Review: Ruskin Bond’s Memoir Unfolds New Mysteries About His Life In The Hills

Posted by Shweta Raj Kanwar in Books
June 15, 2017

“Journey Down the Years” is a nature lover’s delight. From the very first chapter till the very last, the reader is taken through Ruskin Bond’s wonderland – to put it right. This may sound simple and predictable. Given the fact that Ruskin Bond is seen presenting his own experiences, we would assume that he would be the protagonist here, but this is where the mystery lies!

On a personal note, I was never an ardent follower of Ruskin Bond and had only read snippets of his works before. But this book, however, caught my attention – firstly due to its fine cover which appealed to me and made me pick it up, and secondly, the title, that seemed to somehow make up for all the other books written by the legendary writer that I had not read before. The book, as I presumed, looked like a summary of Bond all through the years and it was an opportunity for me to get a sneak peek into the celebrated author’s life. Hence, why not!

But, soon I realised I was in for little surprises with each passing chapter. And here is where the mystery begins to unfold! Halfway through the book, one begins to realise that although Bond might very well be narrating his own life experiences, the focus of the protagonist is gradually shifted from Bond to somebody else or for that matter to other things.

As one delves deeper into the title of the book by the legendary writer, a sneak peek into the life of the writer is what one is presented with. As a novelist and storyteller, Bond has drawn upon his memories of places that he has known and lived in over the years. From the streets of England that he never really fancied to the bustling Indian railway stations and the serenity of the Himalayas, coupled with his fondness for India’s rich history and his grandmother’s food recipes and pickles in Dehra, these simple things have been etched in his mind and more so in the heart of the storyteller. They all seem to manifest themselves in a manner that takes one to Ruskin Bond’s life story.

The ‘mountain boy’, as Ruskin Bond fondly describes himself through the pages of his book, is free spirited and very close to nature. The book also offers an unexpected revelation, especially to the delight of readers from north-east India. In a chapter called “Gran’s Kitchen”, Bond reveals, “I would spend at least a month with gran before going over to my parents in Assam. My father managed a tea plantation there.”

Not only this, but unknown, yet effective natural facts like, “Geraniums, my grandmother said, kept snakes away because they could not stand the smell of these flowers.”  These are popped up time and again to add to the knowledge of readers.

This book also acts as a book lover’s muse as Bond mentions some celebrated authors and their books like Rudyard Kipling and his 1901 novel “Kim”, Mark Twain and his admiration for Indian railway stations, from which he derived inspiration for most of his works. There is a lot more that will arouse the reader’s curiosity to explore these books.

With a knack for minute details, as is seen from the narration in his collection of short stories, he successfully makes the reader step into his shoes. Even the most practical audience – like me – who might not be very close to nature would be drawn towards the mesmerising history of the city of Mathura, the fragrant aura of different flowers, ranging from carnations to honeysuckles, the bloodsucking lizard that totally contradicts its name, the crow, or should I say the ‘master of existence among all creatures’ and the ‘low flying’ bat that is rare and only found in some areas of India – all this and more. In just 118 pages of the book, the reader gets a little wiser and begins to appreciate nature a lot more while getting a first-hand experience of the life of the master storyteller himself.

I also found some awesome quotes to live by, like, “Once you have lived with them (the mountains) for any length of time, you belong to them.” And some great lessons to learn too, like, “Along with a large number of different trees growing below the cottage, it fell to the contractor’s axes,” and, “Both (younger brother and the tree) victims of the road – the tree killed by the PWD, my brother by a truck.” One of the most awesome quotes was, “Never mind. Men come and go, the mountains remain.” How true is that!

By the end of the book, the reader realises that the hero of the story is not Ruskin Bond, for in his shoes; we were made to believe what he believed in and to experience what he wanted us to. The story in itself emerges to be a protagonist and this is the kind of magic that Bond weaves in the minds of readers through his book. It teaches us to appreciate and observe the simple and good things in life and above all, like this poem from Ruskin Bond, it teaches us to listen:

“Listen to the night wind in the trees,

Listen to the summer grass singing;

Listen to the time that’s tripping by,

And the dawn dew falling.

Listen to the moon as it climbs the sky,

Listen to the pebbles humming;

Listen to the mist in the trembling leaves,

And the silence calling.”

The writer can be reached here and here.