Sitting in a city, surrounded by buildings, enveloped in smog, Ruskin Bond’s books are like a breath of much-needed crisp, fresh mountain air. Bond’s writing takes readers into a world that for many of us is reserved for “vacation time”.
His words take us on a journey through the winding roads of the mountains, where tigers and leopards lurk in deep forests, fallen pine cones and dried leaves crunch beneath footsteps, spooky caretakers and ghosts haunt forgotten houses, and children make imaginary friends.
Even now, bookstores and e-stores are filled with titles from Bond, charming readers. A year and a half ago, when I spoke to the writer about the sheer number of his books that are out there, he said, “When I go to the bank, as I did on Saturday, and I find my bank balance has become alarmingly low, I rush back and immediately get to work at my desk.”
His inimitable sense of humour aside, Bond is a compulsive writer. “Even if it wasn’t my profession, I would still write for myself,” he said. “I am fond of writing; I enjoy it, whether I am writing an essay, a story, or a poem.”
Now, almost a decade later, Bond is back with one of his most beloved characters in Rusty and the Magic Mountain . In his ‘By Way of an Introduction’, the author writes, “But I’ll never write another,” said Rusy, “after so much bother.”
And here he is, at his desk near the door… telling a new tale. In this instalment, the Anglo-Indian boy’s “adventure wind” was calling to him. And he sets off to explore Witch Mountain with his friend, little Popat Lal, and wrestler, Pitamber, who is always eating whatever food he can lay his hands on. It’s an odd bunch, Bond’s books offer a deeper understanding of human nature.
Some characters he writes with wit and cleverness, others, he paints with a brush of benevolent malevolence, and some, with compassion. Whether it’s the eccentric Uncle Ken, the food-loving Aunt Mabel, or the shy Mr Oliver, his characters are quirky and colourful.
In Rusty and the Magic Mountain , the three friends find themselves on a fantastical quest: there’s a mysterious one-eyed caretaker who never removes his hat, a cat who has a penchant for blood, a community of dwarves whose forefathers worked in silver mines without sunshine and fresh air, and an evil Rani and the gorgeous Reema. Bond tosses together the supernatural with adventure to put together a hilarious tale that Rusty’s old and new fans will love.
Bond’s stories evoke a strong sense of place — whether it’s a tea stall tucked away in a dusty corner or a sylvan forest in the valley of a mountain. For instance, he describes a pond in Friends in Wild Places: Birds, Beasts and Other Companions , “To the inhabitants of the pond, the pond was the world; and to the inhabitants of the world, maintained Grandfather, the world was but a muddy pond.”
In another story, he writes about his fascination with small wayside stations. “…these little stations are, for me, outposts of romance, lonely symbols of the pioneering spirit that led men to lay tracks into the remote corners of the earth.” How hard is it then to imagine a muddy pond that’s home to croaking frogs, deserted railway stations, or quaint hill stations? Not very. But mostly, Bond’s stories evoke awe, concern and respect for all things wild and wonderful; whether it’s a blue periwinkle that Rusty plucks from a bush or a leopard crouching in a railway tunnel in Friends in Wild Places .
This book, lavishly illustrated by Shubhadarshini Singh, brings together stories, some old and others new, about his real and imaginary friendship with animals, birds, and trees.
Bond reminisces about the urban wildlife of Delhi, a tree that gives him a basket of walnuts every year, and a baby spotted-owlet who lived under his bed.
For Bond, his relationship with animals and plants is deep.
As he put it, “After all, animals only kill for food, don’t they? And we humans kill for land property, greed, envy, jealousy — these are our motives for killing. Animals need space, that’s all they want really. Let them have their forest and wilderness.” And maybe, that’s what resonates in his book, reverence and love (and some humour) for humanity and the environment. And that’s why we keep returning to his stories.
Bijal Vachharajani writes about education for sustainable development, conservation, and food security. She’s the former editor of Time Out Bengaluru .
When I find that my bank balance has become alarmingly low, I rush back and immediately get to work at my desk
Bond tosses together the supernatural and adventure to put together a hilarious tale