Ghostly Tales from the Indian Hills by Ruskin Bond: Book Review by Asha Seth

Author: Ruskin Bond | Genre: Horror, Indian Literature | Pages: 207 | Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Vintage storyteller Ruskin Bond has created some unforgettable characters in his novels and stories, but perhaps the most memorable and unusual among them are the ghosts and spirits he has encountered. These ghosts are not always horrific; they are mysterious and often benevolent, or lonely creatures looking for company among humans. Collected in these pages are new stories written specifically for this volume—including Captain Young’s Ghost—and classics such as A Face in the Dark and The Haunted Bicycle. Here you will find the spirit of a captain from the British army who returns to the town he founded and rues the lack of Irish whisky; a little boy, long dead, who continues to guide passers-by on treacherous mountain routes; a heartbroken young girl of long ago who seduces young men with her song, and another who longs for a family and some friends.
Set in the hills and foothills of North India—the perfect haunt for ghosts and spirits—this collection by the master storyteller will leave you spellbound. 

Click on image to buy ‘Captain Young’s Ghost: Ghostly Tales from the Indian Hills’

“Late last night, I heard some long dead residents of Ivy Cottage having tea and gossiping in the living room again. They’ve been doing this every other night, and I usually leave them in peace. But yesterday, they interrupted a very pleasant dream, so I called out to them from my bed, asking them to shut up, and they did.”

Ruskin Bond

And so starts one of the most-loved authors of all time, Mr Ruskin Bond, with his exquisite treat to his readers, just before Halloween 2018.

This book couldn’t have entered my life at a better time! I am traveling to the exact same hills this month and reading this book was such a welcome experience. Now, I can’t wait to explore the mentioned places sooner. But alas, my flights are scheduled!

Captain Young’s ghost and other tales from the Indian hills is a collection of some of the best horror stories till date. These stories; even though listed under horror, are barely so. It has about 20 short stories, each about 4-5 pages long. The stories have their worlds rooted in the valleys and hills of Mussoorie, famous as the Queen of Indian Hill Stations. Some of them are from in and around Landour, Barlowganj, Dehra, Chamba, etc. All of these places are ones where the author has either visited or stayed.

Review also available on: Instagram | Goodreads | Amazon

The stories capture the essence of the Himalayan foothills beautifully. One would want to travel to those places and lose themselves there indefinitely. The soothing aura, the mesmerising views, the friendly locals are all too inviting to miss. The tales are about these places that are also the haunts of ghosts since centuries.

In an old bar, Captain Young, our titular character appears infrequently so that he can visit the city he founded. On windy nights, Julie leaves her grave to go to parties with strangers. Binya sings beautiful songs of the valley to lure and seduce young travellers. Gulabi, betrayed and heartbroken, jumps off a cliff into the depths of the valley, every night. Michael, a young cheerful boy, rides on his bicycle whistling at turns to save passers from mishaps. Rose, buried under a tree leaves our hero a rose under his pillow. Colonel Wilkie, an old man visits his regular bar minutes after his death to get his pipe.

These are some of the sweetest horror stories you will come across. The ghosts aren’t creepy or sinister. They don’t jump at you but the author introduces you to them very subtly. These departed souls are more like long lost friends, sweet and caring. They don’t have a gothic or an eerie feel about them but are very human, depicting human traits of the want of company, attention, affection, and full of longing for happy times. Some stories had scary elements such as the atmosphere of ‘Incident at the Morgue’, the ghost of ‘Face Beneath the Pillow’, the haunted showpiece skull from ‘The Skull’ or the dreadful cat from ‘The Chakrata Cat’. Even these evil stories have a touch of elegance and less sinisterly vibes. Just the slight shivers is all that help these stories qualify as horror.

‘What do you do?’
‘I write stories.’
‘Do people buy stories?’
‘Why not? If your father can sell bread, I can sell stories.’
‘People must have bread. They can live without stories.’
‘No, Hameeda, you’re wrong. People can’t live without stories.’

Bond is at its best once again, casting a bewitching spell on readers in his trademark simple yet beguiling writing style with the most exotic choice of words to bring alive the places, the haunts, the ghosts, the stories for his readers. One thing that was rather confounding was the first person narrative that made it difficult for me to tell if this was fiction or a memoir. I’d like to believe it is the latter which will then just add so much more thrill and excitement as I am soon visiting all of those places in person. Even if it is otherwise, I guess one can only deeply revel in the imaginative prowess of the writing prodigy Mr Bond is.

Ghostly Tales from the Indian Hills is a collection of short, poignant, stories for all. Especially, if you aren’t a horror lover. Someone asked me, “You read horror so much. Recommend a horror book that isn’t scary.” And my answer is this. This is a good place to begin if you are someone who gets the chills at even the thought of reading horror tales. I promise, these will leave you asking for more.

Have you read ‘Ghostly Tales from the Indian Hills?

Happy reading till we meet next. Until then, carpe diem! 

* * * * *