- The River Is Eternal: Nature Mysticism and Vedanta Philosophy in Ruskin Bond’s Angry River
On February 18, 1993, the Sahitya Akademi of India presented Ruskin Bond the award for the most outstanding Indian writer in English. This recognition of Bond’s 35 years as a writer acknowledges his special relationship with India by virtue of birth, experience, and history. Born to British parents on May 19, 1934, in Kasauli, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas, Bond grew up as an Indian with no division of loyalties, but as the inheritor of a dual culture. Unlike the children of most British colonials who were sent to England to study during their formative years—famous among them being Rudyard Kipling, Rumer Godden, and M. M. Kaye—Bond spent his early childhood in the princely state of Jamnagar, where his father served as tutor-guardian to the royal children; in the Doon Valley in the Himalayas, where his grandparents lived; and at Bishop Cotton School in Simla, the summer capital of the Raj. After completion of his schooling in 1950, like so many colonials at the time of Indian independence, Bond accompanied his relatives to England. However, he was lonely for the Himalayan mountains, and while still a teenager he wrote his first novel, The Room on the Roof (which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize awarded to a British Commonwealth writer under 30), in an attempt to capture the beauty and mystery of the Himalayas and, quite literally, to earn his passage home to India.
Ruskin Bond, who has been living in Mussoorie for nearly 30 years now, has made the small Himalayan town a part of his life and work as a writer. He has given up lucrative job offers in the cities and outside India to live the simple, yet spiritually rich life the mountains have to offer, [End Page 253] because, as he says, “when you have received love from people, and the freedom that only the mountains can give, then you have come very near the borders of heaven” (“Writer” 1). He says he has become a part of the mountains, or at least of the particular range on which Mussoorie is situated. The very house in which he lives, Ivy Cottage, hugs the mountains and provides a dual vision of the highest Himalayan peaks towering above like gods and of the plains visible in the distance below.
He regrets that in modern times the Himalayan ranges—the world’s greatest mountain mass—which have been celebrated and revered as sacred dwellings of the gods in Hindu, Buddhist, Sikkimese, Nepali, and Bhutanese legends and mythology, do not appear to have given rise to any memorable Indian literature, especially for children (“Writer” 1). While several Indian and Western writers employ the Himalayas as settings for their children’s novels, they (with the notable exception of Dhan Gopal Mukerji) 1 do not explore these mountains in a meaningful way. Ruskin Bond, however, finds endless material for stories in the trees and wild flowers, birds and animals, rocks and rivers, and simple hillfolk who are an integral part of the Himalayas. In writing about nature, he does not give just a pictorial description, but goes to the heart or spirit of the scene by providing an insider’s point of view. As Murli Das Melwani puts it, to Bond, “Nature is not merely a decorative background; it is a power that changes the personality; it is the repository of legends . . .” (39–40).
In his many poems, short stories, and novels for children, Ruskin Bond’s characters come to a realization of their spiritual affinity with creation through a single manifestation of nature. Whether it is a cherry tree, a raindrop, a window on the roof from which to view the world, a hidden pool, or an old banyan tree, a single facet serves as a symbol of harmony with nature and a transcendental vision of life. In Angry River—which marked Bond’s transition from an adult to a children’s writer and which he considers his “first and probably best children’s novel” (quoted in Chatterjee 7)—the manifestation of nature is...