Rs. 350 Pp 180
Ruskin Bond’s latest offering, is as petite structurally as it is delightful in the reading. It is a smooth-gliding narrative wrought around the life and times of the Maharani of Mastipur, an erstwhile princely state in northern India.
The narrative voice is that of the author himself, who apparently had a long, although fitful, friendship with Her Highness, “Neena” (“H.H”), now living in retirement in Mussoorie. Love and jealousy, death and desolation, intrigue and intimacy commingle as the novel tells the story of the not-so-young queen trying to drink life to the lees.
Elements of the gothic and the grotesque combine in the sinister figure of a man-like ‘nun’ and in the ravenous army of the Maharaja’s pet white rats, who are presented as agents of death for the Maharaja himself and for “H.H” at the end.
Bond creates an entertaining fictional world where the controlled hedonism of a carpe dieme poem blends with the decadence of a Restoration comedy and the thrill of the Gothic.
As Ruskin takes the queen to cremation in a sparsely attended procession the reader is left with a keen sense of the passage of time The defining element in this novella is the friendship between Ruskin and Neena. This relationship and the character of the queen-protagonist are the best things in this book, which, for all its charm, is not quite among the best Bond has given us.