"Formally, it's known as Dehradun, but in the 1940s and 1950s, when we were young, everyone called it Dehra. That's where I spent much of my childhood, boyhood and early manhood, and it was the Dehra I wrote about in many of my books and stories," writes Ruskin Bond in Introduction of his book - A Town called Dehra.
Ruskin's association with Dehradun can be divided into four periods - He spent his early childhood here in his maternal grandmother's house, the period when he used to come back from his school in Shimla and stay with his mother and stepfather each time in a different house in Dehradun (1944-1951), then again when he returned from London (1955-58) and finally the brief period he stayed here (1961-62) before shifting permanently to Mussoorie and then Landour in 1963.
After retirement from the railways Ruskin Bond's maternal grandfather, William Dudley Clerke built a house at 6, Old Survey Road.
Like all British bungalows built by railway wallahs in Dehradun, the house had a long verandah and had a garden in front and orchard at the back, enclosed with a high wall. He died in 1935. His wife Ellen Catherine Sims managed the house with his pension and rent from the tenant Miss Kellner. Ruskin's granny died on Aug 13, 1947, in Ranchi.
The house was inherited by her eldest daughter Emily. Within a year Emily and her husband Dr John Heppolette sold the house and settled down in Jersey in the Channel Islands.
Today, the plot has been divided and four houses occupy the land. Seven Oceans consultancy services operate out of the 6 Survey Road premises. The road also has been renamed as Khan Bandhu Marg. Nothing remains of the old bungalow except a few trees.
Near his granny's bungalow and across the Old Survey road was a fruit orchard which Ruskin mentions in his book- Rusty the boy from the hills. He writes "…. There was an orchard where guava, lychee and papaya trees mingled with two or three tall mango trees."
Crossroads Mall now stands on the land which once had the orchard. Dehradun once had many lychee orchards but most have now disappeared giving way to residential colonies
Located at 15/7 Subhash Road, this art deco styled hotel finds mention in his book- The India I love. Ruskin writes "…..And there was old Colonel Wilkie, living on a small pension in a corner room of the White House hotel." When he resigned from his job at CARE in Delhi and came back to Dehra, Ruskin stayed for some time at this hotel.
"But here's a quiet corner. A nice old building with a patch of grass in front… Ah, it's the old White House hotel! A bit run-down now, like the rest of us survivors from that era, but I can still find lodging for the night… And in the morning I shall sit on the veranda where a frond of bougainvillaea trails, and write this little memoir."
Located near the Ugrasaain Road-Rajpur Road intersection, this is one of the last surviving single-screen cinemas. It was one of Dehra's older cinemas and was started by a Parsii Mr Gazder in the 1930s.
"The Orient had once shown English films, and I remember seeing an early British comedy - The Ghost at St. Michael's when I was a boy. The front of the cinema facing the Parade ground was decorated with a bas-relief of dancers designed by Sudhir Kastgir, the art master at the Doon."
When Ruskin returned to India from England in 1955, he stayed with his mother and step-father for some time. When they decided to shift to Delhi in 1956, he stayed back and rented a room in Astley Hall.
Astley Hall was built by freebooter Fedrick Wilson 'Pahari' in memory of his grandson, Astley, who died in infancy.
"Bibiji, my stepfather's first wife offered me a room and balcony above her small provision store in Astley Hall. I got on well with Bibiji, a well-built woman from Amritsar who flung sacks of flour around as though they were shuttlecocks."
Ruskin stayed here as tenant of Bibiji for two years (1956-58). Creatively this was the most productive time and he wrote over thirty short stories, a couple of novellas and numerous articles. Some of the most popular ones written during this period include- The Thief, Night Train at Deoli, The woman on platform 8 and The Kitemaker.
It was during this period that his first novel - The Room on the roof was serialized in Illustrated Weekly brilliantly illustrated by Mario Miranda. Today the hall has undergone a complete makeover and is occupied by shops and hotels.
Located across the Astley Hall is the Natraj Book Store. Natraj has published Ruskin Bond's books - Indian Folktales Retold, Hip-hop Nature boy and other poems and A garland of memories. The bookshop has a separate shelf dedicated to Ruskin Bond books.
PL Lamba established the first Kwality restaurant in Delhi in 1942. After independence, a number of Kwality restaurants came up in places as far as Mumbai, Kolkata, Jamshedpur, Dalhousie and Vizag. All had some family linkage, brother, uncle cousin, son-in-law or an old employee. In Dehradun, the restaurant and hotel operated under the Kwality brand name.
Coming up with newer fast food joints, Kwality could not re-invent itself and sadly closed down in 2008. A Punjab jeweller showroom has now come up in place of Kwality restaurant. One can however still buy their famous stick jaw toffees at the Kwality hotel.
"One day, while I was loitering on the roadside, she (Mrs Biswas) drove up and asked me if I'd like to accompany her down to Dehradun. 'I'll come with you', I said 'provided we can have a nice lunch at Kwality.'
Ruskin writes in A Town called Dehra, "The Dilaram Bazaar that I knew as a boy was just a small cluster of shops at the end of the old Survey Road where it joins the Rajpur Road."
"It has now been obscured by a massive shopping mall, but the name remains and some of the old shops and buildings survive."
Located on the Rajpur Road, it was built in 1840 primarily for the British soldiers stationed here. Sir Cliff Richard was baptized in this church on 2nd November 1940. Ruskin's sister Ellen and his brother William both were baptized in this church.
Ruskin's maternal grandparents had been married here. In the early 1950s, when most of the Anglo-Indian residents had gone away, the church fell into disuse. Window panes were broken; memorial slabs vandalized, Italian marble slabs from the lectern stolen and furniture started rotting. The partially vandalized and forgotten church finds mention in his writings.
"Soon I began to tell Devinder all about myself. I also told him about Kishen who might be waiting for me at the church." During the period when Ruskin stayed in Dehradun, there was a jungle and a watercourse behind the church. A lonely grave stood on the banks of the river bed. Now you find concrete jungle all around. The church has recently been renovated, and mass happens every Sunday morning.
Ruskin Bond's maternal grandfather, William Dudley Clerke worked in carriage building workshop of Indian Railways. He came to Dehradun during the building of Dehradun Delhi railway line and was foreman in the carriage workshop here. The first train rolled into Dehra station on 5th June 1900. Ruskin Bond frequently travelled on the Hardwar mail during his school days in Shimla.
"The platform was crowded with people waiting to catch the same train or to meet people arriving on it. We sat down on our boxes and became part of the platform life at an Indian railway station. Moving among piles of bedding and luggage were sweating, cursing coolies, vendors of magazines, sweetmeats, tea and betel-leaf preparations, also stray dogs, stray people, and sometimes a stray stationmaster."
This article is originally written by Vikas Singh. He has been a lifelong fan of Ruskin Bond. He holds Limca Book record for largest collection of books by any author. He has 247 books in his collection by Ruskin, many of them are the first edition.
That's all, folks. I hope you liked the story.