Romi and the Wildfire is a beautifully written novella by Ruskin Bond which, at the first thought, delves deep into the problem of wildfire that causes havoc in the mountains. While reading this story, you will come to know how disasters like wildfire or forest fire takes a toll on the life of hilly people along with animals and birds. During wildfire in the mountains, people shift from one place to another but animals are rendered homeless and for this reason they come out in the open, in the territories of humans, and then it all imbalances the ecosystem.
Coming to the main story – it opens with Romi, a young boy of around eleven or twelve, who has come to another village to obtain some important medical pills for his ailing father. It is the same village where he comes every day for his school, since his own village is limited to primary grade.
It is already evening. Prem, his friend and also classmate, points to the jungle fire in the east. He insists Romi not to go through the jungle which is caught by wildfire. Romi can stay for the night at Prem’s home but he has to carry those important medical pills for his father, who has recently bought him a new bicycle. Romi is filled with gratitude for his father. Also, Romi is confident of crossing the distance of five miles through the jungle in around forty minutes.
Romi starts on his new bicycle. He is pedaling fast, the fire is in the right side, but still quite far from the route he is travelling on. As he is trundling fast, some wild hares cross the path. Then a band of monkeys streams across, chattering excitedly. Soon a bunch of pheasants fly across the path and a few collide with his bicycle. Romi falls down and injures his knee, bleeding. He brushes his clothes and covers his knee with the handkerchief. He mounts the bicycle again and then rides slowly because a lot of animals and birds are crossing the path and the air fills up with shrieks and cries. Everyone is moving – it must be a big fire. He sees the fire from the right side and then a herd of deer pass the path. He waits for them to clear off.
From ahead, he hears the clanging of metal. As he draws closer, he sees a small boy running along the forest path with two milk cans at his sides. Romi recognizes the boy as Teju from a neighboring village, he comes to deliver milk to the road-side workers but due to fire the workers must have left early. Teju hurriedly sits on the crossbar of the bicycle. They are back to riding again. Now the fire is close by – they can see it and feel the scorching. All of sudden a silk tree burning bright, almost falls on them, but somehow they veer their path and come unscathed off it. Teju is continuously talking to him, however Romi has greater sense of presence in the hours of danger, thus he is constantly thinking about fire and animals.
Romi stops the bicycle in horror as just fifty yards ahead of them they see an elephant trumpeting hard to call out the signals of danger to all its members. They fall down from the bicycle and Teju’s milk cans burst open, spilling all milk. Just after the forest path there is a wooden bridge for their village. They have to ride fast to reach there on time otherwise they will be caught in the fire. After pedaling hard for ten to fifteen minutes when they come out of the forest path to the downside, to their consternation the wooden bridge is burning bright. And they cannot ride over it – it will be suicidal. As a last resort they jump in the shallow river. Due to summer, the river is not that high and fast, water level is till their necks, thus they both cross the river stumbling here and there along with the bicycle. They reach on the other side safely. The kind of struggle they put is worth praising and at the same time Ruskin insists on the theme of nature.
As in all Ruskin Bond books, the theme of the nature is persistent, and here the forest fire fills the backdrop of the story all throughout. The character of Romi is great - at times looks larger-than-life. He is brave, helpful, thoughtful and dedicated to duty. Packed with action, it’s an amazing read.
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