The Room on the Roof
AUTHOR: Ruskin Bond; PUBLISHER: Penguin Books Limited
‘The Room on the Roof’ is Ruskin Bond’s first novel, written way back in the year 1956, when he was just 17 years old. Within a year of writing this book, he was awarded the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize.
The book is a story of a 16 year-old Anglo-Indian boy, Rusty, who is an orphan and lives with his guardian John Harrison, an Englishman, in the European colony in Dehradun. Harrison is extremely strict with him and does not want Rusty to mingle with Indians or go to any bazaar, which is surrounded by Indians.
The story starts with Rusty going for a walk alone in the woods where he meets a cyclist, who goes on to become his “best favourite friend”. This cyclist is a young, friendly, jovial Sikh boy, Somi. Soon, the two meet another boy, Ranbir, who is the best wrestler in the bazaar. The three are then joined by Suri and Kishen. These four boys become Rusty’s close friends as the story progresses.
Befriending these Indian boys changes Rusty’s life forever. One day, Rusty defies the law of his guardian and his community and enters the Indian bazaar. He gets fascinated by the lights and sounds there and also discovers a Chaat shop. On returning home, Harrison canes him with a supple malacca cane several times, cutting deep into the skin of his buttocks.
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Soon after this incident, Rusty musters all his strength and disobeys his guardian once again, by going and playing the festival of Holi with his new found friends. This proves to be the turning point in Rusty’s life. After returning home dressed in all kinds of colours, Rusty is again beaten up by Harrison, but this time, he fights back and runs away from his caged life.
Rusty’s friends shelter him for some time and soon he gets a job as an English teacher for Mr Kapoor’s son, Kishen. Along with the job, he gets a room on the roof of their house, in lieu of salary. Rusty is thrilled to get his very own room. Even though the room consists of only four walls and is scantily furnished, but it is incredibly close to a Banyan tree, and nature, in general. This room on the roof is a place Rusty can call his home, a place where he can dream, think about himself and his future.
Rusty and Kishen become best friends. But life suddenly changes for Rusty when all his friends and the Kapoor family leave the town, leaving him alone in his room. As the author narrates, “At night he slept brokenly, thinking and worrying about the future…and questions would come to him, disturbing questions about loving and leaving and living and dying, questions that crowded his sleep.”
He finally decides to leave the town and go to the UK. But before that, he must search for Kishen in Haridwar and say goodbye to him. Do the two meet again? Does Rusty leave for the UK or remain in India? What does Rusty do for survival?
Written from a teenager’s perspective, the story is said to be inspired by Bond’s own life. It is a moving story of love and friendship, and a must read for people of all ages.
Anisha Arora reviews this book for The Peeper Times