Adolescence in the short stories of R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond

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Depiction of adolescence in the Short Stories of R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond: A Comparative Study

by – Nayna Barde, Vol.III, Issue.XXIX, June 2017 (author introduction at the end of the paper)


Abstract: The present paper introspects the adolescence appeal in the stories of R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond. It presents comments on the portrayal of the adolescent characters. It aims to compare the contrast observed in the process of growing up in the selected stories. The portrayal of adolescent characters reveals the child psychology. In stories of R.K. Narayan we find that his literary world of adolescents is distinctive. His world of youngsters is a creation close to reality Narayan points out Indian social reality. He has depicted a realistic picture of childhood and early boyhood. The process of the transformation of childhood into boyhood has been realistically presented by Narayan.Stories of Ruskin Bond throw more light on the life of the youngsters. There are is a larger autobiographical element in these stories which make them more interesting and some of them were written when Bond was himself an adolescent.In his stories, He takes the reader with him in order to visualize the mindset of characters. His stories present the deeper layers of human psyche- a nightmarish world of guilt, violence and unspeakable horrors. Bond depicts a world of common folk that is based on day to day life.

Keywords –Adolescent, Psychology, Youngster, Physical growth, Child, Growing up

The story of the Indian English short story runs parallel to that of the Indian English Novel in the sense that both came into fruition during the eventful period of the Gandhian era and gradually become able to convey the contemporary complexity of life and technique. The short story is the challenging form of literature. Though it is oldest, it is most popular form since the beginning. It is popular but it has remained critically neglected. As a form, it has evolved in the course of a long period and passed through the early forms like tale, myth, fairy tale, fable, parable, legend, ballad and so on.

            Indian short story in English emerged in 19th century. The pioneer writers were K.C. Dutt, Rabindranath Tagore, A.S.P. Ayyar and Shankar Ram. However, the form found intense development in the hands Mulk Raj Anand, Raja rao, Manjeri Ishvaran and R.K. Narayan. Some other celebrated short story writers of later period are Keki Daruwala, RuskinBond, Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Arun Joshi, Kamala das and may more literary artists who have popularised this form.

Rashipuram Krishnaswamy Iyer Narayanswami [R.K. Narayan] strikes a different note in his short stories as he neither possesses Anand’s commitment to the underdogs in the society nor has he Raja Rao’s grounding in ancient Indian texts to colour his world vies. Narayan’s worth as an artist lies in investing the simple events in the life of simple men and women with an artistic touch by which the ordinary becomes memorable. His most famous collection of short stories is Malgudi Days which consists of memorable stories like An Astrologer’s day, The Missing Mail, The Blind Dog and many other stories. These stories written with Narayan’s simple style and characteristic, mild satire and portray day to day Indian life. He enjoyed writing short stories than novel.

RuskinBond is the most well known Indian English short story writer after R.K. Narayan. Bond continues keeping the basic Indian ethos in central focus in his fiction. Like Narayan’s Malgudi, Bond has his own special place ableit less imaginary than that of the former. His fascination for the Garhwal Hills, their humble people with humble joys and desires, has helped him create an image which is faithfully true to classical image of India as a country of simple people having their faith in the essential goodness of human nature and in the manifestations of supernatural powers in the affairs of man. In the course of a writing career spanning fifty years, he has written over a hundred short stories, essays, novels and more than thirty books for children. His three collection of short stories, The Night Train at Deoli, Time stop at Shamli and Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra have been published by Penguin India. Bond’s writing is greatly influenced by the hills, and the valley of Dehradun, where he spent his childhood. Like R. K. Narayan, he also finds short story as a more suitable medium for his literary creation.

R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond gave lots of importance to the children as a protagonists and antagonists in literature. Their way of writing stories and projecting child characters and adolescence in unique. Adolescence phase is highlighted by many literary artists in the almost all the forms of literature particularly in fiction. Adolescence may be defined as “The period between the onset of puberty and the cessation of physical growth : roughly form 11 to 19 years of age.” Adolescents vacillate between being children and being adults. They are adjusting to the physiologic changes their bodies are undergoing and are working to establish a sexual identification and to use these changes for their personal benefit and for the benefit of society. To define or fix the exact period of adolescence is difficult. Generally, it is believed that the duration after childhood and before adulthood is the stage of adolescent.

In this paper, short stories of R.K. Narayan and Ruskin Bond have been taken up to understand the adolescence. Selected short stories by the above two dynamic writers have been selected to explore this them. R.K. Narayan’s short stories selected here are , The Mother and Son, shadow, Ishwaran and Naga. These stories introduce some characteristics of adolescent stage of life. R.K. Narayan depicts the life of common Indian folk. Ruskin Bond is one of very few writers who have focused on the life of the adolescents. Bond’s short stories like Chachi’s Funeral, The Night Train at Deoli, Panther’s Moon, Love is a Sad Song, The Thief show off growing ups. It is different from R.K. Narayan in the sense that he shows deep interest in physical growth of boys and girls.

A shadow is a moving tale of an adolescent boy Sambhu living with his widow mother. R.K. Narayan creates an unusual situation in this story and presents two different reactions to the given situation.Sambu, a lad feels thrilled to see on the film screen his dead father who had passed away just six months ago.He is excited to watch his father’s film ‘Kumari’ as if his father has come back. His mother on the other hand finds the experience unbearable. The implied contrast in the two attitudes indicates the power of shadow of a dead man can still wield. The writer manifests the working minds of two different stages of life. Sambu, an adolescent boy is eager to see his father in the theatre screen, while his mother, a widow tries to avoid seeing her husband alive again in the film. Sambu being a lad is governed more by feelings and his mother thinks rationally. Sambu being an addescent is unable to read his mother’s mind. For Sambu, his mother gets ready to go for the film but while watching movie, she faints. When the show stops, he curses the interruption. But when he comes to know that his own mother has fainted, he rushes to her. He respects her wish to go home leaving the last show of the film incomplete. Sambu, all of a sudden, appears a mature and responsible son. He has already lost his father and fears lest he may lose his mother too. He controls the situation and leaves the theatre with his mother. Through this story, R.K. Narayan reflects how a school bay manifests ability to overcome the possible crisis.

 Iswaran is a story of a student of Intermediate class. R.K. Narayan depicts here the inner conflict going on in the mind of Iswaran, an adolescent boy. The story points out how stress built in the mind of a schoolboy takes him to madness and how madness results into his death. It is fact that in contemporary era, students face stress or burden of education. But it is equally true that it was too in the days of R.K. Narayan. Iswaran, in this story feels ashamed because of his constant failures in intermediate exams. His family also has such approach. Few words of Iswaran’s suicide note reveal a harsh reality of our education system as well as society’s approach towards average students. People of the town and Ishwaran’s family members label him as a failure, a dull student. As a result, he also begins to believe that he is dunce and cannot pass exam. He expects only pass class even if he has worked hard. When he finds his number in the list of second-class students, he reacts in a strange way. This reaction shows how people around him have made him believe that he is poor at study. This is a pathetic story that shows how failure and frustration ruins the life of an adolescent.

Mother and Sonis a simple story of a widow mother and her growing up son Ramu. An adolescent son’s mother finds her son to be fit for marriage in many communities in India even today. His mother begins to persuade her son for marriage. But the son struggles to settle in life. Here, Ramu’s mother insists that he should marry her brother’s fourteen years daughter. Besides, she also think to get handsome dowry with the girl. She makes use of every trick to convince the boy. Ramu’s mother fails to read his mind. His condition is pitiable. He cannot get through his intermediate even at the fourth attempt; he cannot get job even at twenty rupees a month. What is more in Ramu’s denial for marriage with his cousine is his dislike for the girl. He always feels that if he marries, he will marry a girl like Rezia, whom he has seen in two or three Hindi films. Adolescence may live more in dreams world. They are attracted to film stars. Sometimes, they dream to marry their favourite star. Ramu does not consider that he is an ordinary boy; while Rezia is a film star. Since he is adolescent, he ignores the vast difference between him and his dream girl, Rezia. He is governed more by fantasy world rather than reason and reality of life, and he is not alone to have such whims; most of young people live in romantic world.The conflict between enthusiastic mother and disobedient son, Ramu, increases and Ramu goes out in disturbed mood leaving his mother alone. After some time his mother repents for her bitter words for him. R.K. Narayan peeps here into the working of the mind of a mother of an adolescent boy. She search out him and feels relieved. This story shows that how an adolescent can react, even leave home if he/she is pressurized by parents.

Naga is a story of an adolescent boy who lives in Malgudi with his father, a snake charmer. They are very poor and depend on the snake Naga for livelihood. The principal character of this story, the boy is brought up in a different way. He doesn’t get opportunity for schooling. This motherless child is brought up in neglected and slum locality. He is compelled to assist his father at very young age. He loses all pleasures of childhood. Unfortunately, the boy’s father proves to be irresponsible and hardhearted. He goes away one early morning leaving the boy alone to face struggle of life. The boy has already lost his mother at early stage of life and now his father, his only relative in this selfish world abandons him. The boy feels some relief when he finds eighty paise in the lid of the basket. He soon leaves boyhood and steps into adulthood. It makes a noteworthy difference how an adolescent is brought up in the absence of father, mother or both. An infant requires mother physically more, while an adolescent needs the warm and affection of mother more. The absence of mother makes the child poor and miserable. R.K. Narayan introduces in this story apitiable condition of a growing up boy whose mother has died and father is irresponsible towards him. This story points out how an adolescent boy longs for parent’s affection. The boy struggles for his livelihood and ultimately manages himself to live independently. Adolescent, in adverse circumstances may prove capable to fight. Difficulties make them mature and self-reliant at growing up phase.

Above stories peep into the psychology of adolescent. Their way of thinking and response to the society and circumstances.

Bond’s short fiction introduces a variety of themes and human sketches. Undoubtedly, like R.K. Narayan, in his writing the locale most probably remains the same, the foothill of the Himalayan especially surrounding Dehradun. His stories, which have been taken for discussion here, reflects different aspects of the adolescents like innocence, bravery, feeling of love, romance, honesty, physical attraction for opposite sex and many other.

Chachi’s Funeral is one of the best specimens, which indicate Bond’s understanding of the child and growing up’s psychology in effective manner. His child and growing up characters behave in the same way as everywhere. Anger is temporary and love is permanent, is the central idea of this story. It deals with three main characters, Sunil, a boy of ten, his cousin Madhu, a dark slim girl of twelve and their relative Chachi who is ‘Chachi’ for Sunil and ‘Mami’ for Madhu. This story highlights how the twelve-year boy, Sunil feels so sorry and sad after his temporary anger for his aunt subsides. A ten-year boy Sunil is a mischievous boy. His parents do job in office and the boy is left with his chachi. She is a simple woman and cannot understand the growing boy Sunil. He is an additional burden for her. Moreover, Sunil troubles her more. One day angry Chachi deals him three or four blows of her slipper across his head and shoulders. She begins to weep after this incident while the boy’s proud is hurt. In anger, Sunil decides to kill his chachi on not a very serious reason. Madhu is a wise girl who finds out an excellent idea to calm the boy’s fury. She makes a rough drawing of Chachi with the help of pencil and paper. She sketches a big heart in the region of Chachi’s stomach on the paper. Then, she asks the boy to stab the Chachi to death. He plunges his knife three times into Chachi’s pastel breast. Madhu declares that he has killed her. The next action shows how youngsters imitate the adult’s world minutely. They decide to cremate her dead body. They set fire to the paper. In a few minutes all that remains of chichi are a few ashes. The girl here lets out the rage from the boy’s heart using her fruitful mind. They talk to put her sacred ashes in the river, but decide to put it in the drain. Madhu collects the ashes and throws the ashes downward from the balcony. When the ashes are thrown, Madhu turns to Sunil. She sees big tears on the boy’s cheeks. As they come down the steps from the roof, chachi emerges from the kitchen. He tells her that he loves her so much and requests her not to leave them. She observes a genuine affection in his eyes.The story presents the innocent world of the growing ups. Bonds indicates how temporary the young boy’s anger may be. Sunil stabs his chachi but soon repents for his act. This sense of guilt is the strength of the adolescents. Sunil is too sensitive here while Madhu’s presence of mind wins reader’s admiration. She tackles the situation like a wise person and controls it. Their decision to cremate the deadbody after murder of chachi and put the sacred ashes in to river demonstrates how the adolescents observe the adult world, traditions, customs, rituals and many more things and their wish to behave like the elders.

 As the title suggests the story ‘The Thief’ peeps into the life of a thief. The narrator [the thief] is an adolescent boy of fifteen. Another character of the story is Arun, about a twenty year boy. The narrator meets Arun for the first time in a wrestling match. He finds a prospective client in Arun to materialize his plan to rob Arun, the narrator introduces himself as Deepak by pseudonym. He expresses his desire to work for Arun. But Arun refuses to engage him as he is not able to pay money as salary. The narrator ultimately requests to give him only meal and he would cook for his master Arun. The agreement is done at last and Arun takes him his home. Kind and generous Arun treats Deepak, the narrator well. Arun shows trust in Deepak and makes him buy his daily supplies. Deepak makes good profit out of it daily. Although Arun has some hint about this, he prefers to ignore it. Instead, he completely relies on Deepak. One day Deepak stole the money lying under Arun’s mattress on the ground of his losing practice, and Rushes to the station to catch the Amritsar Express.The story takes unbelievable turn. Deepak hesitates to go away. He begins to repent for breaking his master’s trust and come back to Arun’s house. Adolscent phase is the time of enormous change. It is the process of converting a premature one into matures stage. At this duration, a juvenile begins to differentiate what is right and what is not. Sense of morality has its foundation in a man at adolescent days. Deepak becomes an ambitious boy from a professional thief because he listens to his inner voice.

Night Train at Deoli is a dream of love. Love at adolescent phase is very natural. It makes a growing up feel some strange feelings that has not been felt before. An adolescent falls in love very easily. This story deals with a love affair that initiates and develops within the premises of insignificant railway station of Deoli village. Here, Ruskin Bond narrates his experience during one of his train journeys to Dehra as an eighteen-year-old boy. He used to spend his vacation every summer in his granny’s place in Dehradun and had to pass a small lonely station, Deoli amidst the forest on the way. During a journey towards Dehra, as usual, the train halts for ten minutes at Deoli in the early morning at five. A young girl comes down the platform, selling baskets. The narrator looks at her with the feeling of admiration. It is the case of the love at first sight for the narrator. He is fascinated towards the simple but beautiful basket selling girl. The first meeting makes him desire the next meeting. It fills his heart with sweet memories. But their love story develops in a different direction. Bond conveys a message here that every love affair does not reach the destination of marriage in real life. The narrator seems to know that every thing that we dream and desire may not be achieved and we have to compromise. He is satisfied with her sweet memories. He wants to continue this teenage dream.Hesitation, confusion and fear to express feelings are the characteristics of an adolescent mind which are presented through narrator.

 Bond presents the struggle of a young boy for education in his thrilling short story Panther’s Moon. Bisnu, an adolescent boy of twelve is the protagonist, proves to be a real hero of this breathtaking tale. He takes pain of walking ten miles per day to attend the school that is five miles away from his isolated village. Even his life is in danger because of man-eater panther in and surrounding his village, Manjari, he wishes to go to school. The story also depicts a twelve year boy’s struggle to handle the family responsibility. In the absence of his dead father, he has to head the family of a widow mother and an elder sister Puja. Bisnu’ story conveys an inspiring message for the students who do not study sincerely inspite of every facility that is easily available and incredible bravery by protecting his family from the dreadful panther at the risk of his own life. There are other boys in Manjari village, but Bisnu is the only one who goes to school. He wants to study in pre-independent India, Schooling was not easily available to the children as it is today. The climax of the story takes place when the panther makes an attempt to attack Puja. Bisnu and his sister are working in their field when Bisnu finds the sight of the panther on the rock. He fears lest the beast attacks his sister. He is ready and alert now to finish the man-eater animal. He alerts his sister from the approaching beast. The panther fails in his aim and falls into a ditch. Bisnu calls other men for help. They finish the panther after some attempts of the beast to run away from the danger. The killing of the man-eater panther gives relief to the people of this area. Bisnu emerges as the hero and finishes the panther. Readers hardly believe that a twelve-year boy can be so brave that he can kill the panther. Bisnu turns up here as a mature boy who understands the hostile activities of human beings for the wild animals make them so dangerous. The story highlights two brave adolscents Bisnu and his sister Puja who too shows extra-ordinary courage to join Kalam Singh and his assistant to find out missing Bisnu in the dark amid the forest. She helps them in critical condition and rescues her brother.

All the stories discussed here, shows that both the writers have depicted an adolescent in a realistic and beautiful manner. Both peep into the psychology of an adolescent. It is shown that surrounding, parents and friends play a vital role in the development of youngsters.

Work cited

Bond, Ruskin. The Night Train at Deoli and other stories, Penguin Books, New Delhi, 1998.Print, 2012. Web. October, 14, 2012.

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days, Indian Thought Publication, Chennai, 1996.Print

Narayan, R.K. A Shadow, ‘Let’s Go Home’ and other stories, Ed. Meenakshi Mukherji, Orient Longman Private Limited, Mumbai-1975.Print

Singh, Nripendra. Contemporary Indian English Short story [Ruskin Bond, Anita Desai and Shashi Deshpande] ,Creative Books, New Delhi, 2007.Print > 10-chep 5.pdf > 09-chep 4.pdf > 06-chep 1.pdf

About the Author:

Miss Nayna Barde, the author of this paper, is a student of PhD at Nagpur University. Her research topic is Portrayal of Children in the Short Stories of Ruskin Bond: A Critical Study. Main interests of the author are reading and writing.


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