The Boy from the Hills
The banyan was an enormous tree, about sixty feet high, and I remember when I had first seen it I had been trembling with excitement because I had never seen such a marvelous tree before. I had approached it slowly, even cautiously, as I wasn’t sure the tree wanted my friendship. It looked as though it had many secrets.
The tree made the first move, the first overture of friendship. It allowed a leaf to fall…
At the height of the monsoon, the banyan tree was like an orchestra with the musicians constantly tuning up. Birds, insects and squirrels welcomed the end of the hot weather and the cool quenching relief of the monsoon.
A toy flute in my hands, I would try adding my shrill piping to theirs. But they must have thought poorly of my piping, for, whenever I played, the birds and the insects kept a pained and puzzled silence.
Ruskin Bond wrote many stories about Rusty, a quiet and sensitive British boy who lives in India in the days before India’s independence. Recently these have been collected and arranged in three volumes to give us a picture of Rusty growing up from a seven year old to a young man.
The first of these books, The Boy from the Hills, describes the life of Rusty with his grandparents in Dehra. Life with Grandfather is never dull, thanks to an assorted group of pets and relatives who live there. Toto, the monkey, who tries to have a warm bath in the kitchen kettle, the tiger who ‘recognizes’ Granpa in the Lucknow zoo, and the python who travels in the picnic basket are only a few delightful members of the family. As for relatives, who can forget the good-for-nothing Uncle Ken who is mistaken for the great cricketer Bruce Hallam?
Through the light, fun-filled narrative runs a strand of sadness too, as Rusty misses his father who is away in Java. Rusty’s time with his father is cut short by the war, but his friend Sono plants in him the desire to travel all over the world.
Before he is twelve, Rusty meets many out-of-the-ordinary situations and people. He also has to cope with great personal losses that make him turn to the trees and birds for comfort. He has few friends of his age, but when his grandmother decides to move to England, his only wish is to return to Dehra. His wish is granted by a strange twist of fate, and the book ends with Rusty looking forward uncertainly into his future in Dehra.
The Boy from the Hills is a wonderful book for readers, ten and above. Ruskin Bond’s descriptions are graphic and entertaining. The book describes the shaping influences in Rusty’s life and prepares us for the boy that Rusty becomes in the following books (Rusty Runs Away, and Rusty and the Leopard). The later books are suitable for readers in their teens.
Ruskin Bond has written over 500 short stories and essays in the last 45 years. He won the Sahitya Academy Award in 1993, and was awarded the Padma Shri in 1999. It was a Rusty novel (The Room on the Roof) that brought him his first award in the 50s. Ruskin Bond lives in Mussoorie and continues to thrill readers with his stories of wildlife, the supernatural, and of life in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Published by: Puffin (Penguin Books India) 2002
Price: Rs 199 /-