Another great work of his anecdotes and observations – Ruskin Bond’s latest book has all of it.
Stumbling Through Life
Author – Ruskin Bond
Publisher – Rupa, Rs 295
Ruskin Bond is one of those children’s author that most adults still can’t resist reading. And if one looks at the author’s journey, this reader tendency makes perfect sense. When Bond had first started writing professionally, he had not planned it for children. It was his publishers who thought that Bond’s consciously simple style of writing will make his books perfect for the young readers. It reflects rather well on the author, then, that decades down the line, children obviously adore him, and even the grown-ups can’t get enough of his short stories and novellas. The reason is probably that even though he consciously keeps his sentences short and his ideas graspable, one still has a lot to cherish and ponder over when reading Bond.
Most of the author’s stories are written in first person, whether he is sharing a slice from his own life or taking on the persona of an imagined character. In Stumbling Through Life, one of his latest books, he takes the readers through various stages of his own life while sharing humorous, sometimes tragic, and sometimes even spooky incidents with them. The events don’t necessarily follow chronology, but they certainly give the readers a better sense about Ruskin Bond, the person. There are parts that make one chuckle and parts that make one laugh out loud, too. By the end of the book, one feels all the more enamoured with the author.
Bond expresses his opinion on a wide range of topics through this book. Selfies, privacy in the modern society, the hill culture, the changing size of books, and the hangover of colonialism are some of them. The book is divided into small chapters, each of them dedicated to one such topic.
The reader finds that the author has a strong sense of attachment to certain ‘old fashioned’ ways as makes an apology for them. He argues that even though modern day publishing has moved miles ahead, he just can’t seem to say goodbye to the writing process that involves good old handwritten manuscripts. “The power of the pen” seems to become all the more real when one puts pen to paper and creates a draft, he says. Chapters dedicated to such personal opinions are intertwined with intriguing tales about celebrated authors that Bond himself grew up reading. For instance, the readers get a peep into a unique writing experiment conducted by Mark Twain where he would write a letter to a person and see if the message reaches them even if he doesn’t post it. Luckily for Twain, it did!
Making lighthearted observations about the activities of people around him in his trademark style, the author says that the selfie culture is hardly the devil it is being made out to be as long as the human being clicking it has his/her head on the shoulders. He also comments on the culture of getting other authors to write an introduction for one’s book as it has often put him in a spot. His commentary on Landour Bazaar, the importance of postmen in his life, the difficult search for solitude even on the hills, and the childish ways even 70-year-old people tend to adopt just in order to save a childhood memory — the book is filled with priceless narratives.
Even though its such a short book, Bond has managed to fill selected sections with elements of the gothic. In a chapter titled “The Trouble with Jinns,” he dabbles in the genre as he writes about a schoolmate who had the powers of a jinn. He concludes that one is better off appreciating and utilising his/her powers as a regular human being. Hill legends about old lady ghosts are also given a curious twist in the compilation.
The best one out of these is probably the part where Bond is visited by the spirit of Rudyard Kipling, an author he himself admires. The spirit of Kipling then talks about the white man’s burden — how he was young and could not help himself while calling imperialism glorious.
Bond takes the readers though a period of dilemma in his personal life when he felt like more of an Indian even when in England, and finally decided to return to the home he felt a stronger sense of belonging with .The author’s views on why he celebrates Holi, and how he feels towards his Indian friends and neighbours, how he ‘found’ a family to call his own, and how every day with them in Landour, which is not far away from his granny’s old house in Mussoorie, adds up to just the idyllic journey he had always hoped to “stumble” through, fill the reader with the kind of happiness and peace one experiences while looking at happy, childhood pictures.
“And I enjoy writing. It’s not a burdensome task. I may not have anything of earth-shattering significance to convey to the world, but in conveying my sentiments to you, dear reader, and in telling you something about my relationship with people and the natural world, I hope to bring a little pleasure and sunshine into your life,” the author writes towards the end of the book. And that’s exactly what he does. Needless to say, he does it exceedingly well as always.