As a child, my onset to the world of reading and writing was English Literature books prescribed by CISCE. My elder sister, a budding writer too at that time used to share with me stories from anthologies for Senior secondary. Among others, what caught our imagination was a story by Ruskin named The Night Train To Deoli. For the years to come, this piece of writing not only became my favourite story but a place to find inspiration whenever I had a block.
There is something in the descriptions that immortalizes a Ruskin Bond story. Through them, you can move places, experience train stations, small towns, humid plains, and high mountains and gain rich experiences even without moving an inch.
The Night Train To Deoli is not a conventional love story, yet it could not be more romantic. It unfolds as something like a fairy tale, yet its climax offers us a slice of life. The train halts briefly at a Deoli, a small station before entering the woods. The narrator meets a basket seller and has two small meetings wherein he develops a strange bond. When the train stopped the third time, she was no longer on the platform. He wants to stop and make inquiries, but the train moves on, and so does life.
“What could I do about finding a girl I had seen only twice, who had hardly spoken to me, and about whom I knew nothing—absolutely nothing—but for whom I felt a tenderness and responsibility that I had never felt before?”
At this point, little did I know a whole world was waiting to enchant me. His writing continued to grow on me through small and long works. It was either in a form of a forgotten princess's room which had many colours, or a boy’s fierce resolve that his father will come back in the form of a tree in The Funeral.
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Ruskin draws from his personal experiences, to create a world of engaging characters. One does not know where fiction ends and autobiography begins in his short stories. The characters of Rusty, Binya, Dukhi, Suraj, and his father and grandfather are unique and memorable.
At a later stage, I read Bond’s more complex and meditative works like Delhi is Not Far. PipalNagar's resignation as a town remains palpable throughout the writing. With Arun, we meet Suraj, an orphan and Kamla, a young prostitute who is wise beyond her years. This too is made of quiet wisdom and underplayed farewells. Nostalgia, charm, and humour remain present in subtle measures.
Although Ruskin Bond is popular in India as an author for children and young adults, I believe people of all ages can find something unique to take back from his stories. Ruskin Bond filled the shoes of a friend, a companion, a guide and a grandfather for some.
Himani, an avid Ruskin Bond fan and bibliophile from Delhi says, “His words formed a room in my heart, a space that comforts me. I keep returning to it now and then and somehow everything seems alright. My reading writing journey is incomplete without him. He truly enlivened my spirit for life, nature, books, food and so much more. I will forever be indebted to him for adding colours to my perspective.”
Khyati, another avid fan of Ruskin Bond says, "Bond has been like a cool grandpa whom I grew up listening to stories from. My favourite work by him is The Road to the Bazaar because it allowed me to live my childhood the way I never would really be able to in a city like Delhi. I wish I could do what he does for a living. Go to bookstores, write, and earn from it. Just, spend all my time writing books."
Palak Nagar, a graphic designer from Delhi says, “I was in the sixth standard when I took admission at a school in Delhi. Being new to the city and the school, I found it hard to make friends. Ruskin Bond became my companion and friend. His stories were my gateway to reading and a haven when I felt lost. I have read so many of his stories that I cannot remember all names, yet The Overcoat is my favourite.”
Ruskin Bond, who turns 88 today wrote his first novel the room on the roof when he was seventeen and has since then written nearly 500 short stories, novellas and travel writings. These include The Room on the Roof, A Flight of Pigeons, The Night Train at Deoli, Time Stops at Shamli, Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra (winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award), Angry River, The Blue Umbrella among many others. His writings remain an ode to India and its many characters. Hopefully, like many of his characters, Ruskin is still dreaming and drawing experiences as he looks down from his room on the hills.
“Yesterday, I was sad, tomorrow I may be sad again, but today I know that I am happy. I want to live on and on, delighting like a pagan in all that is physical, and I know that this one lifetime, however long, cannot satisfy my heart.”