TODAY -

Ruskin Bonding - VI

Jyaneswar Laishram *

Ruskin Bond, author of many widely sought after books, was at the Landmark store in Forum Mall, Bangalore, on June 6, 2012, to release his new book of poems 'Hip Hop Nature Boy and Other Poems' published by Penguin Books India.
Ruskin Bond, author of many widely sought after books, was at the Landmark store in Forum Mall, Bangalore, on June 6, 2012, to release his new book of poems "Hip Hop Nature Boy and Other Poems" published by Penguin Books India. :: Pix - Wikipedia/Jim Ankan Deka



Ruskin Bonding, as the title (above) suggests, is a series of articles I write under this column of the newspaper in irregular intervals, telling my experiences or bonding with author Ruskin Bond, who is considerably my favourite India's one and only hill-man storyteller whose stories touch the heart of many, like me, who have lived a life partly or permanently in the hills.

This article however is neither much about the author nor his work but actor Tom Alter, who died last Friday at his Mumbai home. The reason I bring the actor here is that he was a close friend of Ruskin Bond.

Thomas Beach Alter or Tom Alter was born and brought up in Landour, a small hill town in Uttrakhand where Ruskin Bond resides. The town is around five kilometers down the serpentine hill roads from Mussoorie - or should I say it's on the way before Mussoorie when you drive from Dehradun. And above all, this is the town that Tom Alter had never forgotten when he was away to Mumbai for professional reason, because this town was where his heart was.

Veteran theater and film actor Tom Alter had acted in more than 200 Hindi movies and numerous theatres, and hosted a string of television shows. When it comes to movies, he was always seen in cameo roles as a blue-eyed angrez villain, particularly in those commercial flicks based on stories of British colonial era oppression in India, such as Sahtranj Ke Khiladi (1977) and Kranti (1981).

It's acclaimed that Tom Alter's commercial movies are merely some bare matters when compared to his theater plays. Unfortunately, I haven't got proper chances to watch his theatres; but quite fortunately, I watched some of his best plays over the last couple of years—the latest being the one I caught up early this year at Gurgaon (Delhi-NCR) where he staged Galib and Galib Ke Khat. You might have seen Tom Alter speak fluent Hindi in movies. It's not just that, he had strong command over Urdu as well; so was his role as Galib in his theatre plays.

On the sidelines of the Gurgaon theatre event, Tom Alter talked about Ruskin Bond, for it was the time he was shooting for the short film The Black Cat based on one the author's short stories. The film was directed by the Assamese director Bhargav Saikia, who in an interview said Tom Alter was a natural choice for Ruskin Bond. But a feedback from the actor had an alternative opinion. "I'm not comparable to Ruskin Bond. He is far more handsome than me," he said lightheartedly.

Ruskin Bond would never agree with Tom Alter's note on his handsomeness. He never in any part of his life thought or rated himself as a 'handsome' dude. In his book Scenes From A Writer's Life: A Memoir, there is an interesting story in Chapter 10. He mentioned, he had limited friends during his teens—one among them was Haripal, a sardar boy, who wanted to introduce him to his mother. "You are the first English or Anglo friend I ever have. I have told mother all about you and she says you sound interesting," Haripal said.

The kind of compliment Ruskin Bond received from Haripal's mother on their first meeting was something he was quite confusing whether to laugh for that or do something else oppositely. "When Haripal told me about you," she said, "he gave me a picture of a red face with horse's teeth. I like horses, anyway."

But there was nothing in a bit of that way Tom Alter observed Ruskin Bond. The actor still said the short film The Black Cat was a tribute to his honest and handsome old friend. He also appreciated the work of young Assamese director Bhargav Saikia for the film as well as others in India making biopic films these days, giving Mary Kom as an example, which he said was never happened in their time.

Apart from their blue eyes, Tom Alter and Ruskin Both have many similarities in thinking and liking. Brought up in the same town, both had attempted to settle in abroad, but they couldn't do it so because both felt India their own home than anywhere else and the town of Landour on the Himalayan foothill their cradle.

Tom Alter never failed to turn up at his Landour home during breaks. What Ruskin Bond remembers today is Tom was a fitness freak who cared much about his health more than anything. He kept all unhealthy foods and drinks at bay. He still jogged for kilometers on the hill slopes, running for kilometers around Landour.

Sad part of Tom Alter's untimely demise is that he left many things undone, which included some movies, among which was one based on Ruskin Bond's story The Last Tiger. In a similar way, the actor, who is also an author, had planned for a movie adapted from his first novel Rerun At Rialto, published in 2001, with a storyline revolving around Mussoorie in the backdrop. It was his long cherished dream to shoot the film in his hometown, but it had never come true.

Tom Alter directed the popular Urdu serial Ek Fursat-e-Gunah for Doordarshan, which was based on a story set in Landour during partition. In an earlier interview, he said the television series was his heartfelt tribute to his hometown where he grew up as a blue-eyed boy among his friends of diverse communities from different walks of life, like Ruskin Bond. He often mentioned the reason why he turned up at his hometown whenever he got a break from Mumbai was not only that he missed the hills but also he would love to do something for his birthplace, giving some he could give to the place.


* Jyaneswar Laishram wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author is associate editor at S-Media Group in New Delhi
This article was webcasted on October 10, 2015.



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