by Deepika Srivastava
Ruskin Bond is an author whose career spans five decades, whose stories have captivated children and adults alike. Marked by lucidity and perceptual clarity, his stories celebrate the travels and travails of the common man; the protagonist is the common man. A Gathering of Friends and Upon an Old Wall Dreaming (both by Aleph, India, 2016) contain a set of carefully chosen stories that sum up the different phases of his entire career. For a first-time reader, it’s the best introduction to the highly acclaimed author, and for a seasoned one, it’s the best recipe for nostalgia.
Geographically displaced, the Anglo-Indian author found refuge in the Garhwal hills of Uttrakhand. These hills form the setting in most of his stories. The familiarity of the other settings used — like the railway station, Delhi, the villages — engage the reader on an emotional level, allowing him to establish a deeper relationship with the prose; the familiarity of the setting creates a familiarity of experience. This is one of the prime reasons as to why his stories hold up so well today. They deal with broken hearts, being alone, living in penury, about strangers who turn out be angels, the flowers which blossom — experiences that almost everyone goes through in their lifetime — encouraging the reader to relish the joy in these little things, because happiness can be found in them too.
A Gathering of Friends opens with “Rusty Plays Holi” from his first book, The Room on the Roof. While most fiction thrives on plot, here it is the character who leaves an imprint. In “The Blue Umbrella”, one instantly falls for the girl Binya when she leaves the umbrella for the greedy shopkeeper without his knowledge. In “The Night Train at Deoli”, one’s heart is filled with sympathy for the author, and while reading “The Woman on Platform 8”, one wishes to go back in time and meet such an angelic stranger, Sushila the girl of his dreams, who reminds us of our lost love.