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Book Review: Untouchable by Ruskin Bond

Untouchable by Ruskin Bond is a short story throwing light on the social division based on the caste system in India. Ruskin is alone in his house because his father has fallen sick due to malaria and got admitted in the hospital. The kids in the neighborhood don’t like him and vice versa. Thus, he doesn’t play with them or they with him. He remains alone and aloof. To help him in the house work, there is a sweeper boy who routinely sprinkles water on the window and doormats to keep the house air cool. Ruskin describes the sweeper boy of his age, around ten. He remains in khaki knickers, upper body bare and brunt with the sun, and naked feet. He is extremely black but his teeth are white.

His main job is to fetch water from the water tank and sprinkle water around the homes during summer. Also, performs other homely chores. Every time he sees Ruskin, the boy shows his full white teeth. Ruskin feeling odd and irritated always shouts at him and says, ‘Get out’. Since Ruskin is a son of a sahib, in fact all the sons of Sahibs are not allowed to mingle up with the children of sweeper, ayahs, cooks and whosoever belongs to the servant homes.

Since Ruskin is alone, he is afraid of darkness, especially sleeping in the darkness. One night before sleep, upon seeing a centipede on the wall, he screams and jumps on his bed in fear. The sweeper boy comes immediately, takes one of the books from his table, and kills the centipede instantly. After that he smiles and goes back to the servant quarter. Soon after he is gone, the wind outside becomes fierce and thunderclap occurs regularly. Ruskin is growing scared – even the susurration of wind is causing a strange and horrible scratching on his windowpane. Unable to control anymore, he runs hither thither and enters the room of the sweeper boy. There they both sit down quietly – Ruskin notices the deplorable condition of the room and commiserates with his life. When the thunder claps strike, the sweeper boy says that monsoon has arrived. Then they both smile at each other. Arrival of monsoon is good news for the hardworking sweeper boy. Henceforward, he will not be sprinkling water on others door and window mats. It is worth noting that both children are of same age but they can’t play together, can’t stay in the same house, one is a school goer whereas the other is his servant. The message with this story is strong: social discrimination.


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