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Bond, Ruskin

BOND, Ruskin

Nationality: Indian. Born: Kasauli, Himachal, 19 May 1934. Education: Bishop Cotton School, Simla, 1943-50. Career: Freelance writer, from 1956; managing editor, Imprint magazine, Bombay, 1975-79. Lives in Mussourie. Awards: Rhys Memorial prize, for fiction, 1957; Sahitya Academy award for English writing on India, 1992; Indian National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi) prize, 1992.

Publications

Collections

Delhi Is Not Far: The Best of Ruskin Bond. 1994.

Complete Stories and Novels. 1996.

Short Stories

The Neighbour's Wife and Other Stories. 1967.

My First Love and Other Stories. 1968.

The Man-Eater of Manjari. 1974.

Love Is a Sad Song. 1975.

A Girl from Copenhagen. 1977.

Ghosts of a Hill Station. 1983.

The Night Train at Deol. 1988.

Time Stops at Shamli and Other Stories. 1989.

Our Trees still Grow in Dehra. 1991.

Novels

The Room on the Roof. 1956.

An Axe for the Rani. 1972.

A Flight of Pigeons. 1980.

The Young Vagrants. 1981.

Strangers In the Night: Two Novellas. 1997.

Fiction (for children)

The Hidden Pool, illustrated by Arup Das. 1966.

Grandfather's Private Zoo, illustrated by Mario Miranda. 1967.

Panther's Moon, illustrated by Tom Feelings. 1969.

The Last Tiger: New Delhi. 1971.

Angry River, illustrated by Trevor Stubley. 1972.

The Blue Umbrella, illustrated by Trevor Stubley. 1974.

Night of the Leopard, illustrated by Eileen Green. 1979.

Big Business, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1979.

The Cherry Tree, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1980.

The Road to the Bazaar (stories), illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1980.

Flames in the Forest, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1981.

The Adventures of Rusty, illustrated by Imtiaz Dharker. 1981.

Tigers Forever, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1983.

Earthquake, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1984.

Getting Granny's Glasses, illustrated by Barbara Walker. 1985.

Cricket for the Crocodile, illustrated by Barbara Walker. 1986.

The Adventures of Rama and Sita, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1987.

The Eyes of the Eagle, illustrated by Valerie Littlewood. 1987.

Ghost Trouble. 1989.

Snake Troubler. 1990.

Dust on the Mountain. 1990.

Ruskin Bond Children's Omnibus. 1995.

Poetry

It Isn't Time That's Passing: Poems 1970-1971. 1972.

Lone Fox Dancing: Lyric Poems. 1975.

To Live in Magic (for children). 1983.

Other

Strange Men, Strange Places. 1969.

Tales Told at Twilight (folktales; for children), illustrated by Madhu Powle. 1970.

World of Trees (for children), illustrated by Siddhartha Banerjee. 1974.

Who's Who at the Zoo (for children) photographs by RaghuRai. 1974.

Once upon a Monsoon Time (autobiography; for children). 1974.

Tales and Legends of India (for children), illustrated by SallyScott. 1982.

Beautiful Garhwal (travelogue). 1988.

An Island of Trees: Nature Stories and Poems (for children). 1995.

Rain in the Mountains, Notes from the Himalayas. 1996.

Tigers Forever: Stories and Poems (for children). 1997.

A Bond with the Mountains: Stories, Thoughts, Poems. 1998.

Scenes from a Writer's Life: A Memoir. 1998.

*

Critical Study:

The Creative Contours of Ruskin Bond: An Anthology of Critical Writings, edited by Prabhat K. Singh, 1995.

* * *

Whereas many of India's most prominent writers in English do not live in Indi—Salman Rushdie, for example, resides in England, Anita Desai in the United States, and Rohinton Mistry in Canada—Ruskin Bond, who was born in British India of English parents, now lives as a citizen of that independent country. He enjoys a reputation there as one of its most popular writers in English.

Bond is the third generation of his family to live in India. Both grandfathers came from England, and both parents were born there. Unlike most India-born children of British parents, however, he was not sent "home" for school, but he remained in the princely state of Jamnagar, now part of Gujarat, with his father, tutor to the royal children. His parents divorced when he was four, and, soon after marrying an Indian, his mother left the young boy to live with his father, a gentle, contemplative man who died of malaria shortly thereafter. Bond then went to live with his mother and his robust game-hunting stepfather in Dehra Dun, a resort town in the foothills of the Himalayas that would later serve as the locale for many of his writings. Graduating from high school in 1950, he went to England with relatives but was unable to adjust to life there.

At age 17, while in England, Bond published his first novel, Room on the Roof (1956). It is the story of Rusty (Bond's nickname), a 16-year-old who, reared in an Indian orphanage as English, discovers that he is of mixed Indian-English heritage. Rebelling against the strictures placed on him by his guardians, he runs off with Indian friends and travels about the country. He comes to appreciate and respect, even love, India's complexity and diversity. The novel won the 1957 John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, given to a work of fiction written by a Commonwealth resident under the age of 30. Bond used the prize money to finance his return to India, where he has lived and worked as a freelance writer since.

A prolific and versatile author, Bond is one of India's premier writers of children's literature. He has published scores of volumes of prose and poetry for both children and adults, with the children's books elegantly illustrated, as well as essays, travelogues, criticism, and an autobiography. In recognition of his contributions to Indian literature, he received the Indian National Academy of Letters (Sahitya Akademi) Prize in 1992 for his short story collection Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra.

Bond states that his stories are "about my father, and about the trees we planted, and about the people I knew while growing up and about what happened on the way to growing up…." Hence, the stories, whether for children or adults, are memories suffused with nostalgia, and they teem with a nationscape of people from the author's past: upright English relatives and their countrymen and women; children, both British and Indian; friends, English but more often Indian; priests, both Christian and Hindu; young lovers, English and Indian in various combinations; Indian princes and princesses; and a prodigally rich array of people drawn from India's middle and lower classes, including launderers, gardeners, police officers, train conductors, street musicians and vendors, eunuchs, holy men and women, and moneylenders, a seemingly endless list. Many stories are presented from the point of view of a lonely, privileged British boy or young man who, often rebellious and headstrong, crosses the artificial social, often racist, lines that separate him from the Indians and their land.

The father-centered stories are among Bond's most affective. "The Funeral" tells of an unnamed nine-year-old English boy whose father, like Bond's, loved books, music, stamps, and flowers but most of all his son and who has, like Bond's, died quite young, at age 40. Although many relatives attend the funeral, the boy's mother, like Bond's, is not present but lives hundreds of miles away with her new husband. Grown-ups will not allow the boy to attend the burial, lest he become upset and cause a scene. After the adults leave for the cemetery, the boy sneaks out of the house to watch the casket being placed in the ground, trying to fathom the depth and meaning of his loss.

A happier note is struck in "The Room with Many Colours," which describes the life of an unnamed seven-year-old living in a similarly unnamed princely state. Here the inquisitive first-person narrator queries his father on numerous subjects: flora and fauna of all kinds, Indians, the British, the relationship between the two, and England, which the boy's father, tutor to the ruler's children, has visited and from where the lad's two grandfathers came. The father describes England as "quite different" from India. The only question the father seems unable to answer is why the boy's mother is not there with them and where she is now. The father replies with a troubled "I really don't know." The splendid, meticulously kept palace gardens are elaborately and poetically described. (Naturescapes, especially India's mountains, are a particular forte of both Bond's prose and his poetry.) One day the gardener Dukhi has the youngster deliver a nosegay to someone living in the older palace, apart from the rest of the royal family. The elegant little woman he encounters there turns out to be the ruler's unmarried, harmlessly mad aunt, who, according to rumor, loved a commoner, possibly Dukhi, but who was not allowed to marry him, after which time she retired to her separate apartments. Redolent and spicy meals, the school day with the royal children as classmates, the fervently Christian nurse, snakes, banyan trees, and the coming of World War II—all are finely detailed. The father, like Bond's, joins the Royal Air Force, and the boy is sent off, not without misgivings, to live with grandparents in Dehra Dun, thus bringing the story to a close though with hints of others to come.

Most, but not all, of Bond's stories are set in India. "The Girl from Copenhagen," for example, takes place in England. The narrator, a young man, is asked by a friend to look after Ulla, a young woman from Copenhagen who is coming for a few days on her first visit to London. Ulla has not made arrangements for lodgings, and so she invites herself to stay with the man in his room. The first night she is uninhibited and nonchalant in undressing and jumping into his bed, asking, "Aren't you coming?" After chatting for a while, she falls asleep, and the narrator starts to count many Scandinavian sheep. They spend the next day sight-seeing and eating, returning to his room early since she has to leave the next day. He asks her not to leave, but she insists that she must. Both inexperienced, they make tender, patient love. He recalls, "A courting and a marriage and a living together had been compressed, perfectly, into one summer night…." It is an experience he never forgets.

Critics characterize Bond's prose style as "simple." It possesses a sparseness, a directness, and an almost studied lack of literary artifice, which suggest several things. First, most of his writing is for children, where simplicity is a desideratum, and this predilection seems to carry over to much of his other work. Second, his literature for adults has usually appeared in popular magazines and newspapers of mass circulation. In these media, especially the latter, the exigencies of plot, style, and complexity must sometimes give way to those of, among others, the modest reading levels of the audience, restraints on the reader's time, editor's deadlines, and copy inches. Some critics praise Bond, calling him, for example, a writer with a "gentle pen"; others do not, labeling his creative writing overly journalistic and simple, if not simplistic. Bond responds as follows: "It is clarity that I am striving to attain, not simplicity…. I've spent forty years trying to simplify my style and clarify my thoughts…. I have always tried to achieve a prose that is easy and conversational."

Bond's stories reveal an India the surface structures of whose life and living have substantially changed since he was a boy but whose deeper structures have not. His respect for India, its traditions, its problems, and its people, devoid of any patronizing, judgmental, or sensationalistic posture, distinguishes him from other British, India-born writers, for example, Rudyard Kipling, Rumer Godden, and M. M. Kaye, to name the most prominent. The hunger for a father in his best-known stories is veritably palpable, as is the need for belonging and for an integrated sense of self-identity. Taken in aggregate, Bond's short fiction reads like a bildungsroman in which, at the end, the protagonist has successfully integrated his British and Indian selves into a healthy, productive personality and has obliterated divisions of loyalties or identities.

—Carlo Coppola

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