–Read India Initiative—
This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.
Ruskin Bond as we all know, is an Indian author of British descent. He has made exemplary contribution in the field of children’s books and even ghost stories. Topaz is one such story that I’ve picked up for you. The story is set up in the backdrop of Himalayas. It is written in first person. Where, at a point the narrator or the protagonist confirms he is a writer, and that, in a way also confirms that it is the author himself narrating the story.
The story opens in the pine-clad slopes of the Himalayas. The protagonist, is, in his room, listening to some music that reminds him of the strains of “The Blue Danube” and concurrently the wonderful sight of Pine-clad slopes of Himalayas. He has a new record player with old records that he has picked up from the junk-shop behind the Mall.
Below the pines there are oaks. Surprisingly, one oak-tree in particular catches his eye. It is the biggest of the lot and stands by itself on a little hillock below his cottage. There is breeze but not strong enough to sway its heavy branches. There is also something moving, swinging gently from the tree, keeping pace with the music of the waltz, dancing ….
It appears as if someone is hanging from the tree.
A rope oscillates in the breeze, when a dead body turns slowly, turns this way and that way, is when he sees the face of a girl, her hair hanging loose, her eyes sightless, hands and feet limp; just turning, turning, while the waltz plays on.
He turns off the player and runs downstairs.
Down the path through the trees, and on to the grassy hillock where the big oak stood.
A long-tailed magpie takes fright and flies out from the branches, swooping low across the ravine. In the tree there is no one. A great branch extends half-way across the hillock, and it is possible for him to reach up and touch it. But a girl could not have reached it without climbing the tree. He thinks.
As he stands there, gazing at the branches, someone speaks to him from behind.
‘What are you looking at?’
He swings around. Only to see a girl standing around in the clearing, facing him. A girl of seventeen or eighteen; alive, healthy, with bright eyes and a tantalizing smile. She is indeed lovely to look at. He hadn’t seen such a pretty girl in years.
‘You startled me,’ he says. ‘You came up so unexpectedly.’ he added.
‘Did you see anything—in the tree?’ she asked.
‘I thought I saw someone from my window. That’s why I came down. Did you see anything?’ said the writer.
‘Oh no!’ She exclaimed and shook her head, the smile escaping her face for a moment. ‘I don’t see anything. But other people do—sometimes.’
‘What do they see?’ asked the writer.
‘My sister?’ she replied.
‘Your sister?’ rebounded the writer.
‘Yes she hanged herself from this tree. It was many years ago. So, sometimes you can see her hanging there.’ She answered in a mechanical fashion.
She spoke matter-of-factly: whatever had happened seemed very remote to her.
After which they moved some distance away from the tree. Above the hillock, on a disused private tennis-court (a relic from the hill station’s colonial past) was a small stone bench. She sat on it: and, after a moment’s hesitation, the writer too sat down beside her.
‘Do you live close by?’ he asked.
‘Further up the hill. My father has a small bakery.’
She then discloses her name as Hameeda. She also says she has two younger brothers.
‘You must have been quite small when your sister died.’ says the writer.
‘Yes. But I remember her. She was pretty.’
‘Like you.’ interjects the writer.
She laughs in disbelief. ‘Oh, I am nothing to her. You should have seen my sister.’
‘Why did she kill herself?’
‘Because she did not want to live. She was to have been married but she loved someone else, someone who was not of our own community. It’s an old story and the end is always sad, isn’t it?’
‘Not always. But what happened to the boy—the one she loved? Did he kill himself too?’ asked the writer.
‘No, he took up a job in some other place. Jobs are not easy to get, are they?’
‘I don’t know. I’ve never tried for one.’
‘Then what do you do?’
‘I write stories.’ said the writer.
‘Do people buy stories?’
‘Why not? If your father can sell bread, I can sell stories.’
‘People have to have bread. But they can live without stories.’
‘No, Hameeda, you’re wrong. People can’t live without stories.’
By now infatuation had made way in the writer’s heart for Hameeda. He couldn’t help loving her. Although, no fierce desire or passion had taken hold of him. He was happy by just looking at her, watch her while she sat on the grass outside his cottage, her lips stained with the juice of wild bilberries. She chatted away—about her friends, her clothes, her favourite things.
‘Won’t your parents mind if you come here every day?’ the writer asked.
‘I have told them you are teaching me.’
‘Teaching you what?’ he asked.
‘They did not ask. So, you can tell me stories.’
As a result the writer told her some stories.
It was midsummer.
The sun glinted on the ring she wore on her third finger: a translucent golden topaz, set in silver.
‘That’s a pretty ring,’ remarked the writer.
‘You wear it,’ she said, impulsively removing it from her hand. ‘It will give you good thoughts. It will help you to write better stories.’
She slipped it on to the writer’s little finger.
‘I’ll wear it for a few days,’ he said. ‘Then you must let me give it back to you.’ he added.
On a day that promised rain the writer took the path down to the stream at the bottom of the hill. There he found Hameeda gathering ferns from the shady places along the rocky ledges above the water.
‘What will you do with them?’ he asked.
‘This is a special kind of fern. You can cook it as a vegetable.’
‘Is it tasty?’ he asked.
‘No, but it is good for rheumatism.’
‘Do you suffer from rheumatism?’
‘Of course not. They are for my grandmother, she is very old.’ she said.
‘There are more ferns further upstream,’ he said. ‘But we’ll have to get into the water.’
They remove their shoes and start paddling, up stream. The ravine becomes shadier and narrower, until the sun is completely shut out. The ferns have grown right down up to the water’s edge. They bend to pick them up but instead find themselves in each other’s arms; and sink slowly, as if in a dream, into the soft bed of ferns, while overhearing a whistling thrush burst out in dark sweet song.
‘It isn’t time that’s passing by,’ it seemed to say. ‘It is you and I. It is you and I …’
Post that the writer waits for her the following day, but she doesn’t come.
Several days pass without, he being able to see her.
Is she sick? Has she been kept at home? Has she been sent away? He doesn’t even know where she lives, so he cannot ask. And, if at all, he is able to ask, what would he ask?
Then one day he sees a boy delivering bread and pastries at the little tea-shop about a mile down the road. From the upward slant of his eyes, there is a slight resemblance with Hameeda. As he leaves the shop, the writer follows him up the hill. And, when he comes abreast of him, he asks: ‘Do you have your own bakery?’
He nods cheerfully, ‘Yes. Do you want anything—bread, biscuits, cakes? I can bring them all to your house.’
‘Oh of course. But don’t you have a sister? A girl called Hameeda?’
His expression changes suddenly. He is no longer friendly. He looks puzzled and slightly apprehensive.
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Because, I haven’t seen her for some time now?’ replies the writer
‘We have not seen her either.’
‘Do you mean she has gone away?’
‘Didn’t you know? You must have been away a long time. It is many years since she died. She killed herself. You did not hear about it?’ said the boy.
‘But wasn’t that her sister—your other sister?’ asked the writer.
‘I had only one sister—Hameeda—and she died, when I was very young. It’s an old story, ask someone else about it.’
With that he turned away and quickened his pace, and the writer was left standing in the middle of the road, with his head full of questions that couldn’t be answered.
That night there was a thunderstorm. Writer’s bedroom window kept banging in the wind. He got up to close it and, as he looked out, there was a flash of lightning and he saw that frail body again, swinging from the oak tree.
He tried a make out the features, but the head hung down and the hair was blowing in the wind.
Was it all a dream? He thought.
It was impossible to say. But the topaz ring on him glowed softly in the darkness. And a whisper from the forest seemed to say, ‘It isn’t time that’s passing by, my friend. It is you and I … ‘
So that’s all for today. It’s a neat little story with a tinge of enigma for you to discover. I would give the story seven out of ten.
Posted by Kamlesh Tripathi
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GLOOM BEHIND THE SMILE
(The book is about a young cancer patient. Now archived in 7 prestigious libraries of the US, including, Harvard University and Library of Congress. It can also be accessed in MIT through Worldcat.org. Besides, it is also available for reading in Libraries and archives of Canada and Cancer Aid and Research Foundation Mumbai)
ONE TO TANGO … RIA’S ODYSSEY
(Is a book on ‘singlehood’ about a Delhi girl now archived in Connemara Library, Chennai and Delhi Public Library, GOI, Ministry of Culture, Delhi)
AADAB LUCKNOW … FOND MEMORIES
(Is a fiction written around the great city of Nawabs—Lucknow. It describes Lucknow in great detail and also talks about its Hindu-Muslim amity. That happens to be its undying characteristic. The book was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival of 2014)
REFRACTIONS … FROM THE PRISM OF GOD
(Co-published by Cankids–Kidscan, a pan India NGO and Shravan Charity Mission, that works for Child cancer in India. The book is endorsed by Ms Preetha Reddy, MD Apollo Hospitals Group. It was launched in Lucknow International Literary Festival 2016)
TYPICAL TALE OF AN INDIAN SALESMAN
(Is a story of an Indian salesman who is, humbly qualified. Yet he fights his ways through unceasing uncertainties to reach the top. A good read not only for salesmen. The book was launched on 10th February, 2018 in Gorakhpur Lit-Fest. Now available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)
RHYTHM … in poems
(Published in January 2019. The book contains 50 poems. The poems describe our day to day life. The book is available in Amazon, Flipkart and Onlinegatha)
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