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Reading: Ruskin Bond’s Haunted Architecture: Anglo-Saxon Archetypes of the Doon Valley

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Ruskin Bond’s Haunted Architecture: Anglo-Saxon Archetypes of the Doon Valley

Author:

Arup K. Chatterjee

OP Jindal Global University, IN
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Abstract

The writings of Ruskin Bond—one of India’s most loved and longest read authors—are interrelated to archetypes of haunted Anglo-Saxon cultural geography and architecture. Buildings like Maplewood, Mulberry Cottage, the Savoy Hotel and abandoned cottages of Pari Tibba or Camel’s Back Road, besides archetypal Anglo-Indian characters, keep resurfacing in Bond’s literary spaces of Mussoorie and Landour. Bond’s life and works represent a fundamental resistance to the social abjection that the Anglo-Indian community has undergone in postcolonial India. Spectral faces, derelict or haunted cottages and a spectral architectural script render his writings as a reservoir of Anglo-Indian psychic manifestations. Drawing primarily on Northrop Frye’s notion of archetypes, Henri Lefebvre’s reflections on ‘architexture’, and Jacques Derrida’s model of hauntology, this paper examines three principal haunted architectural archetypes—woods and tombstones; derelict and haunted cottages; and spectral faces—that predominate in Bond’s world. The paper argues these architectural archetypes of the Doon Valley are assertions of Anglo-Indian cultural subjectivity in the guise of a haunted otherness. It would be meretricious to interpret Bond’s works as timeless and uncomplicated without studying the archetypal hauntology it has deployed over several decades. Bond’s obsession with haunting undergirds his literary creations of antifragile texture and atmosphere (architexture) out of fragile structures and memories of an Anglo-Saxon cultural geography, which can only be spectrally experienced.
How to Cite: Chatterjee, A K. “Ruskin Bond’s Haunted Architecture: Anglo-Saxon Archetypes of the Doon Valley”. Anglo Saxonica, vol. 19, no. 1, 2021, p. 1. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/as.34
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  Published on 19 Feb 2021
 Accepted on 10 Dec 2020            Submitted on 29 May 2020

It haunts, it ghosts, it spectres, there is some phantom there, it has the feel of the living-dead-manor house, spiritualism, occult science, gothic novel, obscurantism, atmosphere of anonymous threat or imminence. The subject that haunts is not identifiable, one cannot see, localize, fix any form, one cannot decide between hallucination and perception, there are only displacements; one feels oneself looked at by what one cannot see (Derrida 169–70).

It isn’t many years since I left Maplewood, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the cottage has disappeared. Already, during my last months there, the trees were being cut and new road was being blasted out of the mountain. It … was already shaky and full of cracks, and a few tremors, such as those produced by passing trucks, drilling machines and bulldozers, would soon bring the cottage to the ground (Bond 1991: ix).

Prologue

When John Lang, an Anglo-Australian barrister, essayed Mussoorie’s Himalaya Club in Wanderings in India (1859), little did he know that the town’s literary tradition would outlast one and half centuries. ‘We are all idlers at Mussoorie,’ he remarked. ‘We are all sick, or supposed to be so; or we have leave on private affairs’ (3). Lang’s sickness has seen several alchemies in the writings of Ruskin Bond, an octogenarian raconteur of the Doon Valley. His over two-hundred book titles and five-hundred stories have enjoyed tremendous popular success and critical acclaim. He has been conferred with prestigious awards, including Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Shri and India’s third highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan. However, Bond’s life is also an example of Anglo-Indian identity under siege. Anglo-Indians are largely a community of Christians with Indo-European ancestries, from various ethno-lingual backgrounds, based in India and parts of Britain, America, Australia, Bangladesh or Pakistan. India’s Anglo-Indian community numbers between 200,000 and 400,000, less than 0.025% of the national population. A tiny fraction of it lives in the Doon. The community continues to fight a long battle for minority status and reservations. After 1960, Anglo-Indians became culturally and socially abject, when their employment and educational reservations were rescinded by the Government of India (Ghosh 2018; Dias 2020). Bond, who towers over the Indian literary scene, like the ancient green turrets and shamrocked spandrels of Mussoorie’s twice-born Savoy Hotel towering over the township’s gossip,1 is a beacon of courage in despair. Having been tried and almost jailed for a ‘semi-erotic’ tale called The Sensualist, in the 1970s, or charged tourist fees meant for foreigners at Indian monuments, even Bond has often faced humiliation while reproving his Indian roots (PTI 2017).

Uttarakhand, where the Doon is located, has toyed with dark tourism in sites of ‘haunting’, a phenomenon greatly owed to Bond’s writings, besides colonial history and architectural relics (Chatterjee 2017; Singh 2017). Ironically, while Bond has written for seven decades, no serious critical thought is given to his haunted spaces. His canvases overlie a small abject world, in and around the Doon, where his beloved and forsworn pasts lie frozen as apparitions. By no means is it exclusively Anglo-Indian, but Anglo-Indian observers and bystanders palpably haunt it. This paper studies the haunted architecture—‘architexture’ as termed by Henri Lefebvre—in Bond’s writings, generally recognized as children’s tales, poems, essays and, by no means the least, ghostly legends. The mutability of Bond’s hauntings transforms the personal into the public and the literary into a social space. His Doon memoirs are uncanny dramatizations of space in the guise of lost Anglo-Saxon pasts, and their unexorcised recuperations in a haunted architecture. ‘The ghostly always represents some shadow of truth,’ wrote Lafcadio Hearn. A haunted tale has ‘always happened in our dreams and reminds us of forgotten experiences, imaginative and emotional.’ Bond quotes Hearn in a ghost story anthology (1989: 10), sculpting the spectral as a formal and pragmatic aspect of truth. Elsewhere, Fredric Jameson reminds that spectrality is not about firm convictions in ghostly anthropomorphism, but a keen awareness ‘that the living present is scarcely as self-sufficient as it claims to be; that we would do well not to count on its density and solidity, which might under exceptional circumstances betray us’ (Jameson 39). Accordingly, this paper paves a trialectic between Bond, key discourses from Northrop Frye, Henri Lefebvre, Jacques Derrida, and the architectural pasts of the Doon, to study the spectral ramifications of what is often relegated as a ‘timeless, magical atmosphere’ in Bond (Khorana 101). In examining his architectural archetypes, I argue that Bond’s haunted settings mask the creation of antifragile texts and textures (architexture), in a postcolonial space, from fragile structures and archetypes of an Anglo-Saxon cultural geography.

Here, ‘archetype’ derives from Frye’s notion of ‘a typical or recurring image’, a communicable symbol unifying a literary universe, making an essay, a poem or a story indistinguishable from a cultural oeuvre. Archetypes are not just signs, but complex interpretive clusters, such as ‘the geometrical figure of the cross inevitably suggests the death of Christ’ (Frye 102). Archetypes broaden the intelligibility of a literary work, rendering its dreamlike quality ‘plausible and acceptable to a social waking consciousness’ (118). Bond’s geography coalesces architectural archetypes, which can be broadly categorized as: woods and tombstones; derelict and haunted cottages; and spectral faces. These are all the more significant considering the decaying state of European graveyards in modern India owing to anticolonial ideology and postcolonial neglect (Buettener 2006; Shakil 2018). Anglo-Indians experience a second-rate citizenship, being consigned as persona non grata both by British and Indian cultures, and doubly stereotyped as immoral and illegitimate (Brennan 1979; Williams 2000; Chatterji 2020). Bond’s haunted spaces manifest psychic patterns of the besieged Anglo-Indian identity, overcoming repression in a ghostly aspect. I explore Bond’s archetypes apropos of Derrida’s ‘ghost-writing’, where cryptology and haunting operate as model and method. It is tempting to superimpose on Bond what Carla Jodey Castricano calls cryptomimesis, an internally and externally haunted topography in Derrida’s wordplay (Castricano 6). While that superimposition would be premature, Castricano’s assessment fortuitously holds true for Bond inasmuch as by ‘drawing upon such figures as the crypt, the phantom, and the living-dead … [he] utilizes and foregrounds the dynamics of haunting and mourning to produce an autobiographical deconstructive writing’ (8).

For something to be haunted, the memory of absence must be activated, just as for something to haunt, it must especially be not present. What haunts is as an untimely event of non-presence. To be haunted is to be troubled by the non-presence of what is yet to arrive, a revenant that does not arrive at all, ‘something that inhabits without residing’ (Derrida 21). What Derrida calls ‘hauntology’ is nothing but the ontology of non-presence. Colin Davis describes it as ‘a wholly irrecuperable intrusion in our world, which is not comprehensible within our available intellectual frameworks, but whose otherness we are responsible for preserving’ (373). Hauntology imbricates mourning and preservation of the spectre; a processualism uniting the mourner and mourned, haunting and haunted, time and timelessness. Haunting is anachronistic, occurs outside historical time, but as a consequence of historical factors. Therefore, Bond’s ‘timeless’ and ‘uncomplicated’ tales from the hills, as they are loosely labelled,2 are dialectical centres where complexities of colonial and postcolonial times are encrusted. His spectral architecture comprises non-present, therefore haunted, Anglo-Saxon spaces in a tropical terrain. The afterlives of mental maps, acoustics, buildings and characters crystallized in his stories are not ‘nostalgic’ colonial relics, but survivalist assertions by a marginalized Anglo-Indian culture in a postcolonial geography. If spectres sustain what Derrida calls the ‘surplus value’ of conjuration, the Doon’s spectral architecture represents a surplus to the postcolonial touristic space, where the mourned dead and living mourner may cohabit with postcolonial gaze. Bond’s spaces are not superficial timeless heterotopias in the hills, but inevitably interrelated to archetypes of an Anglo-Saxon cultural geography.

Historical and Architectural Archetypes

Until mid-nineteenth century, India was the ‘White Man’s grave’, where the average lifespan of Europeans was two monsoons. Tropical epidemics led London’s insurance companies to fortify operations for 100 per cent worse mortality rates in India than in England (Wilkinson 1976). Colonial hill stations like Mussoorie afforded respite from the high mortality for a few months each year. Hill stations were also geopolitical assertions of imperial officialdom and engineering to scale the gigantic Himalayas as sites for colonial sanatoria, hospices and therapeutic Anglo-Saxon milieus. They theatres for the reproduction of Victorian etiquettes in Himalayan climate, imperial power relations on household scales, raising English children and managing domestic servants, especially after the 1869 when the Suez Canal shortened the sea-route from Europe to India in a safer passage to the subcontinent for memsahibs (Blunt 422–23). Mussoorie and Landour began as military cantonments, botanical and actinometrical sites for the Royal Society’s experiments, before becoming the ‘vision of the redemption of the British “Tommy” in a highland Arcadia, where he might eat fresh vegetables grown in his own garden, drink nutritious ale brewed from mountain spring water, and amuse himself in such innocent outdoor activities as collecting butterflies’ (Kennedy 37). Founded in the 1820s, Mussoorie was the site of the first sanatorium in British India. If Indian hill stations were designed to perpetuate British imperialism, their birth was irreversibly tied to imperial anxiety over death in the tropics, mutinies and public distress, which hill stations were meant to alleviate.

Swiss Gothic, Scottish baronial and Tudor architectural designs compounded the overall character of hill stations, whose forms overlay a didactic function ‘to improve the character and conduct of society by creating structures that communicated through the lineage and design certain ethical and social messages’ (Kennedy 106–107). Hillsides were gentrified with harmonious juxtapositions of quaint gardens and cottages, orchards, pedestrian malls, lakes and bridges. Europeanized meadows, transplanted species of vegetation—rhododendrons, horse chestnuts, oaks, cherries, potatoes and strawberries—and cottage frontages organized a ‘collateral program’ of the British administration to camouflage the troubled reality of the plains (Kennedy 52–53). Himalayan cottages mimicking English country homes personified the racial authority of their proprietors, writes Thomas Metcalf. Following the European practice of naming houses, hill station cottages transplanted the aura of Anglo-Saxon picturesqueness, with bandstands, Gothic churches, and houses named ‘Woodacre’ or ‘Myrtle’, creating the apparent illusion of an English township (184). Rustic Swiss-styled cottages effectuated a ‘sudden implantation of an alien architecture and way of life’ (Jackson 140–41). Although Himalayan scales far surpassed that of Alpine vistas, the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands, the latter models reconfigured the former (Metcalf 183). Rechristening the Himalayas as ‘hills’ domesticated an intimidating topography in colonial consciousness. Socially, environmentally, and architecturally, towns like Mussoorie and Landour were determined as microcosms and archetypes of European topography.

The Doon has been home to many celebrated Anglo-Indian writers, besides Bond—Ganesh Saili, Victor Banerji, Bill Aitken, Irwin Allan Sealy, Stephen, Joseph and Tom Alter—though not all are Anglo-Indian by birth. Nothing conjures their shared heritage as evocatively as historical legends. ‘All hill-stations have their share of ghost stories’, one commentator remarked. ‘But the Doon must be the only spot that can boast of so many writers, living and dead, who have turned their home into their muse’ (Reddy 2007). Mussoorie was established by Captain Frederick Young. He hailed from Mullingar, in Ireland, after which his mansion Mullingar was named. Mullingar flat is said to be haunted by Young, once commander of the first Gurkha battalion and the founder of the Sirmour Rifles Regiment. In the nineteenth century, the Doon hosted illustrious writers like Emily Eden and Fanny Eden (nieces of Lord Auckland), Fanny Parkes, John Lang, Rudyard Kipling and Vicereine Lady Dufferin. With over a dozen English writers and painters buried in the Camel’s Back and Landour cemeteries, and several presently writing from the valley, the valley has scrupulously preserved its English literary and cultural legacy. The Writer’s Bar in the Savoy hotel, whose founders include Bond and Saili, has a gallery dedicated to famous literary visitors to the Doon, whose plaques were carved by a coffin-maker.

Against this robust architectural, literary, and legendary backdrop, the Doon’s textural and textual contours are inseparable. Lefebvre equates the contours of space and architecture to codified text messages, remarking that ‘it is helpful to think of architectures as “archi-textures”, to treat each monument or building, viewed in its surroundings and context … as part of a particular production of space.’ Accordingly, ‘space implies time, and vice versa’ (118). Lefebvre sees textual representation of space as interventions ‘by way of architecture, conceived of not as the building of a particular structure, palace or monument, but rather as a project embedded in a spatial context and a texture’ (42). Architects often see their works as materializations of human desire, drawing from polymorphous sources outside ‘discrete disciplinary boundaries,’ writes Thomas Mical. Architecture paradoxically stages its own excluded desires and longing for lost origins, ‘outside the reductive and utilitarian spaces of modernity (Mical 1–7). Bernard Tschumi, who once considered a building’s ‘state of decay’ to be its architectural thing, corroborates this anti-modern stance. Architecture survives only ‘where it negates the form that society expects of it. Where it negates itself by transgressing the limits that history has set for it’ (Tshumi qtd. in Jormakka 295). For each of them, architecture proceeds as processual relationships between the spatial and spectatorial or—like in the Doon—as spectral relationships.

Broadening the architectural scope, Julian Wolfreys considers haunted houses to be ‘a stock structural and narrative figure’ in Victorian literature, even when haunting is not typical ghostly phenomena but includes ‘spectral oscillations within the supposedly familiar space of the home’ (5–6). Haunting is fundamentally resistant to representation and anthropomorphizing, for it is a disruption in both categories. Spectrality in architecture, Wolfreys suggests, enacts disruptions in original functions and structures; ghostly churches, for instance (59). As Peter Eisenman remarks, architecture haunts or manifests itself virtually in writing, through memories or interiority projected into the present moment (81). In a similar vein, Sara Luria conceives of a literary ‘architecture of manners’ that created ‘the very conditions’ for Victorian novels to exist (302). In this more quotidian sense, architecture invariably encircles an irreducible virtuality, a hauntology, where the familiar turns disruptively unfamiliar, and vice versa. Hauntology, adds Wolfreys, is not just about absence, but a sore sense of inhabitation, of something that ‘manifests itself not as arriving from elsewhere but instead making itself felt’ (111). For Mark Wigley, it is a ‘return of the repressed as a foreign element that strangely seems to belong to the very domain that renders it foreign’ (108). Precisely in these senses of architecture and hauntology, Bond’s is a world of haunted metaphors bleeding from the architectural materiality of the present. He ventriloquizes characters (‘flotsam of Empire’, in his architectural metaphor) out of joint in a space now foreign to them. Bond’s archetypes of the Doon’s wilderness, graveyards, haunted cottages and ghostly faces represent an architecture, or what Lefebvre calls the ‘truth of space’, that is increasingly endangered, tending to be non-present or a virtual haunted house.

Trees, Flowers and Tombstones

Trees and tombstones haunt Bond’s terrains with peculiar chronicity. I Was the Wind Last Night (2017) is an invaluable inventory of spectral archetypes; spectrality being a fundamental resistance to easy assimilations of postcolonial modernity. Bond’s Doon alternates between nocturnal aliens; conifers, oaks, walnuts, spruces or pines, whispering in ‘mysterious diction’ on dusky hillsides (4); solitary rhododendrons, violets, commelinas and ferns; stone houses and ‘old spirit-haunted rocks’ (10); haunted hillsides, abandoned quarries, broken walls, mango groves and old bungalows; orchestras of crickets; rainwashed cherry trees; ‘sun-kissed’ buttercups and vines (32); jacarandas planted by his deceased father and the echoes of his separated mother’s laughter; cemeteries ‘nourished by the bones’ of Anglo-Saxon colonels, collectors, magistrates or memsahibs (67); haunted platforms, haunted railway tracks, haunted cafés and thrift shops, haunted closets and haunted romantic trysts. Culturally, geographically, and thematically, these are simultaneously Anglo-Saxon and Indian, mutating like a still-unfolding hieroglyph of hybrid pasts.

Bond’s childhood reminiscences from British India are archetypal frameworks of a time when most ‘bungalows had large compounds—gardens in front, orchards at the back, and sometimes a bit of wilderness thrown in’ (2004: 2). An almost alien architecture spectralizes the Indian milieu, where migrant avian species, butterflies, squirrels and benign reptiles abound in the woods. Spectrality and haunting proceed as dialectical movements between the conscious and unconscious mind. Architectural theory has attempted to delve into the ‘architectural unconscious’, a seat which processes forms, feelings, moods, atmospheres, affections, and also regulates the pervasion of vivid structures of architectural imagination in dream states (Hays 33; Bollas 218). Bond is an apposite analysand for the Doon’s architectural unconscious. In his odysseys, the architecture of a wholesome past determines his homecomings in a battered present. Architecture and hauntology combine, for instance in ‘Whistling in the Dark’, where he encounters a ‘rotting coffin and a few scattered bones’, as the relics of a Victorian civilization, whose cemetery walls are approaching collapse.

Part of the tombstone lay beside the road, but the lettering had worn away … something made me stoop and pick up a smooth round shard of bone, probably part of a skull. When my hand closed over it, the bone crumbled into fragments. I let them fall to the grass. Dust to dust (2016: 561).

We are not entirely transported into a past but left spectrally oscillating between pasts and presents owing to the presence of a solitary bicyclist at the cemetery. Eventually, even the cyclist turns out to be a phantom. He is revealed as Michael Dutta, who died at the age of fifteen, in November 1950, as recorded in the burial register of the church vestry. His is a grave that the author had earlier stumbled upon (2016: 562–63). The man’s Anglicized first name and Indian surname—scarce in postcolonial India—personify potentially incompatible geographical and historical realities.

Bond’s world shapes dialectically between nature’s ephemerality and the eternity of the Doon’s ghosts guarding their tombstones or gossiping about the town’s goings-on. The dahlias and salvias strewn over the graves invite us to a virtual funeral, whose chiaroscuro effects are deeply sombre, yet seductive. The touristic gaze is not far from Bond’s imagination when he remarks that ‘ghosts are an added attraction for tourists’ (2005: 85). ‘My echo, my shadow, and me …’—the refrain that guides his circumnavigation of the Landour cemetery—seduces us to see the haunted space as secretions of the author’s corporeality. ‘We take our shadows for granted,’ laments Bond, siding with his ‘uncomplaining companions of a lifetime, mute and helpless witness to our every act of commission and omission’ (2016: 560–61). Echoes, shadows and chimera of the abject and forgotten constitute essential forms of Bond’s haunted architecture. The gravestone of Michael Dutta, and his afterlife as a phantom bicyclist, disrupts linear vectors of space-time. His tombstone and his name in the fraying pages of the church register are reconfigured in ‘The Overcoat’ as the character of Julie, whom the protagonist lends his woollen garment on a cold night, unaware that the girl has been dead for forty years, until he finds her buried in ‘a small cemetery under the deodars.’ Against the ‘eternal snows’ of the hills rising against the ‘pristine blue sky’, the archetypal cemetery restages itself by ‘the bones of forgotten empire-builders—soldiers, merchants, adventurers, their wives and children.’ Behind the headstone of Julie’s tomb lies the overcoat, verily an artefact from the present, yet haunted by the wraith of a sixteen-year-old English girl, who caresses him with a faint kiss as he departs from the graveyard (2018b: 19–20).

Bond’s essay ‘In Search of John Lang’ is about yet another grave he sets out to locate in Camel’s Back Cemetery, among tombstones enshrined by names of ‘Anglo-Saxon vintage’ (2018c: 261). Looking for Lang exposes buried generations of Bohles and Mackinnons, the Doon’s earliest brewers. These literary journeys double up as historical storytelling for Anglo-Indian legacies that mainstream historiography is unable to encompass. Bond’s literary conjurations by the knoll at the cemetery are nothing short of a meditation, where, like the motion of squirrels and the twittering of insects, sun and wind play suit to the spectral mise-en-scène.

The sunlight, penetrating the gaps in the tall trees, plays chess on the gravestones, shifting slowly and thoughtfully across the worn old stones. The wind, like a hundred violins, plays perpetually in the topmost branches of the deodars. The only living thing in sight is an eagle, wheeling high overhead (Bond, 2018c: 261).

Bond’s profound kinship with his posthumous Anglo-Indian characters is emboldened in the account of his visit to his maternal grandfather’s grave in the old Dehradun cemetery, whose weathered tombstones lie shorn of their tranquillity and inscriptions. ‘They represented the presence in the Doon Valley of well over a thousand Europeans, from the first soldiers and settlers of the early nineteenth-century to the more recent few who “stayed on”—and passed on’ (2018c: 252). Upon observing these archetypal tombs, Michael Dutta, Julie and John Lang appear as the spectral embodiments of a space whose lost origins and unfulfilled desires are excluded from postcolonial and metropolitan conceptions of Indian modernity. Far from exorcizing them, Bond conjures them time and again. He is the haunted subject and agent of haunting in ‘Captain Young’s Ghost’, where he impersonates the spectre of Frederick Young in a town where almost everyone is seen exchanging fables of the dead Irish captain. Young’s revenant is said to return to the hills on misty nights, with the moonlight ‘silvering the oaks and maples.’ The white phantom steed that awaits the captain beside old Mullingar cottage, is ‘a homeless ghost like his master’ (2018a: 15). These supernatural scenes externalize key archetypes from the Doon’s architectural unconscious in a posthumous theatre for postcolonial afterlives its Victorian spirits; where the chimera of light, shadows, silence, echoes, and natural phenomena are the essential conditions for spectral dwellings, and for spectres, in turn, to preserve the perishing yet antifragile dwellings of the hill station.

Cottages, Derelict, Dying and Dead

The gravel paths and Doric pillars of Doon’s cottages are tangled with memories of deceased dwellers, such as the anonymous memsahib of Fox-Burn; the subject of a macabre transferred epithet. Her old cottage, says Bond, has been murdered.

The name is still on the gate. Of the house only walls remain. I take an overgrown path through the deodars and find this knoll with the ruins on it. I can only call it the murder of a house. Its lovely Doric pillars still stand, supporting the sky. A magnificent old horse-chestnut throws its shadow over the broken masonry. When its owner, an old Scottish lady died here in the Fifties, there were no heirs, and the property fell into strange hands … there was more money to be had from selling the iron beams, the mahogany flooring, the rosewood furnishings. So they stripped the house of everything. They might at least have taken the walls away too, instead of leaving behind this sad reminder of former glory. For a fine house it must have been, the long veranda letting in the afternoon sunshine, the wide lawn lending itself to genteel tea parties and moonlit walks. All that has gone of course, but why should the house have been violated? Now no one can live in it; no one can buy it—for no one is certain who it belongs to—and the walls are so thick, it would take a hundred years of wind and rain to bring them down. Even the cemetery presents a more cheerful sight. Flowers grow between the graves (1996: 176–77).

If the memsahib’s memory and ravaged furnishings haunt us, so does the antifragility of the cottage. If hauntology is Bond’s essential architectural aesthetic, the essence of hauntology is melancholia. Bond’s world is haunted by, what Peter Zumthor defined in another context as, ‘the patina of age on materials, of innumerable small scratches on surfaces, of varnish that has grown dull and brittle, and of edges polished by use.’ Bond’s architectural theatre materializes Zumthor’s ‘feeling of deep melancholy’ owing to the irretrievable passage of time and the passing on of human lives once acted in the spaces that are now charged with their aura. As architecture is ‘exposed to life’ (or thus exposed to spectrality), its aesthetic, practical, stylistic and historical values become secondary. The primary architectural function is as a witness to past realities (Zumthor 23–24). ‘Living in a cottage at 7,000 feet in the Garhwal Himalayas,’ writes Bond, ‘I am fortunate to have a big window that opens out on a forest.’ The ravine beneath his cottage—home to species of oaks, pines, rhododendrons, walnuts, whistling thrushes, langurs, crickets, cicadas, butterflies and reptiles—is itself a window to his childhood (2018c: 3–19). Walking between the deodars, he converses with them in a tactile language, brushing his palm against their trunks, teasing in their barks the reservoirs of his oneiric memories. He frequently jokes that when he runs out of people, he makes up ghosts, and although he does not believe in the latter, he sees them continually. It is no surprise to find the ghosts of Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Sherlock Holmes haunting London in Bond’s accounts of his three years spent in gloomy lodgings of the city.

… the rooms were usually dull and depressing. One had a window looking out on a railway track; another provided me with a great view of a cemetery. To spend my day off looking down upon hundreds of graves was hardly uplifting, even if some of the tombstones were beautifully sculpted (2018c: 55).

Just as ghosts invite us to a willing suspension of disbelief, we willingly overlook the paradox of Bond finding London’s tombstones as melancholy while he blithely wanders about the Doon’s graveyards. Melancholia is Bond’s deceptive masonry; it is a camouflage for the pathos of his spectral spaces that are longed for by us, and which long for spectres, in turn. The Doon’s coordinates are essentially fluid for Bond, and even press against the limits of his London experience. As he navigates past London’s jostling crowds and drizzling afternoons, Himalayan peaks rise like benign giants in his consciousness. The London fog appears like ‘a mountain mist, and boom of traffic became the boom of the Ganges emerging from the foothills.’ Contours of a derelict home and Himalayan fragrances pervade his wanderings between the Tube stations of Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road (1996: 92–94). Walking in London, he is haunted by the Doon’s faces, like an orphan haunted by the face of a mother. Yearning for the Siwaliks, around Fitzrovia, recalls what Derrida terms as the ‘untimeliness’ of the present; repressed, unrequited desires embodied as the spectre.

Unlike Simla, with its grandiose imperial buildings, Mussoorie and Landour could only boast off domestic cottages and their legends. Commenting on the architectural quality of hill station legends, Giriraja Shah observes that the fame of many colonial relics is more due to ‘expositions of hoary romance, antiquity, myths and a conglomeration of fact and fiction cropped round them—than the visible splendour of art and architecture.’ Bond’s cottages crystallize the ‘intangible yet the most potent dimension of the historical monuments, especially those associated with colonial days’ (Shah 65). For Bond, the Doon’s latent desires lurk in an architectural deferral. Maplewood Cottage, a recurrent habitat for Bond, was where he began staying with his mother when he was seven, after his father’s premature death. At thirty-five, Bond returned to his childhood home to ‘return to … writing’ (1991: x). He would remember his father’s demise as an act of ‘vanishing’ without any ‘tangible evidence’, insomuch as he grew up expecting his ghost to suddenly appear in the ‘unkempt’ litchi garden (45).

The amorphousness of a vanished life and lack of tangible links to the ghost sharply contrasts with the fertile garden, its cornucopia of flowers being the obverse to the Anglo-Saxon ‘bones’ strewn about the Doon’s graveyards. Melancholia becomes an architectural conceit as Bond experiences mythical reincarnations of his father in the wilderness around Maplewood. Located beside a half-burned maple tree, witness to the incessant arboreal theatre of woodpeckers and insects, Maplewood appears to have sprung from the woods. With the correlation between his father’s death and the lifelike cavernous branches that creep into his room from large bay windows, the forest is endowed with mysterious will to resurrect mourned spectres. Not only Bond’s father, but also the memories of his grandfather haunt Maplewood. After retiring from the Indian Forest Service, the latter built a bungalow on the outskirts of Dehradun, where he grew orchards of eucalyptus, mango, guava, and Persian lilac. When Bond revisits the house decades later, he finds that his grandfather’s ‘dream’—the old orchards—has multiplied (2018c: 38), while the man himself survives as a dream in the milieus of Maplewood.

Wooden branches tapping the windowpanes and songs of whistling thrushes from the ravine’s depths orchestrate Maplewood’s acoustics. Like the spectral cyclist in the cemetery, even Maplewood is nothing but a spectre, inhabitable only as architectural memory. Bond informs that, one winter morning, a legion of government engineers, hoteliers and Public Works officers teamed up to make way for a road in the mountains, taking it ‘right past the cottage, about six feet from the large window which had overlooked the forest’ (2016: 460). Bond’s oneiric spaces, that secretly housed his dearly mourned spectres, are themselves spectralized and mourned over time. Conjurations of Maplewood blur the margins between time and space, realism and fantasy, history and fiction, since to expose a dead haunted cottage to life means exposing life to a doubly spectralized architecture. Once upon a time in Maplewood, there resided Miss Ripley-Bean, who believed herself to be the last Anglo-Indian with that surname. Her furniture included ‘knick-knacks, framed photographs of men and women dressed in Victorian clothes—the men sporting untidy drooping moustaches—books by Ella Wheeler Wilcox and Maude Diver, and numerous jam and pickle bottles converted into flower-vases … filled with wild primroses and saxifrage’ (2000: 149). The eighty-six-year-old Ripley-Bean becomes Miss Mackenzie, a fictional spinster of ‘well over eighty’, in ‘The Prospect of Flowers’. She noiselessly snoozes into death in the neatly whitewashed Mulberry cottage—a fictionalized Maplewood—standing in a sequence of ‘neglected mansions’ from colonial times. Her death and that of her cottage are dramatized as an English spirit fleeing to the hillsides of gentians and columbines (2016: 213–218). Mulberry and Maplewood are both mnemonic mediums for the fictional and historical lives of the two Miss Mackenzie’s, besides innumerable Anglo-Indian legacies.

Maplewood’s spectral architecture leaks fragments of Victorian history that tells of the Doon’s forest conservation, which began in the 1880s, after most of the groves had disappeared. As Deputy Conservator of Forests, O’ Callaghan, wrote in 1879, ‘sal, tun and shisham were the trees chiefly felled, for even now there is no demand for any other kind of timber; and when I entered the department, in 1854, the ground was studded everywhere with stumps of those trees’ (qtd. in Bond, 2008: 278). Like the stumps of disappearing woods, the belongings of Mr McCabe, a British official from Shillong, are found scattered all over, after a flood in the Brahmaputra. McCabe is inducted into the Doon’s fraternity of spectres. The memory of his fragile cottage is handed down by Bond’s grandmother as a legacy: ‘Here a bedpost, there a sword, a broken desk or chair, a bit of torn carpet, a well-known hat with its Indian Civil Service colours, battered books, all speaking reminiscences of the man we mourn’ (2018c: 268).

Human and architectural deaths cloud the interstices between history and personal memory. ‘Stand still for ten minutes, and they’ll build a hotel on top of you,’ writes Bond, in ‘The Old Names Linger On’, quoting an old timer, on the ‘concrete jungle that had sprung up along Mussoorie’s Mall.’ Tourism in the Doon, which has steadily increased since the liberalization of Indian economy in the 1990s, has made Mussoorie ‘one long, ugly bazaar (2018c: 274). Bond’s journeys pave a way out of congested constructions of the new millennium. Nomenclature, which has the power of invoking topographies and sprouting its attendant folklore, often alien to the space at hand, plays a prominent role therein. Although ‘Mussoorie’ is derived from the name of the Indian shrub, mansur (Cororiana nepalensis), the word’s toponymy is undermined by the weight of Victorian and Anglo-Saxon names hanging precariously to the town. Mullingar, Zephyr Lodge, Companybagh, Cloud End, Killarney, Shamrock Cottage, Scottsburn, Redsburn, Wolfsburn, Connaught Castle, Grey Castle, Hampton Court, Castle Hill, or names borrowed from Walter Scott’s novels, Kenilworth, Ivanhoe, Rokeby, Waverley and Woodstock, reinforce the alterity of Doon’s architexture. The tremendous cultural importance of these buildings—Kenilworth and Rokeby are affluent resorts, and Woodstock, built in 1854, was affiliated to the American Middle States Association and now an International Baccalaureate world school—validates the town’s Anglo-Indian myths.

Names too are archetypes to historicize Anglo-Indian subjectivity. Bond writes that only one Dickens novel—Bleak House—is known to be a cottage name in Mussoorie. However, Lang, a colleague of Dickens, kept the ‘Dickens connection’ alive in Victorian times, when excerpts of the Wanderings were first published in Dickens’ journal, Household Words. Bond’s mythmaking spreads like a rhizome, in seemingly insignificant details as, that the White Park Forest, once the residence of Lang and now haunted by his ghost, was literally built by three Britons, White, Park and Forest; or, the Doon’s old Charleville hotel was originally named after Charley and Billy, the two sons of the proprietor (2018c: 275–76). This rhizomatic conjuration of the spatial relations of historical personages and their ghosts consolidates Bond’s hauntology. Mussoorie’s older buildings—the Library, Skinner’s Hall, the Savoy Hotel and churches—were decked with gables, three-leaf-clover spandrels, dormers, spires, steeples, balustrades, pilasters, colonnades, and the roads leading up to them with Glasgow-built Gothic lampposts. However, these formal architectural qualities are overshadowed by the derelict states of the buildings, not to mention the romantic lore cultivated around that dereliction, which assumes a fearful symmetry as one enters these spaces and meets its spectral denizens.

Spectral Faces and Fingerprints

Spectrality complicates literary artefacts like The Landour Cookbook (2001), first published in 1930 and later resuscitated by Bond and Saili. The collected recipes are reminiscent of a time when English, Australian, New Zealander and American women massed in the Landour community centre, near Woodstock. Seen in contemporary light, the book is anything but purely about culinary and confectionary delights. Its recipes recreate the times when colonial bakeries prospered in Landour, purveying fudges, meringues and marzipans for hybrid local tastes. From Mrs A.B. Harper’s Eggs in Nest to Jean Roland’s Mother’s Applesauce Cake, from chicken puddings to Boston baked beans to Swedish Orange cakes, the immediate premises they offer Indian touristic sensibilities are as follows. Woods, churches and bakeries of the Doon bespeak a world of otherness; of foothills dotted by Anglo-Saxon cottages and confectionaries, whose names are those to conjure with; a place where postcolonial Indian modernity is held in abeyance; where haunting itself is a culture, and haunted houses, the spectral entities. As if to reaffirm these premises, Anglo-Indian women, whose recipes make The Landour Cookbook, seem to reincarnate in Bond’s stories, as the faces of Miss Mackenzie, Miss Ripley-Bean and his grandmother, among others.

Ghostly faces are ascribed to buildings, more often than anthropomorphic forms. The guest house we see in ‘Time Stops at Shamli’ is an archetype for any old building from the Doon, with withered whitewash, antique cane chairs on the veranda and a stag’s purblind head (2016: 85). Bond enters under the pretext of looking for an imaginary Major Roberts, who turns out to be a real character and an old friend of one of the guests. Eventually, the Major remains a faceless spectre, metafictional, yet disrupting the limits of reality. Shamli’s guest house mimes the Savoy, which is haunted by the real-life spectre of Frances Garnett-Orme, allegedly poisoned to death in 1911 by Eva Mountstephen with hydrogen cyanide, probably through the victim’s bottle of bicarbonate. Bond, who fictionalized the episode in In a Crystal Ball: A Mussoorie Mystery (2007), floated the theory that Arthur Conan Doyle was sent news of the murder by Rudyard Kipling, and passed it on to Agatha Christie, who used the plot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1921). Such legends deepen the phenomenology of the haunted architecture. Saili notes how the Savoy’s hauntings are made acuter by the unexplained shuffling and noises that visitors report. ‘Is it the ghosts of the past come to bid one last goodbye?’ he asks. ‘Or, is it the wind playing in the gables?’ Like others, he wanders ‘from door to door, from transept to transept, from corridor to lounge, from ballroom to balcony, tracing a century here, a generation there, in pillar and arch, vault and buttress,’ ending at the rosewood entrance (Saili 57). All along, archaic constructions of wood, stone and memories arch over him like Gothic apses, eliding distinctions between the haunted space and haunted subject.

Whether architecturally or anthropomorphically, spectral faces personify the inexpressibility of abjection, like in Markham, who haunts the fictional Empire hotel’s dimly lit vestibules and corridors. It is a thinly disguised Savoy, whose bar clock is stuck at 8:10 a.m. since August 1945, when Hiroshima was bombed. The frozen moment subtly alludes to the approach of India’s decolonization, tolling another knell for Markham, whose face was ‘permanently ravaged’ in the Second World War. Without jaws, with a false nose and a missing eye, Markham resembles the stag at Shamli and looks like ‘ghostly apparitions straight out of hell.’ He belongs to another time, as does the Empire hotel, ‘now going to seed, but clinging to its name and surviving on its reputation.’ Indistinguishable from the Empire, in architecture and spirit, Markham’s motto is: ‘we’re dead, but we won’t lie down’ (2016: 547). The two-hundred-year-old deodar in the hotel’s garden has stood since before the hotel or the station. Dejected neighbouring cottages, an overgrown shrubbery, unused outhouses, unused ballrooms, unused cellars and a haunted billiards room spectralize it further (548).

But what truly haunts the Empire, nocturnally patrolling its shrubbery, pacing across the banquet room, playing the antique piano in a dimly lit bend of the hall, tiptoeing along the carpeted staircase, striding underneath moth-eaten beast heads, scrambling on the crumbling rooftop on pine-scented nights, or making a din with the disused cutlery and choicest liqueurs in the barroom, is Markham, with his subhuman visage and vacant eye socket—a ‘half-face wolf demon’ (550–53). When the Empire is engulfed by a dreadful fire, Markham is found dead on his bed, bereft of his prosthetic nose, which the hotel’s caretaker replaces on his face, signalling the final journey of a twice-dead spectre. The ‘stark simplicity’ of Markham’s rooms contrasts with the ‘vast area’ of the Empire. His resentment over the horror triggered by his visage is avenged in the burning French windows, ‘timbered flooring’, ‘oaken beams’ and the ‘mahogany and rosewood furniture’, incinerated like a tinderbox (549–50). As archetypes of derelict architecture are reconfigured by spectral faces, the latter synecdochally completes the former.

Markham embodies the Savoy’s spectral life. In ‘Ghosts of the Savoy’, Bond validates the resemblance between Markham and Mr McClintock, the Savoy’s owner in the 1930s, who had a false nose and now, a haunted presence on the estate. The hotel’s piano was lumbered up the hills from Dehradun, by a labourer, on a whimsical bet. When the Savoy was restored to former glory, the rundown organ by the edge of the desolate banquet hall was painstakingly refurbished piece by piece, not any differently from Bond’s painstaking architectural processes. In ‘Whispering in the Dark’, he reinvents a ramshackle house built of limestone rock, whose windows have rusted ‘over a hundred monsoons.’ We have here a whiff of ‘the mustiness of a long-closed room,’ as the wind rushes in to scatter the old papers and the contents of a derelict table, playing inside the flotsam ‘like a pair of castanets’ (2016: 354). The Gothicism writ large on the limestone cottage is likely leased from the moorland huts of Devonshire in Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902). The nocturnal percussion and the crawling mist exhale clusters of desire. With its antique furniture, expensive glass, and oil-portraits, the abandoned cottage is both hospitable and alien to the protagonist. His reflection in the rococo mirror hypnotizes him to believe that he belongs to the cottage, immediately before his face in the looking glass is replaced by that of a woman with golden tresses. Suddenly, he remembers a legend in which two English spinsters from a similar cottage were said to seduce wealthy men and kill them. The whispering grows more ominous with ‘the wind coughing in the chimney, the old stretching of old furniture, the weeping of trees outside in the rain’ (2016: 356). The spectre of a white woman, sans eyes, screams at the door to be let in (357). The return of the archetypal ravaged face, soldered to the debilitating reflection in the mirror, revolves around a repressed narcissism of the spectre for the spectral, of the mourner for the mourned. Bond’s odyssey into the haunted house ‘is a metaphor for the subject’s desire to relive his past’ (Bandypadhyay 89). The night in the spectral cottage is a temporal bridge between past and present, and what is elsewhere a dream house, here, turns into a nightmare, where a repressed Anglo-Indian identity is reflected as a spectral Anglo-Saxon face within haunted interiors.

The limestone hill on which the fictional cottage is located is a real hill known as Pari Tibba, where several Anglo-Indian families once lived. The erosion of the woods around the knoll is a historical signifier for Bond’s own metaphorical journeys. Even the roads leading up to such cottages unfold like a phantom script. ‘I groped through the forest,’ he writes, ‘groped in my mind for the memory of a mountain path, some remembered rock or ancient deodar. Then a streak of blue lightning gave me a glimpse of a barren hillside and a house cradled in mist’ (2016: 354). Like the extra-terrestrial agency of the fog that fosters the famous hound of Dartmoor—more as a gigantic phantom than a real monster—the hauntology of Pari Tibba is constituted by the rolling mists. In a traumatized state, Bond’s dreaming narrator is led to believe that what he sees in the mirror is the image of the woman from the portrait, trying to strangle him with a pillow. It is a remarkable exegesis of that postulation of his tripartite existence: his shadow, his echoes and his corporeal self.

Neuroscientific models in child psychology make exceptional use of ‘spectrality’ as an objective category of behavioural knowledge. Accordingly, infants manage to classify the timbre and complex tones of sounds through ‘spectral’ structures (Trehub, Endman and Thorpe 1990). Commenting on the auditory relationship that mothers share with infants, Elise A. Piazza, Maurius Ca. Iordan and Casey Lew-Williams redefine timbre as spectral fingerprints that enable informal recognition, classification and differentiation of the origins of sounds between human voices and musical instruments (2017). This neuroscientific model of spectrality bolsters the case in point. Bond’s spectral sensuality—that otherwise determines recognition and appreciation of acoustics—sharpens the recognition and appreciation of architecture. Gothic villas masked in mosses, lichens and ivy, olfactory phantoms of confectionary aromas, jellies and rain-scented hills, spectral acoustics of winds rattling against the broken windows of the abandoned cottages of Pari Tibba, or the whistling of thrushes, crickets and cicadas around Maplewood reinforce the archetypes of an Anglo-Saxon cultural geography. Bond’s theatre casts spectral fingerprints on the derelict and mourned landscape of Anglo-Indian writings from the Doon valley, which itself we find in various stages of mourning, as though for its stillborn cultural subjectivity.

Epilogue

Bond’s architectural archetypes are distinct and ‘unburiable’ (to use Wolfreys’ word for Victorian gothic tropes). However, whether these precisely and wholly constitute his hauntology, or what really constitutes it, has no easy answers. It would be meretricious to conclude that spectrality merely enhances architectural value of colonial relics and cottages that survive in the Doon. This paper has demonstrated that traces of ghostly retreats—in a dual sense of ‘retreat’ as last resort and deferred departures—underlie Bond’s spectral architectonics. Whether in Wolfreys’ sense of the repressed familiar returning to haunt as the unfamiliar, Castricano’s conception of a haunting that engraves crypto-protective layers around itself like coffins accumulating soil, or Derrida’s Shakespearean archetype, Hamlet, who procrastinates avenging his father’s death on account of being haunted by the latter, Bond’s hauntology is much more than ghostly sightings or spectral manifestations. His Doon is almost similar and yet almost different from lived spaces of the valley, into which he incorporates the incorporeality of his community’s past.

While Bond’s tombstones, haunted cottages and spectral faces appear as displaced entities wandering for a habitat in the present or, at best, as disruptions in presumed vectors of spatiotemporal linearity, they represent an otherness that both determines and surpasses architectural experience. It is not Bond’s untimely houses or slippery dwellers who are out of time, but we, as readers and virtual tourists, who ‘are always displaced by a ghostly alterity’ (Wolfreys 7). It would be churlish to see Bond’s writings as being also about haunting; hauntology is the essential truth of his spaces. His architectural permeations into literature, which in turn permeate back into the phenomenology of architecture, draw on a ceaseless osmosis of forms, functions, designs, patinas, textures, experiences, legends, nomenclature and trivia, indeed the fibres of the Doon’s existence. Two substantive advancements that this paper calls for are an analytical study of the Doon’s literary tradition with regard to changing mores of Indian culture, and a lengthier examination of the archetypes of its writers with regard to its architectural unconscious. While these proposed developments may be works in progress, Bond’s spaces ought to be seen as the mnemonic media that reconfigure a bygone colonial time and space, marking an alternate cultural subjectivity for Anglo-Indian traditions in an architectural guise. While the Anglo-Indian community may have a long battle ahead for reservations and minority status, there will always be a well-wrought urn beside tomes of Bond’s writings, wherein to preserve the spectral remains of its haunted trails; the most architectural thing.

Notes

1The Savoy, now the oldest mountain resort in India, was built in 1902 by the Irish hotelier, Cecil D. Lincoln, on the estate of Rev. Maddock’s Mussoorie School, which was razed to the ground. The Princess of Wales (Queen Mary) attended a tea party in the hotel’s beer garden, in the spring of 1906. Following her departure, the town was hit by an earthquake, which destroyed several parts of the hotel. It was rebuilt in 1907. The decadent Edwardian wooden furniture, the plaques at the Writer’s Bar, and the Burma teak, alcohol barrels, and billiard tables that were ‘trundled up the hill on lumbering bullock carts’ remind visitors of Lincoln who designed the present Gothic outlay of the hotel, with its ‘lancet-shaped narrow windows and along the corridors and verandahs.’ In 1999, the Savoy was shut down, being later purchased by a leading Indian industrial group. The Savoy was resurrected, literally “like a phoenix rising from the ashes (Saili, 54). 

2See for instance, IANS, ‘Happy Birthday, Ruskin Bond: Rusty and his timeless tales’, The Indian Express, May 19, 2017, https://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/books/rusty-and-his-timeless-tales-a-life-less-ordinary-4663839/. Accessed: 5/5/2020; Lounge Team, ‘The Lounge guide to India in 50 books’, Mint, https://www.livemint.com/mint-lounge/features/the-guide-to-india-in-50-books-11597389813634.html, Accessed: 15/9/2020. At the same time, infrequent attempts have been made to bust the myth of the uncomplicated simplicity of Bond’s writings, for example in, Oindrila Mukherjee, ‘Is Ruskin Bond’s most intriguing work his ghost stories?’, Scroll, August 2, 2015, https://scroll.in/article/745703/is-ruskin-bonds-most-intriguing-work-his-ghost-stories, Accessed: 5/5/2020. 

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.

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