Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ruskin Bond: A Unified Soul

Ruskin Bond: A Unified Soul

During the last half of the 20th Century, the relationship between humans and the ecological problems we have created has been articulated in a surge of literature.  This genre has evolved from traditional nature writing and Transcendentalism, which promoted a relationship with nature for personal and spiritual reasons, to a catalyst for social awareness and change. Contemporary environmental writers share a common theme in their work, the troubling awareness that we have reached the age of ecological consequences.  Eco-criticism uses literature, in all its genres, to study the interconnections between nature and culture, hopefully raising consciousness.

Ruskin Bond is one of India’s best known literary figures. His father, Aubrey, who was a teacher, named his son after the Victorian author, John Ruskin, perhaps in the secret hope that his boy would grow up to be "aesthetically inclined." Aubrey Bond also passed on his love of the hills to his son. The hills, the valleys, the slinking leopards in the night and snow are familiar Ruskin Bond territory for every reader. Most people know he had a grandmother and that his grandfather kept strange pets like hyenas and even a panther.

Writing came early to Bond – he used it as an escape for sorrow, as a chance to grieve for lost loves. As he used the beauty of Mussoorie as a chance to escape from the bustle of the world. Mussoorie brought him the seclusion he needed to write and it is there that Bond has remained, with brief flights into town life when financial problems or book launches beckoned. His life is documented for children in his Rusty stories, where he talks about his adventures in the Dehra Valley and his relationship with his grandmother. The fact that he ran away to England to start a writing career when he was 15, is also known, along with the fact that he came back again two years overcome by homesickness for his beloved hills, before the book was published and obviously before receiving the John Llewellyn Rhys award and the acclaim that came with it.

The present study focuses on a short story ‘The Leopard’ written by Ruskin Bond. It shows Bond’s deep love for our fellow inhabitants which includes animal kingdom. As the story progresses we feel the strong unified sensibility of the writer… and we find him looking at everything within the ecological system… he being an entity of the system!  Nature is not an isolated factor for him, to be studied and imposed upon our decisions. He seems to reverse the general conviction of the people that they should try to make "nature" their slave, since they thought "nature" was something outside them. The way he concludes the story by quoting D.H.Lawrence, reflects his honest feelings and sympathy… ‘There was room in the world for a mountain lion and me.’1 Linda Hogan views, "There is a separation that has taken place between us and nature. Something has broken deep in the core of ourselves… The result is a spiritual fragmentation that has accompanied our ecological destruction". The gravity of the situation can be seen in a survey published in ‘Washington Post’ : Nearly seven out of 10 of the biologists polled said they believed a 'mass extinction' [of plants and animals] was underway, and an equal number predicted that up to one-fifth of all living species could disappear within 30 years.2  

This narrative has a beautiful description of wildlife. The forests, birds and animals have been described very naturally. The place is full of various kinds of plants, trees and other vegetation. Then the physical description of the place, its hills, the ravine etc, gives us a real feeling of wildlife. The stream, the plateau, the cave etc, add beauty to it. Anyone passes through this place comes across flowers and vegetation like sorrel, vines, bamboo, bushes, oak, maple and Himalayan rhododendron. Ferns and maidenhair also grow here. Then wild animals like leopard, barking deer, langurs, red fox, porcupines, etc, can also be watched in their natural rhythm. Birds like fork tail, pheasants, etc, are also in plenty here. By these, Bond not only creates in us an unforgettable impression of wild life, rather he makes us feel that we too belong to the nature in the same manner as other living things do. And all these ecological factors and organic entities are inter-dependent on each other along with their individual respective identities.

Bond has always been labeled as a story-writer for children. Unfortunately when we talk about a sub-system, it’s treated as an adult theme but when the main system is under scanner, it’s labeled as suitable for children! In other words, it’s our ecology that caters our fundamental needs and without which our so-called culture and civilization cannot stand for a moment… and it receives attention like ‘last but not the least…’

Bond is always serious, deep, and contemplative. The lines of D.H. Lawrence quoted in ‘The Leopard’ must have matched the frequency of Ruskin Bond. Both D.H. Lawrence and Ruskin Bond favour the ‘trust’ formed between the organic worlds created by the nature. ‘…there was room in the world for a mountain lion and me.’ Bond remembers these words from the poem of D.H. Lawrence because these are near to his view of life. He loves nature in its various aspects. He is a naturalist. He loves its wild aspects, its flora and fauna, i.e. its vegetation and animals. These are at the core of his view of life. Anyone who disturbs the ecological balance of nature is Bond’s enemy. There is a kind of ‘trust’ among all these things. This ‘trust’ is the very basis of life... it is its source, its inspiration.  Bond remembered these words when the hunters had killed the leopard. In other way, he wants to ask a question- don’t these speechless wild animals have a right to live? For him… they have!

Ruskin Bond hates hypocrisy of the world. Bond does not seem to believe in a writer socializing at parties or signing books at a giant bookstore. He once wrote, "Writers should be read, not seen. In fact he seems to be least interested in establishing a rapport with human being. He prefers animals and nature as his companion… for hunters he says ‘these were men, unpredictable, and to be avoided, if possible,’3 i.e. the hunters are the men about whom nothing can be predicted. They have double faces. They are the killers of the leopard and other wild animals. So he hates them the most. Such feelings are very much explicit in Whitman’s lines:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
No one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

Unfortunately, an established bond of trust between Bond and the leopard has been violated by the hunters… and the sense of universal wholeness is shattered. Bond conceptualizes the whole as a whole and human beings as its sub-unit. We never experience nature directly but always through the lenses of our own values and assumptions. "Nature" is thus not simply a physical entity that is "out there" or given; it is an idea that takes on different meanings in different cultural contexts, a social construction that directs us to see mountains, rivers, trees, and deserts in particular ways. Raymond Williams expressed this understanding when he wrote, "The idea of nature contains, though often unnoticed, an extraordinary amount of human history."5 To postmodernists, "nature" is not something the mind discovers but something that it makes.

This understanding of "nature" is helpful in guarding against insensitive environmentalist projects. We often assume that everyone concerned with a particular environmental issue shares the same understanding of the problem. But this is far from being the case. When it comes to preserving wilderness areas or protecting biological diversity, one person's wilderness is another person's neighborhood. What one person values as an endangered species is potential income, a threat, or dinner to someone else. "nature" is not a single realm with a universalized meaning, but a canvas on which we project our sensibilities, our culture, and our ideas about what is socially necessary.

1. The Leopard, (Penguin India 2004), pp. 149
2. Washington Post , 21 April 1998
3 .The Leopard, (Penguin India 2004), pp. 151
4. from Song of Myself, section 32,
     Whitman, Walt: Leaves of Grass (1855-1892)
5 Post-modernist views, op. cit, pp.34

No comments:

Post a Comment