Ruskin Bond’s short stories are like photographs. They give us a picture in an instant, almost like the flash of a camera. With Bond, each story is also an experience. There are two ways in which these experiences have been unfolded; firstly through the experiences of Bond as a boy and secondly through his experiences as an adult. The experiences could be of some passing incident of life, uniquely remembered though; or it could be just a vision, a glimpse, a happening or a passing relationship.
In The Woman on Platform No. 8 for instance, it is just a woman who suddenly mothers him as a boy, fusses over him and thus becomes etched in the memory of the child. In The Coral Tree on the other hand, where he is an adult, just the experience of climbing a tree makes him nostalgically think about his grandfather’s house and he suddenly longs for childhood.
There are two categories into which Bond’s short stories could be divided. First are remembrances and memories. Bond pens down the past, when he was a child and which he remembers as an adult. These memories and experiences or childhood remembrances of the past or experience of the present, are such that in them nothing really happens.
The second category are the narratives, where something happens. In both cases Bond is lucid, clear and instant, so that the experiences are transmitted to us in their most original selves. Again, the experiences that he puts down, are at many times universal; like the boys playing cricket in The Photograph, which he recalls when he was a boy of ten.
To take up the remembrances or experiences first; certain features clearly emerge as the author pens them. It is the idiosyncrasies of the old that Bond depicts when his grandmother looks at the picture of a small girl in The Photograph again and refuses stubbornly to reveal the identity of the girl. Nothing happens in the story, except the last remark of the grandmother that keeps us guessing that it could be her own self. This story falls under the first category. Numerous other stories fall under this category. There are some odd sixty five stories of Bond’s from which some selected stories could be commented upon. Under the categories of remembrances especially are stories like The Window, The Man Who Was Kipling,A Guardian Angel, The Prospect of Flowers, A Face in the Dark, The Cherry Tree and so on.
In The Window Bond remembers a window simply because of the view it had given; the quizzical encounter with Kipling in The Man Who Was Kipling or simply the sadness of life itself as in The Guardian Angel. In this story Bond presents the grotesque truth of his Aunt Mirium pleasing customers at night, the sadness of her life, and the broken piece of guardian angel that stood as her gravestone. This gravestone is remembered and it remains also in the memory of the reader. Certain features emerge from such stories; there are quite often encounters with little girls, when Bond was also a boy, or encounters with grandmotherly women or doting motherly figures, who could be an aunt or a teacher. In The Night Train at Deoli it is just an encounter with a girl and then as the train moves, she passes as a figure. In The Prospect of Flowers there is Miss Mackenzie and just a talk on flowers. A Face in the Dark is also the tale of a teacher. Little girls figure in Madhu or Binya Passes By. In My Father’s Trees at Dehra, nothing really happens except that trees are planted, and that they will grow constitutes the enjoyment of it. Somewhat similar is the theme The Cherry Tree. As Time Goes By is again the remembrance of a pool in which Bond and his playmates used to play and enjoy as boys. From Small Beginnings has uniquely nostalgic and poignant moments of planting a cherry tree and friendship with Prem Singh. The most striking instance of a story which is the remembrance of experiences is perhaps in The Girl from Copenhagen that has an intimate beginning ‘We made no promises- of writing or of meeting again. Somehow our relationships seemed complete and whole…’
Before passing on to the narrative stories, one could look in passing at some of the longer short stories, there are especially three stories of such a kind: Panther’s Moon, Time Stops at Shamli and Dust on the Mountain with similar features as in the short stories. In the first one a panther is killed by the author’s friend Bisnu, and the sheer excitement of the villagers is depicted; in the second one there is again an experience with trees and nostalgia for childhood. The Dust on the Mountain is a picture of the choking dust of mines and quarries. In these stories too nothing seems to happen, except experiences penned down. The first story however is a narration which brings us to the narratives.
In The Thief for instance the author himself is a thief and his exploit is narrated. The Death of a Familiar is the narration of the murder of his friend Sunil. There is the rather grotesque account of monkeys in The Monkeys who kill to take revenge for the death of one in their gang. A Job Well Done is narrator where Dukhi the gardener murders the Major and in The Fight he gives the account of Ranji’s fight with the villagers on an issue of not obeying orders regarding swimming in a pool. The Tunnel again is just an experience. In Going Home something happens, Daya Ram finds back the lost purse which he had lost or which had been stolen on the train. Some of Bond’s stories revolve round tigers which were his real life experience since he had grown up in Dehra Dun. Eyes of a Cat, and Tiger Tiger Burning Bright, are stories where the detailing of the description of the tigers is worth noting.
Ruskin Bond was also well known for his ghost stories. In The Haunted Bicycle the little girl changes ridiculously into a grown man. The other ghost story is Whispering in the Dark while stories like He Said it With Arsenic are written in the detective story vein.
Whatever it may be after reading the short stories of Bond the reader-author relationship seems to be as quoted before ‘complete and whole.’