Fiction Reads: The Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond

Reimagining or recalling teenage life has led to the realization of many literary gems. Roald Dahl’s Boy and Going Solo are sparkling examples of reflecting on a thrilling childhood and youth, in selective retelling, decades later. 

The Room on the Roof  (1956) is unique, as Bond points out in the introduction – It’s a novel about adolescence, written by an adolescent. The debut novel does offer a rare, immediate perspective on how intense, life-altering and turbulent adolescence can be. 

Sourced from a journal Bond maintained when he was 17, the writings were fictionalized and found a sympathetic publisher in Andre Deutsch.

The book won the 1957 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, given for outstanding literary achievement to a commonwealth* writer under thirty.

I purchased the book during my trip to Mussoorie, with vague memories of having read it in my twenties.    

Front cover detail from one of the editions

Friendships, love, and rawness: The Room on the Roof is largely raw, but undeniably beautiful and honest, germinating with early callings of the writer Bond would transform into – Use of simple English prose, resplendent with parallels drawn to nature’s beauty and a freewheeling life chronicle. 

The genius British comic writer P.G. Wodehouse’s early works, especially novels like The Gold Bat (1904) weren’t half as funny as his later works, but hinted at a comic genius in the making. Often, a not-so-compelling debut has in its roots, the makings of a better author, if they keep at it.       

The edition I bought at Mussoorie
Stereotyping and immaturity?: Surprisingly, this tale of 16-year-old Anglo-Indian Rusty growing up in Dehradun is told in the third person narrative, instead of what could have been, a more intimate first-person literary telling. It’s almost as if Bond wanted to distance himself and consider the text objectively.  

The descriptions of Rusty’s new friends, of changing seasons, festivals, the room on the roof, picnics, drunkards, running away from home, his first love, and first kiss, make for compelling reading.

Bond has admitted how he is afraid of anything sophisticated and smart in life, a reoccuring thought in The Room on the Roof

That a certain reviewer John Wain, labeled the novel’s prose to be babu English is to an extent justified. 

The descriptions of dirt, cows on the street, poverty, chaos, population, and the market are Indian stereotypes that have persisted in foreign media’s stunted descriptions of India. In these parts The Room on the Roof feels it may need a rewrite by a wiser, more perspective-rich Bond.

From the heart: The strong trunk and branches of Ruskin Bond’s writing has been to narrate with a straight-as-an-arrow approach with a matter-of-fact descriptive style. 

The Room on the Roof may not be an instant classic, but is certainly a gem of a book for the easy charm, wisdom, nature truths, conviction, and belief Ruskin Bond infuses into his writings, reasons why he is still widely read. 

*Commonwealth – An organization whose members are the United Kingdom and some other countries that were once a part of the British Empire. (Oxford languages dictionaries)    

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

A young Ruskin Bond with his cat Suzie

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