The Room on the Roof is a novel about a 16-year-old orphaned boy Rusty written by Ruskin Bond when he himself was just 17 years old. The inspiration for this novel was his own journal that he maintained during his school years in Shimla. It was published when he was 21. The award and appreciation he got for his first work motivated him to write its sequel, Vagrants in the Valley. Then followed many others and he went on to prolifically author many inspiring children’s novels.
The Room on the Roof is a semi-autobiographical work hence as the reader progresses through it and gets to know more about Rusty, he at the same time acquaints himself with the author also. Ruskin Bond was also fondly called Rusty.
The portrayal of adolescence written by an adolescent is what that makes this book very special. Let’s explore more in the next section.
Inspiration / The Impulse
The Room on the Roof holds a special place in my heart because it is the first novel written by our very dear, Ruskin Bond Sir, one of India’s most favorite authors. He was only 17 when he wrote this novel and it won him the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize for the year 1957. Imagine, at such a young age he did such a great job of expressing the feeling of an adolescent boy who was trying hard to find himself. The feelings of alienation, loneliness, angst and the chaos in the life of the protagonist; everything was weaved in such a beautiful manner in the novel that after reading it I was forced to look for more books by Ruskin Bond. The magic he creates with the setting and the emotions of the characters is unmatchable. Let’s know more about The Room on the Roof.
I don’t want to rot like mangoes at the end of the season, or burnout like the sun at the end of the day. I cannot live like the gardener, the cook and water-carrier, doing the same task everyday of my life ... I want to be either somebody or nobody. I don’t want to be anybody.
Synopsis - The Room on the Roof
The story revolves around a 16-year-old orphaned Anglo-India boy Rusty, who lives with his guardians in the European community that borders the outskirts of Dehra. Mr. Harrison, the guardian, was a very conservative Englishmen and was very strict also. Rusty felt very lonely there as the emotional connect was totally absent. He was not allowed to mix with the locals or go to the bazaar. Bored with his dull and empty life, he once decides to go to the bazaar while Mr. Harrison was away. There he met a few boys who were very kind towards him.
...Explore, get lost, wander afar; even if it were only to find new places to dream in ... He threw himself on the bed and visualized the morrow… Where should he go – into the hills again, into the forest? Or should he listen to the devil in his heart and go to the Bazaar? Tomorrow he would know, tomorrow…
Rusty tasted freedom for the first time. Gradually, from a confused boy, he turns into a confident young man. Once after a violent episode with his guardian, he runs away from that house to live with his Indian friends. He gets a job with the help of his new friend and stays in the room on the roof of his new employer’s house. Now he begins to experience a new life altogether. His newly found love, his passionate friendships, his brand-new independence; everything was there which made him learn to embrace life with open hands.
But he could not return; he was afraid of what lay ahead, he dreaded the unknown, but it was easier to walk forwards than backwards.
But suddenly he was stuck by the miserable loneliness again. What happened to his friends? What about his first love? Was he able to overcome his loneliness? Will Rusty be a free and confident Rusty again in his life? To know the answers to all these questions you must read this book.
His mind is saying, Don’t go! You will get into troubles. But his instinct is saying, Go! You have your own heart and mind. You don’t have to live under rules all the times.
The major takeaway from this story is that we should always remain open and follow our instincts. Had the protagonist not decided to follow his heart he wouldn’t have had the taste of freedom along with all those wonderful experiences.
“For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
What I liked
The most special thing about this story that I liked is the journey of self-discovery by Rusty. He experiences so many emotions in his life, which while reading, you also will feel connected with. The writing is simple yet artistic. He takes us on a visual tour along with the story, the simple charms of a small Indian town are portrayed beautifully. The hills, the lush green jungles, the scent of flowers, the lively bazaar, the street vendors, the friendly locals; Ruskin Bond’s description of Dehra will immediately transport you to that place. This story is woven with lots of characters and their emotions and the author did justice in portraying them aptly. These characters are ordinary people like us yet so appealing, no exaggeration or extravagance. There were a few funny descriptions also which will act as a tea break in this otherwise serious story. Ruskin Bond, amuses, moves and saddens also at the same time with his simple yet powerful writing. The plot is not a fast moving one though, but Bond has the magic to keep his readers captivated.
This beautiful coming-of-age story of Rusty is embellished with a captivating narration that ensures that the readers live and breathe each moment with Rusty in his hills of Dehra.
Recommendation - The Room on the Roof
I still remember when I read this book for the first time, I could feel the connection with Rusty. His fervent quest for finding his identity struck a chord with my teenage mind instantly. And today, while writing this review I revisited those memories. The Room on the Roof definitely is a fulfilling read for me and I can assure you that it will encourage the reader within you to read more and more. I will definitely recommend it for all, especially for the budding readers.