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Book Review: The Adventures of Toto by Ruskin Bond

Grandfather’s Private Zoo is a very popular novella about animals by Ruskin Bond. The targeted audiences of this story are children of India. And for this reason, this story has been included in the syllabus of many schools across the country. As a matter of fact, wherever you find animal-related stories in Ruskin Bond books, it means there is his grandfather. You may find him either in the story or in the memory of the narrator i.e. Ruskin himself.


So, before understanding the animal stories of Ruskin Bond, you must peek into the character of his grandfather.

Character Sketch of Ruskin’s Grandfather in Grandfather’s Private Zoo

After reading many stories about animals written by Ruskin Bond, you will realize that his animal stories are incomplete without the mentioning of his grandfather. Since most of the animals’ stories are of that time when Ruskin was a young boy, thus it indicates that grandpa wasn’t too old. Had he been too old, he would have not kept animals at his home or indulged with them.

Coming to his nature, grandpa was mentally cool and composed person. He loved nature and of course animals. Many a time grandpa was summoned to help the hunters (coming from plain areas like Delhi, Lucknow or Punjab) going for long expeditions. Grandpa was also a wildlife enthusiast, thus he held vast knowledge about animals dwelling place in the jungles of the Himalayan forests. He went for Shikar party quite a number of times but he never killed any animal or bird because he loved animals and an animal lover could never cause harm to its subject. In a sense, he was simple and unpretentious.

Since grandpa couldn’t be away in the jungles all time; hence, he created a small private zoo at his place. He lived in Dehradun along with his wife, and during school holidays Ruskin would come to stay with him. Other than being interested in the animals, he too had a soft corner for animals. He had never beaten or ill-behaved with animals. Instead he saved animals from being mocked or hurt by people. For instance once he saw a pretty monkey tied to a feeding-trough by a tonga-driver, the monkey looked limited there; thus he bought as well as brought it home. He did the same thing with a python.

Grandmother never liked his animals and the private zoo. She loathed almost all his animals and birds. On the other hand, grandpa, despite being protested by her, always used to find brilliance in animals. None of the animals he brought home were decent or helper – rather they mocked guests and did damage to house commodities. Whenever any animal crossed the limit of indecency or caused unbearable trouble to grandma, he would then silently pack that animal and send it to its previous owner or sold to someone else or leave it in the faraway jungle. He tried keeping a variety of animals and his deepest desire was to make them friends with one another. Well, it didn’t happen, animals are not like us.

Many students favourite animal from Grandfather’s Private Zoo is Toto, the Monkey. Read on to know why…

Toto is a name of monkey. Grandfather finds it a pretty monkey which was getting bored in the custody of a tonga-driver. Toto was tied to a feeding-trough and there was something extra about it that it looked out of place to grandpa. He buys it from that tonga-driver at the price of five. Since we all know that grandma doesn’t like animals brought home by grandfather, thus this time he keeps the monkey in a closet attached to young Ruskin’s bedroom till grandma comes in a state of good mood. They tie Toto with a peg rigged in the wall.  After some hours when they return, they find the closest in mess, Toto has peeled off all the wallpapers and turned Ruskin’s blazer into shreds. Upon seeing this grandfather says that Toto is clever. Well, he is way clever beyond their anticipation.

Next, Toto is transferred to servants’ quarters in a big cage. There he screamed and made noise all night. As a result none of the other animals, which were living amiably till now, could sleep peacefully.

Grandfather has to go to Saharanpur immediately to collect his pension. He cannot think of leaving Toto behind because of grandma’s terror. She has yet to accept Toto. So, he carries it along with him in a canvas bag. Well, at the ticket counter Toto pops out of the bag and grandpa has to buy a ticket for him as well. That time it was mandatory to buy ticket for dog if found travelling with its owner. Though Toto is a monkey but is never a size less than a dog.

When grandmother accepts Toto, he is given a proper room in the stable, and there he is sharing space with Nana, the donkey. Since the very first day they behaved like strangers. They aren’t friends at all. In winter Toto is given a big bowl of hot water for bath. Before getting into it, he will check the temperature with a finger. After bath he will go straight to the kitchen fire place.

One day Toto jumps into the tea kettle placed over fire – when the temperature rises, he feels the heat, well on time grandmother pulls him out. Toto is good at breaking dishes, plates, and other costly items of house. And to guests, he is like a monster. He makes faces to guests.

One day family people find him eating pulao on the dining table. When grandma shouts at him, he throws plates at her. And then one of the Aunts rushes towards Toto, he throws water in her face. Soon, with the dish, he goes out through the window and sits on the tree in the garden. After having eaten the pulao, he throws the dish down to the verandah to tease grandma. Toto takes great pleasure in troubling and teasing humans, especially ladies. For trouble-making he has child-like affinity. He is way indecent to be kept as a pet, thus one day grandpa sells him back to the tonga-driver at a loss of two rupees.

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