Book Review by Richa Mohan
Title: Lone Fox Dancing, My Autobiography
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher and date of publication: Speaking Tiger, 2017
Ruskin Bond is an award-winning author. He won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957, for his very first novel, The Room on the Roof. Since then he has been honoured with various awards including the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India in 1993, the Padma Shri in 1999, and the Delhi government’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. He was conferred with the Padma Bhushan in 2014. In fact, his autobiography, Lone Fox Dancing, won the 2017 Atta Galatta-Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize.
So how do you review the work of a master? Actually, you don’t. You simply flow with the magic of the master weaver of tales and feel lucky that you had a chance to, once again, experience the power of beautiful storytelling.
It is said greatness is born of suffering, and the story in the book is testament of that. You are transported to a simpler time and life, such that you actually end up yearning for them — for the days when pen and paper, and tales in the night, were an everyday reality.
The author takes you through his childhood, school years, his brief stint in London and his return to India, where he finally decides to answer the call of his soul and settle. In one of his interviews, Bond also describes how he came about the title of his autobiography. One night when he was returning home, he came across a lone fox dancing in the moonlight, doing his own thing. He identified with the fox, being a loner himself, and wrote a poem on it. Interestingly, he gave his book this title at the last minute just before it went into press, inspired by his own poem.
The book begins with the author describing his carefree days as a youngster, his escapades with his school friends, and his idyllic life at home. One gets to not only travel down the author’s memory lane but also to appreciate his honesty and self-deprecating tone that bring the child Bond to life. He describes himself as “a little boy who ate a lot of kofta curry and was used to having his way”. You get to meet Osman, the khansama*, who would delight the author with his tales while cooking in the kitchen, and the ayah**, who loved him like her own.
You smile at the wry humour as the author talks of his friends, parents, family and everything that happened in his life and shaped him as a person. However, tragedy does strike young Bond’s home, as he watches his parents’ marriage fall apart.
Whether it be the separation of his parents, or his bond with his father (who eventually dies) to the remarriage of his mother, your heart goes out to the young Bond as he struggles to make sense of events that are far beyond his control. Bond draws you into his world, subtly, where you feel happy for him when he enjoys staying with his father after his parents’ separation and experience his anguish when he returns to his mother’s house and sees how things have changed.
The book includes rare photographs of Bond’s family and loved ones. You get a glimpse into his world and are introduced to his ‘family’, people whom the ‘lone fox’ finally decides to belong to. The love and pride he feels as they grow up pours out of his writing.
Throughout the narration, there is no blame or any scepticism — but the insight of a man who looks back at his life and objectively and presents it to his readers so that they can form their own opinions.
After finishing school at the Bishop’s Cotton in Shimla, Bond finally decides to move to England to fulfil his ambition of being a writer. He goes there because he feels that that is where all the writers he admired began. These are interesting times when the young Bond meets some famous personalities of that era and even starts a one-sided affair. However, he misses home so much that he makes up his mind to return to India. Describing the emotions behind his decision, he writes, “All I really wanted was my little room back again.”
He sets up home in Dehra where he begins writing for The Illustrated Weekly of India. Again, you get to see India in the 1950s including Delhi where fields existed in Rajouri Garden (now a crowded market and residential neighbourhood). While reading this bit, one is almost tempted to go and join Ruskin Bond at that time, away from all the clutter that defines the city today. This is also the time when he makes peace with his mother and, finally, moves to his little room in the hills.
This part of his life, as a 30-something, is familiar to a lot of his fans. He describes in detail his journey of becoming the much-loved writer that he is now. You learn about his stint at steering a magazine during the Emergency (1975-1977) to getting arrested for something he wrote in Debonair.
As the book ends, you can empathetically look through the author’s eyes as he longingly views the hills he can still see from his window and which could at any time be threatened by the mass commercialisation that is sweeping through India; but for the moment, they continue pristine.
Lone Fox Dancing is a book that one must read at leisure. You are drawn into another era and world, and into the mind of one of the most famous writers of this century. It is awe-inspiring to see how following one’s heart and passion can leave a mark on this world — as did Ruskin Bond while sitting in his room in the hills.
*A male servant who cooks and is often also responsible for taking care of the house and organizing other servants.
An editor and writer by profession, Richa Mohan has been in this field for almost a decade now. She has done her Masters in English and is pursuing her Doctorate in English Literature. She has written for children’s magazines and journals for work. Her blog was published on the Penguin Anniversary site and her book reviews have been published in magazines (The Reading Hour) and on Kitaab.org. Her entry for Write India, a contest by the Indian national daily Times of India, won a special mention for Ruskin Bond’s category. Apart from that Richa is a professional actor and records podcasts for Englishwaves, a French Radio. Currently, she lives in Delhi with her husband and dog, Layla.
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