In the late summer of 1964, Dryer travelled to Maplewood. The last time, after more than two years, I saw her during a recent visit to Delhi, and maybe because I was thirty – a dangerous age for dreamers when young people start saying goodbye – and because I lived as a hermit for a few months, I lost my heart to her. She was sixteen years old; she was dark and thin, with big expressive eyes; and I met her because I didn’t know her when I was spending time with the Kamal family. Maybe unconsciously I’ve always known her, but in a fatherly way, because she often wore the school uniform. She had three years of school left, but only because she failed her exams.
She lived with her parents and brothers in a dusty, fly-infested place somewhere in the suburbs of Delhi, where many poor refugees settled after the Section. I have always been attracted to people from very different backgrounds who, like me, seem to have lost touch with the world a little; and Dryer in his handmade clothes, who dreamed of going around the world one day and spending time with the boys and doing mischief, began to occupy me during those two weeks in Delhi.
I lived with Kamal’s family (with my own family I had reasonable terms, but this was only possible from a distance), and Driedla stayed there too – she used to pay a long visit to her mother, who often came to Rajuri’s garden to recover from the hard work in her wedding house. I was looking for ways to be near Dryland and talk to her alone, but that was impossible in a house full of busy women, children and men who do little. So I’d take him and Kamal and his 10-year-old brother Sander to Connot Place for coffee and snacks. One day I went with them to a movie where I thought I was holding their hands, but Sander was between us. He loved me very much, because little boys will love anyone who buys candy and takes pictures of them.
When I left Delhi for the mountains, I cried. At first I thought it was because I wanted to leave. Then I realized it was because she had nowhere else to go. I think she was both jealous and indignant about that freedom. But as a farewell gift she gave me a marigold wreath, which I wore like a groom, although nothing was said.
So I was happy when she arrived in Maplewood a day later with Kamal and her little brother. Sander insisted on sleeping with me, and he didn’t want his sister to leave him at night. So the three of us slept in my bed, and Kamal moved into a second room which he converted into a studio. I was tense and I felt like the first night was some kind of retractor. I didn’t sleep when I looked at his dark, long-haired hand on Sander’s chest until I finally fell asleep early in the morning.
The next day we went to our first picnic by the creek, where we were again surrounded by people – Kamal, Sander and some of our sugar bush neighbours. But that night I put my hand on Sander, who slept between us, and my fingers scraped him. She took my hand and held it against her soft, warm cheek. I reached out my hand and kissed her eyes and her neck. Sander woke up and I retreated. He wrapped his arm and leg around me and after a while Dryer turned his back on us and quickly fell asleep.
Then we started long walks, all the time telling love stories disguised as fairy tales – which confused Sander and entertained his sister. And Kamal was bored because he went for these walks and said he wanted to concentrate on his painting. (Anyway, he wasn’t interested in stories; since I knew him, he hadn’t read mine or anyone else’s).
Rusty and his friends…
At the next picnic by the creek he was not with us and there were no neighbors. Dryer and I bathed in cool, refreshing water while Dryer sat with his feet in the water on a rock. I sprinkled her with water and she threw a little stone at me. I apologized and she asked me to kiss her feet, which I did. We all laughed and went back to the hut where Kamal scolded me for neglecting my handwriting. I was almost out of the house, he said something had happened to me. I laughed when I said I was entitled to a holiday, but some stories were already in the making. I didn’t want to lie to him, and to hide my guilt, I asked him if he had made any progress with the image he had been fighting against the past few days. He seemed angry, but he decided to quit.
I couldn’t write, it’s true something happened to me. I wanted to be with Dryer all the time; I imagined her standing naked in the stream, or lying naked on our bed, or walking naked in the garden with flowers in her hair. When she showed me a picture of the boy and told me that he was in love with her and that she was writing him letters, I became jealous. I tried not to show it, but it got darker and darker until she felt my fear and tried to compensate. She assured me that the correspondence was one-sided and that she was no longer interested in the boy. I was very happy again. Euphoria in one minute and deep despair in another – I’ve never experienced such shocks.
One morning Kamal took Sander to the ice rink at the mall. It was a hot day.
The young Ruskin Bond is at home in the mountains.
Courtesy of Ruskin Bond
Let’s go to the creek, Sushia said, and tear up the book I was reading. I’ll draw you a bath.
We went down a steep path and I took her to the waterfall and showed her the little cave behind her. We were lying on a wet rock and I kissed her. I kissed her eyes, her lips and her long, slender neck until her shyness turned into passion, and she grabbed me, and suddenly I was afraid for myself and escaped from her arms. I told him it wasn’t safe out there.
That night I whispered to her that I had never loved anyone as much as she had in my life. I wanted to spend my life with her, and I would take care of her. I must have spoken like Majnou or Romeo, and I wanted to say a lot more, but there are no more words in love, and I think I was really in love. No woman has ever answered me as beautifully as she has.
Do you love me? I asked him, and there was silence. I asked her again when I told her that I wanted to marry her and that I would wait for her my whole life if I had to, and then I convinced myself that she nodded and that I couldn’t see her in the dark.
One afternoon we were lying on the bed with Dryer’s head on his arm and Sander was sleeping next to us when Kamal suddenly arrived. We were too scared to react. He didn’t say anything, just walked through the room to his studio. The dryer’s gone and looked scared. He knows, she says. I told him that he would understand, that I would tell him that I wanted to marry him and talk to his mother.
I went for a walk with Kamal, and when we were a bit far from home, we had a fight. He said I cheated on him and used him. He also accused me of seducing an innocent girl.
She’s not a child, I said in her defense. And I’m not really old. I’m thirty years old.
She’s still almost twice your age, he says. Does she love you?
I think so.
Do you believe him? You’re a fool. Look at her, look at you. It’s India.
I want to marry him, I told him, to stop him. Will you help me?
I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t think about it, but if it was a marriage that had left me Sushi, I would have married her.
Kamal brought her and Sander to Delhi two days later. And I was left with the thoughtful mountains and the house that seemed more empirical than before. I kept looking for the things she had left behind – locks of hair on the pillow, a broken bracelet, a small box of Kayal. At night I drank alcohol and wrote lazily while the rats on the rafts were scared.
Ruskin Bond, filmed by Gautam’s grandson against a backdrop of pine trees in Landur.
During the monsoon it would drizzle and drum again and again on the corrugated roof. The fog cleared with interruptions during the day, thin clouds of steam in one minute and thick clouds in the other. It covered the trees and made the forest sinister, but I couldn’t respond to the beauty.
Then Kamal wrote a letter in which he said he wanted to move and live independently. He couldn’t pay the rent and wanted me to share an apartment with him in Delhi for a year. During this time he helped me convince the Dryland family and organize a wedding. I packed my bags and took the bus to Delhi.
We found an apartment, but I could barely find Sushia there. In fact, I only saw them once in those weeks when I was in Delhi, in the house of the Kamal family, which was full of people during the holidays. We didn’t talk, but I talked to one of his uncles. He seemed happy on behalf of his sister. The girl was about to get married, he says, and it could have been me; I was almost a member of his extended family. It’ll happen. I have to be patient.
After that, I had no reason to stay in Delhi. All I could do was wait, and I’d rather wait in my quiet little corner in the hills. Kamal doesn’t seem to have enjoyed being with me either. He always joked that it was unnatural that I didn’t have a girlfriend; now that I’ve found her, I’ve obviously done everything wrong. But none of us wanted to be the first to express our displeasure. It was the Master who put an end to our suffering. He asked us to make room. Kamal’s nephews and nieces, who stayed with us all day and sometimes at night, made too much noise and used up all the water, he says.
I went back to Mussouri with half of Uncle Sushi’s trust. But after that, I haven’t heard from anyone for months. When I couldn’t wait anymore, I took the bus back to Delhi and when I arrived at the Kamal family home, I wasn’t welcome anymore. One of his brothers met me at the door and told me to go back to Mussori and stay away for a while. There was a mistake, the dryer was engaged.
A few months later she married a man with better prospects from her church. She is still married and lives somewhere in the vast plains of northern India (that’s why I had to hide her identity). I don’t know if she’s still wearing bracelets or marigolds. She must be a grandmother now. It’s the grandchildren who support us!
Details : Ruskin Bond: Beloved only
Kamal did not continue painting and turned to a more commercial profession, something to do with making textiles and clothing, after he was also married. After that year we rarely met again, but I heard about him now and then because one of his nephews, Anil, lived with me for a few years to finish his studies. Anil’s family went through difficult times after his father left and the boy was kidnapped from a private school in Delhi that he attended. I took him to Winberg Allen where he studied well and then went to medical school in Dehradun. He became a doctor and moved to America a few years later.