There is no one better than Ruskin Bond to give you deep insights about the life in the Himalayan foothills. He lives in Mussoorie and thus knows the up and down of the hills, nearby and the farthest. You must have read many Ruskin Bond stories on the lives and culture of the Himalayan people living in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Well, this short story, A Village in Garhwal, takes you into Manjari village of Garhwal region. The author spends four days in the village, he was taken there by one of his friends Gajadhar. This village Manjari is located twenty-five miles away from Lansdown, a famous tourist place and center of Garhwal Rifles.
It takes two days to reach this village from the author’s native place. One needs to travel first by bus from Lansdown and then walk for five miles. The village is situated up the Nayar River – a tributary of the Ganges. One morning the author wakes up to the loud vociferous sound of Cicada. This sound reminds him of factory buzzer. The author is of the opinion that mountains have immense scenic beauty. But according to Gajadhar, unfortunately, scenic beauty does not feed them. Women work in the fields, while men go in the plains to keep their family going.
The author is a guest there. His friend Gajadhar has good health, like most of the hilly people, and he is preparing to join the Indian Army as an officer. His younger brother Chakradhar, who attends school, walks five miles to attend a secondary school. Gajadhar’s father is a corporal in the army. He visits home once in a year. If Gajadhar joins the army and gets married, well then it is likely that his wife will stay in the village with his family. He, like many others, will visit her once in a year. Life for men in the hills is tough. They have to go to the plains for work. This proposition worries the women there.
The nearest river is down slop and the village is up on the hill. For several purposes, villagers need to bring the water from the river. Other than the natural beauty and other benefits that come in the hills, the author has also covered trivial things that matter most to the hilly people and how they tackle it. For instance, during the snowfall, bears often run down to the village area to destroy farms. Gajadhar’s cornfield was destroyed by a bear, however, they manage to fright it when the whole village begins beating drums and got fire sticks.
Next, we see that hilly regions grapple a lot with landslides. Whenever landslides occur, rumours spread in all directions. The postman is an important messenger to the people of the hill. But while coming to Manjari village a landslide stops him, rumours are that he is gone with the slide of mud and rocks. However, after a few days, he appears in the village, only without a mailbox. He relays the news that Gajadhar has cleared his exam and soon needs to join the training center. This news spread like fire in the village and his mother arranges a feast of dinner with the neighbors and his friends.
After dinner there are songs, and Gajadhar’s mother sings of the homesickness of those who are separated from their loved ones and their homes in the hills. It is an old Garhwali folk song:
Oh mountain swift, you are from my father’s home –
Speak, oh speak, in the courtyard of my parents,
My mother will hear you.
She will send my brother to fetch me.
A grain of rice alone in the cooking pot.
Cries, I wish I could get out!’
Likewise I wonder –
Will I ever reach my father’s house?
This is one of the finest Ruskin Bond books based on mountain life. It simply takes us to the Himalayan side of Garhwal and shows us the beauty of the land and difficulties of the locals. Though most of the Ruskin Bond stories are placed against the placid backdrop of Mussoorie or the hustle-bustle of Dehradun, well this one is different.