Textuality of public place in the selected short stories of Ruskin Bond

Essay, 2020

10 Pages


Textuality of public place in the selected short stories of Ruskin Bond Ruskin Bond, an Indian author of British decent writes in the light of his own experience of life, as reflected by the autobiographical elements in his works. Travelling is a part of Ruskin Bond’s life, which has always given him an opportunity to come in contact with various kind of people. Railway station has been one of his favourite public places where he developed some of his memorable personal relations. Public place is a social space that is generally open and is accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level. Roads, public square, parks and beaches are typically considered as the public places. Thus railway station can be termed as a public place. No sense of attachment and security is provided by a public place. In the concept of public place, no sense of belonging or familiar attributes are present. But Ruskin Bond presents railway station as a place of attachment and security. That’s why my term paper makes use of the term “public place” while referring to railway stations. Though temporary in nature, Bond’s tendency to develop memorable relations in railway atmosphere is a strong recurring theme in his short stories. The term paper will make an attempt to explore how Bond utilisies the public atmosphere of a railway station to develop memorable personal relations in these four short stories : “The Night Train at Deoli”, “The Woman on Platform 8”, “The Eyes Have It”, “Masterji”.

This paper deals with four major short stories of Ruskin Bond where railway station is the setting and Bond attempts to build private relations in public atmosphere. I have not specifically dealt with space theory, but certain concepts like Auge’s idea of non-place, Tuan’s meaning of existence, and the relation between man and environment, which were necessary while justifying the tendency of the author to transform the railway station into a private place for expressing his character’s personal desires.The bond of human relationships emphasizes Bond’s understanding of the human mentality, nature, thoughts, and behaviour. Bond’s stories display human feelings like affection, care, kind heartedness, insecurities, sorrow, and disgust. As his art is often referred to as autobiographical, his characters are real and we can find them in our neighbourhood. The incomparable way in which he alters the unexciting, dull things in our everybody life into something really striking and interesting fascinate not only the common reader but also the literary world. Travelling and communication with masses is equally important for humanity which makes one socially upgraded and sometimes may give birth to inventive artists like Ruskin Bond.

Before going into the details how Ruskin Bond’s short stories deal with the identification of private relation in public place it is necessary to discuss on Bond’s association with the railway station. My paper reflects on Bond’s idea of exploiting railway atmosphere for disclosing one’s private life. Ruskin Bond in the introduction to The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories (1994) states:

Few know that my maternal grandfather, William Clerke, was Assistant Station-master at Karachi in the late 1920s or that my uncle, Fred Clark (they spelt their names diffierently), was Station Superintendent at Delhi Main during World War II. Occasionally, during school holidays, I would stay with uncle Fred in his bungalow near the station. […]The bungalow had a little garden. But the plants and flowers were usually covered with a fine layer of soot from passing steam engines. So much for the romances of railways! (par. 3-4)

In Ruskin Bond’s short stories a small station or a train compartment is selected by the author to depict a transitory relationship that exists between humans as well as animals. New relations emerge and old relations get reunited. Private relations get recognized in public atmosphere of the railway station. Though the private life and public life coexist in his short stories, but they never seem to mingle.

Ruskin Bond’s familiarity with railway station, platforms grew as he travelled to his maternal grandmother’s house in vacation times from his boarding school. During these short trips, he came in contact with many new people, and for some he promoted certain intimate feelings, which he has often narrated in his short stories. Bond even in his interviews declared that his stories are basically based on his individual experiences. The individual feelings that Bond shares in his short stories are mostly infatuations which are unstable in nature. Ruskin Bond in the introduction to The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories (1994) states:

But I love railway platforms. I spent a great deal of time on them when I was a boy, waiting for connecting trains to Kolkata and Saharanpur or Barrackpore or Rajkot. The odd incident stayed in my memory and when, in my memory and when, in my late teens I started writing short stories, those memories become stories such as “The Night Train at Deoli”, “The Woman on the Platform”, “The Tunnel” and “The Eyes Have It”. (par. 8)

His short stories reflect on the personal bonding that the characters establish in the railway atmosphere. Ruskin Bond reveals his character’s inner state of mind as they feel free to express themselves in this environment. Railways plays a pivotal role in Ruskin Bond’s short stories.

Here in this section there will be a discussion on the substance of Ruskin Bond’s four short stories – “The Night Train at Deoli”, “The Woman on the Platform 8”, “The Eyes Have it”, and “Masterji”. This would definitely help in a better understanding of the idea how Bond familiarizes the characters of his stories with the public life so that they feel themselves free to express in a public place.

“The Night Train at Deoli” was published in the collection of short stories – The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories by Ruskin Bond. It is a story of adolescent infatuation presented with great sensitivity. Here the narrator falls in love with a poor basket seller whom he meets at a small station while visiting his grandmother’s house in Dehra during his college summer vacations. The small station Deoli is about thirty miles from Dehradun, and the train would briefly halt there before entering into the heavy jungles of the Indian Terai belt. The train reaches Deoli at about five in the morning and halt there for ten minutes. The narrator even feels strange to think why the train stops at Deoli as the platform was lonely without any passangers or coolies. But in this lonely place he met a young girl who was selling baskets. She appears to be poor but with grace and dignity. She was not well-dressed or physically beautiful. As the narrator states, “She had a pale skin, set off by shiny black hair, and dark troubled eyes. And then those eyes, searching and eloquent, met mine.” (Bond, The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories 53). The narrator at first hesitated but then he bought one basket paying her one rupee. Though there was hardly any time for conversation but the dark eyes and the loneliness of the girl impelled him to remain awake for the rest of his journey. When he was returning back from his grandmother’s house, the narrator recalled the incident. He now becomes eager to meet her once again. The second meeting was a familiar one rather than being strangers. Both of them feel pleased to see each other, a smile on their faces reinforcing it, it seems like a meeting of old friends. Silence reigns and speaks more than words. The girl smiled at him and the narrator once again thought of taking her away with him. This time after running back the girl was in his memory and he was desperate to meet her again. After the college term was over, he felt anxious to meet her. But this time his attempt was in vain as she was not present there at the station. The station master was a new one so he was unable to provide him with any information of the girl, neither the tea stall owner could help him out. It is a mystery author never discloses and the readers imagine what may have happened to her. The narrator while visiting his grandmother’s house every summer looked for her but she was never there. Even he decided once to break his journey and to search for her, but he failed to do take such attempt. The narrator declares:

Somehow, I couldn’t bring myself to break the journey at Deoli and spend a day there. (If it was all fiction or a film, I reflected, I would have got down and cleaned up the mystery and reached a suitable ending for the whole thing). I think I was afraid to do this. I was afraid of discovering what really happened to the girl. Perhaps she was no longer in Deoli, perhaps she was married, perhaps had fallen ill […]. (Bond, The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories 55) So they never met again till the story ends.

This short story “The Woman on Platform 8” was published in the collection of short stories by Ruskin Bond- The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories. Arun is the protagonist of the story who was sitting at Ambala station on platform no. 8, waiting for the northern bound train to make a journey towards his boarding school. His parents felt him to be enough matured to travel on his own. He watched the trains arraving and departing. Suddenly a lady asked him whether he is alone. Arun saw a pale face with dark eyes. As he said, “I looked up and saw a woman standing near mesh was leaning over, ans I saw a pale face, and dark kind eyes. She wore no jewels, and was dressed very simply in a white sari.” (Bond, The Night train at Deoli and Other Stories 13). Both of them conversed for a while and the lady then asked him to come with her for some snacks. At first he hesitated but then he went with her into the station dining room. She took a keen interest in him but, she never asked him about his family nor Arun felt enthusiastic to ask her for anything. When they came back to platform no. 8, they found a boy to take a short cut to the next platform by crossing the rails. The reaction of the lady is narrated here. Arun said:

Her fingers dug into my flesh, and I winced with pain. I caught her fingers and looked up at her, and I saw a spasm of pain and fear and sadness pass across her face. She watched the boy as he climbed other platform, and it was not until he had disappeared in the crowd that she relaxed her hold on my arm. (Bond, The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories 15)

Arun now met one of his school friend Satish who was accompanied by his mother in the railway platform as his mother was of the opinion that strangers are always dangerous and children should never talk to strangers. This kind of opinion was not at all supported by him as this lady who was no more than a stranger guided him almost like a mother. When he was asked whether this woman was his mother he was bit embarrassed but the woman comes to his rescue and introduces herself to Satish’s mother, “Yes, I am Arun’s mother”. Her gentle and caring behaviour brings relief to Arun. A motherly affection he experienced from her. The train arrived, both of them got into the train. While Satish’s mother gave him instructions Arun looked at the woman with great affection. She too looked at Arun till the train was completely out of sight. A strong bonding between strangers developed within the public atmosphere.

“The Eyes Have It” is the third story that my term paper deals with, it was included in the collected stories of The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories by Ruskin Bond. Written during a major period of growth in the movement of humane treatment of physically challenged people, this story became the work represented the movement. It shares the need for new learning to learn about good care of physically challenged and marginalized people. Bond’s creative voice appeals to a large audience. The setting of the story is very simple and the incident takes place within a railway compartment. The narrator was travelling to Dehradun and he was a lonely passenger in the compartment up to Rohana. A girl came toward the compartment and narrator could hear her footsteps. He was unaware of the physical beauty of the girl, but he liked her voice. The narrator makes us realize that he is a blind person. He asked her whether she is going to Dehra and and it seemed as if the girl was surprised to hear his voice. She failed to realize narrator’s presence in the compartment. This attitude of un-recognition on her part was not liked by the narrator. He said, “Well, it often happens that people with good eye sight fail to see what is right infront of them” (Bond, The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories 34). The narrator pretended as if he was not blind. He gave a brief description of the hills, trees that he was passing by as he could hear the panting of the engine. He built an attraction towards the girl as he loved the conversation that both of them had within a public atmosphere. The girl told him that she would leave him at Saharanpur, where her aunt will be waiting for her at the station. The narrator told her that his journey was up to Dehradun and from there he would go to Mussoorie. The girl expressed her love for the hills and felt if she could have travelled to Mussoorie it would have been a joyful trip for her. The train reached Saharanpur, the girl bidding farewell left the compartment. The narrator started imagining whether the girl had her hair in a bun, or it was cut short. Another passenger soon joined him but the narrator was lost in his old conversation. It seems an infatuation started maturing in him as he asked the passenger about the girl’s hair. The passenger replied that he failed to notice her hair because her eyes were more beautiful, but the eyes were of no use. This statement gave a shock to the narrator as well as the readers. This ending is what that makes Ruskin Bond a master of creative art.

“Masterji”, the story is in first person narrative and the setting of the story is the railway compartment. The narrator was waiting for the arrival of the Amritsar Express, when he met Mr. Khushal at the platform. He at first failed to recognize Mr. Khushal, but when he came close to him he realized it was his old Hindi teacher. He became surprised because his Hindi teacher was handcuffed to policeman. His teacher seemed to recognize him. They were meeting almost after twenty years. The narrator started his conversation with his teacher and the narrator started recalling back his old days. He remembered that his teacher joined the school in 1948 and from then Hindi became a compulsory subject. Before Mr. khushal there was none who knew Hindi in the school. The narrator along with his master and the police got inside the railway compartment. But Mr. Khushal was not at all embarrassed by the handcuffs or by the strange look of the passengers. He started to ask his master the reason behind his arrest. Mr. Khushal replied, “Nothing to be ashamed of […]. Even a great teacher like Socrates fell foul of the law” (Bond, “Masterji” par. 8). The narrator asked him whether the students have complained against him but this question offended him and he revealed the real reason behind this arrest. He provided the students with his matriculation certificates those who would never passed however hard they would have tried. But in return he never charged any money for helping them, if they wished they paid whatever they liked. The narrator started recalling back his old days when he used to stare at the question paper blankly as he was unable to answer any of the questions in the Hindi examination. Mr. Khushal whispered in his ears to copy the entire paper. He never failed in the Hindi exam though he failed to answer the questions. Mr. Khushal felt that the narrator would one day write a beautiful script as his handwriting was an impressive one. So he always gave him pass marks. This kind of thought on the part of the teacher is actually what that filled up narrator’s heart with respect for him. And he pleaded before Mr. khushal to teach him Hindi after he is released because he is still poor at Hindi. But the confession that Mr. Khushal made at the end of the story may seem to be an odd one or impractical to some readers. He confessed that he never knew Hindi, rather he taught Panjabi at school. That’s how the story ends. The narrator develops a personal feeling of gratitude towards his teacher in this public environment of the railway compartment. Private life comes in contact with the public life

This paper will try to justify the issue –how Bond utilizes a public place like railway station to develop individual feelings of the characters in his short stories. Railway station becomes a vital part in his short stories where personal life seems to get exposed in public atmosphere.

“The Night Train at Deoli” is a familiar story for young readers as a desire to have someone out of their reach is often a characteristic of adolescent period. In the introduction to The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories, Ruskin Bond states:

Romance brought up the nine-fifteen, wrote Kipling, and I find that in the stories I wrote in the 1950s (when I was in my teens and in my twenties) there is a good deal of romance, often associated with trains. Peoples are travelling in them and going all over the place, but just occasionally two people meet, their path across, and though they may part again quite soon, their lives have been changed in some indefinable way. (par. 4)

The narrator of the story meets a young girl at Deoli station and he develops a strong attraction towards her infatuation. Deoli station is a part of public life where the narrator is nurturing a personal feeling. As Tuan suggests, “what begins at undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value”(“Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience” N.pag). If we consider the public life in railway station to be a space, then Bond makes this unfamiliar space known for his characters by converting it into place. And this conversion is possible when one comes in contact with the social life. In “The Night Train at Deoli’, the narrator travels to his grandmother’s house in every vacation, which gives him an opportunity to mingle with different kinds of people. This familiarity with the public life helped him in building individual feelings in public atmosphere. Ruskin Bond allowed his characters to create a social bonding with public life, that’s why the characters always feel free to express themselves in public areas. Though the station was never a crowded one, but the narrator became accustomed with this lonely surrounding of the station which ultimately helped him in nurturing his emotions for the young girl. So travelling should be a part of everyone’s life that Bond has always reflected in his writings.

The narrator met the girl only twice but a desperate attempt to find her out is focused in the story. This shows the intensity of passion which he developed in the public life of Deoli station. As the narrator was accustomed with the public life of Deoli he felt comfortable to reveal his inner thoughts there. The story captures few personal moments that the narrator and the girl experiences in Deoli station. He once thought of solving the mystery by breaking his journey here to look for her. He seems to be afraid of discovering about her, dreading about anything unfortunate that could have befallen her and wants to retain his sweet memories of her and not allowed it to be spoiled with unfortunate events. He prefers to keep hoping and dreaming, waiting for the girl. The author brings the readers to a realistic world rather than a fictitious, imaginary, unreal world ; losing and gaining becomes part of life’s journey. Life is a constant process, which cannot be stopped. We can only carry memories forward while life goes on. Thus the story ends with a realistic touch where unlike fiction the paths of two people never meet. Bond’s short stories reflect on the temporariness of human relations.

“The Woman on Platform 8” describes a beautiful bonding two strangers that is generally between a mother and a son. It is a story about affection and care that Arun experiences. All the events are seen from his point of view. Here the author attempts to explore a personal feelings and memorable attachment that the protagonist experiences for a stranger woman he met at the railway station. As Yi-Fu-Tuan in Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience suggests, “place is a security and space is freedom; we are attached to one and long for the other” (par. 1). In the previous discussion we have seen the tendency of Bond to give a special meaning to the public atmosphere of railway station by influencing his characters to develop personal relations in public life. Thus the railway station becomes a place in the story which provides security to Arun under the guidance of this woman whom he met at Ambala station.


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Textuality of public place in the selected short stories of Ruskin Bond
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textuality, ruskin, bond
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Rimpa Pal (Author), 2020, Textuality of public place in the selected short stories of Ruskin Bond, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/961082


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