I found this book to be truly awesome, in fact even better than the prequel Room On the Roof.

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

This is the sequel to Room on the Roof, with a freewheeling Rusty and his friend Kishen. Both of them are runaways with no home or family to return to, though Rusty has clothes locked away in a room in Dehra and money is always a problem.

Rusty is Bond’s alter ego, an English boy who wants to become a writer but who loves India too much to live with his snotty guardian. He prefers to loaf around the bazaar with the local boys. However, the room that he looks forward to has a padlock on the door and he has to find other shelter and the quest for shelter turns the book into a story of coming of age.

Undeterred by losing his room and Kishen who succumbs to the comforts of a home, Rusty takes up with new friends from the streets of Dehra.  His bazaar friends consist of the local dumb boy, the wrestler called Hathi and the spectacular  Sudheer  aka Lafunga who is always busy with some kind of a scam.  He finds substitute shelter in a deserted old church and attracts a troop of boys who curl up with him on cassocks in the pews.

The characters are sketched deftly in a few bold strokes in terms of their habits and dress and that this is about coming of age and slightly older perhaps than young adults is implied by the ‘dancing girls’ who carry out their trade in the bazaar.
Bond contrasts Rusty’s independence with that of the older people who need home, land and companions to give them security.  Rusty is aware that one day he too may be old and lonely but he continues searching for his dream in different places and with people of various ages.

Time and again he is offered a place to stay where he can settle down and write – his friend Hathi who offers to make him a farmer, Mr Pettigrew a lonely Englishman and, the most tempting, from an aunt who he runs to ground in the Himalayas near Hardwar. The aunt lives alone with a servant boy, string charpoy and a hookah but she is the one who puts Rusty in touch with his real fortune, a book left to him by his father which gives him the impulse to move on again to totally different surroundings, hinting at yet another book to come.

At the heart of Vagrants in the Valley is the beauty of the surroundings, the mountains and the tree lined roads and dips into icy cold pools by boys who have no bathrooms with running hot and cold water.   This matches the natural wisdom and innocence which characterises Bond’s style – it is a world in which evil does not exist, despite scams and cash crunches. A world where boys have the freedom to explore themselves and come to their own decisions without dominating adult interference.

 

Reviewed by:

Anjana Basu

Added 26th September 2016

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Anjana Basu

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