When my editor sent me copies of Ruskin Bond’s The Day Grandfather Tickled a Tiger and The Tree Lover, I instantly fell head over heels in love with them. The two slim books had such lovely covers that I spent a few minutes just staring at them, and when I opened the book, the glossy pages had me sighing with pleasure. The third round of appreciation came when I looked at the illustrations and the fourth when I read the stories. Bond has that soothing effect on readers. His stories move at a gentle pace, with no jerks or bursts of speed, always leaving the readers asking for more.
I would place the two books in the category of Chapter Books (a category hitherto untapped by Indian publishers), something very difficult to pull off, as the kids who read them are a little big for picture books and a little young for middle grade books, and chapter books must have stories that can lend themselves to illustrations, as well as have interesting text that pushes the narrative forward. And with the summer holidays upon us, it’s the perfect time to review these two books.
I have grown up reading Bond’s books, besides of course all the Enid Blytons that I devoured during my holidays. And I also had the pleasure of meeting him when he visited Bengaluru with his publisher several years back. At this point I must make an honest confession: I am yet to find a more humble, more patient and more charming writer than him. He completely floored me with his simplicity, and believe it or not, he arrived nearly half an hour early for the book signing!
The Day Grandfather Tickled a Tiger is about how the writer’s grandfather finds a tiger cub hiding among the roots of a banyan tree, during a hunting expedition in the Terai jungle near Dehra Dun. Picking up the small cub grandfather brings him home. Grandmother names him Timothy and gives him milk in a feeding bottle. Timothy has two animal companions in the house — Toto, the monkey, who constantly pulls the young tiger’s tail and climbs the curtains to avoid its wrath, and a small mongrel puppy that grandfather had found on the road and brought home. The kids are certainly going to enjoy reading about this tiger who was afraid of the puppy and how the two formed a grudging friendship. I can imagine the grin on the little ones’ faces when they read the story.
I couldn’t stop laughing when I read about how the tiger was taken for his daily walks, on a leash, and how people on the road would move away from them. This tiger sure was a tamed beast, his favourite place in the house was the long sofa in the drawing room. But a change came over Timothy when it was six months old and his predator’s behaviour started overpowering him, then poor grandfather had no choice other than to transfer him to a zoo. To know the rest of the story you need to pick up a copy of the book, because if I reveal anything more, then you will be just buying the book for its artwork. That’s the tragedy of Chapter Books, they are so short that there is always a fear of going overboard with the review and revealing the ending.
I loved the illustrations in the book, they were so clean and precise and the pastel colours suited the theme, bringing to life the sunny day, with a clear summer sky and the lush green forest. It’s been ages since a book has taken me back to my childhood, and The Day Grandfather Tickled a Tiger has done just that.
In The Tree Lover you will be whisked away to the lofty hills with Bond’s fascinating descriptions of nature and his wonderful sorcery with words. In this book Rusty tells the story of his grandfather’s relationship with trees. Of how his grandfather made him plant cuttings and saplings in the forest, saying that they were planting for the jungle and for the birds and animals who lived in it and needed more food and shelter. Grandfather not just had a green thumb, but he also had the ability to attract trees to him. Though, initially, I didn’t like the illustrations in The Tree Lover, on hindsight I felt that the water colour style suited the jungle theme, giving it a bit of a realistic feel. I also felt that this book had less story than the previous one. Nevertheless, I finished reading the books in a matter of minutes. At a deeper level, both these books speak of man’s bond with nature and animals.
The theme of the books is perfect for the age groups of seven and eight, at that age we need to inculcate in children the importance of planting trees and looking after animals. Man’s relationship with animal and nature forms the core of both the stories and at no point did Bond come across as preachy or didactic.
His description of the fauna and flora of the mountains always leave me in awe. I wonder how does he produce book after book, so effortlessly and easily. Well, that’s the charm of his writing and his imagination. I’m sure that after reading both these books, kids will badger their parents to take them to the hills for the summer holidays. I just hope that they don’t ask for a tiger as a pet!