Book Review: When You Can’t Climb the Trees Anymore by Ruskin Bond

When You Can’t Climb the Trees Anymore is a simple yet engrossing short story by Ruskin Bond. The story underlines a very basic and urgent theme of human lives: searching the memories of old days by going back to the places of youth and childhood and finding those people who once were part of your life every day. It instigates the nostalgia that has been settled within with passage of time. A lot has happened in Mr. Bond’s life. He went to England in hope of becoming a better writer and how he lost all his friends from Dehra is still a misty thing for him to recollect as separation of friends happened so gradually that one cannot remember the dates, especially when someone has more than couple of friends.

Bond comes down to the city of Dehra from Mussoorie. He knows that many of his friends have either moved to other cities in the pursuit of career and some have died prematurely. Well, he remembers Miss Pettibone: a very old lady whom he used to visit often. He hikes toward her home after buying some gifts for her. As he approaches the cottage, the smile on his face dies; there he sees a strange barrenness and the garden in the front of the cottage has grown into a jungle full of wild grass and other thorny bushes. From the postman, Bond comes to know that she died three years ago in utter helplessness and no one came to see or help her. And now some of her relatives are fighting for the possession of her cottage. He feels guilty for not seeing her after leaving Dehra.

Next, as he walks upward the Astley Hall building where he once lived on a rented room with his funny friend Sitaram. In the balcony he sees the familiar plants and pots that once belonged to him; they all were brought by Sitaram. On an impulse he moves upstairs to see them. At the knock, the door is opened by Sitaram. They both delight upon finding each other and the Sitaram narrates his Shimla story and how did he get married to Radha. Sitaram was no more a bachelor like Bond. He fell in love with a girl who used to work in the adjoining building.

Thereafter, he moves to his grandmother’s bungalow. He had spent a lot of time with her, especially during summer vacation. After her death the bungalow was sold to someone else. Bond doesn’t know who owns it now but he still remembers the trees; some of them were planted by him. He observes the familiar trees and other things while losing himself in the flood of memories. Soon, a boy, aged around twelve, comes to the gate and asks him the reason for staring at his home. Bond says that once this house belonged to him. The boy, understanding his feelings, invites him inside. Bond comes in by climbing the wall in remembrance of his childhood days. They both sit on a bench beneath the mango tree. Bond says that he loves the Jackfruit tree and around forty years ago he placed a cross on it which was brought by his grandfather from Germany who fought the WW-II. The boy insists him to climb the tree to look for it but Bond knows that he is no more a kid of that era. So, he refuses to climb the tree. The boy brimming with energy of growing years climbs up the tree and brings down a rusted iron cross. It was the same cross Bond had placed there. The boy gives it to him but Bond refuses to take and says before leaving that he came here to find the lost youth, not the cross.