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Book Review: The Playing Fields of Shimla by Ruskin Bond

Probably, the short story ‘The Playing Fields of Shimla’ is based on some part of Ruskin’s life. In the story, it is given that the narrator, a boy of around ten, (Ruskin himself) becomes dull and melancholy in life after losing his father two years ago, and his mother is married to someone else. So, in a sense, he is like a complete orphan with no moral support.

But in some way, he is happy being in a boarding school in Shimla. In the school, he made no friends and spending time roaming here and there – passing time with nature. Other boys of the boarding school are rowdy who believe in torturing teachers by different ways. Clearly, no match for a silent chap like Ruskin.

Then, he begins noticing a silent boy like him, his name is Omar. He too does not mingle with others. Ruskin senses that he may be a fatherless chap like him. They find a bonding being developing between both of them. But the rules of the boarding school aren’t lax enough to allow them for mingling. They both belong to different houses – so they cannot be friends. However, soon they participate in a hockey match – they are in one team. Ruskin as a goalkeeper and Omar as a full back. This is the point when their conversation starts and they become good friends.

In the backyard of the premises, they discover a hidden tunnel that goes outside. They sit there for hours conversing about WW-II and other topics but mostly about books. While searching more about the history of the school, Ruskin finds his father’s name ‘Aubrey Alexandra’ inscribed on the merit list of the school. He graduated from the same school.

The story dates back to pre-independence days. When India is about to get its independence, the county passes through partition pain. The need for another nation called Pakistan arose and that was the time when riots broke in otherwise peaceful Shimla. Omar is from Karachi. Omar and other Muslim boys are sent to Karachi in a military truck as per the arrangements. Ruskin is left behind, again aloof and alone.

After that he didn’t hear from Omar. Ruskin wrote him many letters but to no avail. Many years later when India was at war with Pakistan in 1965, Ruskin hears of a jet plane shot down by the Indian Air Force and the pilot of the plane was Omar. Ruskin is of the opinion that while flying over the fields of Punjab, Omar’s heart must have been filled with the memories that some part of his life, especially childhood, was spent in this country. It must have been difficult for him to bomb the place where he spent his days of childhood.

This story takes a deep and meaningful stance on friendship. How political circumstances force people to part unwittingly and play their destinies against the rhythm of the life.


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