I am a fan of Ruskin Bond, have been so ever since I read his little articles in The Tribune. I discovered his short stories and anthologies later, when I read some of them in my daughter's prescribed English textbooks. Till date I love Rusty best, and his wastral of an uncle who tried his hand at many things.
His books have been made into movies before, Junoon was based on A Flight of Pigeons, both great in their own way. The Blue Umbrella was made into a fabulous movie by Vishal Bhardwaj. Needless to say the promos of 7 Khoon Maaf had me hooked and I was double hooked when I learnt that it was based on a short story by Ruskin Bond, Susannah's Seven Husbands.
I hied off to see 7 Khoon Maaf last Sunday and came back a wee bit disappointed. Not that it wasn't good, it just wasn't brilliant. I expected more out of the Bond-Bhardwaj combo. The first couple of husbands were good, but after that the story seemed to falter, bolstered a bit by the Keemat Lal episode and then, alas faltering again.
But yet, such is my mania for Bond, that I ordered the book containing - hold your breath - the original short story, the novella that Bond expanded it into and the screenplay of the movie. Just this morning I finished reading the story and the novella, in that order.
Bond's original short story is exactly what you expect of him. It is short, intriguing, contains all his masterstrokes, it leaves you feeling mystified and satiated. This Susannah was born long back, was tremendously rich, and was supposed to have a cellar full of treasures with snakes guarding it. She was seen riding around the town in a buggy, rich and beautiful, admired and feared by all. She had several husbands that she was rumored to have sent to their early graves. Her ghost was said to have haunted the house and the surrounding areas, waylaying good looking men as she was said to be looking for a ideal mate.
The novella lists her husbands, expanding the story. It introduces the character of Arun, Susannah's neighbour who was too young to be a lover, but was old enough to be her friend. He is in love with her and talks to her and her gardner often, and is privy to the goings-on in the house. In his characteristic style, Bond leaves an element of mystery about the husbands' death. So we are not sure if these deaths were brought on or an accident. An excellent ruse, I think.
It makes for a fairly good read. Bond has this admirable quality of saying just enough, not more nor less. It stands him in good stead and as long as the husband is interesting, it carries you along. It is not his best offering though. It lacks the brilliance of many of his stories and novellas. The packaging does not help either, with the poster of 7 Khoon Maaf on the cover. Ruskin Bond does not need cheap tricks to sell his books. In my opinion he is a living legend. His books and stories are going to live forever and we are watching history in making, he is going to be a classic.