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Book Review: Over the Wall by Ruskin Bond

Over the Wall is a lengthy story covered in the book ‘Secrets’ by Ruskin Bond. It is a soulful story with themes like compassion and humanity. The time period of the story is of around ten years, like from pre-independence to post independence of India. The narrator is a ten-year-old boy who comes down to Dehradun from Shimla to spend three-month long winter vacation at his granny’s bungalow. They are Anglo-Indians. Around the granny’s house, he sees two more bungalows from over the wall. Melvilles’ bungalow has vibrant environment: in that house people come and go and parties take place. The second bungalow is of Johnsons. Their front and backyard is not neat and tidy, grass and shrub have been grown all over the corners. Except dhobi and cooks, no other people enter their premises and evening parties never take place. In the backyard, at a distance of some yards, there is a hut-like cottage and the window of that cottage opens up at the time of receiving food otherwise it remains shut. The boy grows curious to find out what lies there; what’s inside?

One day the boy reaches there and taps on the window, soon a disfigured face pops out. The boy is horrified to see it. He comes back home running. He discusses the incident with the granny and comes to know that the man who lives in that cottage has leprosy. The man is Mr. Johnsons’ younger brother. She scolds him for going there and getting in touch with that leper. She feared he may get the disease. He comes to know that if Johnson had been alone in this world he would have shot himself. As white English people are dignified and people of England do not accept lepers in their country. To keep his leprosy hidden, Johnsons are living a simple and dull life where they do not interact with the outside people.

Well, one day the boy goes again and finds the diseased man doing some work in the overgrown garden with his stump-like hand. There they both talk about the cure and other disease that aren’t deadly like leprosy. Through different people the boys tries to find a lot about the man because he has developed a soft corner for him. From a doctor, he comes to know that Johnson got this disease in his twenties, and in the officers mess he heard some Indian officers saying that the guy Johnson was terrifically good at athletics and boxing and people are bemused on his disappearance. Probably, they don’t that he is living a secluded wretched life just because of that disease. The boy when goes back discusses the boxing and athletics with him. The man feels happy and says that that was a different time, a different life. The boy feels sorry about his state of fate and unfortunate transformation.

Despite all, Johnson is lucky to have caretakers in the form of a brother. However those without any support, as the last option, has to join the group of beggars and lepers that parade through the city every Friday and people donate food and money and other items to them in sheer sympathy. After the vacation, the boy goes back to his boarding school and forgets about that leper.

The boy comes back after some years and India has become an independent country. White people have either returned to their home country or to some other colonies, and now he is curious to know about that man because Johnsons has sold their bungalow and returned to England and that cottage is not there anymore. Then, the boy thinks that he must have shot himself. On Friday, the boy hides behind a tree when the parade of lepers and beggars pass on down the road, there he finds a familiar face, and it is of Johnson. The boy feels that he has gone over the wall in the best possible way. He is delighted to see him, to know that he hasn’t chosen death over misery. It is a great story…indeed.


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