Born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, in
I934, Ruskin Bond grew up in Jamnagar (Gujarat), Dehra Dun and Shimla. His first novel, Room on
the Roof written when he was seventeen, received the John Llewllyn Rhys Memorial Prize in l957.
Since then he has written three hundred short stories, essays and novellas (including Vagrants in the
Valley and Flight of Pigeons) and more than thirty books for children. He has also published two
volumes of autobiography, Scenes from a Writer’s is Life, which describes his formative years
growing up in Anglo-India, and The Lamp is Lit, a collection of essays and episodes from his journal.
In 1992 he received the Sahitya Akademi award for English writing in India. He was awarded the
Padma Shree in 1999.
Ruskin Bond lives with his adopted family in Mussoorie.
It isn’t many years since I left Maplewood, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the cottage has
disappeared. Already, during my last months there, the trees were being cut and the new road was
being blasted out of the mountain. It would pass just below the old cottage. There were (as far as I
know) no plans to blow up the house; but it was already shaky and full of cracks, and a few tremors,
such as those produced by passing trucks, drilling machines and bulldozers, would soon bring the
cottage to the ground.
If it has gone, don’t write and tell me: I’d rather not know. ‘When I moved in, it had been nestling
there among the oaks for over seventy years. It had become a part of the forest. Birds nestled in the
eaves; beetles burrowed in the woodwork; a jungle cat moved into the attic. Some denizens
remained, even during my residence. And I was there——how long? Eight, nine years, I’m not sure;
it was a timeless sort of place. Even the rent was paid only once a year, at a time of my
I first saw the cottage in late spring, when the surrounding forest at its best-—the oaks and maples in
new leaf, the oak leaves a pale green, the maple leaves red and gold and bronze, turning to green as
they matured; this is the Himalayan maple, quite different from the North American maple; only the
winged seed-pods are similar, twisting and turning in the breeze as they fall to the ground, so that the
Garhwalis call it the Butterfly Tree.
There was one very tall, very old maple above the cottage, and this was probably the tree that gave
the house its name. A portion of it was blackened where it had been struck by lightning, but the rest
of it lived on; a favourite haunt of woodpeckers: the ancient peeling bark seemed to harbour any
number of tiny insects, and the woodpeckers would be tapping away all day, seeking to dislodge and
devour their sweet, succulent prey.
A steep path ran down to the cottage. During heavy rain, it would become a watercourse and the
earth would be washed away to leave it very stony and uneven. I first took this path to see Miss
Mackenzie, an impoverished old lady who lived in two small rooms on the ground floor and who
was acting on behalf of the owner. It was she who told me that the cottage was to let—provided she
could remain in the portion downstairs.
Actually, the path ran straight across a landing and up to the front door of the first floor. It was the
ground floor that was tucked away in the shadow of the hill; it was reached by a flight of steps, which
also took the rush of water when the path was in flood.
Miss Mackenzie was eighty-six. I helped her up the steps and she opened the door for me. It led
into an L—shaped room. There were two large windows, and when I pushed the first of these open,
the forest seemed to rush upon me. The maples, oaks, rhododendrons, and an old walnut, moved
closer, out of curiosity perhaps. A branch tapped against the window—panes, while from below,
from the ravine, the deep-throated song of the whistling thrush burst upon me.
I told Miss Mackenzie I would take the place. She grew excited; it must have been lonely for her
during the past several years, with most of the cottage lying empty, and only her old bearer and a
mongrel dog for company. Her own house had been mortgaged to a moneylender. Her brothers and
sisters were long dead. ‘I’m the last Mackenzie in India,’ she told me.
I told her I would move in soon: my books were still in Delhi. She gave me the keys and I left a
cheque with her.
It was all done on an impulse—the decision to give up my job in Delhi, find a cheap house in a
hill-station, and return to freelance writing. It was a dream I’d had for some time; lack of` money had
made it difficult to realize. But then, I knew that if I was going to wait for money to come, I might
have to wait until I was old and grey and full of sleep. I was thirty—five—still young enough to take
a few risks. If the dream was to become reality, this was the time to do something about it.
I don’t know what led me to Maplewood; it was the first place I saw, and I did not bother to see
any others. The location was far from living ideal. It faced east, and stood in the shadow of the
Balahissar Hill; so that while it received the early morning sun, it went without evening sun. By three
in the afternoon, the shadow of the hill crept over the cottage. This was all right in summer, but in
winter it meant a cold, dark house.
There was no view of the snows and no view of the plains. In front stood Burnt Hill, or Pari Tibba
(Hill of the Fairies), where apparently lightning played and struck more frequently than elsewhere.
But the forest below the cottage seemed full of possibilities, and the windows, opening on to it
probably decided the issue. In my romantic frame of my mind, I was susceptible to magic easements
I would make a window—seat and lie there on a summer’s day, writing lyric poetry .
But long before that could happen I was opening tins of sardines and sharing them with Miss
Mackenzie. And then Prem came along. And there were others, like Binya.
I went away at times, but returned as soon as possible. Once you hive lived with mountains, there is
no escape. You belong to them.
Most of these stories (including those about my childhood) were Mitten in Maplewood. So were
many of the stories in my other two collections The Night Train to Deoli and Time Stops at Shamli.
The old cottage was kind to a struggling young writer.
Back of the Book
Fourteen engaging stories from one of India’s master story-tellers.
Semi-autobiographical in nature, these stories span the period from the author’s
childhood to the present. We are introduced, in a series of beautifully imagined and crafted cameos,
to the author’s family, friends, and various other people who left a lasting impression on him. In other
stories we revisit Bond’s beloved Garhwal hills and the small towns and villages that he has returned
to time and again in his fiction.
Together with his well-known novella, A Flight of Pigeons (which was made into the film
Junoon), which also appears in this collection, these stories once again bring Ruskin Bond’s India
vividly to life.
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