‘The Cherry Tree’ was written in 1980 by Anglo-Indian writer Ruskin Bond also known as the writer from the Hills of India. Ruskin Bond penned this realistic short story of the hills of Mussoorie in India. Ruskin Bond wrote this short story while still living at the Maplewood Lodge in Mussoorie. This short story is styled like a bedtime story and is based on the scenic natural beauty of the hills of India and the seasonal changes in that region. Through the growth of a six-year-old boy and his cherry tree, the reader is taken on a tranquil journey in and around the many natural scenic wonders of Mussoorie that is home for Ruskin Bond. Ruskin Bond lives in Landour with his adopted family, his adopted grandson, whose name also happens to be Rakesh, as does the child protagonist of this short story titled ‘The Cherry Tree’. Other themes highlighted is the resilience of nature, the beauty of creation, Rakesh’s education by his grandfather, the scenic natural beauty of the hill station, and Bond’s relationship with his adopted grandsons and his contribution to Indian children’s fiction over the last seven decades he has spent in the writing profession. Because of his natural lyrical poetry, Ruskin Bond is often called the William Wordsworth of Indian literature. He is unanimously declared to be the nation’s most beloved writer as well.
As the title suggests, we are introduced to the germination of a resilient but stubborn Cherry Tree planted on a whim by the child protagonist Rakesh in his grandfather’s garden. Rakesh’s grandfather, who respected and loved nature, suggested that Rakesh plant the cherry seed as he knew the value of planting trees like Ruskin Bond did. This was to teach his grandson Rakesh a lesson that a greater purpose was served by planting the seed of a tree than by merely preserving the seed without putting it into the soil. In this way, the importance and sustaining quality of trees was highlighted directly and indirectly to Rakesh. He learned that trees are essential for the ecology and nature to renew and refresh itself. The image of Rakesh pushing the cherry seed in the soil is a microcosm of the act of the Creator of Nature. Rakesh would only realize his role as a creator and sustainer of life at the end of the story with the experience of two years behind him.
Rakesh is taught by his grandfather the importance of planting trees that would bring a rich harvest in succeeding years in ways useful to man and add beauty and wonder to the powers of nature. Tending to the Cherry Tree was also hard work which taught Rakesh patience. We see the parallel of nurturing to Ruskin Bond’s own nurturing of relationships and friendships with the people of India, especially little children. We see Bond himself in his own way teaching his love of nature and the hills of India to Rakesh or the children of India, and in turn, he loves it when children learn and grow up in the shadow of nature. Rakesh also grew up in the shadow or shade of the Cherry Tree. We see Ruskin Bond is related more to the Cherry Tree than we care to think. Ruskin Bond was termed an ‘outsider’ because of his English heritage and had to leave India and settle in England. However, home for Ruskin Bond had always been India, especially the Hills of India, and so after a short stay in Europe, he returned to India, never to leave it for decades. He, too, like the ‘foreign’ but yet quite ‘Indian’ cherry tree, tries to push his way hither and thither towards owning his space in India and showing all and sundry that he is more Indian than people think.
Like the cherry tree that despite the many accidents, the harsh weather, and the carelessness of humans finally forms into a decently big tree that is home to many, so too does Bond. Ruskin Bond’s books, stories, essays, novels, novellas, poems, travelogues, and memoirs are a ‘home’ or ‘tree of literature’ that houses the minds and thoughts of many Indians, especially those from the 1990s and early 2000s who adored his children stories. He was a foreign seed like the Kashmiri cherry seed eaten and then sown in the ground by Rakesh. Bond’s relationships with this country quietly affirm him as a writer who is truly Indian.
The grandfather, a retired forest ranger, parallels Ruskin Bond, who tries to educate Rakesh on nature and engages him in reading. The grandfather tells Rakesh stories about people turning into animals, ghosts who lived in trees, beans that jumped, and stones that wept while the boy at his end of the bargain read out the newspaper to his aged grandfather. The grandfather was trying to get the child to love reading which would add to his accomplishments as a student. This was important as Rakesh’s fictional parents allowed him to live with his grandfather to attend school and get a decent education. The grandfather is a constant observer and dear companion to Rakesh and is even present when Rakesh makes the ‘creator’ discovery.
The Cherry Tree was the product of a seed of a half-sweet and half-sour cherry eaten by Rakesh on his way back from the bazaar. The cherry was from Kashmir and so was not a tree that generally grew in Mussoorie. Yet, to defy nature and yet be one with nature, Rakesh sows the seed in the soil. The cherry seed takes a whole year to erupt in a tiny spurt of growth from the soil. That Rakesh remembers it indicates that he was of a romantic and delicate temperament like his grandfather. This showed that he, too, respected and loved nature the way his grandfather did. The Cherry Tree is watered and cared for. However, many struggles come their way in the form of:
- A goat eating the leaves
- A woman cutting grass who cut a significant part of it
- A rough rainy season
But the tree is resilient and continues to defy the odds showing its dignity, nobility, and strength of character. Caring for this tree made Rakesh see its virtues and attributes. When Rakesh, now eight years old, sees the first green praying mantis perched on the branch of the cherry tree, he does not shoo it away but allows it to be. He nurtures the tree and is glad that it has become a good home and resting place for the animal world. When a tree can be a good resting place for even one animal, insect, or bird, it will flourish. The attitude of Rakesh is genial and welcoming but contemplative at the same time, which highlights the writings of Ruskin Bond himself.
The change of seasons is evident from the charming descriptions of scenic beauty that is a delight to the senses and a highlight of most of Ruskin Bond’s literature. Other than the Cherry Tree teaching the value of nature, even the descriptions of the mist in the air during the rainy season or the ferns growing from the roots of the trees during the beginning of the rainy season add color and a sense of tranquility to the short story. The Cherry Tree goes through many stages of growth but transforms every hurdle that comes its way into a stepping stone for further development.
Rakesh as a child is mature, but as he contemplates and reflects over the scene from the branches of the cherry tree, he wonders, like Ruskin Bond probably did, whether seeing the fruits of creation especially filled with hours and days of hard work results in one feeling akin to God. It is a rhetorical question, but when an artist, like a writer, manages to create a character, a fictional world, or a poem, it tends to feel like one has given birth to one’s child, which Ruskin Bond indirectly hints at here. Also, the focus is on the positive aspects of nature and nurturing trees that can aid in children’s moral growth.
The last element is the setting of the short story and its plot. Most of Bond’s stories are set in the Hills of India, and this short story titled ‘The Cherry Tree’ also brings out the natural scenes one could see in 1980s contemporary India. Many hill tribal families still eked out a living growing crops, village children had to travel long distances to go to school, and there was not much technological development in this region right till the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Even the boy Rakesh was sent to live with the grandfather because the school he had to attend was not near his home. There is not much of a plot in this short story because it was mainly meant to be half-autobiographical and set out to portray the simple world of a growing tree to children or young readers. It is considered one of the most loved Ruskin Bond’s nature stories. The only ‘twist’ we see in the text is the allegory of the innocent but wise Rakesh’s words about his planting the cherry tree to be similar to that of God creating the world. This element makes the young reader sit up and take notice leaving a tranquil feeling of contentment after reading and completing the story. It has a magical ring that seems perfect for its role as a bedtime story for the young.
I enjoyed re-reading and analyzing this short story titled ‘The Cherry Tree’ by Anglo-Indian writer Ruskin Bond. A Braille copy of my analysis is available here. I hope to read and analyze more fiction and non-fiction by Ruskin Bond in the coming days. If you want to read more of my reviews of Ruskin Bond’s works, you can check them out here. Ruskin Bond is my second favorite writer of all time. If you wish to know more about this, you can check out my memoirs titled The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra or Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai. I hope to read and review more Indian fiction and especially short stories in the coming days.
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©2022 Fiza Pathan