How do we introduce our children to the world – the larger world outside the home and family? How do we explain to them what this world is and what their connection to it is? Probably it is through the stories we tell them via books and movies. I haven’t seen or read any Harry Potters yet, but I’m guessing by their popularity, that they are defining the world for millions of kids. And sometimes I wonder in what way?
When I was a child, one of my favorite authors was Ruskin Bond. I would devour his books. He lived in Dehradun, a small town in northern India, in the Himalayan foothills. There are many writers who live in rural surroundings and their writings bring forth their love of nature. But I think that Ruskin Bond’s writings struck a chord in me as a child, in that it revealed to me a joyous, nurturing—and very importantly—a personal connection that I as a child could seek and find with the larger natural world around me.
Recently, I re-read many of his books, a sort of nostalgic reading trip down a childhood memory lane. And what I realized was that what Ruskin Bond did for me as a child with his writings was what his father did for him when he was a child!! He had simply passed on to me the myths, stories and visions of the world that he had inherited from his father. I think as loved as Harry Potter is, Ruskin Bond should probably be made compulsory reading for all school children in India! I’m happy to say, he still lives and writes about the natural world he loves and invites his readers to share in it!
Here’s one of my favorite passages, an excerpt from his short story ‘My Father’s Trees in Dehra,’ [From the collection of stories, Dust on The Mountains]
Most of fruit trees around the house were planted by Father. But he was not content with planting trees in the garden. On rainy days we would walk beyond the riverbed, armed with cuttings and sampling, and then we would amble through the jungle planting flowering shrubs between the sal and shisham trees. “But no one ever comes here,” I protested the first time. “Who is going to see them?”
“Someday,” he said,”Someone may come this way…If people keep cutting trees, instead of planting them…the world will be just one vast desert.” The prospect of a world without trees became a sort of nightmare for me…and I assisted my father in his tree planting with great enthusiasm. He said, “There was a time the trees could walk about like people, but someone cast a spell on them and rooted them to one place. But they are always trying to move. See how they reach out with their arms. One day the trees will move again.”
We found a small rocky island in the middle of a dry riverbed. It was one of those riverbeds, so common in the [Himalayan] foothills, which are completely dry in the summer but flooded during the monsoon rains…We spent the day planting (tamarind, laburnum, and coral-tree) saplings and cuttings on the island, then ate our lunch there, in the shelter of a wild plum.
My father went away soon after [and] three months later, in Calcutta he died.
After many years, as an adult, Ruskin Bond returns to live in Dehradun, and returns to the island in the river bed, where he had planted saplings with his father as a 10-year old boy, and he writes….
Could our trees have survived Will our island be there, or has some flash flood during a heavy monsoon washed it away completely? As I look across the dry water course, my eye is caught by the spectacular red plumes of the coral blossom. In contrast with the dry, rocky riverbed, the island is a green oasis. I walk across to the trees and notice a number of parrots have come to live in them. The trees seem to know me. They whisper among themselves and beckon me nearer…Looking around I find other trees and wild plants and grasses have sprung up under the protection of the trees we planted. They have multiplied. They are moving. In this small forgotten corner of the world, my father’s dreams are coming true, and the trees are moving again.