If you are living in a limbo you need the company of old friends. All my life I have cherished silence but during the first weeks of the lockdown, when silence lay over my noisy city like a pall of gloom, I began to hate it. I yearned for the sound of the vegetable vendor’s call and the scream of planes flying overhead at dawn; of children playing in the park and if nothing else, then at least the doorbell ringing. I found it hard to focus and I could not write.
Well, if your writing juices are drying up, all you can do is read. There was a stack of new books sitting enticingly on my table but they did not interest me. Instead I pulled out my most battered and beloved books from the back of the bookcase: Alexander McCall Smith and PD James; Lila Majumdar and Sharadindu Bandopadhya in Bengali and of course Georgette Heyer. These old friends took me through those early days of living in limbo and I should have added Ruskin Bond to my reading pile. After all, he is a very, very old friend.
This collection of forty-eight stories is divided into two sections: ‘The Dark Side of the Mountains’ and ‘Himalayan Drama’ and most of the stories have been published multiple times. Bond has only added three new tales. As my eyes drifted down the long list on the Contents page, I spotted old favourites like ‘Panther’s Moon’, ‘The Overcoat’, ‘The Blue Umbrella’, ‘Getting Granny Glasses’ and my absolute favourite, ‘The Cherry Tree’.
The stories in the first set on the theme of ‘The Dark Side of the Mountains’ are his typical spooky tales, some so short they take only a few pages and always promise a sharp attack of breathlessness at the end. Here the action is always enveloped in a wet, drifting mist with a graveyard or a dilapidated bungalow in the background. Often it rains as the water drips over strange faceless people or seductive hill sirens with long hair. The ghostly females always have long hair. The problem of reading old ghost stories recycled often is that you remember the end and they do not surprise you anymore and I confess I skipped over them quickly.
The second set titled ‘Himalayan Drama’ appealed to me more as here Bond captures the life of the people of Garhwal and his love for them is like a gentle fragrance that floats up as you turn the pages. No one captures the landscape and people of the Doon hills like Bond can, with elegant, beautifully structured sentences that seem to be permeated by the smell of pine trees and the sound of waterfalls.