The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 18, 2003

Of mystery and adventure
Padam Ahlawat

The Rupa Book of True Tales of Mystery and Adventure
edited by Ruskin Bond. Rupa. Pages 236. Rs 295.

The Rupa Book of True Tales of Mystery and AdventureEACH one of the stories of mystery and adventure are interesting and superbly told. Ruskin Bond has spent a great amount of time and effort to search out these stories from old railway magazines and private collections. The authors of the stories deserve to have their works collected and edited into one volume. He has made their creations available for the readers. These are first-person accounts, which will now live on through their works and delight generations of readers.

They are a result of Ruskin Bond being on the lookout for old, forgotten or neglected books. He writes, "For it is in them that I have discovered many literary ‘treasures’ — stories and true life narratives that are worth reviving and preserving for the reading pleasure of new generations." Through his efforts, he has preserved their thoughts, feelings and works which would otherwise have been forgotten.

From an obscure forest rest house in Chakrata, he found several numbers of Blackwood’s magazine which started publishing in the late 18th century. And from the second-hand bookshop of Calcutta, he found several volumes of the Indian State Railways Magazine dating from the 1920s and 1930s. It is from these sources that several of the fascinating stories and first-person narratives have been included in this volume.

A few errors do not rob the tales of their incredible adventures, and rich variety. The tales include the perilous journey from China to Lhasa. The extreme cold claims several lives of men and animals, but the band of travellers endure the perils of cold and robbers to reach Lhasa. A similar tale of endurance is shown by the shipwrecked in The Wreck of Strathmore. On a rocky barren island they endure the cold and rain until rescued after six months and twenty-two days. Amidst the fragility of human life is shown the endurance of human spirit. There is a story of Rajib Roy, a loyal and faithful friend, who saves the lives of a kind-hearted indigo planter from the mutineers in Bihar.


There are two tales of treasure hunting. The Khan’s Treasure by R. Walters is about the Khan of Khelat in Afghanistan. A small column is sent against the Khan for having murdered all his councillors. The Khan fled, leaving a reputation of having enormous hidden wealth. The palace is searched but nothing is found. Then days of search reveal hidden passages and underground ways to a hoard of silver worth rupees six million two hundred thousand. The hoard is then carried away on four hundred camels. The other tale Gold Bricks of Badulla by P. H. Fawcelt is about hidden gold in Ceylon. A Sinhalse reveals about the hidden gold to Judge Paterson, who asks his relative, a young army officer, to search for it. Lieutenant Fawcett comes across two gold bricks given to Jumna Das by tribals, in the belief they were iron ingots. The tribals wanted in return bows and arrows. Fawcett goes searching for the spot but mishaps force the local labourers to run away, fearing the curse of the dead.

All these tales by little-known authors are told with great effect. By for the most interesting story is The Jungle Tales by Augustus Somerville. The Blind Tiger is incredible. And certainly out of the ordinary. Hiding in a thicket of bushes on the ground near a ‘kill,’ the author is surprised to see a large monkey walking nonchalantly towards the ‘kill’. The monkey then spotted the hiding shikari and uttered a series of sharp cries. This strange behaviour of the monkey had upset the shikari and he searched for another hiding place. Barely had he hid in this new place, when a tiger sprang out from the same direction. With a roar the tiger leapt into the bushes, the shikari’s former hiding place. The author had no sooner shot the tiger when out sprang the same monkey. The shikari’s amazement grew when he learnt that the tiger was blind. There are other well-told stories of animal compassion and charail (should be churail) in the forest.

One remarkable tale selected from The Indian State Railways Magazine of 1930 is Alexander’s Indian Campaign by C. A. Kincaid, an ICS Officer. It is remarkable for its accuracy for detail, which one usually does not come across. The author traces Alexander’s path in remarkable detail and describes the war strategy with great effect. How Alexander won the battle against Porus is described in a style that can be grasped immediately.

There are two stories of torture, showing human endurance for pain. In ‘Ants’ by W.J. Blackledge, the author tells the tale of torture by being tied to a stake and ants let loose on him. This collection of stories is worth buying.