Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When Darkness Falls and Other Stories

Ruskin Bond is one of the Indian authors who writes in English; well. His English is not strained and doesn't read 'translated' from a native Indian tongue -- especially when writing the thoughts and emotions of Indians. Another writer with such language ease is R. K. Narayan (I wouldn't put a Salman Rushdie in this league, not because he lacks skills in English -- far from it -- but his would often read pompous and 'high-browed'). Ruskin Bond lives as a bachelor, away from the cities and on the hills, not mingling with the 'literary crowd' and their intellectual cocktail parties ("The cocktails usually run away with the intellect"). But he has prevailed and been prolific with an impressive profile, decked with the Sahithya Akademi to Padmashree honors. Penguin India is re-releasing some of his earlier titles and I bought a bunch.

When Darkness Falls and Other Stories is a collection of stories written by him around 2001. The book is less than hundred pages and takes an hour to complete. Most of the stories are set in and around his hometown Dehra Dun, at a time when he was young and forming. The first story, which lends the name to the book title, is also the best. It describes the life of Markham, the man with a scary face -- result of an army-term accident -- who no one wants to engage or endure. Put up by his longtime friend, Markham dwells in a forgotten corner of the dilapidated Empire hotel in his hometown, rotting along with the furniture through the changing times. A lifetime of resigned acceptance and dormant frustrations manifest one day (rather, night) unexpectedly, irrevocably, and an era passes in an inferno. I liked this story because it didn't pretend to be a story; just events and experience and the rest is upto the reader.

There are other lighthearted stories like The Writer's Bar (supposedly visited by great writers like Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham... to boost the sales) or the Monkey Trouble (Ruskin's younger self describing the enjoyable childhood phase with a grandfather who loves to keep pets, much to the chagrin of the grandmother). The 'ghost stories' are the driest in content and charm, predictable and bland. But then, as one of the character says, "People can't live without stories". These are stories from a corner of India, events and experience told with a personal touch, in simple language. When Darkness Falls... is not the best by Ruskin Bond, but his regular is a better read than the self-professed nine-point someones in the market.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    This is off topic. Since you mentioned about Indians writing in English, I want to mention a writer I read recently. Sheila Dhar wrote only a few books I think and I read only one Raga'n Josh. I thought it was great at expressing Indian things in English, particularlythe anecdotes in 'Cent percent Gandhian'. I would like to know at some stage what you think of it.

  2. Arunn said...

    Swarup: Thanks for the interesting suggestion. Shall read it and get back.