Author: Rumer Godden
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Synopsis of the book….
One day while browsing a supplement named Literary Review of a renowned daily, The Hindu on a weekend, I came across an interview of someone from Speaking Tiger in which he spoke about the compilation of books recommended by Ruskin Bond for those who love Himalayas, nature, serenity of Himalayan villages, and simplicity in style of writing. I immediately hunted down for my pen and made a list of all those books.
Within a week, I ordered all of them which included long forgotten names such as The Valley of Flowers by Frank S Smythe, Rungli-Rungliot and The River by Rumer Godden, and various other works of John Lang. Being a die -hard follower of Ruskin Bond’s writing and his love for Himalayan life, nature, and nostalgia; all these creations proved to be an extreme delight for me and became a part of my book collection.
As I held this book in my hand, even the cover-page compelled me to visualize a sodden Himalayan village with dripping conifers. When I opened the second page of the book, I was smitten by the author’s note:
‘There are only a few things in these notes:
Chinglam and its hills and valleys
There is nothing else because there was nothing else.’
Rungli-Rungliot is not a utopian location but a real village near Darjeeling on the spur of the Himalayas, with plains in south and gorge of Teesta river in north. The author had spent a year in this small village with her two daughters and her servants. Struggling with the theatrics of World War II and her difficult marriage, she tries to raise her two daughters in a house surrounded by tea-gardens and valleys. Hence, this book is an evocative journal of memories the author creates while she observes her daughters growing in the valley; her garden; and her servants.
‘Sabrina: Why the sky has come down here?
Rafael: Silly, we have come up to the sky.
Giovanna, with a sigh of bliss: I feel me to be in Switzerland.’
Unlike the author’s life in metropolitan cities, she has a secluded office here which is an arbor of lemon trees and wild roses. Her garden is mixture of a rough lawn, lemon trees, unpruned wild-roses, coffee flowers, orchids, and zinnias. Through her short snippets, she describes the various shades of white in sunlight; various hues in coats of her dogs; types of fruits villagers gift each other on ripening of these fruits etc. Durga Puja is followed by Diwali, and then by Christmas. Starlit night on Diwali, unhurried Christmas, smell of wet woods on any festival, the crackle of the logs in the fire, logs brought by the woodcutter employed by her section of the garden—all these sights and sounds are part of her story. Being a Pahadi and a quintessential Himalayan at heart, I couldn’t resist the magic each line creates that evokes mountains in you.
‘The Buddhist here put their prayer flags where the wind will blow them and their prayer wheels in the streams where the water will turn them and get on with their work while the prayers are said.’
The author lives in a bunglow at Chinglam with her daughters, Rafael who is five and Sabrina who is three. She is assisted by the governess of her children Giovanna who is 26; Ears, the lepcha manservant; and his wife. The three daughters of Ears and four Pekinese dogs namely Sol, young Sol, Comfort, and Candytuft also accompany them wherever they go. Her daughters and Giovanna tread down to waterfalls and explore the tea-garden independently now.
Rafael writes thoughtful (of her age) essays and poems about bamboo and flowers of the village. Godden then describes the kind behavior of anonymous villagers towards her daughters. I am mesmerized by the games of her daughters and also Rafael’s daily journaling. I also particularly liked the transition of flowers and the changing ecosystem of her small garden in this book which makes it a compelling nature read. The book leaves me with lot of choices of such lines.
‘It is getting colder. Michaelmas daisies come out in the garden with the first sweet peas and cornflowers and poinsettias. In this mixture of Englishian summer flowers and India, there is an authentic touch of autumn’
Occasionally, visitors from outside like the manager of the estate W and his wife M come and enquire her whether she ever visits the club but she usually doesn’t. She just focuses on her writing despite feeling lonely sometimes. The peaceful solitude doesn’t compensate her lack of a company in the sleepy village.
But, the garden and the bunglow present a different perspective of life for her as sleeps peacefully in her white house for the first time since many years. The complete simplicity and absence of hurry unwinds her entirely.
‘Out in the blue is really true for Chinglam; it is out-in-up in the blue. At half-past five the light lies unevenly over the valley and on the clouds. The garden is very wet and there is smell of lemon and roses’.
As a whole, this book felt like the author’s own diary; something which she has written effortlessly without much pretence, and not something which is contrived or edited significantly for a publication. It felt that she wished to preserve those memories eternally to stir them up whenever required or may be these were just some unrefined ideas for her upcoming novel.
Originally, this book was published in 1961 and is a personal favorite of Ruskin Bond and mine too. Rumer has also written two other critically acclaimed books, Black Narcissus and The River. In 1951, The River was made into a lyrical and visually beautiful film directed by Jean Renoir.
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