‘Some mornings I carry my small table, chair and typewriter out onto a knoll below one of the oaks, and take a little help from the babblers and bulbuls that flit in an out of the canopies of the leaves.White-hooded babblers; yellow-bottomed bulbuls. Never still for a moment, they help me with my punctuation.”
The year is now, though that time constantly hovers, going back and forth in times, never sticking to one time, when a young boy, a stranger to the city and a friend of the forests, struck a magical bond with the woods, in a way which was later to shape into Panther’s Moon, Angry River, The Blue Umbrella,With Love from the Hills, A Crow for all Seasons, and many more; letting streams flow in shared silences of the mind, mountains mourn in pages coming alive, trees wheezing throwing imaginary fangs and animals contemplating the numerous sunrises and sunsets deliberating in the dark in their own beastly ways, which more often than not have been subject to appropriation by the so-called civilised cosmos.
Owen Ruskin Bond breezes through the leaves of his memoir as a Lone Fox Dancing, in blissful solitude and occasional loneliness, animatedly existent.
From being a little boy relishing the mutton kofta curry, cooked by Osman, the khansama, to assuming an autographical status for himself, Ruskin Bond, who merrily calls himself of a result of a “torrid affair”, documents the whiles of his adventurous life narrating anecdotes from his days at Shimla, Dehradun and Mussourie, the quaint town tucked away in the lap of the Himalayas, which became eponymous with his growing up years and his life as an author.
The autobiography delineates how nature grew on his nature making him turn to crickets, cicadas and grasshoppers for his dialogues while the purple hills merging
with the azure sky” shaped his descriptive and reflective writings. Anyone familiar
with the works of the author would find oneself taking a leaf out of all his books while going through the 277-page memorabilia of his life. For you are invited to sunlit days, cows grazing on lush green meadows, bats visiting untimely during the days, echoing mountains stirring up the stagnant time inside
them, keeping history alive, for they have seen it all; and birds singing away to glory, as they do proudly in his body of works and the same is not a departure in this diary of reminiscences.
The composition is rendered lifelike by photographs of Bond’s times, giving an insight into his rather interesting life, dotted with moments like his father taking up a tutor’s job to the prince of Jamnagar’s children. The classes that had Bond participating as well taught him how to read things upside down. His “chocolate- coloured” ayah who smothered him with kisses and spoilt him in every possible way was the single most important person in the author’s life, a lady who gave birth to the litterateur in him as he fondly compares her to a papaya in one of his early literary pieces.
Penning down his days spent in London, Bond takes us through an endless sea journey that he had undertaken while coming back home to the mountains from foreign shores. Karachi to him was love at first sight for it felt like a home away from home, for everything smelt so similar. He tried hard to get published there but luck had the better of him and soon he was on a train to Delhi, amid the din and bustle of a busy city, which he never quite loathed, but again never at home with.
The book remains a recollection of such memories of a man who was always peaceful at the sight of the familiar green and as the train inched closer to Doon, he felt more like a patriot who was coming back to reclaim what was his own — the banyan trees, mango groves, smell of wet earth, clothes spread out for the summer sun, smiling brown faces and that “freedom to touch someone without being misunderstood, the freedom to hold someone’s hand as a mark of affection, rather than desire.”
The readers are invited to this plethora of emotions as he segments his book in four parts —his childhood, times at Bishop Cotton School, moments spent in London and then back to his country of love —India. The close-ups just add to he warmth of his understanding with the wild and the open secret that he cherished times with his father more than his mother. The interesting Uncle Ken, however, remains beautifully in letters never finding a space in the images.
After school ended Bond takes us to London, where all the writers that he had admired had made their careers. Thus come the details of Jersey and London, where he had a chance encounter with Graham Greene and ever since then how the authorscape underwent a sea change, his unrequited love for a Vietnamese girl and the streets of Britain’s capital that made him long for his “little room” more than anything else.
The craving for the native land made him take domicile in Delhi, and language the city in 1959 of, “extensive fields of wheat and other crops that stretched away to the west and the north.” And gradually while working for Care, he made peace with his mother’s family which paved the way for Mussoorie —his one true love and his life for the rest of his life.
Deer will stray into garden, the mynahs will be busy and noisy, a pine will stand out among oaks, spruce and maple; bulbuls will sing in confident melodies and Bond will remain the lone fox dancing for years to come.