The 88 year old author, the evergreen Ruskin Bond, is loved by generations. We have been introduced to him from as early as our school days. The stories by Ruskin Bond are lucid, vivid and witty. With a career of almost 70 years he has gifted us more than 500 short stories, novels and essays. He has received some of India’s most prestigious awards, like, the Sahitya Akademy Award in 1992, Padma Shri in 1999 and Padma Bhushan in 2014. Out of the plethora of choices, I have made the list of 7 of my favourite books and stories by Ruskin Bond.
Published in 1956, ‘The Room on the Roof’, is the first novel written by Ruskin Bond. At only seventeen years of age he came up with a novel with a lot of sensitivity and tenderness. The novel earned John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. It is a story of friendship and love. The book has been republished innumerable times and extracts from the book has been used in numerous compilations.
The novel is about an orphaned 17 year old Anglo Indian boy named, Rusty, who lived in the European Colony of Dehradun with his guardian, Mr. Harrison. Mr. Harrison disliked Indians and wanted Rusty’s upbringing as pure Englishman. Rusty wanted to break free from the claustrophobic, forced upon discipline. He was attracted to the colourful chaotic Indian bazaar life. This is how Ruskin Bond brings in the anti-racist and anti-colonial concept subtly into the novel. Speaking of Indian Bazaar life, you can almost visualise, hear the sounds and smell the surroundings with his vivid descriptions.
Rusty finally leaves Mr. Harrison’s house. He managed to find a job, with the help of an Indian friend, as an English teacher to Kishen, the son of Mr. and Mrs. Kapoor and was also offered to stay at a room on the roof. Rusty’s world evolves freely in this simple room on the roof. His attachment to nature grows. He is attracted to the beautiful Meena, Kishen’s mother, whose death changes Rusty’s life. Mr. Kapoor remarries and Kishen is sent to live with his aunt. Rusty loses the job and the room on the roof. So he decides to leave for England. He meets Kishen before leaving and finds that Kishen had left his aunt’s house and turned into a thief. The homelessness and a longing for a proper family that Rusty experienced is similar to that of Kishen. They become each other’s refuge.
‘The Blue Umbrella’, is a novella written in 1980. The theme of the story is timeless, speaking of integrity and forgiveness. This was made into a film in 2005 by the director, Vishal Bhardwaj, casting the eminent actor, Pankaj Kapoor. The movie received National Award for ‘Best Children’s Film’.
The story revolves around an eleven year old mountain girl, Biniya and Ram Bharosa, an old shopkeeper from the same Garhwali village. The readers get lost in the beauty of the Himalayan hamlet. One can almost feel his writing. Biniya trades her leopard claw pendant for a fancy blue umbrella with picnickers from the city. The umbrella earns her a lot of attention from the villagers. Ram is jealous and has an untameable urge to own that frilly umbrella. He makes a few attempts to coax her into giving him the umbrella. When he fails he goes to the extent of using unfair means to own it. The villagers on finding that out boycotts him. No one buys from his tea shop which makes his condition miserable. However, Biniya feels for him. She should not have shown off the umbrella. To some extent she holds herself responsible for Ram’s greed. She hands the umbrella over to him. Her forgiveness remarkably changes things back to normal for Ram Bharose.
Speaking of movies as adaptations of stories by Ruskin Bond, there are two which I must mention. The novel, ‘A Flight of Pigeons’, was made into the movie, ‘Junoon’, by the famous director Shyam Benegal in 1978. In 2011, Vishal Bhardwaj made the movie, ‘7 Khoon Maaf’, adapted from the short story, ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’, casting Priyanka Chopra.
Published in 2015, this is a simple book with picturesque description. He has recorded many little moments which made his life one of peace and harmony with the self, nature, friends, family and even passers-by. The book of 150 pages is written out of love. Within the simplest of lines lies deep wisdom. The essays, the notes and the stories by Ruskin Bond calm the soul with their warmth. We literally see and feel the long walks on the winding mountain road, the moon in between the deodar trees, the call of the birds, the bug on the flower tip, sound of rain on a tin roof and a contented cat sleeping in a shade. These images drain out the toxicity of our urban life and comfort us. I refer back to this book again and again whenever I feel exhausted. It is like a cool breeze on a hot humid day.
This book, published in 2017, is the autobiography of Ruskin Bond, speaking of his childhood, his school days, his youth and finally the grown up author that he is today. It’s a journey that the readers take together with the author. The magic in brewed by his honest, candid words and the 50 photographs from some iconic moments of his life. His life has not always been happy and simple. He had sometimes suffered from loneliness and heart breaks. He often had to fight bottlenecks. Yet an unexplained innocence is always felt. We get the feel of rains, the moon, misty mountains, sitting by the windows in his room, birds and animals, flowers and bugs, lost love and ghosts. Well, this book is captivating enough making the readers eager to know more and more about his eventful life. The book ends with a promise. He says, “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.”
The ghost stories by Ruskin Bond are really spooky. The imageries created by him are eerie enough to give us goose bumps. His ghosts are often friendly too. This book, published in 2009, is a compilation of 28 short stories of paranormal nature starting with ‘A Face in the Dark’. All the stories do not leave you frightened but definitely leave you unsettled, moved and touched lyrically. “Did the incidents really happen?” The ambiguities in the stories often make the readers think so.
The story, ‘A Face in the Dark’, was first published in 2004. Mr. Oliver, an Anglo Indian teacher of a school in Shimla, takes short cut through the pine forests from the town market to school in the evening. He happens to find a school boy sitting and sobbing with his head tucked between his knees. On probing into his whereabouts the teacher finds the boy lifting up his face that had no eyes, ears, nose or mouth. Horrified he begins to hurry towards the school where he runs into a watchman with a lantern. On telling the watchman about the boy, the watchman reveals his face which is similar to that of the boy in the forest. The eerie elements used by Ruskin Bond conjures the mystery. The sound of the leaves, the cry of the owl, the batteries of the torch running down, the flickering torch light, silent sobbing and a lantern are the magic potions which make a spine chilling climax of such a short and simple story.
This collector’s edition is a treasury of poems by India’s most loved author, ‘Ruskin Bond’. They are categorised into love and nature, travel, humour and childhood. The poems are vivid, delightful and happy, weaving imagery in the minds of the readers.
‘Stumbling Through Life’ brings you Ruskin Sir like never before. This book is a collection of 25 short stories (essays and pieces) by Ruskin Bond, speaking of life, in his unique way of simplicity, wit and comedy. We get the smell of his unhurried world, tucked away in hills and valleys. His world is fresh and magical wrapped in homespun philosophy of utmost simplicity.
On 19th of May, 1934, Ruskin Bond was born in Kasauli, Punjab, India. He was sent to England after schooling. However, he longed to come back to India even though he has an English origin. The stories by Ruskin Bond clearly portrays his love for India and Indian readers. We too love him, having grown up reading his works. He is an inspiration of simple living, teaching us to be one with nature. He is still writing and I am eagerly waiting for his new launch, ‘How to Live your Life’. I had written a similar article: