Ruskin Bond actually learnt of his grandfather only through stories told to him by his mother and grandmother, as he was a mere infant when his maternal grandfather passed away, and he did not ever meet his paternal grandfather, who had died before he was born. However, this did not prevent him from creating a beautiful fictional relationship between a young boy and his grandfather, which is reflected in many stories.
Bond’s enduring relationship with the hilly regions of the Himalayas where he has spent his life is described in stories like The Tree Lover and The Cherry Tree. In The Cherry Tree, the protagonist is Rakesh, a six-year-old boy who has been sent to live with his grandfather, a retired forest ranger living just outside the town of Mussoorie. Rakesh’s parents are farmers in a village where there are no schools, and this is why he has come to stay with his grandfather.
Rakesh roams the slopes around Mussoorie with his grandfather, planting seeds and saplings, giving back to nature some of what is lost in deforestation and development. The story progresses with the germination of the cherry seed till it is a plant that Rakesh watches with the typical impatience of a child. After a while, he stops watching it every day but cannot resist a peep now and then to see how it is doing. The values of caring for the environment, of giving back to nature and protecting mountains and trees are brought home in more didactic fashion in The Tree Lover. Here, Grandfather explains to the boy, Rusty, why they must plant saplings on the hillsides to give the animals and birds food and shelter and replenish the forest.
By far the most popular stories about Grandfather in Ruskin Bond’s work are the stories describing grandfather’s fondness for animals and having all kinds of exotic creatures as his pets. These grew out of what Ruskin Bond had heard about Grandfather Clarke from his mother, Edith Clarke. Grandfather’s Private Zoo contains stories about the different pets grandfather acquired, and their effect on the household.
Toto, the monkey who was bought by Grandfather from a tonga driver for the sum of five rupees, threatens the peace by breaking a lot of crockery and stealing food. Much disliked by grandmother for these very reasons, he is eventually sold back to the tonga driver by Grandfather for three rupees. Harold the hornbill never has a drop of water, but has to be fortified by brandy on one occasion when he has swallowed a guest’s cigar! Grandfather also keeps a python in the bathtub who develops a great fascination for mirrors. This leads to Grandfather eventually taking him to be released in the jungle in a cage that has been fitted with a mirror.
The Day Grandfather Tickled A Tiger is a story that has fascinated generations of readers from the time it was first published in the late 1960s. During a hunting expedition in the Terai hills around Dehra, Grandfather finds a tiger cub that he brings home and feeds with a bottle, christening him Timothy. The cub becomes friends with Toto the monkey and the family’s dog.
As Timothy grows bigger, however, he has to be sent to the zoo. One day, when Grandfather goes to the zoo with the author, he finds Timothy and speaks to him, tickles him, even playfully smacks him on the face, when the tiger growls. Moments later, an attendant comes and informs them that this is not his tiger Timothy, but another one altogether! Even this does not prevent grandfather from wishing the beast a friendly “Good night.”
In describing these days with his grandfather, whether as Rakesh or Rusty, Ruskin Bond depicts a relationship in which a child’s curiosity about the world, and love for nature and animals, is encouraged by a supportive and caring grandparent. In contrast, his grandmother is depicted as taciturn and irritable, which Grandmother Clarke apparently was. The warm and loving relationship that the author-narrator shares with his grandfather is quite possibly reflective of his memories of time spent with his father before the latter’s tragic death when Ruskin Bond was ten.