A Little Book of India review: Freedom in the written word

Ruskin Bond celebrates 75 years of Independence with a book encapsulating the spirit of India

Published - April 30, 2022 04:14 pm IST

India’s mind-boggling diversity be its terrain, flora and fauna or its vast multitudes with different genetic strains, varied cultures and cuisine, truly lives up to the catch-phrase in tourism brochures — incredible! And as the nation celebrates its 75 years of independence, the good old writer from the hills is at it again, delivering a tiny book but one that encapsulates the enormous spirit of India.

Ruskin Bond’s A Little Book of India fits into the templates of his earlier literary endeavours. Pithy observations, dry humour, a keen eye and the ability to tell more with few words. The ‘easy on the eye’ font with a lot of blank spaces allows you to read a line and step back and ponder a bit. It helps the reader to imagine what he has just imbibed and to link it with a personal memory, be it in the hills, on the coast or in a crowded bazaar.

Marching to a unique beat

The tome that has no page numbers, perhaps hinting at looking at the broader picture rather than obsess about the tiny details, can be finished in a jiffy but its after-effect lingers. During these fraught times when past historical wounds are dressed up with coarse salt, Bond nudges us to look at what makes this splendid country march to its own unique beat.

In the beginning, Bond writes: “As 84 of my 87 years have been lived in this, my beloved country, I can feel justified in celebrating 75 years of India’s independence along with millions of my fellow citizens.” But he is quick to mention that this is not chronological history but more an attempt to collate his impressions and then he adds: “We celebrate our freedom in different ways. I celebrate it with the written word.”

Bond conveys mood and context with a natural charm that has always imbued his books. A rare typo ‘rives’ in those initial pages about rivers, is a glitch but in conveying large ideas with a mere brush of a pen, Bond is second to none. Sample this line: Men may come and go; the mountains remain. Those are just eight words but the truth they reveal leaps across centuries.

The author is aware of nature’s beauty and the humdrum of everyday existence. In one page he dwells upon a beautiful sunset but an accompanying villager offers a reality check: “But you cannot eat sunsets.” Bond acknowledges the issues that bog down India, be it poverty or divisive tendencies but overall he leans on optimism. “Every state in India, big or small, has more history than any single nation of Europe or America,” he writes.

An ode to the Constitution

It is difficult to capture all that India stands for in any book but Bond has his methods. A page head-lined under ‘Sounds of India’, is an acoustic tribute to a throbbing nation, and all this is done with the right words, conveying images that make you smile. And as he winds down, he pens these lines: “But our greatest monument is not made of stone or marble. It is our Constitution, our Democracy. Only a few countries can boast of possessing such a treasure.”

At a time when the country seems to be veering towards V.S. Naipaul’s definition of being a land of million mutinies, Bond taps our shoulders and seems to whisper: listen, there is hope.

A Little Book of India; Ruskin Bond, Penguin India, ₹299.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.