by Ruskin Bond, 1972
Illustrations by Trevor Stubley
Published by Rupa & Co.
It was a small island, set in the middle of the big river, yet large enough for Sita and her grandparents to live there, together with their three goats, their hens, their vegetable patch, and the peepul tree.
Then one day, as the monsoon clouds were gathering, Grandmother was ill and had to be taken by boat to the nearest hospital. Sita was left alone, and the river swirled angrily around the little island. It rose higher and higher as the rains came down, and Sita climbed into the peepul tree. But the old tree groaned and shook in the wind and the rain, it left its place in the earth where it had been standing for years, and moved to join the river, carrying Sita with it.
I enjoy reading. I've gone through quite a large number of books, and while I like to think that I remember them all, there are some that I have never forgotten. Angry River is one such. I found it, one day, in the bookshelf out in the drawing room. I was very young, but Angry River, like most of Ruskin Bond's work, is meant for children. It has a big font and is beautifully illustrated.
I always liked Ruskin Bond, though I haven't read much of him. I've read some Rusty, and I remember The Woman on Platform 8 from school. But his work is different; it has an almost haunting quality to it –not in the supernatural way, even though both Angry River and, especially, The Woman on Platform 8, seem to have some of that. It is just somehow more evocative than other young fiction. It always seemed as if there was a hidden meaning, a subtext in there somewhere, though I never quite understood this until I reread Angry River for this assignment.
I won’t go into the story, although I highly recommend that you read it. A warning though, there are some spoilers coming your way. Along the course of the book, Sita finds herself on a boat with the boy who rescued her, Krishan. Since they don’t want to spend the night on the river, they make way for the flooded forest on the banks.
It’s beautifully described, the magical quality of the moonlit water as it winds through the tall, tall evergreens, with their submerged trunks and overhanging branches. I can almost see the patterns the moonlight makes on the now calm water through the closely packed trees, and feel the damp and smell the wet earth. The flooding has forced the animals out and snakes, stags, elephants are all looking for shelter and dry ground. But Sita and Krishan are safe because the animals are too busy to bother with them. Even Sita’s exhaustion and fatigue and the sense of safety she now feels are perfectly depicted- as she falls asleep in the gently rocking boat you truly somehow identify with her. With morning the wet of the night is replaced by the warmth of the sun, and Sita and Krishan find their way to a nearby village while light falls through the still dripping branches.
The entire book is wonderfully written, but this episode stays in my mind as something beyond ordinary. The simple words and uncluttered language of the narrative add to the appeal. With this I suddenly remembered that you don’t need fancy words or embellished phrases to make an impression; it is the content that truly matters.