From the Outlook of 20Dc99
Delightful mix of mean and kind sirits. Nice and spicy.

by Ruskin Bond
Penguin Rs. 295, Pages:210


I love to read ghost stories. I also love author's introductions. It makes books personal and provides a rare insight into the author's mind. The introduction in this book starts with Bond's whimsical answer to a schoolboy: "Well, I don't believe in them (ghosts). But I keep seeing them!"

Some of the ghosts here are heartbreakingly tender. Wistful creatures like the pale little whistling schoolboy who was dangerously reckless in life, but protects his friends from death now that he's passed over. Or the Lilliput-like fairies who caress the Gulliver-like author as he sleeps on Pari Tibba and dreams of heaven. Others though, are neither benevolent nor caring. Like the creature in Something in the Water, "Something rose out of the bottom of the pool. It looked like a giant snail, but its head was part-human, its body and limbs part-squid or octopus... With a great sucking motion, it enveloped the man completely..." Or the strange widow and her children in Night of the Millennium. Yet others are actually not ghosts at all, but distressed souls on their way to the world of the supernatural. One of the most moving stories is Wilson's Bridge. The unfortunate twist at its end is as it should be -- unpredictable.

But some of the stories, like The Black Cat, are predictable. From a writer of Bond's calibre, one expects exacting standards. And one or two stories in the collection are disappointing. In writing stories of suspense, you just cannot give the story away.

The novella at the end is, as Bond confesses in his introduction, "A light-hearted attempt at writing a detective story." It works delightfully; the characters are wonderfully etched. Titled Who Killed the Rani? the novella explores the mysterious death of an erstwhile and entirely unpopular queen. The story's seen through the eyes of Keemat Lal, a bit of a plodder, "no Holmes or Poirot" -- but he gets there in the end.

All in all, not Bond's best, but certainly worth a read on the cold, long winter evenings that are fast approaching.

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