Some writers are wonderfully adept at creating magic with a string of words, conjuring up scenes, and holding you spellbound. The first Ruskin Bond story I read drew me into his world, planting a desire to read every word he has written, to get to know him through his work. That’s why I consider it a privilege to be able to share my thoughts on his latest book.
The Whistling Schoolboy and Other Stories of School Life is a collection of some of Ruskin Bond’s short stories, many of which are inspired by his memories of his time as a student at a boarding school in Shimla. The book opens with a story narrating a hilarious incident of a baby and boy scouts, then moves on to other stories which are a charming mixture of humour, warmth, caring, friendship, and tragedy, with a good measure of spookiness every now and then.
It is a wonderful collection of stories to read aloud to your child. The setting is another time and another place, resulting in nostalgia on the part of the parent and curious questions on the part of the child. It is likely to inspire several meaningful conversations between the two, which means a lot of stops and starts, but who said a book needs to be read from cover to cover without interruptions.
In a couple of stories, Ruskin Bond mentions his sanctuary, the library, a place to meet his good friends, Charles Dickens, Anton Chekov, Rabindranath Tagore, Mulk Raj Anand, PG Wodehouse and several others. To quote him, “I think it is fair to say that, when I was a boy, reading was my true religion. It helped me discover my soul.”
All that reading paved the way to nurture a brilliant writer – one who does not dumb down his language for children; who does not shy away from including harsh realities such as death, loneliness, and the gory partition of India; and who does not apologise for being human when he would cook up excuses as a boy to avoid net practice on the cricket field. Ruskin Bond tells it like it is, but in a gentle matter-of-fact way. In a world which is becoming increasingly obsessed with outward correctness and perfection, where children are over-protected and given less and less freedom to explore and tackle real-life issues, his stories are a beautiful reminder of a world which existed not so long ago, a world we are in danger of forgetting.
I’ll say this again, read this book with your child. You will laugh together and hold each other close. You will feel your eyes prickle with tears. Most important of all, you will help create and nurture a deep love for eloquent and expressive language and literature.
By Priti Hathiramani
THE WHISTLING SCHOOLBOY AND OTHER STORIES OF SCHOOL LIFE
Author: Ruskin Bond
Rupa Publications, 2015
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction