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Book Review: Time Stops at Shamli by Ruskin Bond

Many agree that Time Stops at Shamli is a short story by Ruskin Bond. Well it looks like a novella. Shamli is a small-village kind of place in the foothills of the Himalayas. Whenever the narrator (Ruskin) travels to Delhi from Dehradun or vice versa, train stops at Shamli exactly for five minutes. Strange is that no one gets down or boards the train. Then, why does it stop there? He is inquisitive about this place. He wants to know what lies behind the station walls, behind the forest that starts immediately after the station platform. Several times he wished to get down to seek answers arising out of curiosity, but he could never muster up that courage.

One night while returning from Delhi, travelling in a packed third-class compartment, the train stops at the Shamli station in the morning. But this time the train has been there for more than five minutes, soon it becomes fifteen minutes. The guard informs that due to some problem in the line clearance, train will halt there for more than an hour. Ruskin becomes impatient. And he gets out. His plan is to explore Shamli all day and to catch up the train in the evening for Dehradun.

When he comes out, the only human soul in the sight is of a young man with Tonga. Upon enquiring, Ruskin comes to know about a hotel, so he wishes to spend the day there. At the hotel Ruskin says that the reason behind being in Shamli is to search the whereabouts of Major Robert who was last seen in Shamli three years ago. Next, one-by-one, he meets interesting characters at the hotel such as Miss Deeds, a drunkard who upon inciting begins breaking the commodities; Mr. Lin claims that he is from Singapore and always plays funeral march on the piano. Lin says that he had met Robert some years ago but it was a lie because Ruskin had lied and invented a fictional character to stay in the hotel.

The owner of the hotel is Satish Dayal - he is obsessed with killing a leopard that has taken someone’s dog one night. Other characters are the servant Dayaram and a ten-year old girl called Kiran who lives nearby. Kiran and Dayaram are both good friends and share a humble understanding. By late afternoon, Ruskin stumbles upon a beautiful lady. She is the wife of Satish Dayal. Well, for him it is a lost love found. The woman is Koki: though aged but still graciously beautiful. Once Ruskin and Koki were in love, they were lovers, but Koki had to retreat because of her parents’ wish of marrying her to a wealthy man. They walk in the forest, lie down on the soft grass, remember early days, sit by a stream, and dance in the rain. It is evening and Ruskin chooses to stay for the night because of her. Koki promises to be at the railway station to see him next day.

In the night the torrential rain and thundering storm brings down half of the hotel down. In a rush, he rushes to the lounge to wait till morning with others. Ruskin feels that time stops at Shamli and there are the people who have been tied up with this place. They try to leave it but couldn’t. There is something mysterious about this place called Shamli. He recollects the wording of the Tonga man: if you stay here one more day, you will not be able to leave this place forever.

Ruskin reaches the railway station but there is no Koki to meet him. He feels disappointed but that is now all right with him. Probably, he has learnt to walk away silently from disappointments. One needs to move on in life…


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