In the seventies, author Ruskin Bond penned a poem called Lone Fox Dancing. “Sometimes when words ring true/I’m like a lone fox dancing/In the morning dew,” he wrote. 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, laboriously spanning the octogenarian 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.
Even as a child, the most interaction Bond had with his contemporaries was at parties hosted by the prince of Jamnagar, he writes. Strangely though, none of this childhood loneliness reflects in his books, which he has written mostly for children. Bond also talks about the emotional upheavals he went through as a child. The first was his father’s untimely demise in 1944. Bond was then sent to live with his grandmother in Dehradun. But what truly broke him, he says, was his mother’s remarriage, which took place without Bond’s knowledge. At once, 10-year-old Bond felt like he had lost both his parents. Any attempts at reconciliation from his mother and stepfather were rebuffed by Bond, a decision for which he sought redemption later.
As Bond grew up, he knew he wanted to be a writer and what better place to begin than England, where all his favourite writers lived? All of 17 years old, the teenager sailed across the seas to England, where he had chance encounters with several authors. Bond reveals how in that country he fell madly in love with a Vietnamese girl called Vu. It ended in heartbreak, though, when she rejected him. Besides his dissatisfaction with the life he was living there, the heartbreak could have been another reason for him to pack up his bags and head back to India in 1956. Before settling down in Landour, Mussoorie, though, Bond reconnected with his mother.
To a reader, it may seem that when he writes about settling down by himself in Landour in 1963, there’s an underlying tone of being resigned to one’s fate—of forever being alone. Yet he goes on to adopt a pahadi family (that still cares for Bond), becoming their benefactor. But what was the reason behind Bond seeking solitude in the hills? Readers would probably attribute it to the childhood traumas he went through, but his dream of living only by his writing—and the dream of freedom—instigated him to take the risk at the young age of 30 years, he says.
In Lone Fox Dancing, Bond introduces readers to many characters that can be found in his books, from his khaansama and nanny to friends he grew attached to while living in Dehradun as a child. While reading the book, people familiar with his works are sure to feel that almost all his works are autobiographical in some way or the other. 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.
Lone Fox Dancing is for all those who have enjoyed Bond’s books through the years, as it’s a giveaway to where he got most of his literary inspiration from. The tone of the narrative, however, is very slow. The book could have been edited better to make it more crisp. The brilliance of Bond’s writing feels overshadowed by brooding monologues that could have been cut down.
By Ananaya Banerjee