The story of Delhi is Not Far by Ruskin Bond revolves around two men who share a bond of uncompromising friendship and companionship in the small town of Pipalnagar, Northern India.
Delhi is Not Far Summary
Arun and His friends
The protagonist, Arun, is an Urdu writer who earns a living through his unrefined crime novels in the language. Unable to earn enough through his penmanship he tries various jobs in Pipalnagar even vegetable vendor, pickpocketing etc.
Arun dreams about writing a blockbuster that will catapult him to stardom. He co-habits his twelve feet by seven feet space with Suraj, a homeless orphan (he lost his parents during the chaos of 1947 partition), and Kamala, the young prostitute who is married to a man double her age.
Suraj and Arun, they both are vying for the affections of Kamala even though they are thick as thieves. All three of them have developed bonds of love and care. Suraj suffers from epilepsy and gets bouts of fits. His health often keeps Arun worried.
A Dull Town with Dreams of Grandeur
In the lazy and unspectacular town of Pipalnagar, the inhabitants live mundane lives weaving dreams of reaching the zenith of success in the nearby city of Delhi. Delhi is the alluring temptress of their innocent dreams. But the dreams are small and quaint.
Among the cast of people is Deep Chand, a barber who dreams about owning a high-end salon; Pitamber, a young wrestler, pedals cycle-rickshaw wants to trade up to scooter-rickshaw; Aziz wants to open a junk-shop in Chandni Chowk etc.
None, unfortunately, will reach the promised land of their dreams. There is also a beautiful dichotomy is characters like Seth Govind Ram (who owns a bank has a concubine along with his wife) and runs the brothel where Kamla works.
Then there is Ganpat Ram a beggar with airs of the aristocracy as he lavishly speaks in immaculate English. His believes that he was possessed by a spirit which led to his bent back and subsequent misery.
An Earthquake & a Trip
One day Pipalnagar is hit by an earthquake. People rush out of their house and flood the streets. There are astrological predictions of the world coming to its end but Arun and Suraj are not perturbed. They go out for their usual night strolls to the distant fields and old brick kilns.
When they return to their place, the place is back to its drowsy normalcy and all the commotion has subdued. Soon, the two decides to make a journey to the hills. Suraj has never seen the hills but Arun remembers them from a trip he took as a child.
Both of them are puzzled by the wealthy tourists who colonize the hill station in the summer and mesmerized by the natural beauty of the mountains, pine trees and cool streams of sweet water.
A Trip to Delhi
Finally, Arun travels to Delhi. He borrows a shirt from Kamala as he has to appear for an interview as the Urdu editor. He tells his interviewer that he has come to Delhi to research on his book titled,’ Delhi is not far’. He gets the job with a monthly salary of Rs 300.
He visits places like Chandani Chowk, Connaught Place etc and is left speechless by the coming together of old traditions and modern ways of people, architecture and life in the capital.
He feels people should either live in villages where there is intimacy or cities where there is complete anonymity. In towns like Pipalnagar, everybody knows you but no one loves you.
The Final Goodbyes
Arun and Suraj decide to leave as Suraj finally passes his matriculation exams. Arun visits Kamala’s village to persuade her to leave with him. Sadly, Kamala declines the offer saying that she is still married and cannot leave her family.
She asks Arun to come and meet her whenever he wants and is happy to have helped Arun during his time in Pipalnagar. She also tells Arun that Suraj is the true love of his life, not her. Arun and Suraj say their goodbyes to their friends in Pipalnagar and pack up their tin boxes to start their new voyage in the capital.
The title, Delhi is Not Far is an ode to their hopeful dreams about the fabled journey to Delhi, the city of glorious destinies. It sketches a dynamic scene of small-town India with its simple-minded people. It also represents a romantic picture of life in rural India.
The story is about a love affair in which there are no losers. It sublimely touches deeper layers of one’s psyche and how the existing conditions workaround that. It scrutinizes the profound depth of human relationships beyond blood and lineage.
In my opinion, the story, in implicit and some explicit ways also depict tones of homoerotic content unfit for young readers.