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Posted at: Feb 11, 2018, 12:54 AM; last updated: Feb 11, 2018, 12:54 AM (IST)BOOK REVIEW: I WAS THE WIND LAST NIGHT: NEW AND COLLECTED POEMS BY RUSKIN BOND.

Bonding gently through whistles and whispers

Bonding gently through whistles and whispers
I was the Wind Last Night: New and Collected Poems by Ruskin Bond. Speaking Tiger. Pages 186. Rs 399

Akshaya Kumar

Ruskin Bond’s occasional forays into poetry complement and consolidate his reputation as a writer of children’s literature. His poems betray neither verbal camouflage, nor any intellectual obfuscation as he allows his refulgent hilly landscape to speak for itself, discounting in the process his own mediations as acts of ‘trespassing’. Such is the empathy with his habitat that he relegates himself from the scene to allow nature its full play. As he encounters “a lone fox dancing/ in the cold moonlight”, he opts for “a low road, knowing/ The night was his [of the fox] by right”. In a manner reminiscent of Robert Frost, he takes “a disused path” to walk up to the hills. 

Divided into nine sub-sections, the collected poems chart out the inner being of a mountain-man who is without any aesthetic overreach. Some early poems might appear rather raw but the mirth and gaiety of the poet’s participation in the splendour of pristine nature lend an element of rare lyrical intimacy into the idiom. Hip-Hop Nature Boy, Night Rhyme and Song for a Beetle stand out for their colloquial felicity. In Hip-Hop Nature Boy, for instance, “the Gulf of Kutch” is rhymed with “salaams to muggermuch”, and “dancing on the plain” with “Nanga-panga in the rain”. 

In poems like September Morn, Song of the Cockroach, A Bedbug Gives Thanks, Ruskin Bond tends to evince Keatsian negative capability of discovering the pleasant in the patently unpleasant. Autumn is all about “soft sunshine [that] celebrates departing rain”. The gristly cockroaches brag about their survival strength as they uncomplainingly exult in drains, consuming the choicest perfumes of the gutters. The blood-sucking bedbug also claims himself to be the “child of the Universe”, who has “every right/ To be a blight”. 

There are nostalgic autobiographical poems in the collection which foreground the loneliness of the poet who lost his father early and was later on fostered by an estranged mother and a stepfather. Trees turn his trusted companions: “The spirit of the tree became my friend/ … / friend of the lonely”. A Song for Lost Friends, written in seven parts, carries many poignant vignettes from personal life of the poet. In Granny’s Tree-climbing, the old grandmother, a compulsive tree-climber, demands her “right to reside in tree” as she lies on the bed with her broken leg. In Love Lyrics for Binya Devi, the poet recounts with fondness and pain his short and sweet love life, which is “Lost like a dream too sweet to remember”. 

Bond’s animals and insects may lack the intimidating and sinister profundity of the animals that one encounters in the poetry of Ted Hugh or say D.H. Lawrence, but they do appear as congenial co-partners in human life. In a poem like Kites where a kite is fashioned like a violin that sings “most mournfully, like the wind/ In tall deodars”, the natural and the man-made enter into happy symbiosis. In some non-nature poems like Cricket-Field Placings, Bond excels as a punster: “Twelfth man is fielding at mid-off/ Because mid-on’s gone off to the loo”. In a nutshell it is poetry at its ease — no loud clarion calls, but only whistles and whispers.


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