Here’s a book everybody in India should own. We haven’t finished it; we’re only a third of the stories through, and we’re already hooked.
Ruskin Bond is a known name in India. Those who haven’t read his books have read his writings in their English textbooks; for “Rusty” is, like RK Laxman, a regular part of the Indian curriculum.
The book contains 88 short stories, starting with the first one he wrote, and concluding with what you hope won’t be his last. You can almost see the writer growing in the span of the stories. The writing becomes better, the stories grippier as you go along.
A collection of short stories is one of the best gauges of a writer’s creativity and versatility. Since the stories cannot have the same fundamental theme, the writer must struggle with output beyond one large narrative with sub-plots and details filling in and pushing up the pages.
The book picks up from the fourth story (The Daffodil Case), a fantasy-type setting in which the writer encounters Sherlock Holmes in Regent’s Park, London. The hilarious piece becomes even more funny when Holmes, having arrested someone, asks Ruskin to go get help, which our writer does. But when he returns to the spot with somebody, he finds Holmes and the culprit missing.
“Sherlock Holmes, eh? And you’ll be Dr Watson, I presume,” he’s asked.
“Well, no” he answers apologetically. “The name is Bond.”
Equally funny is “The Boy Who Broke the Bank”, in which a chance statement by an unpaid sweeper sparks Chinese whispers across the town that culminate in the closure of the local bank.
Aside from the humour, there are stories that make you wince simply because Bond understands human suffering, and his writing touches even the most recalcitrant of readers. “Most Beautiful”, which starts with the incidence of a deformed and retarded child being heckled by a group of schoolboys, brings us face to face with our own common cruelties.
In “The Eyes Have It”, a blind man in a railway coach hides his lack of sight from a young girl with an enthralling voice, only to discover after she disembarks that the girl too was blind.
“The Haunted Bicycle” tells us, in the short span of just two pages, a scary incident that could well have been true and would affect anyone who rides empty roads late at night alone.
Non-Indian readers might find some of the stories inaccessible because of their “Indian-ness”, but anybody who’s lived in India will understand what’s in here, and on scanning through, find extraordinary gems from a countryman who has contributed much to its literary canon.
Reading Recommendation: Everybody should have this book. And they should read it. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, reading Ruskin Bond is always a positive experience. Go on, enjoy.