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Rusty’s New Room: ‘The Room on the Roof’ — An Excerpt

‘The Room on the Roof’, by Ruskin Bond, is the celebrated writer’s first venture into literature. The heart-warming story of Rusty, a seventeen-year-old orphaned Anglo-Indian boy, looking for a ‘home’ in the charming hills of Dehradun has lived on through decades.
Here is an excerpt from the book on Rusty’s search for a corner he can call his own.
Rusty had never slept well in his guardian’s house, because he had never been tired enough; also his imagination would disturb him. And, since running away, he had slept badly, because he had been cold and hungry. But in Somi’s house he felt safe and a little happy, and slept; he slept the remainder of the day and through the night.
In the morning Somi tipped Rusty out of bed and dragged him to the water tank. Rusty watched Somi strip and stand under the jet of tap water, and shuddered at the prospect of having to the same.
Before removing his shirt, Rusty looked around in embarrassment; no one paid much attention to him, though one of the ayahs, the girl with the bangles, gave him a sly smile; he looked away from the women, threw his shirt on a bush and advanced cautiously to the bathing place.
Somi pulled him under the tap. The water was icy-cold and Rusty gasped with the shock. As soon as he was wet, he sprang off the platform, much to the amusement of Somi and the ayahs.
There was no towel with which to dry himself; he stood on the grass, shivering with cold, wondering whether he should dash back to the house or shiver in the open until the sun dried him. But the girl with the bangles was beside him holding a towel; her eyes were full of mockery, but her smile was friendly.
At the midday meal, which consisted of curry and curd and chapattis, Rusty met Somi’s mother, and liked her.
She was a woman of about thirty-five; she had a few grey hairs at the temples, and her skin—unlike Somi’s—was rough and dry. She dressed simply, in a plain white sari. Her life had been difficult. After the partition of the country, when hate made religion its own, Somi’s family had to leave their home in the Punjab and trek southwards; they had walked hundreds of miles and the mother had carried Somi, who was then six, on her back. Life in India had to be started again, right from the beginning, for they had lost most of their property: the father found work in Delhi, the sisters were married off, and Somi and his mother settled down in Dehra, where the boy attended school.
The mother said: ‘Mister Rusty, you must give Somi a few lessons in spelling and arithmetic. Always, he comes last in class.’
‘Oh, that’s good!’ exclaimed Somi. ‘We’ll have fun, Rusty!’ Then he thumped the table. ‘I have an idea! I know, I think I have a job for you! Remember Kishen, the boy we passed yesterday? Well, his father wants someone to give him private lessons in English.’
‘Teach Kishen?’
‘Yes, it will be easy. I’ll go and see Mr Kapoor and tell him I’ve found a professor of English or something like that, and then you can come and see him. Brother, it is a first-class idea, you are going to be a teacher!’
Rusty felt very dubious about the proposal; he was not sure he could teach English or anything else to the wilful son of a rich man; but he was not in a position to pick and choose. Somi mounted his bicycle and rode off to see Mr Kapoor to secure for Rusty the post of Professor of English. When he returned he seemed pleased with himself, and Rusty’s heart sank with the knowledge that he had got a job.
‘You are to come and see him this evening,’ announced Somi, ‘he will tell you all about it. They want a teacher for Kishen, especially if they don’t have to pay.’ ‘What kind of a job without pay?’ complained Rusty.
‘No pay,’ said Somi, ‘but everything else. Food—and no cooking is better than Punjabi cooking; water—’
‘I should hope so,’ said Rusty.
‘And a room, sir!’ ‘Oh, even a room,’ said Rusty ungratefully, ‘that will be nice.’
‘Anyway,’ said Somi, ‘come and see him, you don’t have to accept.’.
Find out more about Rusty and his delightful adventures today!
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My First Earning – An Excerpt

June 1979
For several days, I stayed at home. Initially, I helped my mother in her household chores. I also liked to look after the cattle. I woke up early in the morning, took the cattle for grazing along the hills and also helped in milking the cows. When I prepared the husk for the cattle, it used to get stuck all over my body. My mother then helped me tidy up. After my bath, I would bathe the cattle and in the evening, I again took them for grazing. This routine continued for around three months. By now, the monsoon had arrived and the work at the farm was increasing. Hence, I changed my routine and started taking an interest in working at the farm. The processes of plantation intrigued me and I began to help my father in the farm.
One day, when I was with my father, the mat (account- keeper) came to him and informed him about a plantation job available in the village. He said that every worker would be paid a sum of Rs 5 per day.
As soon as I heard that, my eyes gleamed with excitement. For me, a sum of Rs 5 per day was a huge amount. It struck me that not long ago, we didn’t even have Rs 2.50 for my school fees. Compared to that, Rs 5 seemed like a jackpot! I was motivated to work hard for it.
I was lost in excitement. Earning this money would help me pay the fees of two of my siblings. I felt as if I had landed an incredible opportunity. I wanted to do the job anyhow and informed the mat about my intentions. He looked at me with scorn and left the place. His reaction was natural as I was only eight years old at that time and the task demanded power and stamina. No eight-year-old was fit for the job.
But my mind would not take no for an answer. I needed the job and was ready to work hard for it. However, I was an eight-year-old at the end of the day and had to ask my father for help. Initially, he was reluctant and refused to listen, but later, my determination to help with the family’s situation made him talk to the mat.
The very next day, I was in front of the mat once again. My father tried to convince him about my abilities. I was disappointed by his earlier refusal to let me work for him and did not want to be subjected to it again. He initially hesitated but when I reassured him of my dedication, he agreed and explained how to go about the work.
The work was with the forest department for its new campaign to plant some trees in the village. I had to work at the plant nursery, which was situated some 4 kilometres down the hill. I had to collect the plants, carry them on my back, travel uphill to the village for another 4 kilometres and plant them. Once all the trees were planted, I had to go back again and get more seedlings.
It was the day before I was to start work. The excitement about my new job didn’t let me sleep. The next day I woke up before sunrise. Once awake, I saw that it was raining outside. In the hills, when there is heavy rainfall, it becomes difficult to walk down the hill. The soil becomes wet and there are high chances of losing balance, slipping on the mud and hurting oneself badly. Hence, we were often advised to not go down the hills during heavy rains. That day too, because of the harsh weather, I was told by my parents to not go out. But nothing would deter me. I felt as if this job was the biggest milestone I had crossed in my life and not even the heaviest rains could stop me.
I didn’t listen to my parents and rushed out of my house. Since I had been told to reach the place by 8 a.m., I picked up my pace. The way to the nursery in the heavy downpour wasn’t easy at all. I slipped a few times and the constant rains made it more and more difficult. But I didn’t look back and continued walking.
When I reached the nursery, to my utter shock and confusion, I couldn’t see a single soul there. There was absolutely no one around! I was in despair. The sudden happiness and excitement of reaching the nursery, working and earning was shattered. I roamed about and found a guard sitting there. When I inquired, he replied that due to the heavy rains no one had shown up yet. Seeing my dejected face, he suggested that I could wait if I wanted for them to arrive.
I decided to wait. By now, the rain had slowed down. It was merely a drizzle and yet no one came. The guard told me to come back the next day. I left the place completely dejected. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. It was a dark and foreboding night. The moon was nowhere to be seen as if it was hiding behind a curtain of clouds. Just like the moon, I felt lost in desolation, trying to hide my feelings and my tears in a ragged blanket. I had been looking forward to my first earning but the day ended with no money in my hands. The rains had completely stopped by then and the sky was pitch- dark and still. I kept on tossing and turning throughout the night, waiting for sleep.
In the morning, I woke up with the same enthusiasm. The gloom of the previous night seemed like a forgotten thing. I got ready and rushed to the nursery. Fortunately, the work was in progress and the presence of the mat was a sign of relief for me. After talking to him, I picked up a sack full of seedlings and a spade. The mat instructed me to complete at least two rounds in the day, so I carried the sack of plants on my shoulder and went up the hill with great enthusiasm. At that time, I felt as if the sack of plants was no ordinary sack; it was a magic box which would gift me my first earning. I kept on walking briskly for the next two hours, planted the seedlings at the designated place and walked down to the nursery to collect more seedlings. The same routine continued for the entire day. I was so involved in the work that I even skipped lunch. Food was the last thing on my mind.
By evening, I realized that I had actually enjoyed the work and had developed an interest in planting the seedlings. When I went to the nursery, the mat was happy as I had completed three rounds of planting. He took out a small bag from his pocket and took out a note with five written on it and gave it to me.
That moment is still fresh in my mind, as if it was only yesterday. It was an inexplicable feeling, something that till date counts as one of my happiest memories. My first earning! I was on cloud nine.
When I reached home, my mother was still in the kitchen waiting for me. I looked around for my father and spotted him lying on a khaat, a string bed, in the courtyard. I gave him the money. He stared at me for a few minutes. I saw tears welling up in his eyes but at that time I was too young to understand his emotions. He slowly patted my back and told me to give the money to my mother.
Perhaps, this was the moment when I stopped being a child. In just a day, I had shed the cloak of childhood and became an earning member of my family.


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