I don’t write plots, I write people,” writes Ruskin Bond in the introduction to his new book of short stories, The Night Has A Thousand Eyes. It’s a beautiful summation of his own writing practice, and one that resonates with avid readers of his books.
Indeed, over the years, one has met so many memorable characters within his stories—the adventurous Rusty, the eccentric Uncle Ken, the feisty Sita, Binya with her blue umbrella, a girl on a platform, a man with no face. Each of these characters has become special to his readers and his fans over time, growing into a friend, a companion that we keep returning to again for solace and comfort. This book is no different.
The collection of 36 short stories features some known characters and some new ones. Each of these people have meant something to Bond over the years as friends, acquaintances, companions, and more. “And some who came and went, like ships passing each other, sending out a greeting, a message of goodwill, and then disappearing in the mist. And here are many of them, embedded in some of my favourite stories. I have tried to give them a little permanence by writing about them, catching their personalities on paper,” he explains in the introduction.
So, you will meet Sita, Rakesh and Binya yet again, with chapters from Angry River, The Cherry Tree, The Blue Umbrella, and Friends Of My Youth, featured in this selection. But there are two new stories as well: The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, which has inspired the title of the book, and High Water.
There is a subtle difference between Bond’s writing in the new stories and the ones that he has previously written. Whether it is his introduction to the book or the story, High Water, there seems to be a certain wistfulness in the tone. Bond’s cheeky humour does make an appearance, but the reminisces are tinged with a certain melancholia.
This becomes even more palpable when one moves from the new stories to the older ones—such as Mrs Bhushan To The Rescue—which have an upbeat cadence.
In The Night Has A Thousand Eyes, we meet Nina, an ambassador’s daughter, who is making the journey from London to India on an old Polish liner, Batory, under the strict surveillance of her aunt, Mrs Bhushan. Over the course of the journey, the author and she share a series of memorable conversations about the night skies, Rabindranath Tagore’s songs, poetry, and more, knowing all the while that this brief companionship is an ephemeral pleasure, one which will end with the journey. Bond has penned this story, perhaps, to keep that memory from fading away—to not just etch a portrait of Nina for the readers but to keep it alive for himself too.
Then there is the mysterious Alice in High Water, who keeps him company while he is stranded on a pebbled beach on the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands. Bond creates quite the atmosphere with the mournful gulls circling over a rocky outcrop, the rushing waves adding to the mystery behind his companion.
Besides the new writing, the older set too offers a chance for you to discover stories that you might not have come across before. To me, for instance, The Garden Of Dreams, was a fresh read—a heartwarming story about a serendipitous encounter in a garden in Kathmandu. Each story offers a glimpse into a different phase of Bond’s life, making this book—like most of his previous ones—a must-read.