Book Review: A Gathering of Friends
My love for Ruskin Bond‘s writing started when I was in the Sixth grade. The lack of a good library and a shortage of books would drive me to devour my English textbook every year, even before the school started, heck, even before my Dad would cover it up in those Brown laminated covers to protect it from a year-long wear and tear. Just before the beginning of my 6th year, as I looked through the Index of my textbook, to read my first story, I tumbled across the title Cherry Tree. It was the onset of Monsoon then and the markets were plenty with Cherry carts. And thus, it became one of my most favorite short stories of all times. As simple as that! Recently, when I read an interview by Mr. Bond, it delighted me to read his answer to a question on how inspired are his characters in real life, when he replied “Little Rakesh in The Cherry Tree is now 40, with three wonderful children of his own. But we really did plant that tree, and I was the grandfather in the story. Hundreds of stories later, the cherry tree is still there“. To know that that fictional tree, which has been an object of wonder to me, is still alive and healthy is such a satisfying feeling.
The twenty-one stories in the book are touted to be the greatest pieces of fiction written by Ruskin Bond. Apparently, chosen by the author himself, from a body of work built over fifty years (starting with his award-winning first novel, The Room on the Roof, and ending with Tales of Fosterganj) this collection includes well-known masterpieces like The Night Train at Deoli, The Woman on Platform No 8, Rusty Plays Holi (from The Room on the Roof), Angry River, The Blue Umbrella, The Eyes Have It, Most Beautiful, Panther’s Moon, as well as newer stories like An Evening at the Savoy with H.H. (from Maharani) and Dinner with Foster (from Tales of Fosterganj). But my favorite still would be Cherry Tree. Taken together, the stories in A Gathering of Friends shows why Ruskin Bond has long been regarded as one of the pillars of Indian literature. This is a book that will delight his legions of fans as well as those lucky few who are new to his fiction.
I am new to many of the stories in this book though. And reading the stories, helped me understand the two voices of Mr. Bond. Though I love his narration of children stories, I realized that I do not feel the same way about the stories written for the elder audience. But, that one quality of perfectly visualizing his stories are evident in all the stories. That’s in fact one of the best things about his writings.
This book is for everyone. A must read and a true gem in Indian writing.
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