Authors: Ruskin Bond
Born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, in 1934, Ruskin Bond grew up in Jamnagar (Gujarat), Dehradun and Simla. His first novel,
written when he was seventeen, received the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. Since then he has written over three hundred short stories, essays and novellas (including
) and more than thirty books for children. He has also published two volumes of autobiography,
, which describes his formative years growing up in Anglo-India, and
a collection of essays and episodes from his journal. In 1992 he received the Sahitya Akademi award for English writing in India. He was awarded the Padma Shree in 1999.
Ruskin Bond lives with his adopted family in Mussoorie.
The Room on the Roof and Vagrants in the Valley
Night Train at Deoli & Other Stories
Time Stops at Shamli & Other Stories
Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra (Stories)
The Penguin Book of Indian Ghost Stories (Edited)
The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories (Edited)
Rain in the Mountains
Panther’s Moon & Other Stories
The Room on the Roof
Good luck, little one
And when all the wars are done, a butterfly will still be beautiful.
And here I am again, in my little room overlooking the winding road to Tehri, writing another Introduction.
No one has ever offered to write an Introduction for any of my books, and so, perforce, I must do my own.
Back in the 1950’s, when I wrote my first novel, unknown authors went around trying to get their more famous counterparts to write introductions for their books. Ever ready to oblige were men of the stature of Graham Greene, George Orwell, E. M. Forster and V. S. Pritchett. But I was far too shy to approach any or the ‘greats’. Moreover, I thought I was quite capable of standing up without any support. And although at times I have tottered, or come down with a loud thump, I think I have managed to maintain my independence, both as a writer and as an individual. Like the Jolly Miller of Dee, I care for nobody, no, not I—and nobody cares for me! I refer, of course, to introducers, celebrities, and the purveyors of literary criticism. A lot of other people have cared for me. Indeed, the stories and selected writings in this volume are testimonies to the many loving and caring people I have known over the years.
With the help of Anubha Doyle of Penguin India, I have made a fairly representative selection of my best writing, excluding my work for children which is well represented elsewhere. I have not made any selections from my non-fiction work,
(Viking, 1994), as this was published only recently.
The selection includes many of my early stories. Some are old favourites. Others (like the stories set in London) would be unfamiliar to most of my readers. I haven’t written much about the years I spent in London (in the 1950’s) but I hope to rectify this omission before long. The essays are fairly recent. I have always enjoyed writing essays. An essay is built around a particular mood in the mind of the writer. ‘Give the mood, and the essay, from the first sentence to the last, grows around it as the cocoon grows around the silkworm.’ (Alexander Smith, 1863)
What is the difference between an essay and a short story? It depends, I suppose, upon whose personality comes through more strongly, the author’s or the characters he describes. If it is the author’s, then it is really an essay. If it is the characters, then it is a story. Or is that too much of a simplification? In my own case, I have often found my stories becoming essays and vice-versa! One merges into the other. To communicate and be readable is, in the last resort, a matter of style.
People often ask me why my style is so simple. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, for no two sentences are really alike. It is clarity that I am striving to attain, not simplicity.
‘When you talk you sound quite complicated,’ said a friend. And I had to explain that I’ve spent forty years trying to simplify my style and clarify my thoughts!
Of course some people
literature to be difficult. And there are writers who like to make their readers toil and sweat. They hope to be taken more seriously that way. I have always tried to achieve a prose that is easy and conversational. And those who think this is simple should try it for themselves.
Also included here, on the suggestion of my publisher, is a complete short novel,
which is seeing the light of day for the first time.
In 1960, when I wrote it, there were no takers for short novels. Indian publishers would not touch fiction; and a novel had to be fairly long and substantial (or sensational) to find a publisher in Britain or America.
was very low key. Another factor that went against it was the bisexual nature of its central character. After several rejections, the typescript went into a packing-case full of old papers and files and was forgotten for many years. Last winter, when I was emptying the box of its mildewed contents, I found the typescript and was about to toss it into the fire when my eye fell on the name of one of the characters for whom I’d had a particular affection. I’ll keep it for old time’s sake, I said to myself. And browsing through its yellowed pages again, I decided that it had improved a bit with age. When I showed the novel to David Davidar, he suggested that I include it in this collection. So here it is, along with extracts from some of my other novels (
), the opening chapters of one that has yet to be written (
), and some of my verse, including the long autobiographical poem, A Song For Lost Friends.
When I made the notes for this Introduction (I am still old-fashioned enough to make notes), it was just another misty September morning, the hillsides lush with monsoon foliage. By evening Mussoorie was under curfew.
Today, as I type this out, it is the fifth day of curfew, and the town has yet to recover from the tragedy that overtook it last week, on September 2, Mussoorie’s Black Friday. Six citizens were shot dead and a police officer was lynched by a section of the crowd. For weeks the agitation had been allowed to continue unchecked. When the crackdown came, it was devastating.
Confrontations between demonstrators and the authorities are fairly commonplace throughout the country, the causes varying from one region to another. But it was the first time the hill-station had experienced this sort of thing. The middle of a fashionable Mall is the last place you’d expect to find the dead, the dying and the wounded. The children’s park wore the look of a battlefield, and the fountain, dry for months, was splashed with blood.
A curfew was the natural consequence, but no one expected it to last quite so long. On Sunday, the Jaunpuris—hill people from the outlying villages, largely unconcerned with politics and urban affairs—could not hold their annual Janmashtami fair, during which they take the image of Krishna in procession through the town. God Krishna could not bless Mussoorie this year. Perhaps he did not want to. The previous week, on Krishna’s birthday, when it always rains heavily, there was no rain at all—a bad omen.
As for this hill-station, it can never be the same again. It had been going downhill for some time—a very shabby ‘queen of the hills’,
charm—and now, finally, she has lost all her pretensions to royalty.
But there are compensations, even during a curfew. Confined to the house, we must finally spend more time with our families, our children; try to reassure them that the world is not such a bad place after all. Forage for food and make do with less of everything. Be friendlier with previously unsympathetic neighbours, because for once we are sharing the same hardships, the same uncertainty.
Since I live outside the main bazaar and the hillside is just above me, I can scramble up the slopes and discover anew the rich September flora.
The wild ginger is in flower. So is agrimony, lady’s lace, wild geranium. The ferns are turning yellow. The fruit of the snake lily has turned red, signifying an end to the rains. A thrush whistles cheerfully on the branch of a dead walnut tree.
Yes, and when all the wars are done, a butterfly will still be beautiful.
7 September 1994