‘Binya Passes By’ is a sentimental love story penned in first person by the very famous Indian writer from the hills, namely Ruskin Bond. The story highlights the life of Ruskin Bond when he was either 35 or 36 years old, his love for nature, and his melancholic side, which is related to the women he loved. ‘Binya Passes By’ is the love story of Bond and a village girl from the hills called Binya. It is a love story of opposites that still manages to last forever, as the text shows. It is analyzed along with the point that Ruskin Bond was feeling like a flotsam or wreckage of an old ship upon the shores of time, indicating that he was feeling lonely and abandoned of love, fame, and recognition in his thirties. He had sort of ‘missed the bus’ in relation to his romantic relationships or associations with the women; everyone he knew had moved on while he was still trying to find love. Also, in this story, when Binya, his love interest, disappears from his life forever, he feels left out and isolated even from nature which he loved so much. This story is among many of Ruskin Bond’s love stories, which are sentimental, sensual, full of allusions, and full of metaphors and indicate the unusual way Bond depicted himself and the women he loved, especially their huge age gaps and economic class distinctions.
‘Binya Passes By’ was published in the short story collection ‘Rusty Comes Home’ in the year 2004, which is the fifth and final volume in Puffin’s complete collection of Ruskin Bond’s ever-popular Rusty stories. Ruskin Bond’s female protagonist in ‘Binya Passes By’ is the namesake of the famous character Binya of ‘The Blue Umbrella’ fame. The following is a summary of the story as well as a short story analysis of this modern Ruskin Bond short story. Ruskin Bond is also known as India’s most beloved writer. He has won the Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan, and the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contributions to Indian English literature, especially his children’s literature.
During one particular summer month in the hills, Ruskin Bond happened to hear a female voice singing a melodious song. He searched for the singer but could not locate her. At another point in time, while he was at work in his study, he heard the singing voice again but could not locate the person again. During this period, Ruskin Bond was around 35 or 36 years of age. He was not making much of a living by writing, and his second novel had not yet been published. One day he came across a young girl in a dhoti, her mouth stained with bilberry juice. He fell in love with this girl whose name was Binya. She was an illiterate village girl from the hills who was carefree, mysterious, beautiful, and sensuous. He later realizes that it was she who was the singer whose voice he had liked. They continued to meet each other and were attracted to each other physically. Ruskin Bond made the first move of kissing her one day on the lips quickly, which the girl loved. Many intimate scenes are shared between the couple despite their great age gap. Ruskin Bond was in his mid-thirties while the girl was probably still a 16- or 17 teenager. Her mother had passed away, and her grandmother had forgotten the girl’s actual age. The other members of Binya’s family were her younger brother and the two cows, Neelu (Blue) and Bhuri (Old One). Ruskin Bond falls in love with the girl without considering the consequences of his affection towards her and her family. He yearns for her and meets her throughout that particular summer. However, one night there is a celebration or festival in her village. Ruskin Bond reflects upon her, but Binya does not return to see him after that event. He secretly finds out later from a boy from her village that she had left and had been taken to her mother’s village. Ruskin Bond is heartbroken, ponders upon the frailty of love and its various aspects, and feels that in some way at night, Binya’s spirit still watches over him as he sleeps. In a melancholic manner, Ruskin Bond then ends his love story.
Connections that form between men, women and children disregarding the divisions of age and across the stages of life is something that fascinates me.Ruskin Bond (Introduction to the book ‘The Prospect of Flowers’) published in the year 2016
Thus, the story of Ruskin Bond and Binya is told from the perspective of a sensualist who is attracted to the outer-worldly aspect of Binya. He does not use his rational and objective mind where this attraction is concerned and even uses terms such as fairies, pixies, nymphs, et al., to indicate her otherworldly quality. This aspect of Binya fascinates him and makes a long-lasting impression in and on his mind. In several personal essays and books, Ruskin Bond mentioned that he was a sensualist when he was young but prided himself on his objectivity and genuine love for nature. However, he tends to get melancholic and reflective, which is one of his major personality traits, especially since he graduated from boarding school. This is evident in his autobiography ‘Lone Fox Dancing’ and his first novel ‘The Room on the Roof’.
I have analyzed certain main themes, allusions, and autobiographical elements contained in the short story ‘Binya Passes By’ further under specific headings listed below:
It’s perhaps impossible to fathom how much the mountains have permeated my life and writing…. My fifty years in Mussoorie are an epic in themselves. I do go away sometimes, but I always return in some haste to my small study with its window looking out upon the mountains and the valley.Ruskin Bond (Introduction to the book ‘The Prospect of Flowers’) published in 2016.
Many autobiographical elements are seen in this short story by Ruskin Bond. He mixes his own person with his story with a dash of mystery to it to create something ethereal in nature and subtly reveal and keep his private affairs hidden from scrutiny. In the writings of Ruskin Bond, we notice that compared to his humorous pieces or adventure short stories and historical novels, his love stories are told with a tenderness and sensitivity that surpasses the others and is very evident and observable. It is as mysterious and alluring as the mountain mists in which his characters keep on disappearing and emerging from. In ‘Binya Passes By’, too, Ruskin Bond narrates this story from the first person perspective, only changing briefly to the second person towards the end of the story when he sees a festival in Binya’s village.
All of Ruskin Bond’s first-person narratives are mostly intimate stories of his love life, his bond with nature, and the people dear to him from the past.
In this short story, Ruskin Bond was still a freelance writer eking out a living and had not secured a publisher for his second novel. He could not even pay his electricity bills or save enough money for a rainy day. By this time, he is already in his mid-thirties, yearning for companionship and the tenderness of a woman’s affection. He mentions clearly in ‘Binya Passes By’ that he had been without the love and touch of a girl for the past 9 to 10 years. Therefore, when he comes across Binya, his loneliness gets the better of him, and he, like a typical person who lets his heart rule his mind, falls head over heels in love with her, but at first only on a physical level.
Ruskin Bond has never been shy about expressing his sensual nature and has been open about his views on sex and women. Since 2015, Ruskin Bond has been open about his need for sex and love in his youth and thirties, although, unlike Khushwant Singh, he never slurs the names of his paramours or lovers in his books either directly or indirectly. Bond also, in this short story as well as others, indicates strongly that physical love in itself can be satiated and come to an end, while the spiritual love of a true soulmate lasts for a lifetime; this is especially true in the case of a person who wants to carry the luggage of his failed love and the memories of it for the rest of their life. He has chosen to walk that path in life and so carries with him the memory of this village girl called Binya, who, in a playful way, attracts him to her and vice versa.
Bond is attracted to Binya because she is carefree, easy-going, and a young person who is untouched by the complexities that riddled his own life as a struggling young writer. He longs in his partner for that kind of carefreeness and innocence that resonated with his own childhood growing up in the company of books without a father or a caring mother. This is why many times in his life, he chooses women who are sometimes quite different from him in age, social class, race, economic status, et al. He has often stated that these ‘taboo’ relationships, especially in relation to huge age gaps between lovers, attract his interest. So even early in his career, he has written essays and stories on such relationships.
Let us not forget that his very first novel ‘The Room on the Roof’ which was published in 1956, spoke about this kind of unequal love between the Anglo-Indian schoolboy Rusty and an older woman called Meena Kapoor, who was the mother of his student, who he was tutoring.
In ‘Binya Passes By’, too, Ruskin Bond speaks of his relationship with the teenage Binya who belonged to a strict and backward tribal community living in the hills. If the villagers of Binya’s tribe came to know about their relationship, Ruskin Bond was sure that he would be hunted out of that place and the couple would fall into great trouble. The girl is a simple cowgirl who cares for her two cows, collects wood, and cuts grass. She is illiterate, uneducated, and as lonely as Ruskin Bond himself, and that is why it is she who first happens upon Ruskin Bond in the first half of the narrative and attracts him to her with her melodious voice. On the other hand, Ruskin Bond is educated, an Anglo-Indian who had made India his home and was older and more mature than Binya. Instead of dissipating the chemistry between the two, these contrasting elements intensify it. Though they are not intellectually met: Binya is bold and brash, while Ruskin Bond is sentimental and adoring, a relationship begins to build between them.
This was not a meeting of equals on any footing but the meeting of souls, which requires no rationalization. The age gap between the two does not disturb them. Neither does it stop Binya from exploring her romance with Ruskin Bond, which she boldly does by teasing him and berating him but also giving into his charms and exposing certain portions of her body to him and allowing him to kiss her. Probably she was reprimanded for her relationship with an Anglo-Indian and so was married off at the village festival and then taken away to her husband’s home in her dead mother’s village. Ruskin Bond knowing that the hill villagers would not appreciate his odd relationship with their simple cow herder, secretly finds out what became of his lover who only loved him for one summer leaving him more melancholic with fond memories of their time together and her face.
Narration and Allusions
Ruskin Bond displays all the qualities of a master storyteller, a deceptively effortless style, an eye for the extraordinary in seemingly humdrum lives and a deep empathy with his characters.The Asian Age (Synopsis of ‘Secrets’ by Ruskin Bond) published in the year 2011.
The short story titled ‘Binya Passes By’ by Ruskin Bond seems like a regular love story but is told with certain elements in mind making it a classic and unique tale. The story is narrated in Ruskin Bond’s usual effortless style, and the characterization of Binya is vivid, larger than life, and effective. Her bilberry-stained mouth, her saree in the form of a poor tribal’s dhoti, and her face are beautifully described by Bond. He speaks little about his appearance but a lot about his mental and emotional state at that time in his troubled and lonely life.
Ruskin Bond then makes use of several allusions to age, youth, freshness, and simplicity, which makes the dialogues shared between the only two characters in this story symbolic of a deeper thought process going on in the author’s mind. They seem to talk in riddles, with the girl Binya speaking bluntly and frankly while Ruskin Bond speaks like a gentleman wooing his lady love by giving her a taste of his eccentricity and melancholic side, which she appreciates.
In this short story, Binya and Ruskin Bond meet face-to-face five times. If one has to count the other two times Ruskin Bond only heard her singing, then that would account for two extra encounters totalling up to seven encounters in all before Binya leaves for her mother’s village for good.
In these seven encounters, Ruskin Bond describes not only his passing age but also the passage of time through the seasons, the summer month, and different times in the day when he sees Binya. Through this, he brings out the beauty of nature, especially during the summer season, the animals that go about their natural activities even while his heart is yearning for Binya, the fruits blossoming or ripening in their respective trees, the movement of the wind or the breeze over the tops of the pine trees in the mountains and the night time activities of the kerosene lamps in Binya’s village. The following is a list of the seven encounters and the progress of the summer season, the different times of day, and certain aspects of nature they represent:
- The beginning of summer in the hills will indicate the end of the month of March.
- Trees were new in leaf.
- Walnuts and cherries just beginning to form in the leaves.
- Ruskin Bond first hears Binya’s song and feels someone is watching him.
- It was exhausting work to climb the mountains during this time of the year.
- It is still early in the summer in April.
- Ruskin Bond is at Pari Tiba, which is also called Fairy Hill.
- On this hill, two lovers took shelter one stormy night from the rain and were killed by lightning.
- The birds were still.
- The wind was not moving.
- He heard Binya singing again.
- He admits at this point that since he had appreciated the voice of the singer, then he would also fall in love with the actual singer or person when he saw her.
- He does not manage to see Binya this time too.
- Binya gathering bilberries.
- It is the beginning of April.
- Purple juice stained her lips, and she offered some to Ruskin Bond.
- He does not realize that she is the same girl who sang and he had carelessly fallen in love with.
- He asks her whether the love story at Pari Tiba is true.
- It is early May in the middle of summer.
- Cicadas were in the forest.
- Thrush birds were mating.
- He heard the song again and realized the same girl had given him the bilberries.
- She manipulates him, and he gives into her seduction.
- Like a gallant lover or knight, he brings for her Kingora berries.
- She leaves before he can give them to her.
- It is evening and still May.
- Glow-worms glow in the dark.
- The nightjar makes its typical tonk-tonk sound.
- Moths beat against the windowpanes.
- Binya tells him her name, while he does not.
- He simply says he has no name, and she calls him Mr. No-Name.
- She runs away fast, and Ruskin Bond is unable to catch up with her.
- The summer rain had started to fall, indicating the end of May and the beginning of June.
- The winds sweep the mountainside.
- Binya’s dhoti clung to her well-formed round thighs as she got wet in the rain.
- Ruskin Bond kisses Binya on the lips quickly for the first time.
- Her lips tasted of raindrops and mint, indicating her freshness as a young lover.
- She ran home laughing.
- Ruskin Bond felt gallant about his deed.
- It is the end of summer, and Binya calls to Ruskin Bond from up a cherry tree.
- He climbs the tree, and his face is on a level between her breasts.
- He can see closely her well-rounded things, which seemed strong and vigorous.
- He kissed the inside of her arm.
- She drew him upward to her, and they stared at each other while being hidden from public view.
- This was the last time he saw her.
Thus, one notices that the parallel progress of the summer and their love story is the entirety of the short story. The first two encounters show Ruskin Bond still living in the real world with its many cares and worries and is working on rewriting his second novel. This keeps him in the cottage for many weeks, so he does not see or hear much of this melodious singer he had fancied on an impulse. By the time we are in the middle of summer, he at last encounters her, and like the animals and birds who are mating, they too start to build up their relationship, which turns into a passionate and sensual love by the time the summer rains come to the hills. By the end of June, their love story comes to an end with the end of summer and the departure of Binya.
The allusion to Pari Tiba is Ruskin Bond’s way of telling the girl that probably they too would become lovers by meeting in the hills and be ‘struck by lightning’ or their relationship would become passionate but end in disaster for them both. In subtle and veiled words, he mentions that he wishes to love her despite their differences since she is simple, humble, and carefree, and so has everything he wants in a partner. He, therefore, states that he prayed and hoped that she would never have anything to do with filling out forms related to the real world. He wants her to be a part of his make-believe and imaginary world where relationships like these can blossom.
Binya’s round thighs, seen through her drenched dhoti and strong and vigorous legs, are direct allusions to her sexual attractiveness and that the author was mainly attracted to her for her physicality as a good lover to fulfill his needs. However, because of her pixie-like and mischievous quality, he falls eternally in love with her. In the seventh encounter, when she is up the cherry tree, Ruskin Bond uses the symbology of the wild cherry tree to indicate her youth which was yet unripe, and his desire and yearning for her, which was encased in an unreal world. He also states in a line as he sees her up the tree that the ‘cherries in the tree were not ripe’, which indicates that their relationship had not yet blossomed and that she was too young to love passionately sensually.
At night, after his last meeting with Binya, he sees a celebration taking place in her village, which he does not realize could have been her wedding. He is drowned in his longing for her and feels he can telepathically communicate with her. This indicates the beginning of the haunting side of the tale and its ghost-like quality. After this incident and the mention of the ghost of the old woman who lived in his mirror in his cottage, he learns of Binya’s sudden leaving, which shatters him. He uses the symbology of the old woman’s ghost and the mirror to show that from then on, it would be Binya’s face who would haunt him from the mirror till the end of his life. This indicates and alludes to his lonely life, which only took a turn for the better the day a young boy named Prem became a part of his adopted family.
The last two scenes, when Ruskin Bond is alone, set in the dark of the night, represent his sadness and dark life ahead without Binya by his side. This is also a hint given by him of his many failures in the name of love throughout his long life.
The Life of Hill Villagers
Binya is painted as an illiterate teenager with no one to care for her, and so she is left to care for two cows as she wanders up and down the hills searching for love or companionship. Even in 2004, the poverty and hardships faced by the tribal hill population of Ruskin Bond’s Mussoorie were severe. This particular story is set when Ruskin Bond was in his thirties, which indicates the 1970s when the area was still not well developed and tribal children could not access a nearby school to gain a decent education. They had to travel long distances to get to school passing dangerous hilly forests and woodlands where dwelt leopards and panthers, not to mention the hardships of winter in the form of snow, hail, sleet, etc., that could make the journey tiring. Ruskin Bond always tried to bring out this simple and humble side of the tribal villagers of the hills making their life stories come alive in his fiction. Unlike Mulk Raj Anand, he does not try to moralize, nor does he ridicule their simplicity and degrade the powers that be for their neglect of the poor, but instead reports things in all their truth in his usual effortless way, which has endeared himself to readers’ young and old. Even though Binya could have been only 16 or 17 years old, yet she was married off which indicated how backward her community was where their young girls and activities were concerned and that such young girls were married off quickly in an arranged marriage system. Ruskin Bond states this fact in all its plainness and truth, with nature acting as a close aide in his work.
The significance of this title, ‘Binya Passes By’ by Ruskin Bond, has to do with what the author stated about physical and sensual love in the text. For him, sensual love was a ‘passing love’ or a love ‘that passed by’ without creating a great mark and tended to get satisfied or satiated very easily. Binya ultimately turned out to be one kind of a mix of such sexual love and a sense of ethereal love because of her haunting the author’s memories. She ultimately ‘passed by’ physically but not from the author’s memory. Like his guilt, loneliness, and many ghosts, Binya too ‘passes by’ his mind many times like the many seasons in the mountains, especially before he goes to bed in the dark of the night when all the demons of his past assail him. The title highlights the simple philosophy of the hills that it is not the mountains of Mussoorie and neither time that passes one by, but it is the human being in his advancing years who is passing by the eternal aspect of the mountains, which is Mother Nature that watches the receding tide of a human being’s life and his fading dreams and lost ambitions left on the beach like flotsam. Binya seems to have become this eternal aspect of nature that watches over Ruskin Bond amid his many sorrows and failures as well as happy moments and successes as he passes by this world, not only as a writer but as a lover.
- The reference to Pari Tiba is repeated many times in Ruskin Bond’s literature. It represents a place where mystery, ghosts, and unfulfilled desires and dreams abound.
- When Ruskin Bond wishes to be happy and is in love, he looks upon nature to regale in. However, when he is lonely and sorrowful, he recedes into himself, becomes reflective, and avoids the beauty of nature.
- He mentions Binya’s innocence to be ‘primeval’ and not yet developed towards maturity, which is the quality that he loved in his partners who could still show him the magic of youth when dreams could still be dreamt, and love was pure and innocent without the complications of society.
Thus, the story ends on a haunting note with Ruskin Bond returning to his vocation as a writer but with desires unfulfilled and loneliness, which thankfully did not last lifelong but allowed him to create wonderful stories and novels that have been considered to be quite evergreen in every season.
One of the nice things about growing old is that we have so much to look back upon- a stream of memories that never runs dry, people who have been dear to us, the friends of one’s youth, faces from the past…Ruskin Bond (Introduction to the book ‘Secrets’) published in the year 2011.
I enjoyed re-reading and analyzing this short story by the writer from the hills of India, Ruskin Bond. I hope to re-read and analyze more short stories by Ruskin Bond soon. If you want to read some of my other reviews and analysis of Ruskin Bond’s works, you can check them out here. If you are interested in some award-winning Indian fiction novellas or novels, you can check out my books Nirmala: The Mud Blossom and Amina: The Silent One. These stories focus on social issues affecting the lives of Indian women. I hope to read and analyze more Indian fiction and short stories in the coming days.
If you are an ICSE Class IX student and will be appearing for the school/Board Exams in the year 2024, then you can check out my educational portal Crisis Management. You will find the Complete ICSE Course in English literature for students of Class IX in video lecture format. It includes the Ruskin Bond short story analysis titled ‘The Boy who Broke the Bank’. The package of 23 video lectures is reasonably priced at Rupees 500 and is available at this link. More short stories, poems, novels, and plays will be analyzed on this educational portal soon. I am looking forward to hearing from you!
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