Sunday, August 10, 2014



by Prabhat Kumar

Ruskin Bond was born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh in 1934. Though his parents were British, Bond spent his early childhood in Jamnagar, Gujarat. While a student, he was inspired by the works of novelists Charles Dickens, William Saroyan, and the poetry of philosopher Rabindra Nath Tagore.

Bond is a most ordinary looking man, lost behind his spectacles, and absent-minded air, but his over thirty books have brought joy to many children and grown-ups alike. For his many avid readers, Ruskin Bond is now almost a living legend. Bond was awarded John Llewellyn Rhys prize for his first novel ‘The Room on the Roof’ in the year 1957 and he received the Sahitya Akademy Award for English writing in India. He has also been honoured with the Padmashri in 1999.

Bond has written over a hundred short stories, essays, novels, and more than thirty books of children. Three collections of short stories, ‘Night Train at Deoli’, ‘Time Stops at Shamli’ and ‘Our Trees Still Grow in Dehradun’ have been published. He has also edited two anthologies, ‘Indian Ghost Stories’ and ‘Indian Railway Stories’.
Ruskin Bond had his first success as a writer very early in his career. In fact, he was not even twenty when his novel ‘The Room on the Roof’ was published. It made him something of a celebrity in India, not only because of his young age but, because he was able to capture the spirit of the land and its people.

He prefers to explore himself through his writings and always writes in subjective mode. He admits sincerely, ‘I like writing for children, and get along well with them. Basically it depends on your nature. In my case I've always wanted to rediscover childhood. Mine wasn't a happy one. And maybe I try to recreate it through other people's childhood. That way I find a certain lost happiness. I also live my childhood through children who I write for. I think it's the child in the adult, which is strong in me. As there's an adult in every child, there's a child in every adult. Also I feel, writing for children keeps one young and helps in not becoming cynical.’1  

As the most credible material for writing can be found from self within, he preferred to concentrate on his own life and its association with India. He also focuses on the lives of those men, women and children, both towns and hill folks, whom he could watch from close quarters for a period of time or whose paths he crossed by chance. He is never in an imaginary world, but his world is so beautiful that it beats even a greater degree of imagination. In his own words, ‘Some say that real India is to be found in its villages; other would like to think that India is best represented by its big cities and industrial centres. For me, India has always been an atmosphere, an emotional more than a geographical entity; but if I have to transpose this rather nebulous concept into something more concrete, then I would say that India is really to be found in its small towns.’ 2

Bond can be alleged of being aloof from the main stream or indifferent to key issues, national movements and social upheavals, but there is greater truth in his writings… and he has no repentance for not taking up these transitional phases and so-called nice places. At a time when London was being evacuated for the Second  World War and the city-bred children being bundled off to the English countryside, bestselling author Enid Blyton spent a great deal of energy on her nature column and tried to incorporate elements of the natural world in her books, to provide a charming escape route for her readers. Bond’s message is clear- pen down whatever you see, find beauty in ordinary folk and nature, and pretend you’re the happiest person on earth!
His India and its meaning is very different for him unlike other writers in India. His association with India is more like that of Keats’s with Greece. He finds nature here rich in fabric… full of life and decorated with a civilization in absolute sense. However, he finds nature so close to him in hills that he can establish a rapport with it… can even feel a touch of it! He says, ‘Very often one goes to nature for tranquility, for communing with oneself. Personally, it's been very rewarding and has many times prevented me from going nuts! I like wild flowers, evergreen trees and a walk in nature's garden. If you are sad, you can go out in the open and find solace. If you're happy you feel happier. I get the greatest thrill and pleasure if I am taking a quiet walk in the hills and suddenly spot a new flower or the first flower of spring. It's something unusual, something so pure, beautiful and innocent. It sort of symbolizes perfection. I'm not a religious person but if I were to say I have a religion, then I would say I'm a nature worshipper.3

Being an Anglo-Indian, his loyalty could be suspected for a while, but timelessness in his themes, characters, places and detachment from socio-political issues saves him from such criticism. He conceptualizes, ‘Small-town India- that’s my India. The India of Shamli and Shahganj, Panipat and Pipalkoti, Alwar and ambala and Alleppy, Kalka and Kasauli and Kolar Goldfields, and thousand of others along the rivers, along the coasts, straddling the mountains or breaking up the monotony of scrub and desert. Taken together, they set the cities at naught. They are the heart of India, an untapped source of vast human potential, largely ignored except when elections come round. Have I, in choosing the dusty lanes of Roorkee or Shahjahanpur, missed out on the sights of Calcutta and Madras, or lost my last chance to lean against the leaning tower of Pisa or savour the aromas of the Venetian canals? If I have, so be it. Small towns don’t change in the way that cities change. It is still possible to find the old landmarks and sometimes the old people. There is timelessness about small-town and cantonment India that I have tried to capture in a story like ‘Time Stops at Shamli’… I step off the train, explore the place, discover a boarding-house inhabited by a number of lonely individuals living in a time capsule like my own, meet an old love, and discover a few things about myself before continuing my journey. We are all ships that pass in the night… for it isn’t time that’s passing by, my friend; it is you and I.4

Ruskin Bond put across the warmth of rural life or the life of small towns where things are often tinged with superstition and rituals with a touch of originality. He is always readable, gentle, and nostalgic…always providing peace to a restless heart. Throughout his twenties Bond continued to write on adult themes about his childhood which include ‘The Room on the Roof’, ‘The Neighbor’s Wife’, ‘My First Love’, and ‘Love is a Sad Song’ among them. He turned to writing for children in his thirties. Since then, he has written numerous stories and poems that capture his nostalgia for the days of his boyhood. In books such as ‘The Cherry Tree’, ‘The Adventure of Rusty’, and ‘Getting Granny’s Glasses’, relationships among friends and family are warmly illustrated through incidents in lives of each of Bond’s youthful characters.

The euphoric sense has always been evoked right from the titles of Bond’s books, such as, ‘Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra’. ‘Time Stops at Shamli’, ‘When Darkness Falls and Other Stories’, the contents have never disappointed, nor surprised. His characteristic gentle humour, homespun wisdom and romantic imagery have set him apart from those whose evocations of urban angst have become the common motif of Indian writing in English today.

The Indian landscape serves as one of the main characters in each of Bond’s books, and his concern over its future is a theme that runs through several of his stories. ‘The Last Tiger’ concerns the disappearance of wildlife in India. Featuring a similar theme ‘Dust on the Mountain’, strongly expresses Bond’s concern for the degradation of the environment in the Himalayas. He has his own basis as he says, ‘In India, and particularly in the Hindu religion, there's a very strong element of nature. In my case, I feel since I've lived so close to it, the influence shows in my work. Many of my books and stories have for the last many years had the strong element of the natural world. As for nature, what impresses me most is its overpowering indifference to us. While we might love nature, it doesn't necessarily love us in return. It has two faces. The general face is that of joy, which it gives us through birds, butterflies and flowers. The other is of fire, floods and earthquakes. Thus, both creation and destruction are in its hands.’5  

With so much of literary output, during the last fifty years and more, Ruskin Bond has generated quite much interest among the readers in India. But it appears that he has not received due attention from the critics and reviewers, and no serious effort has been made to evaluate Ruskin bond as a writer. Even he, in his introduction to his famous volume, ‘The Best of Ruskin Bond’ has written, ‘Like the Jolly Miller of Dee’, I care for nobody, no, not I- and nobody cares for me! I refer, of course, to introducers, celebrities, and the purveyors of literary criticism.6  

 1.Bond, Ruskin, ‘Scenes from a Writer’s life’ (Penguin India)

2. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Time Stops at Shamli’ (Penguin India)

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Scenes from a Writer’s life (Penguin India)

6. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Delhi is not Far’ (Penguin India)
Bond, Ruskin, ‘Scenes from a Writer’s life’ (Penguin India)

7. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Time Stops at Shamli’ (Penguin India)

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Bond, Ruskin, ‘Scenes from a Writer’s life (Penguin India)

11.  Bond, Ruskin, ‘Delhi is not Far’ (Penguin India)

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