The Big Book of Animal Stories, Ruskin Bond

Roaring Tigers, Squeaking Eagles, Prowling Bears to Whistling Thrushes, name the creature and you will find it lurking in “The Big Book of Animal Stories by Ruskin Bond”, my current read.

Though the title is a misnomer. Neither the book is big nor are the stories. In fact, it is a neat package of 224 pages, containing 27 stories and 10 poems. Some of the stories are only 2-3 pages long while others run for 10-12 pages. So, going by the sheer size, it is not at all big.

However, some stories do leave a lasting impression on readers’ mind and yes, one can say that the impact is big, especially if it’s your first foray into Bond’s world.

Ruskin Bond is a skilled storyteller. His writing style is simple yet engaging and the setting is predominantly in the hilly region of lndia, mostly in and around Dehra.

However, despite the limited setting and characters, these stories are universal in nature. Here, the villagers engage with Shikaris and Nature in almost identical manner. The protagonists are usually kids, mostly a boy aged 12-13 years old and the stories are narrated from his point of view. But still these stories aren’t children stories and can be best described as ageless fiction.

The book is neatly divided into four parts. The first part “To See a Tiger” is dedicated to the Big Cats, be it a panther, tiger or leopard. There are four stories in the section, with the first one “Panther’s Moon” being the longest and most engaging.

Here, the hero is a twelve year old boy, who is determined to go to school despite his village’s remote location and difficult circumstances and who ends up being a panther slayer.

In a way the story is perfect for introducing a reader to the wide wild world, where animals and human beings live in such close proximity, and yet I found this story to be heavily influenced by Jim Corbett’s hunting escapades and I sorely missed Bond’s easy rendering of nature, I glimpsed and admired in his Autobiography.

However, as I continued and reached the second section of the present book “Exciting Encounters”, the initial hiccups subsided and Bond returned to his affable, inimitable style. The very first story “A Crow for All Seasons” had me in splits. Here the protagonist is a crow named Speedy, who has adopted a human family and narrates his daily squabbles with the men’s world in a humorous manner.

I absolutely loved it and from here on the book became more and more lively, as snakes, monkeys, bears, elephants kept coming and going effortlessly from one page to another. The second section is the best part of this book and if you are reading Ruskin Bond for the first time, I would recommend to begin the book from the second part. Once you have settled in the Bond Realm, backtrack to the first section and then to the third one.

The third section is dedicated to mythical, fantastical stories and here we see Ruskin rustle through the uncharted territories of Nature and Virtual World. It’s engaging and endearing in its own manner, though these stories, except the first one, seem more like bedtime (animal)tales rather than short stories.

The fourth section is a collection of ten poems. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t enjoy reading any of these poems. Ruskin’s prose is far far better and lyrical than his verses.

As is evident from my review, I found The Big Book of Animal Stories, a mixed bag. Nothing extraordinary about it and yet I won’t outrightly reject it. Ruskin Bond is one of the most prolific Indian writers in English and I am excited to read more of his litereary meanderings.
Anupama Sarkar

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