You might find it quite odd for a literature enthusiast that I was and now a literature student, to be discovering Ruskin Bond just now. I am surprised too.
No one recommended this book to me and I did not randomly pick it up from anywhere. One very stressful day, I found myself in a book store with a very very very limited budget, in fact I wouldn’t even have had money left to go back home if I bought any book.
Tight budget and an intense craving is not good, but I was ready to take an 8 km walk home. This was the cheapest book I could find and I even saved some change for the bus ride; I instantly liked the book.
Maharani could seem like a non-fiction with a few autobiographical elements as Ruskin himself is a character here, but it isn’t. It was published in 2012, it is available as a paperback for Rs. 200 and probably even less for the ebook version.
Content & Characters:
The book doesn’t follow the conventional narrative arc- rising action, crisis, climax, resolution etc., infact, it does not follow any kind of arc. You could call it a collection of random but important episodes in the widowed Maharani’s life and at times Ruskin’s as well that are arranged, interestingly, in the best way that could bring out the characters’ varied shades of vices and virtues. But it does begin with a crisis- Neena’s or the Maharani’s existential crisis–
‘ “I think I’m dying Ruskin,” said H.H. as I took her hand and kissed it in the manner of some knight of old.’
No plot. The story is driven by all the characters in the novel, especially central are Neena and Ruskin(since it is Neena’s story narrated by Ruskin). Ruskin is an old friend of Neena’s and drifts in and out of her life.
However, the book seems to be divided in sections for some coherence- sections or you could say Neena’s colorful phases marked by the particular lover she takes in the said phases. But it is Ruskin’s platonic perspective that ties all the phases together and gives a complete insight into Neena’s character and life.
It begins with the charming diplomat, Signor Montalban. About half of the book is dedicated to the her rendevouz with him and Ruskin’s attachment to the diplomat’s family, in particular, his son Pablo. This is the brightest point of Neena’s life, her palace and her friendship with Ruskin. We get to see Neena at her selfish, arrogant, quaint and cheeky best.
Let’s just say that for a change the rich, lonely woman does not have a tragic past, is not drowned in regrets, and does not see the world through her cynical goggles. This is the story of H.H or Neena or Maharani of Mastipur who can turn a mundane moment into a party.
Her passion are her scotch and wine and her purpose is to indulge in every pleasurable thing or person. She has a stint here and there with spirituality, discipline and the world of films. The only commitment she shows is to her dogs.
The eccentricities of other characters, like Pablo’s innocent infatuation with cinema, Signora Montalban’s steadfastness, Hans’s (the henchman of sorts) loyalty and dedication, Kartik’s and Karan’s (Neena’s sons) uselessness, the late Maharaja’s secrets and death, and the mystery surrounding the nun- this all is used to reveal Neena’s personality and also keeps you going.
However, everything dwindles away including Neena’s optimism, health and the book staying true to life culminates with the writer’s reminder that “the party cannot go on forever…”
Ruskin Bond is delightful. I read two of his books so far and he seems to be a man in love with the beauty of nature. His writing is sprinkled with lively and refreshing descriptions of this beauty around him. His word picture of the persevering honeysuckle is my favourite part in the book.
Humour is the essence of his writing. If it wasn’t was his lighthearted potshots, banter and the situational comedy, I wouldn’t have been able to complete the book.
It is a witty(style), easy to read(language), and simple(plot) book. A hot afternoon with some watermelon and this breezy book, is an afternoon well spent.