“For it isn’t time that’s passing by, my friend; it is you and I.”
Ruskin Bond has been my favorite ever since I read his book, Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas, and after that I’ve devoured most of the non-fiction books he’s written: from his memoir about his beginning years as a writer to snippets from his life in Dehra; from a collection of journals during his time in Landour to a collection of his essays on every little thing – the sounds of the rain, his geraniums, the hunt for the perfect book, a postage stamp. Ruskin Bond lives through the little things and then writes about them – that’s an essential lesson I’ve learned from his writing. His works are mostly inspired by his life, and I’d seen how beautifully he transcribes its beauty into his essays. And since I have always loved writing short stories, I was curious to see how he had braided the threads of his life into his words. So when I had a lot of pocket money collected after a long and lazy summer visiting relatives, I ordered five short story collections, among them Time Stops at Shamli and Other Stories.
It took me so long to finish the book because I’d started reading all five collections at the same time. It wasn’t taking me anywhere; and in the middle of it all, I’d started reading the Harry Potter series. When I was finally done with Rowling’s magical world, I decided to tackle the anthologies I’d bought months ago, and after finishing Gulzar’s Half A Rupee Stories, I knew it was time to return home – to the world of Ruskin Bond.
It’s the small towns of Himalayas that lured Bond home from the Channel Islands and almost every work of his is set in the hills and mountains. In the introduction of this book he states that for him, “India has always been an atmosphere, an emotional more than a geographical entity.” His India is made up of the small towns – Shahganj and Panipat, Alwar and Ambala, Alleppey and Kasuali; and it is these little towns that he writes about in this book.
In each story, Bond provides a different glimpse of the lives of those who have made the hills their home. You’ll meet a boy pondering his relationship with his father; a story inspired by Bond’s own absence from his father’s funeral – he was up at the boarding school in Shimla when he lost the person who meant home. There are stories of driving through the winding roads on the mountains; finding little streams and pools in the forest and making them your own; recalling rumors and tales long forgotten while huddled around a campfire, a couple of stories about the supernatural – a favorite of Bond’s – and in the titular story, which is more of a novella, life halts yet time turns itself over – past passions return and there is hope for the future.
“Talking and being with Kiran, I felt a nostalgic longing for the childhood: emotions that had been beautiful because they were never completely understood.”
Sometimes he says it and sometimes he doesn’t, but you get the message Bond wants to convey through the stories – the potency of love, the importance of friendship, the duty to be grateful. He may not really have meant these messages to show themselves silently through the pages, but when you’re inside the characters’ minds, you know it, and I couldn’t help but silently agree with him.
A review from PIONEER on the back of the book describes Bond as a “living legend in the world of literature,” and rightfully so. Bond is a legend indeed, but not for something great – he is a legend for his simplicity and honesty. His characters, far from the urban world of advancement and technology, remind us how humans are – we’ve loved nature but we’re also the cause of its destruction. The more man depends on nature for his survival; the more he takes what is not his but everyone’s – the animals’, the plants’ – the more he becomes ungrateful. Bond lives in nature and has loved it as much as he has loved life – unconditionally. He has never taken anything from his beloved, but now it is crumbling right in front of him.
In every one of Bond’s essays and stories, there is clearly reflected the connection between Man and Nature. I had never seen the world around me with so much of wonder and fascination before I read his books; he has made me be grateful and humble before this power that is beyond us, but which we have learned to control nonetheless. I have learned to appreciate nature’s creation – man being one of them – and if there’s anything that I have taken away from this book, it’s not how to write stories inspired from your life, but rather to protect and preserve this precious world. It might be gone too soon.
“To be able to laugh and to be merciful are the only things that make man better than the beast.”