Review: A Gathering of Friends

BY Mayank Gulati IN A+, General Fiction, Ruskin Bond NO COMMENTS YET




By Ruskin Bond. Grade: A+

A Gathering of Friends

A book review’s supposed to be an even, impassive analysis so that a potential reader can gauge a book’s worth, while comparing it to the thoughts of other reviewers on other books. It’s near impossible to give such an evaluation when it’s a book of an author who practically made your childhood, and made it so much more magical a place to live in.

Showing this book to a friend (while jumping around with a Cheshire-esque grin), the response I got was a “So what? They’re probably all about some English boy Rusty and his grandfather and pets and Indian friends”. Despite a quick death-stare and walking-away-in-a-huff, it did make me a tad apprehensive whether the tastes of my childhood would still further complement my current reading palate, or leave me hanging in disappointment.

The book completely shattered that trepidation.

The twenty-one stories in the book are the greatest pieces of fiction written by Ruskin Bond. 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). Taken together, the stories in A Gathering of Friends show 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’ve read most of Ruskin Bond’s books, and yet, this feels like a new one. Calling it a collection of short stories would be a gross understatement; it comes close to being a full blown novel in its own right. The stories meld together perfectly while one does more than just read them, for one can’t just pass off the author’s work as words on a paper. The surprisingly simple phrases and paragraphs that for some unfathomable reason prevent one from reading without visualising the entire scene in such inexplicable detail that it’s like a theatrical performance unravelling in one’s brain.

Calling it a collection of short stories would definitely be a gross understatement.

Owing to exceptional penmanship combined with good strategy to boot, the collection progresses as a novel instead. A light start, followed by absolute shock, a breather in between, a pleasant surprise. Tales of childhood, people who you’d never contemplate could or would leave, leave, the storyline flits elsewhere, and some people return when and where you never could imagine they would. It’s a mouthful, but it’s better than the alternate synopsis of the book, which involves pointing one’s face close-eyed towards a cool gust of wind that blows all the glum and all the worry away.

It’s difficult to fawn over and still figure out the negatives in a piece of writing, and a reviewer can scarcely consider himself/herself adept enough to correct words written by the author whom children across the world idolise. However, there was one aspect of the storyline that I thought the author could do away with.

Rusty.

It feels almost sacrilegious to even dare touching upon the most famous person of all(for calling him a mere character would be an insult), yet, as I’ve read more and more of Ruskin Bond, I’ve had a new outlook on our protagonist.

Rusty is everywhere.

There are far too many Rusty stories by Ruskin Bond. The quality has certainly not been compromised by the sheer quantity of such stories, however, this does present an interesting conundrum: that of keeping the storylines separate.

Despite the names, now all of the author’s stories about a lone boy seem to be about Rusty. As one reads more and more of these stories, a certain timeline, a history of the protagonist, if you will, starts forming in the reader’s head and makes him forget that these are short stories. And hence, there occur many times where the storylines infringe, and the reader is left balking, trying to guess which storyline fits better, which one he would like to fit in better.

That one minor hiccup aside, this book is an absolute pleasure to read. This book is not one that will get you excited; it will make you sit down in silence, somewhere near nature, and smile. It will make you smile and reminisce about your entire life leading up to that moment, and take you along so far that you’ll visualise just how your future will be. Childhood friends to first loves, from times of serenity to vivacious shocks: You won’t just read, you’ll live and breathe with Rusty.

Mayank Gulati
Sapiosexual hedonist who hates normalcy, revels in irony, exudes sarcasm and annoys pretty much all of humanity