Authors: Ruskin Bond
Tags: #Fiction, #Non-Fiction, #India, #Indian
has been writing for over sixty years, and has now over 120 titles in print—novels, collections of stories, poetry, essays, anthologies and books for children. His most recent work is the novel,
Tales of Fosterganj
. His first novel,
The Room on the Roof
, received the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys award in 1957. He has also received two awards from the Sahitya Akademi—one for his short stories and another for his writings for children. In 2012, the Delhi government gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. Ruskin Bond was awarded the Padma Shri in 1999 and the Padma Bhushan in 2014.
Born in 1934, Ruskin Bond grew up in Jamnagar, Shimla, New Delhi and Dehradun. Apart from three years in the UK, he has spent all his life in India, and now lives in Mussoorie with his adopted family.
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I hear the scent of her garland. But my nose being choked with darkness,
I do not see the sound of her ornaments.
Sudraka, king and poet, 200 BC
Some things a man should tell his wife, some things to friends and some
to sons; all these are trusted. He should not tell everything to everyone.
a thief when I met Romi. And though I was only fifteen years old, I was an experienced and fairly successful hand. Romi was watching a wrestling match when I approached him. He was about twenty-five and he looked easy-going, kind, and simple enough for my purpose. I was sure I would be able to win the young man’s confidence.
‘You look a bit of a wrestler yourself,’ I said. There’s nothing like flattery to break the ice!
‘So do you,’ he replied, which put me off for a moment because at that time I was rather thin and bony.
Well,’ I said modestly, ‘I do wrestle a bit.’
What’s your name?’
‘Hari Singh,’ I lied. I took a new name every month, which kept me ahead of the police and former employers.
After these formalities Romi confined himself to commenting on the wrestlers, who were grunting, gasping, and heaving each other about. When he walked away, I followed him casually.
‘Hello again,’ he said.
I gave him my most appealing smile. ‘I want to work for you,’ I said.
‘But I can’t pay you anything—not for some time, anyway.’
I thought that over for a minute. Perhaps I had misjudged my man. ‘Can you feed me?’ I asked.
‘Can you cook?’
‘I can cook,’ I lied again.
‘If you can cook, then maybe I can feed you.’
He took me to his room over the Delhi Sweet Shop and told me I could sleep on the balcony. But the meal I cooked that night must have been terrible because Romi gave it to a stray dog and told me to be off.
But I just hung around, smiling in my most appealing way, and he couldn’t help laughing.
Later, he said never mind, he’d teach me to cook. He also taught me to write my name and said he would soon teach me to write whole sentences and to add figures. I was grateful. I knew that once I could write like an educated person, there would be no limit to what I could achieve.
It was quite pleasant working for Romi. I made tea in the morning and then took my time buying the day’s supplies, usually making a profit of two or three rupees. I think he knew I made a little money this way, but he didn’t seem to mind.
Romi made money by fits and starts. He would borrow one week, lend the next. He kept worrying about his next cheque, but as soon as it arrived he would go out and celebrate. He wrote for the
magazines: a strange way to make a living.
One evening he came home with a small bundle of notes, saying he had just sold a book to a publisher. That night I saw him put the money in an envelope and tuck it under the mattress.
I had been working for Romi for almost a month and, apart from cheating on the shopping, had not done anything big in my real line of work. I had every opportunity for doing so. I could come and go as I pleased, and Romi was the most trusting person I had ever met.
That was why it was so difficult to rob him. It was easy for me to rob a greedy man. But robbing a nice man could be a problem. And if he doesn’t notice he’s being robbed, then all the spice goes out of the undertaking!
Well, it’s time I got down to some real work, I told myself. If I don’t take the money, he’ll only waste it on his so-called friends. After all, he doesn’t even give me a salary.
Romi was sleeping peacefully. A beam of moonlight reached over the balcony and fell on his bed. I sat on the floor, considering the situation. If I took the money, I could catch the 10.30 express to Lucknow. Slipping out of my blanket, I crept over to the bed.
My hand slid under the mattress, searching for the notes. When I found the packet, I drew it out without a sound. Romi sighed in his sleep and turned on his side. Startled, I moved quickly out of the room.
Once on the road, I began to run. I had the money stuffed into a vest pocket under my shirt. When I’d gotten some distance from Romi’s place, I slowed to a walk and, taking the envelope from my pocket, counted the money. Seven hundred rupees in fifties. I could live like a prince for a week or two!
When I reached the station, I did not stop at the ticket office (I had never bought a ticket in my life) but dashed straight on to the platform. The Lucknow Express was just moving out. The train had still to pick up speed and I should have been able to jump into one of the compartments, but I hesitated—for some reason I can’t explain—and I lost the chance to get away.
When the train had gone, I found myself standing alone on the deserted platform. I had no idea where to spend the night. I had no friends, believing that friends were more trouble than help. And I did not want to arouse curiosity by staying at one of the small hotels nearby. The only person I knew really well was the man I had robbed. Leaving the station, I walked slowly through the bazaar.
In my short career, I had made a study of people’s faces after they had discovered the loss of their valuables. The greedy showed panic; the rich showed anger; the poor, resignation. But I knew that Romi’s face when he discovered the theft would show only a touch of sadness—not for the loss of money, but for the loss of trust.
The night was chilly—November nights can be cold in northern India—and a shower of rain added to my discomfort. I sat down in the shelter of the clock tower. A few beggars and vagrants lay beside me, rolled up tight in their blankets. The clock showed midnight. I felt for the notes; they were soaked through.
Romi’s money. In the morning, he would probably have given me five rupees to go to the movies, but now I had it all: no more cooking meals, running to the bazaar, or learning to write sentences.
Sentences! I had forgotten about them in the excitement of the theft. Writing complete sentences, I knew, could one day bring me more than a few hundred rupees. It was a simple matter to steal. But to be a really big man, a clever and respected man, was something else. I should go back to Romi, I told myself, if only to learn to read and write.
I hurried back to the room feeling very nervous, for it is much easier to steal something than to return it undetected.
I opened the door quietly, then stood in the doorway in clouded moonlight. Romi was still asleep. I crept to the head of the bed, and my hand came up with the packet of notes. I felt his breath on my hand. I remained still for a few moments. Then my fingers found the edge of the mattress, and I slipped the money beneath it.
I awoke late the next morning to find that Romi had already made the tea. He stretched out a hand to me. There was a fifty-rupee note between his fingers. My heart sank.
‘I made some money yesterday,’ he said. ‘Now I’ll be able to pay you regularly.’
My spirits rose. But when I took the note, I noticed that it was still wet from the night’s rain.
So he knew what I’d done. But neither his lips nor his eyes revealed anything.
‘Today we’ll start writing sentences,’ he said.
I smiled at Romi in my most appealing way. And the smile came by itself, without any effort.
HE AFTERNOON WAS
warm and lazy, unusually so for spring; very quiet, as though resting in the interval between the spring and the coming summer. There was no sign of the missionary’s wife or the sweeper boy when Rusty returned, but Mr Harrison’s car stood in the driveway of the house.
At sight of the car, Rusty felt a little weak and frightened; he had not expected his guardian to return so soon and had, in fact, almost forgotten his existence. But now he forgot all about the chaat shop and Somi and Ranbir, and ran up the veranda steps in a panic.
Mr Harrison was at the top of the veranda steps, standing behind the potted palms.
The boy said, ‘Oh, hullo, sir, you’re back!’ He knew of nothing else to say, but tried to make his little piece sound enthusiastic.
‘Where have you been all day?’ asked Mr Harrison, without looking once at the startled boy. ‘Our neighbours haven’t seen much of you lately.’