Ruskin Bond’s short stories drip with warmth, gentleness and silently say that life is beautiful
Sebati Iyengar Mumbai
What can one say about a writer whose career has spanned more than half a century—and is still as vibrant and fresh as ever? More than a generation of adults today have grown up reading the beautiful stories of Ruskin Bond, set in the tranquil hills above Dehradun. His latest collection, A Gathering of Friends—My Favourite Stories has been handpicked by the author himself and each story is a testament to
There are already plenty of anthologies of Ruskin Bond stories available—both bigger and smaller than the latest edition. This one captures the famous stories—be it “Rusty,” “Time Stops at Shamli,” “Love is a Sad Song,” or “The Blue Umbrella”—as well as lesser known anecdotes like “Grandfather Fights an Ostrich” and “Remember this Day”. The stories vary in length—from three-page anecdotes like “Grandfather Fights an Ostrich” to a long story like “Time Stops at Shamli.” However, as the author writes in his introduction, his stories are more character sketches than plot-driven tales. Thus, he calls them “friends” in the title.
The closest match to his style is perhaps Alexandre Mccall Smith, author of the famous series that begins with The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. The writing is very simple, charged with telling a story without any pretentions or embellishments. The stories are poignant vignettes about the ups and downs of human life. There is violence— of nature in the flooding river in “Angry River”, of the man-eating leopard in “Panther’s Moon”, or of man such as the greed of Ram Bharosa for“The Blue Umbrella” or even desire in “Love is a Sad Song”. Yet, each sentence drips with gentleness, warmth and love; silently saying that all of life is beautiful.
Bond’s language is distinct from most other contemporary English authors. It is simple without being simplistic and colloquial. Yet it is rich in evocative meaning. Metaphors, similes and all other ornaments are used sparingly. Take this paragraph from “The Blue Umbrella”: The rains set in, and the sun only made brief appearances. The hills turned a lush green. Ferns sprang up on walls and tree trunks. Giant lilies reared like leopards from the tall grass. A white mist coiled and uncoiled as it floated up from the valley. It conveys a mastery over the language which doesn’t need to boast.
Take another sentence from “Panther’s Moon”: Suraj stared out at the darkness, thinking of the lonely cutting in the forest and the watchman with the lamp who would always remain a firefly for those travelling thousands as he lit up the darkness for steam engines and leopards. Colloquial terms like cutting creep in with metaphors of fireflies, while the specifics like Suraj become the general —all of us travelling in trains. Bond is clearly a writer who knows his craft to perfection.
It is never very clear where Bond’s autobiography ends and his fiction begins. All of the stories have a little bit of himself, a little of the people and landscape of Dehradun and a little bit more of life everywhere. Perhaps that is what makes his fiction utterly believable and easy to relate to—whatever happens could have happened to you as well, anywhere!
Surprisingly, this collection includes none of his ghost stories or any of his fiction written for adults, like “The Sensualist” or “Scenes from a Writer’s life”.
But that is not to say that these stories lack depth. Bond’s writing is a disturbing reminder that in our hectic, practical lives filled with material concerns, authenticity is priceless. His life and his work breathe authenticity from every page, which makes his work uniquely lovable. Perhaps the best gift we can give our children is a
book by Ruskin Bond, and hope that they learn to love the world as deeply as he does.