Vagrants in the Valley by Ruskin Bond is a wonderful book dealing with the loneliness of Rusty–Ruskin Bond’s favorite character–and to some extent Rusty is the reflection of Bond’s early life spent in many North Indian cities.
The book is a sequel to the book ‘The Room on the Roof’ and is also a part of the Rusty series books. As told in ‘The Room on the Roof’, Rusty runs away from his bitter English guardian and falls in love with Meena, the mother of Kishen. But when she dies in an accident and Kishen got tired of his boring, drunkard father, he runs away to Hardwar to live with an aunt and Rusty follows them.
After spending a year in Hardwar, they both feel the fondness for Dehradun and the memories of their friendship and juvenile adventures and vagrancy haunt them so much that one day they become what they were a year ago: vagrants and subsequently they run away from that place. Because of lack of money, they cover most of the journey on foot and in snatches travel without a ticket on trains and at one instance when they take a route through the jungle they meet a tiger head on but miraculously comes ahead alive.
In Dehradun, they find that their previous room has been passed on to someone else. They haggle with the Munshi of Seth but to no avail. Having nowhere to go, they take shelter in an abandoned church. Rusty tries to find a job as an English teacher in a number of schools but fails to impress to get a job. And Kishen is too young to find a job in a hotel or in any shoddy place. They roam here and there–vagrants in the valley in the most appropriate sense, however, this time a grim reality saddens their hearts. In this vagrancy, they have developed a great bond of mutual understanding and friendship for each other. But time will test it.
So one day Kishen is taken away by Mrs. Bhusan and her daughter Aruna. They feed him well and force him to stay with them. This all happens without the knowledge of Rusty. Rusty feels cheated but at the same time happy for Kishen because he gets someone to take care of him and he is happy there. There is no shortage of food, sleeping room and other basic things. In the meantime, Rusty befriends Devinder, another orphan like him. He is a student but he sells cosmetic items in a tray that hangs around his neck to sustain. They both live in the same church and soon Devinder introduces Rusty with Sudheer, the Lafunga. He lives on his wits and bamboozling and arranging money anytime is just a gamble for him.
In this book Rusty is seventeen-year-old and on the verge of entering adulthood, so he ought to think about settling into a career. He chooses to be a writer; however, his only obstruction is that he is an orphan so he has to work hard to earn his living while jostling himself as a struggling writer. One day he happens to meet Mr. Pettigrew–an old man in his seventies. He was once acquainted with Rusty’s father. He is concerned about Rusty’s future and tells him about his aunt who had looked after Rusty when he was a kid, but now she lives somewhere in the hills of Lansdowne. He has to find her–she might hold a fortune or any will saved by his father for Rusty. Sudheer is impressed by the appearance of Rusty and wished to involve him into his smuggling or fraudulent business. For this reason, he helps Rusty to find her aunt in the hills of Lansdowne but from there Rusty returns empty handed, except for a few books he has nothing to his name.
In the end, Mr. Pettigrew advises Rusty to leave India for England for a better off writing career. He arranges his tickets for everything. Devinder and Kishen bid farewell to Rusty and he hopes he may not come back to Dehradun ever.
Being vagrant and yet alone all the time is the theme of the book. Ruskin has underlined that a person cannot spend life alone, one needs someone for company and haggling. Rusty too realizes the void in the loneliness after meeting Mr. Pettigrew and his aunt. It is a great book. Reading Ruskin Bond books is like a treat, his writing style literally treat readers as they are in the book, flowing up and down like characters.