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BOOK REVIEW: THE OVERCOAT by Ruskin Bond

Copyright@shravancharitymission

Khidki (Window)

–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 is one of India’s best known authors. He was born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh in 1934. He wrote his first novel, The Room on the Roof, at the age of 17. Some years later, it won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957.

    Bond spent his growing years in Jamnagar, Dehradun, Delhi and Shimla, all of which occupy a central place in his writing. After a four year stint in London and Channel Islands in the early 1950s, Bond returned to India and made Landour, Mussoorie, his home.

    A prolific writer, Bond has written several books, short stories, poems and essays. He won the Sahitya Academy Award in 1993 and was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1999.

    The story Overcoat is set up in a hill station. It’s about a merry encounter with a ghost. And here it goes.

    The weather was clear and frosty. But as the noon came up over the Himalayan peaks, I could see patches of snow still lay on the roads of the hill station. I would have been quite happy in bed, with a book and a hot-water bottle by my side, but I’d promised the Kapadias that I’d go to their party, and I felt it would be churlish of me to stay away at the last moment. So I padded up myself before setting out for Kapadias on the moonlit road.

    It was a walk of just over a mile to the Kapadias’ house. I had covered about half the distance, when I saw a girl standing in the middle of the road.

    She must have been sixteen or seventeen. But she looked rather old-fashioned, with long hair hanging up to her waist, and a flouncy sequined dress, pink and lavender in colour that reminded me of the photos, in my grandmother’s family album. When I went closer, I noticed she had lovely eyes and a winning smile.

    ‘Good evening,’ I said. ‘It’s a cold night to be out.’

    ‘Are you going to the party?’ she asked.

    ‘That’s right. And I can see from your lovely dress that you too are going. Come along, we’re nearly there.’

    She fell into steps beside me as she commenced walking. We soon saw lights from the Kapadias’ house shining brightly through the deodars. The girl told me her name was Julie. I hadn’t seen her before, but then, I’d only been in the hill station for a few months.

    There was quite a crowd at the party, but no one seemed to know Julie. Everyone thought she was a friend of mine. I did not deny it either. Obviously, she was someone who was feeling lonely and wanted to be friendly with people. And she was certainly enjoying herself. I did not see her do much of eating or drinking, but she flitted from one group to another, talking, listening laughing and enjoying. When the music began, she started dancing and continued alone, or with partners, for it didn’t matter to her, as she was completely wrapped up in music.

    It was almost midnight when I got up to go. I had drank a fair amount of punch, and was ready for bed. As I was saying goodnight to my hosts and wishing everyone a merry Christmas, Julie slipped her arm into mine and said she too would be going home.

    When we were outside, I asked, ‘Where do you live Julie?’

    ‘At Wolfsburn,’ she said. ‘Right at the top of the hill.’

    ‘There’s a cold wind,’ I said. ‘And although your dress is beautiful, it doesn’t look very warm. Here, you’d better wear my overcoat. I’ve plenty of protection.’

    She did not protest, and allowed me to slip my overcoat over her shoulders. Then we started walking back home. But I did not have to escort her all the way. At about the spot where we had met, she said, ‘There’s a shortcut from here. I’ll just scramble up the hillside.’

    ‘Do you know it well?’ I asked. ‘It’s a very narrow path.’

    ‘Oh, I know every stone on the path. I use it all the time. And besides, it’s really a bright night.’

    ‘Well, keep the coat on,’ I said. ‘I can collect it tomorrow.’

    She hesitated for a moment, then smiled and nodded. She then disappeared up the hill, and I went home alone.

    The next day, I walked up to Wolfsburn. I crossed a little brook, from which the house had probably got its name, and entered, an open iron gate. But little had remained of the house. Just a roofless ruin, a pile of stones, a shattered chimney, a few Doric pillars where a veranda had once stood.

    Had Julie played a joke on me? Or had I found the wrong house?

    I walked around the hill, to the mission house where the Taylors live and asked old Mrs Taylor if she knew a girl named Julie.

    ‘No I don’t think so,’ she said. ‘Where does she live?’

    ‘At Wolfsburn, I was told. But the house is just a ruin.’

    ‘Nobody has lived at Wolfsburn for over forty years, the Mackinnons once lived there. One of the old families who settled here. But when their girl died …’ She stopped with that and gave me a queer look. ‘I think her name was Julie … Anyway, when she died, they sold the house and went away. No one ever lived in it again, and it fell into decay. But it couldn’t be the same Julie you’re looking for. She died of consumption (Tuberculosis)—there wasn’t much you could do about it in those days. Her grave is in the cemetery, just down the road.’

    I thanked Mrs Taylor and walked slowly down the road, to the cemetery. Not really wanting to know any more, but propelled forward almost against my will.

    It was a small cemetery under the deodars. You could see the eternal snows of the Himalayas standing out against the pristine blue sky. Here lay the bones of forgotten empire-builders—soldiers, merchants, adventurers, their wives and children. It did not take me long to find Julie’s grave. It had a simple headstone with her name clearly outlined on it:

Julie Mackinnon

1923-39

‘With us one moment,

Taken the next,

Gone to her Maker,

Gone to her rest.’

    Although, many monsoons had swept across the cemetery, wearing down the stones, but they had not touched this little tombstone.

    I was turning to leave, when I got a glimpse of something familiar behind the headstone. I walked around to where it lay.

    Neatly folded on the grass was my overcoat.

    There was no thank-you note. But something soft and invisible brushed against my cheek, and I knew someone was trying to thank me. And that was no one else but Julie … Julie’s soul.

    It is an interesting story and I would give this story seven out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

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Our publications

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)

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

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BOOK CORNER: THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO by Ernest Hemingway

Copyright@shravancharitymission

Khidki (Window)

–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.

 

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Ernest Hemingway

(1899-1961)

    ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ is regarded as one of Hemingway’s greatest works, alongside, ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘A Farewell to Arms.’ The short story was published in August 1936 in Esquire magazine. Ernest Hemingway is an American Novelist. In the ‘Snows of Kilimanjaro’ the theme is of regret, conflict, redemption, acceptance, introspection and finally death.

    This story opens with a few lines about Mount Kilimanjaro. That happens to be the highest mountain of Africa … around 4900 meters. It is also referred as the ‘House of God.’ There also lies a frozen carcass of a leopard near the summit. But no one knows why it is there at such an altitude.   

    There we come across Helen and Harry. Harry is a writer dying of gangrene. Helen is accompanying him in this safari in Africa. They both are stranded in the camp, because a bearing of their truck’s engine has seized. Harry’s condition makes him extremely irritable. He starts mumbling about his impending death in an unemotional manner but in a sarcastic tone that upsets Helen. He quarrels with her over trivial things like. Whether he should have a whiskey with soda, to whether she should read to him. Helen of course is concerned about his welfare. But the growing frustration of Harry makes him talk to her in an irksome manner.

    Harry starts to ruminate about his vast and varied, life’s experiences. He in fact feels he was unable to climax his potential as a writer because he chose to make a living by marrying a wealthy woman. In the story there are certain italicized portions in the form of text that are scattered all throughout the story. Where, Hemmingway narrates certain experiences of Harry in a stream-of-conscious style. Harry’s initial memories consist of travelling around Europe following a battle, hiding a deserter in a cottage, hunting and skiing in the mountains, playing cards during a blizzard, and even hearing about a bombing-run on a train packed with Austrian officers.

    In spite of deep agony, Harry falls asleep and wakes up in the evening when he finds Helen returning from a shooting expedition. He ponders, on how she is considerate and good to him. And that she should not be blamed for the degradation of his talent as a writer. Helen, he recollects is a rich widow who lost her husband and a child. Thereafter, she was bored by a series of lovers. So, she finally acquired Harry because she wanted someone whom she could respect along with her own self. She loves Harry quite dearly as a writer, as a man, as a companion and as a proud possession. On the contrary Harry makes it clear that he does not love her. He then recalls how he contracted gangrene two weeks ago. They had been trying to take a picture of a waterbuck when Harry scratched his right knee on a thorn. He did not apply iodine right away so the wound got infected. And because all other antiseptics ran out. He used a weak carbolic solution that paralysed the minute blood vessels, because of which the leg developed gangrene.

    Helen returns to drink cocktails with Harry. They make up their quarrel. Thereafter Harry’s second memory sequence begins. He recollects how he once patronized prostitutes in Constantinople … to kill his loneliness. Pining for the very first woman he fell in love with. With whom he quarrelled in Paris and broke up. Harry also had a fight with a British soldier over an Armenian prostitute and he left Constantinople for Anatolia. Where, after escaping from a group of Turkish soldiers he had seen things that he could never have dreamt of and later he saw much worse. Then Harry recalls upon his return to Paris. Where, his then-wife enquires about a letter that was actually from Harry’s first love. A reply to the letter he had written to the woman sometime back that was mailed to New York, asking to write to his office in Paris while he was in Constantinople.

    Helen and Harry eat dinner and then Harry has another reminiscence. This time how his grandfather’s log house burned down one day. He then relates how he fished in the Black Forest. And how he lived in a menial quarter in Paris and felt a kind of kinship with his poor neighbours. Thereafter, he goes on to remember a ranch boy whom he turned into sheriff after the boy protected Harry’s horse feed by shooting and killing a thief.

    Harry ponders: ‘That was one story he could have written. He knew some twenty good stories from there. But he had never written one. But then, ‘why?’ He questioned himself. Then he once again felt he’d prefer to be in a different company rather than with Helen … as rich were dull. Next his thought drifted to beating the fear of death and the limits of being able to bear the pain. He recollects an officer named Williamson who was hit by a bomb and to whom Harry subsequently fed his morphine tablets. Harry considers he needn’t worry about his pain in his current condition.

    As Harry lies in his cot thinking about the happenings. He feels an overwhelming presence of death. And he associates it with the hyena that has been spotted running around the periphery of the campsite. He is unable to speak. Helen, thinking that Harry has fallen asleep has him placed inside the tent for the night. Harry dreams that it is morning and that a man called Compton has come with a plane to rescue him. He is put in the plane that has space only for him and the pilot. He watched the landscape go by, beneath him. Suddenly, he sees the snow covered top of Mount Kilimanjaro. He gets a feeling that is where he is bound for. Helen wakes up in the middle of the night to a strange cry of a hyena and finds Harry unresponsive on his cot. He had actually died.

    COMMENTS

    What is interesting about the story is its tone. Initially it starts with a regretful timbre, but in the final passage when he is flying over Kilimanjaro, Harry appears somewhat hopeful and calm.

    Hemmingway uses animals in the story as foreshadowing devices to highlight to the reader about Harry’s impending death. You can find this in the frozen carcass of the leopard, the vultures flying over the campsite sensing death and finally the sighting of the hyena.

    It is while Harry is waiting to die. Hemmingway, through flashbacks, gives readers some insight into Harry’s life. The flashback also highlights how Harry wasted his life by not writing about incidents that occurred in his own life.

    Each flashback has a theme such as … loss, loneliness and escapism, destruction and happiness, misguided loyalty and finally—there is as assumption that he is flying to heaven when the plane comes to pick him up.

   I would give the story nine out of ten.

      ***

Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Share it if you like it

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

NAME OF ACCOUNT: SHRAVAN CHARITY MISSION

Account no: 680510110004635 (BANK OF INDIA)

IFSC code: BKID0006805

*

Our publications

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

(ALL THE ABOVE TITLES ARE AVAILABLE FOR SALE IN AMAZON, FLIPKART AND OTHER ONLINE STORES OR YOU COULD EVEN WRITE TO US FOR A COPY)

*****