If books are magic, a book that is a collection of Ruskin Bond’s short stories is like a magical train trip to the past. Nostalgia grips you when you wander into Bond’s world. <g data-gr-id="66">A world</g> where children, animals and <g data-gr-id="64">the nature</g> plays important roles. Where nature has a character of its own, and
sometimes is the hero of the story. Where children and their viewpoint count, where emotions are not complicated. A simpler world.
A gathering of Friends, that claims to be a collection of Ruskin Bond’s <g data-gr-id="81">favourite</g> stories, brings back the stories that you read as a child in children books and school textbooks. A writing career that spanned 50 years, Bond has managed to weave some of the greatest and simplest work of fiction one can find. The name of the book suggests Bond’s personal emotional connect with the characters that he has penned down in all these years. There are characters that have revived once and again in many of his stories. Some have similar names while others have similar character.
In the foreword, Bond explains that while many of his character are devised from real life, sometimes the story and the person do not have to correspond to real life. While many characters are inspired from people he knows or knew, family and friends, there are many he has simply created.
For instance, he mentions how he always wanted a grandfather as both his real grandfathers died when he was young, so he created them, lovable and colourful characters and extremely relatable to anyone who has lived with a grandfather. The book is a homage to his characters both real and created. To true incidents that he wrote about and the ones he imagined.
The beauty of Ruskin Bond’s stories is the stark honesty of it. The rawness of emotions. He does not complicate, and perhaps this is why he writes about and many times from the point of view of children. The stories are many times autobiographical – dealing with Bond’s own experience with things. There is no pretence and no hidden agenda and that is the beauty of Bond’s work. For instance his sheer delight when he encountered the festival of colours, Holi in India for the first time. Rusty plays Holi is a memoir of a child’s first tryst with the craziness and excitement and euphoria that Holi offers. The Blue Umbrella is a simple story of a little girl’s love for a beautiful thing that she ends up giving up because she feels she is being too greedy by just owning it.
The emotions are raw and real, and the story without any dramatic climax makes you smile. Simple, so much that they made a film on it. Another touching tale is Most Beautiful the story of a deformed retarded boy who the author happens to befriend. The child ends up killing his pet goat because he <g data-gr-id="76">think</g> the goat is prettier than him. Touching but fresh, which is the essence of Bond’s stories.
He talks of human connection, of a young Anil befriending old Miss Mackenzie and sharing her love of botany so much that before dying she gives her precious book on plants to him. Of the schoolboy Arun who meet a kind hearted lady at platform 8 of Ambala station who for a little while pretends to be his mother to save him from embarrassment. Bond writes of a world where one can believe in strangers and build beautiful meaningful relationships with them that one will remember throughout their lives. He talks of love, unrequited in Love is a Sad Song and The Night train at Deoli, one where the author falls in love with a girl half his age, struggles and ends up losing her because she changed her mind, and the other where he is in love with a young girl who sells baskets at a sleepy station which no one ever visits.
The collection of stories <g data-gr-id="74">are</g> not just about children frolicking about but of sadness and yearning as well. Time stops at Shamli is about a sleepy town where only a handful people live wherein Bond sketches a world of gloom and portrays everyone’s desperation to escape from a place which no one ever leaves. The essay Remember this day is his own remembrance of the last day he spent with his father.
His stories do not necessarily have a plot or an end, <g data-gr-id="68">sometime</g> these story just delve into description, like a painting- they are beautiful but it is not necessary that they serve a purpose or come to a conclusion, they just hang in the air with colours and characters that leave an imprint on you.
For someone who has read a lot of Ruskin Bond’s stories this book might be repetitive in content but these 21 stories are handpicked by the grand old storyteller himself and for a leisurely summer afternoon, one cannot find a better companion that eventually leaves you thinking of Dehra, <g data-gr-id="61"><g data-gr-id="65">Mussoourie</g></g> and Rusty.