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Ruskin Bond: transcending time

Mr. Bond, who turns 88 on May 19, is much more than a childrens’ writer given that his writing includes novels, essays, short stories, and memoirs.  | Photo Credit: Getty Images

A young boy discovers a hidden pool inside a forest and rushes to inform his two best friends. The three embark on an exploration of the area. They swim, try fishing, ride the buffaloes that wallow in the pool, even try to enlarge the pool by building a dam.

It is 1857, India is in a ferment. When Ruth’s father is killed by the Indian soldiers, the family finds shelter in a friend’s house. But Javed Khan, the Pathan leader of the rebels, finds them and kidnaps them. He falls in love with Ruth but her mother will not allow her daughter to marry a rebel.

If the first, The Hidden Pool, left you musing about friendships and relationships that fall by the wayside; A Flight of Pigeons took one back into a tumultuous time. Two very different books by the same author. For many, Ruskin Bond is a children’s author. No doubt, he is. But Bond, who turns 88 on May 19, is also much more given that his writing includes novels, essays, short stories, and memoirs.

Coming of age

In his Lone Fox Dancing, Bond offers a moving account of his early years and, for good measure, references many of his stories. However, what was disappointing was to learn that all those fascinating tales of his eccentric grandfather were “either made up or based on hearsay”. His life with his father and later his mother and stepfather, trip to England and return to India, which he considers home, are all dealt with here.

His first book, The Room on The Roof about a young boy’s coming of age, was based on his own experiences of living in a rented room in Dehradun. It won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1957. Bond was then in London trying to make a living. The publication of this novel allowed him to return to India. “All I really wanted was my little room back again,” he writes in his autobiography.

Following his return, he settled in Mussoorie and began to write stories for magazines and newspapers. Rusty, his protagonist in The Room on the Roof, makes a comeback in Vagrants in the Valley. As you laugh over Rusty’s and Kishen’s adventures, you cannot help but muse over what loneliness and friendship mean to different people.

On the silver screen

A short story collection about Rusty followed and the stories found their place in school textbooks and were even adapted for a television show. Other short stories like The Blue Umbrella and Susanna’s Seven Husbands were adapted as feature films, as was his novel A Flight of Pigeons. Bond even made a cameo appearance in Saat Khoon Maaf, which was based on Susanna’s Seven Husbands.

Most of his stories hark back to another time — of simple lives and small places where everyone knew everyone. But what keeps the reader coming back to them is the emotion that infuses the words. Bond’s people are real; ones you probably know and are familiar with. And their lives are unpredictable, just like ours. In Friends in Small Places, Bond writes that dull people “are those whose lives are too orderly or those who are forever boasting of the ease with which they have succeeded in life.”

Painting nature

Then there are his descriptions of nature. His use of words is sparse but the pictures they paint are vivid. Take these lines from his short story The Leopard: “The stream ran close by the verge, tumbling over smooth pebbles, over rocks worn yellow with age, on its way to the plains and to the little Song River and finally to the sacred Ganga.” The complete life-cycle of a stream is conjured up without fuss. Without being moralistic or preachy, the story also calls for co-existence with wild animals.

And his ghost stories! A personal favourite is A Face in the Dark, which has found its way into school textbooks. The tale is about a teacher’s encounters with a strange boy and a school watchman but what leaves you thirsting is that you don’t know what happens at the end. There’s no neat denouement; just more suspense.

As I think of the pleasure his writing has given me, I can’t help but recall what he said about his writing: “I’m like a shopkeeper hoarding bags full of grains; only, I hoard words. There are still people who buy words and I hope I can keep bringing a little sunshine and pleasure into their lives to the end of my days.” I hope you’ll be doing that for a long time yet, Mr. Bond.


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Printable version | May 10, 2022 9:38:24 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/ruskin-bond-transcending-time/article65398901.ece