City Life - Ruskin Bond's Delhi, Atul Grove Road and Other Places

City Life – Ruskin Bond’s Delhi, Atul Grove Road and Other Places

City Life - Ruskin Bond's Delhi, Atul Grove Road and Other Places

A writer’s city.

[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Happy Birthday, Ruskin Bond. The much-loved author turned 90 on Sunday.

Although the hill station of Landour in Mussoorie has been Ruskin Bond’s home since 1964, he would routinely travel to Delhi for book readings and lit fests, staying at the India International Centre. There he would be sighted in the Dining Hall. Once, alone at a table, he was digging into a bowl of pyaz pakori.

In fact, Ruskin Bond briefly lived in a series of Delhi addresses–starting with a tent on a treeless plain outside the city, followed by a hutment near Humayun’s tomb, and then successively in Atul Grove Road, Hailey Road and Scindia House. It was the time of the Second World War, and our writer was a child of separated parents. He was staying with his father, a Royal Air Force man who would daily go to his office at the Air Headquarters near India Gate, leaving the lonesome boy to have lunch at the neighbour’s home. Whatever, that stint in Delhi turned out to be “a glorious year” in Ruskin Bond’s life, the author later mentioned in a book. Father and son were a team. They would go out for ice-cream treats, explore the monuments (on Sundays), and keep up with the new Hollywood releases in the city’s new cinemas—Rivoli, Odeon and Plaza. (Today, one of these has shut down, and the other two are managed by a multiplex chain). The boy would also help father with the latter’s stamp collection.

(Ruskin Bond’s links are embedded into Delhi through his mother as well—she was cremated in the city.)

The author’s second stint in the capital was as a young man living alone in the west Delhi neighbourhoods of Karol Bagh and Rajouri Garden. In an earlier interaction with The Delhi Walla at his mountain home (see right photo), he revealed that “my last intense romantic affair took place in the 1960s with a very sweet-natured woman. It would take a book to describe her. She now lives somewhere in the wilds of Delhi.”

Although his literary oeuvre mostly revolves around the Himalayan foothills, one Delhi locality of Ruskin Bold’s childhood bears unmistakable traces of his gentle, soft writing style. Strolling through Atul Grove Road reveals a gentler, softer side of Delhi. Bungalows with winding driveways, vine-covered boundary walls, trees with loopy branches, solitary men sitting quietly along the paves, sleepy silent eateries and scores of chirpy birds. A sprawling red brick complex is a commingling of curved arches, airy corridors, cobwebby doorways and stately staircases—called Post and Telegraph Chummery (see left photo)

Some years ago, Ruskin Bond visited the avenue, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that in a rapidly transforming Delhi, it hadn’t much altered since the time he lived here in 1943. Writing of it in a book, he observed, “The world keeps changing, but there is always something, that remains the same.”