’s cute adventures, her simple mountain life with Peter, her grandfather and the goats, her love  and her charm for everything are perfect. The Swiss mountains are more than just picture perfect; they are nothing short of paradise in the book.

‘Heidi’ has a childish feel to it and that is its strongest point beside the scenic Swiss Alps where it is set. Even though you will find this book tucked away in the ‘Children’ Classic’ in most bookstores, it can be read by anyone: an adult or a child. It will appeal to any age group. Anyone who loves nature, children, the mountains and their sense of purity, will find ‘Heidi’ pleasurable and three times better than any Bollywood film or travel show!

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