Come summer and it is time to revisit Ruskin Bond’s creations
When I was a little boy — admittedly many, many summers ago — Ruskin Bond was my constant companion at this time of the year. The long summer break from school and the sun beating down relentlessly meant that from muggy mornings through sweaty afternoons to sultry evenings, I sat by my window with The Room on the Roof and A Flight of Pigeons in my hand. Occasionally, I would look at drooping leaves of Asoka trees or little twigs jutting out of a dilapidated wall and birds with open beaks. Mostly, I read. It was my literary equivalent of high noon. Every sentence seemed memorable, ever word precious. Ruskin Bond waxed lyrical, weaving spells around a mesmerised little boy. True, I had a book or two of others, notably R.K Narayan, and just to appear all grown up I did try to read Mulk Raj Anand, too, but there was only one Bond. He answered to the name of Ruskin. He aroused dreams, he drove away fears. The semi-autobiographical story of the orphaned Anglo-Indian boy Rusty was my constant anchor.
That was the age of limited television and very few author interviews in newspapers. I had not seen even a photo of Ruskin Bond, had not the faintest idea of how he looked, how old he was. For a long time, I thought he was some angrez, until an older cousin pointed out that he was indeed an Indian who stayed in Shimla — he was only partially right; Ruskin stayed and worked out of Mussourie. To me then, Ruskin Bond seemed an indulgent uncle or a loveable grandpa who was a wonderful storyteller. At an age, and in a weather when many kids were easily agitated, he helped me stay calm. And cheerful.
I was reminded of the same old Bond this summer all over again, courtesy my pre-teen daughters. No, their bookshelves were not lined up with The Room on the Roof and the like. Nor did I ever find them sitting at home with a heap of books next to them — girls, they take their books to the park, reading on a bench under the shade of a tree! In their little girly bags were Teenage Stories, 30 Great Stories, The Secret and Spinning Yarns! Then right at the base of the lot I found Ganesh Saili’s book where he talks of Ruskin Bond’s early days, his schooling in Shimla, his trip to England, his life…. Ah! Does life ever change?
Again it is that time of the year when the schools are closed, when the sun is beating down in all its fury, when the leaves are drooping and dogs go around with hanging tongues. Kids can’t be cycling around the park all day. So, it is time for Ruskin Bond again. He is more prolific than ever before. Earlier, Rupa and Penguin used to publish him. Now, it seems, everybody wants a piece of Bond pie! Just over the past year or so, the market has been inundated by a flood of books by the ageless author: Children’s Omnibus has made a comeback, Rusty Still Tickles, Night Train at Deoli still has its takers. Then, of course, we have Teenage Stories and the rest!
As for me, honestly, I have not read much of Bond in recent times. But then I don’t necessarily have to read him now. I can watch him on screen, I can watch adaptations of his works like A Flight of Pigeons, and The Blue Umbrella on my DVD player. I am in that delectable age when I can exchange notes with peers: do we, as old, old readers, read Bond better or do filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Vishal Bhardwaj discern what we cannot? Are films like Junoon, The Blue Umbrella and Saat Khoon Maaf the cinematic equivalent of the literary brilliance of Bond? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I will take leave of modesty here and cry: we understand and appreciate Ruskin Bond and his books better than any filmmaker!