Autobiography of Ruskin Bond “Lone Fox Dancing” review of The Book Club event

Lone Fox Dancing – Ruskin Bond

Presented by Amitabh Jindal

REVIEWS:

  • Mohan Madiman

“Lone Fox Dancing” is an autobiography of 84-year-old Ruskin Bond covering his entire life. Amitabh Jindal presented the author and his book to the Book Club Pune on 13th December 2020.

Amitabh started his presentation with two quotations from the autobiography, one being “From none but self, expect applause” by Sir Richard Burton. The title of the book derives from the author’s own poem that illustrates the joy that can come from solitude in nature.

Amitabh divides the book into six parts: Childhood, Schooling, England, Return, Maturing, and  Acquisition of family.

Childhood: Ruskin Bond writes about the innocence of childhood morphing into the loneliness of growing up in a broken home and a boarding school in the hills followed later by a procession of temporary companions. His mother was too socially active to devote time to him, leaving it to his ayah to give him affection, and to his father to teach him to read, and to nature as his only recreation.

Schooling: Ruskin Bond spent some time with his grandmother who had a Victorian approach to child-rearing before he was packed off to a boarding school as he “needed discipline” where the Irish nuns there were “remote and unsympathetic … but whatever the merits of a no-nonsense upbringing, no child benefits from the absence of affection, and there was none in that school”. His experience of religion there influenced his confirmed agnosticism.

His parents separated, and he moved into the custody of his father, which he describes as the happiest (though brief) period in his life. In the absence of his father, he built a bond with another outcaste boy, and spent time with nature, especially at night. Since his father was ill, he was again admitted into a boarding school in Simla. His father died, but he had a sense of closure only when he visited his grave in Calcutta in his sixties. His mother asked him what he wanted to do, and was not happy with his plan to become a writer. When he was 16, he sent his writings to several magazines and was published, most famously by the Illustrated Weekly.

England: Finally, at age 17, he went to England, got jobs fairly easily, but was unhappy, missing the warmth of his relationships with ordinary people in India. His writings did not get accepted for publication in England. Although his father was English and his mother an Anglo-Indian, he felt more Indian than British, and decided suddenly to return and stay in India lifelong.

Return & Maturing: Soon after his return, the Illustrated Weekly paid him handsomely to serialise his first book. At age 22, he was the only earning member among his friends. After living in Dehradun and Delhi, he took a very well-paying job with CARE, but he yearned for Dehradun again, and quit his job. As he writes, “As a boy, loneliness. As a man, solitude. The loneliness was not of my seeking. The solitude I sought. And found.”

Acquisition of family: He found a boy (Prem) around 18 years old, and took him under his wing. Prem’s large family – wife children, grandchildren – continue to stay with him. He became financially secure only in the late 1990s. He mentions repeatedly his love for nature, and for India: “Being Indian, and feeling Indian, has little to do with one’s place of birth or one’s religion … It was only after I left India, in 1951, … that I realized that I was Indian to the core and could be nothing else... It is India that has made me. I have loved it, and for the most part, it has loved me back.”

Amitabh Jindal made a riveting presentation of the book and its author, using excerpts from the book but adding his own insights. He described Ruskin Bond as a simple, humble loner (he never speaks or writes about his Padma awards, for example) who desired not money or fame but closeness to nature and human companionship (and found them in the later part of his life); a man who associated with the poorer, more rustic people in India though he wrote for the more educated; and a loner who liked companionship. Thanks to Amitabh for a narration true to the original, with the deeper insight of an observer.

If I may add my own learning, Amitabh’s vivid presentation brought to mind shades of R K Narayan (for descriptions of small-town life), James Herriot (for his relationship with animals) and Wordsworth (particularly Tintern Abbey).

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  • Suchitra Sonalkar:

Ruskin Bond has been a household name for over six decades. Each one of us has felt compelled to read at least one of his works at some point in our lives. There is a certain enigma about this celebrated author that evokes reverence and curiosity in his work that has enthralled both adults and children over the years. One almost hears the rustling of leaves and feels the grandeur of the mountains at the mention of his name. So obviously everyone was waiting with bated breath to join the zoom meeting on Sunday 13th December 2020 at 6.30 pm for the book review of Lone Fox dancing: My Autobiography by Ruskin Bond.

The presentation done by Amitabh Jindal, an HR consultant based in Noida, was professional, compelling and riveting to say the least. It was divided into various sections that dealt with different periods of Ruskin Bond’s life. The meticulously prepared slides enhanced the viewing experience. The piece de resistance was the music clips that were tuned on at appropriate moments in the narration to convey the ethos of the protagonist.

The author begins with a description of his idyllic childhood in Jamnagar by the Arabian Sea, his later life in New Delhi in the early 1940’s, followed by his boarding school days in Shimla and winter holidays in Dehradun.The four years that he spent in England from 1951 to 1955 were the crucial years of his life when he wrote the classic coming of age novel, “The Room on the Roof” and it was then that he decided to return to India even before the novel was published. A decision he never ever regretted.

In the final glorious section of the autobiography, he writes about settling in the hills of Mussoorie, in the lap of nature amongst verdant trees and mountains, birds and animals and a family that grew around him and made him its own. Full of anecdotes, suffused with warmth and wit, plenty of photographs and deeply moving, Lone Fox Dancing is a book of understated, enduring magic like Ruskin Bond himself.