Author: Ruskin Bond
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited
Publication Date: 2 June 2017
Cost: Rs.483.55 (Kindle edition)
Over sixty years, for numerous readers—of all ages; in big cities, small towns and little hamlets—Ruskin Bond has been the best kind of companion. He has entertained, charmed and occasionally spooked us with his books and stories and opened our eyes to the beauty of the everyday and the natural world. He has made us smile when our spirits are low and steadied us when we’ve stumbled. Now, in this brilliantly readable autobiography—his book of books—one of India’s greatest writers shows us the roots of everything he has written.
He begins with a dream and a gentle haunting, before taking us to an idyllic childhood in Jamnagar by the Arabian Sea—where he composed his first poem—and New Delhi in the early 1940s—where he found material for his first short story. It was a brief period of happiness that ended with his parents’ separation and the untimely death of his beloved father. A search for companionship and security, undercut by a fierce independence and a tendency for risk-taking, would inform every choice he made for the rest of his life.
With effortless intimacy and candour, Bond recalls his boarding school days in Shimla and winter holidays in Dehradun, when he tried to come to terms with a sense of abandonment, made friends, discovered great books and found his true calling. Determined to be a writer, he spent four difficult years in England, from 1951 to 1955 and he writes poignantly of his loneliness there, even as he kept his promise to himself and produced a book—the classic novel of adolescence, The Room on the Roof. It was born of his longing for ‘the atmosphere that was India’—the home he would return to even before the novel was published, taking a gamble that would prove to be the best decision he made.
In the final, glorious section of the autobiography, he writes about losing his restlessness and settling down in the hills of Mussoorie, surrounded by generous trees, mist and sunshine, birdsong, elusive big cats, new friends and eccentrics—and a family that grew around him and made him its own. Full of anecdote, warmth and gentle wit; often deeply moving and always with a magnificent sense of time and place—and containing over fifty photographs, some of them never seen before Lone Fox Dancing is a book of understated, enduring magic, like Ruskin Bond himself.
Interestingly, he begins his autobiography of the same name with the words, “Even a fox needs a family”, foreshadowing how he came to accept his need to belong. The book is divided into four parts, laying out author’s personal and professional life. As a child, Bond lived in Jamnagar, Gujarat, as his parents were employed by the Indian royalty there. He describes himself as a child who liked to be on his own, exploring bugs and bees in the palace’s royal gardens.
In Lone Fox Dancing, Bond introduces readers to many characters that can be found in his books, from his nanny to friends he grew attached to while living in Dehradun as a child. Bond also makes readers travel the familiar landscape of his popular literary works, such as Rusty, the Boy from the Hills, The Blue Umbrella, Vagrants in the Valley and Delhi is Not Far.
The most important person in his life during this phase was his ayah who was immortalised in his first ‘literary effort’ that compares her to a papaya. Bond makes no secret of the fact that he preferred life with his father. He ranks the few months that he was in his father’s custody as the happiest time of his childhood but one does wonder at how often the eight-year-old is left all alone. “New Delhi was a safer place in the 1940s than it is in the 21st century,” writes Bond, and you are forced to agree when you read of his life in the capital.
Through his thoughts he lets all his readers know of how much he is missing home.
“All I really wanted was my little room back again,” he writes.
This longing leads him to leave London rather suddenly and return to India. Back in Dehra, he begins writing for magazines like The Illustrated Weekly of India and the reader meets a range of characters like Bibiji, his stepfather’s first wife; lawyer Suresh; journalist William Matheson. Here too he has a chance encounter with a literary great, G.V. Desani, who was getting authors to sign a petition nominating him for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
In the Epilogue, Bond notes: “The lone fox still dances occasionally, but at eighty-three he is not as agile as he used to be.” But, for his many readers and admirers, even the slow waltz of the fox is a thing of joy.’
About the Author:
Ruskin Bond was born in Kasauli in 1934. He grew up in Jamnagar, Dehradun and Shimla, worked briefly in Jersey, London and Delhi, and moved to Mussoorie in the early 1960s to write full time. One of India’s best loved and most popular authors, Ruskin Bond has written over a hundred books of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including the best-selling classics Room on the Roof (winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize), A Flight of Pigeons, The Blue Umbrella, Time Stops at Shamli, Night Train at Deoli, Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra (winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award) and Rain in the Mountains. He was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1999 and the Padma Bhushan in 2014.