The bond remains strong

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 18, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe



Author: Ruskin Bond

Publisher: Penguin, Rs 299

Ruskin Bond’s ‘Maharani’ is both breezy and bewitching, says Jaskiran Chopra

A novel is not the usual form which Ruskin Bond chooses to indulge in. Short stories, memoirs and novellas are his comfort zones. But after reading Maharani, the author’s latest novel (or should we call this a Novella too?), one wonders as to why he did not write many more — short, pithy, amazing and full of little twists and turns that keep one gripped to the story.

This novel, partly autobiographical, is a light-hearted look at the life of a wicked Maharani whom the author met long ago in Mussoorie and with whom he had old acquaintance going back to their boarding school days. She is the “Maharani of Mastipur”, a widow with two reckless sons whom she does not care for much. Her goal in life is to enjoy herself while making everyone unhappy and uncomfortable. A candid tale emerges in which the author is a character himself, a kind of anchor to whom the terrible Maharani turns in times of trouble. He hardly ever approves of what she does but for old time’s sake, he tolerates most of her wickedness. He is the narrator and also one of the characters and this dual role makes the book many-layered and enjoyably multi-dimensional.

By Bond’s standards, the book is quite naughty in places. In fact, while working on this book, he told this reviewer last year that as he was proceeding with the story, the Maharani was “getting more and more wicked. I will have to stop her or my book will be banned”.

Naughty and wicked the Maharani surely is. Constantly drunk, always looking for a new lover and treating life as a long, never-ending party, she is least bothered about emotions, sentiments or nostalgia. She is extremely gutsy, sensual and physical, living only for the pleasures of the body.

Describing scenes of sexual intimacy, Bond often gets a little shy and awkward as this is not the stuff his work is usually made of. But this shyness itself is very charming and lends an innocent touch to the descriptions. And Bond’s special brand of tongue-in-cheek humour has been intertwined with such scenes in this book which has a lot of talk about drinking and “sleeping around”. No surprise Maharani’s life revolved around the two activities!

The death of the maharaja due to his own pet rats eating him up through the night after he passes away due to drinking, the old nun Sister Clarissa, a devilish personality who inhabits or rather haunts the house at Hollow Oak, Hans, Neena’s loyal Swiss caretaker, the innumerable dogs in the old house that are barking and biting people all the time, Pablo, son of the Bolivian diplomat who is one of Maharani’s lovers — all the characters have been painted beautifully.

The beauty and changing seasons of Mussoorie always remain in the background as do Ruskin’s lonely boyhood and his gypsy-like existence as a freelance writer, surviving by eating small meals at cafeterias or simply by making “bun omelettes” at home. Mussoorie’s rain, its old cinema halls, the old Savoy hotel, which is now geared to reopen as a five-star heritage property after being renovated and restored. All these are dear to Bond’s heart and he never forgets to mention them in some way or the other. They are characters in their own rights.

Naughty Maharani is not a lady who evokes our sympathy. She is insensitive, crying only for her dogs if they go missing. She is careless, callous, selfish, pleasure-loving and debauched. In fact, the reader is left wondering whether she deserved a faithful friend like Bond who stood by her in all the bad times, right till she died.

The novel is beautifully-crafted and has certain extremely philosophical thoughts, the essence of what Bond has learnt from his life. Maharani is indeed a wondrous reading experience.

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