Ruskin Bond at 90: A lifetime capturing childhood’s magic

Ruskin Bond's legacy is secure, having shaped countless young minds

Ruskin Bond Ruskin Bond will turn 90 on May 19, 2024 | PTI

As Ruskin Bond turns 90, we celebrate a literary legend whose works captured the essence of childhood and captured the imagination of generations. Ruskin Bond’s literary world is a haven of nostalgia, showcasing the simple joys and challenges of childhood with remarkable tenderness. He has authored over five hundred short stories, novels, poetry collections, and a remarkable fifty-plus children's books. 

In celebration of this milestone, Bond has three new books being released: a literary memoir titled 'The Hill of Enchantment' (Aleph), which he calls “an essay on life,” and two books for younger readers, 'How to Be Happy' (HarperCollins) and 'Hold on to Your Dreams' (Puffin). 

Unlike fantastical adventures, Bond’s stories delve into the ordinary – the thrill of climbing a mango tree, the wonder of a hidden waterfall, or the comfort of a shared secret with a friend. ‘The Room on the Roof’(1956), ‘The Blue Umbrella’(1974), ‘Rusty, the Boy from the Hills’(2002), ‘A Flight of Pigeons’(1978) are his most famous works, each capturing the essence of his storytelling magic.

His stories proclaim his urge for a happy childhood which he wants to regain through his works. He affirms this in, “I don’t suppose I would have written so much about childhood or even about other children if my own childhood had been all happiness and light. I find that those who have contented, normal childhood, seldom remember much about them; nor do they have much insight into the world of children.” (Ruskin Bond, Scenes from a Writer’s Life). His stories for children mirror his wealthy imagination. 

Stories like ‘My Father’s Trees in Dehra’, ‘The Funeral’, ‘When I Can’t Climb Anymore’, ‘The Tiger in the House’, ‘Life with Uncle Ken’ record his own reflections, unfulfilled passions and small adventures. 'The Road to the Bazaar' (1980) is a collection of stories that beautifully encapsulates the carefree and playful essence of childhood when our biggest concerns were morning races to schools, cricket games with neighbours, and fearing our parents' reactions to a disappointing report card.  

Bond’s landscapes, particularly the verdant hills of Mussoorie, are more than just backdrops; they are active participants in his narratives. Children in his stories share a symbiotic relationship with nature. In situations where children face dangerous challenges, nature often acts as a protective force. In the story 'Flames in the Forest,' Romi hurries through a burning forest, seemingly unaware of the severity of the situation. Despite the encroaching flames, he remains hopeful about reaching the river. This optimism contrasts with the anxiety of his friend, whom Romi saves, and the terrified animals fleeing across their path. 

'The Cherry Tree' is a short story that beautifully personifies a tree as a central character. The narrative follows a boy named Rakesh, who plants a cherry seed and watches it grow into a magnificent tree. Stories like ‘The Leopard’, ‘A little World of Mud’, and ‘The Hidden Pool’ present natural world not just as a setting but as a vital participant.

Friendship is cornerstone of Bond’s portrayal of childhood. Most of his protagonists are surrounded by friends, a motif especially prominent in his novels. Bond's own experiences with friends are beautifully reflected in his novel The Room on the Roof where the friendship between Rusty, Somi, Ranbir, and Kishen is unbreakable, with each of them caring for one another no matter where they are. In the story "The Hidden Pool," social differences among children dissolve in a genial environment. Laurie, the son of a British engineer, befriends Anil, a cloth merchant’s son, and Kamal, a high school student who sells small items. Together, they break economic and cultural barriers on their adventure to the Pindari Glacier.

At 90, Ruskin Bond continues to weave his magic. His legacy is secure, having shaped countless young minds and instilled a love for literature in generations of readers. He serves as a testament to the power of simple storytelling, reminding us that most profound lessons can be learned through ordinary moments of childhood. So, as we celebrate his remarkable journey, let us also raise a toast to the enduring allure of childhood in his works – a world where friendship blossoms, nature inspires, and simple experiences leave an everlasting mark.

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