Book Review: Ruskin Bond’s Ode to India

As India celebrates 75 years of Independence, the tributes and celebrations have been colourful, effusive, diverse; reflecting the very ethos of the country. A Little Book of India is a writer’s tribute to a country, one which he has called home for 84 of his 87 long and distinguished life and career as one of the most loved and widely-read authors of our country.

Bond. Ruskin Bond.

Yes, that’s the writer we are talking about. The name that is synonymous with the hill station of Mussoorie where he continues to reside.

A Little Book of India: Celebrating 75 Years of Independence
Ruskin Bond
Penguin Viking

Many Indias, many Indians

This little book, barely 100-odd pages, is a collection of thoughts, observations, feelings about India’s mountains, rivers, trees, food, sights and sounds that are peculiarly, sometimes endearingly and sometimes annoyingly, Indian.

But a master storyteller reveals much even with a phrase, a turn of a sentence, and Bond, even with a smattering of words is able to bring alive an India that greets us every morning, and at every bend in the street. So while there is a celebration of the mighty Himalayas, or the holy Ganges, the perspective is tempered with a little insight here and there that underscores the many Indias that there are, the many Indias that we inhabit. So while the Himalayas signify a place of pilgrimage for some, for others it may represent a challenging and adventure-laden trek.

Then there is this little anecdote about the writer on one of his visits to the hilltop to admire the sunset when his humble companion reminds him that beautiful as sunsets might be, one cannot really “eat sunsets.” And, just like that, in that pithy observation, we have the contrast that is India as well as, what the country means to each one of us.

From rose to lotus

A significant part of this little book focuses on India’s history from Independence till date. Ruskin Bond’s Anglo-Indian lineage casts an interesting perspective especially when it comes to the moment when India got Independence from the British. Certain historic moments like the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and even the Partition are seen through a personal lens, the poignancy of the moment recorded in lines that much with just a few words. The charismatic and powerful political leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and A.B. Vajpayee are humanised and what is offered is a glimpse of the man behind the public persona.

What is also highlighted is the syncretic culture of this nation, the great strides in development that the country has made so, the sacrifices of the armed forces that provides each one us with a protective shield, and finally the constitution of India that safeguards the interests of the nation and its people.

Ultimately, what Ruskin Bond magically presents in the little book is the emotions of a man who has holds dear what was earned with sweat and blood because he knows what is at stake in protecting this idea of India.

Shibani Phukan teaches literature at a Delhi University college. 

Featured image: Soham Kalghatkar/Unsplash