Meet an Unlikely Zen Master: Zen Moments #4

“I had a discussion with a great master in Japan, and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English, and he said, “That’s a waste of time. If you really understand Zen, you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because the sound of the rain needs no translation.”~Alan Watts

Ruskin Bond is one of my most favorite authors. He writes with a Zen like simplicity. His simple life (the kind of life I admire) gets reflected in his writing. Though he is more famous as a children’s writer, I am rather fond of his books that are a part of his memoirs. It seems that some people have a very interesting life & meet more interesting people or rather it is their observation power n the talent to spin tales about the incidents which we might just take in our stride without particularly reflecting over them or finding anything extraordinary in them, that makes the stories of these people so special. Ruskin Bond is one such person.  I recently read his book “The Parrot who wouldn’t talk & other stories’, on one sunny winter afternoon. I read this book in one sitting & by the time I finished it, I was in raptures, totally enthralled.

Ruskin Bond says ‘I think everyone has at least one eccentric aunt or uncle in the family, I had more than one. My boyhood days were enlivened by them.’

The Just Jacket reads ‘India’s best loved children’s writer Ruskin Bond introduces us to some of the most endearing and adorable characters he has ever written about-his grandfather with his unusual ability to disguise himself as the street vendor, carpenter or washerman; the eccentric & ubiquitous uncle Ken, with his knack for disastrous escapades; the stationmaster Mr. Ghosh and his family comprising of several white mice; and Aunt Ruby, whose encounter with a parrot who wouldn’t talk will make you burst with laughter!

Heartwarming, funny & delightful, these stories are marked by Bond’s inimitable style & trademark humor.’

In the introduction of this book Bond says

“Gentle Reader,

I’d like to meet some of my friends and relatives. These are the important ones:

Grandfather, a man of many gifts, and good company for a growing boy.

Granny, who made great gooseberry Jam & looked after everyone.

Uncle Ken, who got into some strange situations and needed his nephew’s help in getting out of them.

Mr. Oliver, Scoutmaster & schoolmaster.

There are others too, including your author as a boy.

I wrote most of these stories in Mussoorie , during a particular severe winter. As I sat by the fire, the ghost of long-gone relatives crowded around me, demanding that I write something about them.”

One of my most favorite stories in the collection is ‘Bicycle Ride with Uncle Ken’ (though I love all the stories in the book, I must confess I am partial towards the one with Uncle Ken, he gets into some real funny situation & the ones with him are the most hilarious). Young Bond & his uncle go for one of their long bicycle rides & see a ‘Rest & Recuperation Center’..thinking that it is a kind of hotel or hostel, they go in for refreshments, the uncle is eager to meet the inmates…not realizing that it is actually a lunatic asylum, uncle Ken decides to play along with the inmates, all of whom claim to be somebody famous, one is Tansen & another is Prathvi Raj Chauhan and yet another is Napolean. When they see a man in white coat approaching the enthusiastic Uncle Ken playfully says ‘You must be Dr. Freud’ & the Doctor replies ‘Nope, I am Dr. Goel, you must be our new patient’, this is the most hilarious moment in the story, it is only after much pleading & when the real new patient arrives that uncle Ken is let off.

In ‘At sea with Uncle Ken’, the uncle falls in love with a girl aboard a ship & is left behind at a remote place when he is accompanying her to a shopping spree at a stop. Such are the absurd situation Uncle Ken always manages to get himself & others into. At another time he put the very young Bond (9/10 yrs of age) on a wrong train. As Bond says, ‘With Uncle Ken you always expect the unexpected’.

Along with humor, the book is also filled with quiet wisdom & some Zen like observations, sample this:

‘A bicycle provides it’s rider with a great amount of freedom. A car will take you farther, but the fact that you’re sitting in confined space detracts from the freedom of open spaces and unfamiliar roads. On a cycle you can feel the breeze on your face, smell the mango trees in blossom on your face, slow down and gaze at the buffaloes wading in the ponds, or just stop anywhere and get down & enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of sugarcane juice. Footslogging takes time, and cars are too fast-everything whizzes past before you can take a second look-and car drivers hate to stop; they are intent only on reaching their destinations in good time. But a bicycle is just right for someone who likes to take a leisurely look at the World.’ Now isn’t this top class Zen attitude?

The stories are also filled with ample wisdom though they are definitely not moralizing. The wisdom is subtle & I think this form of wisdom works the fastest & most effectively. In the story ‘Parrot who wouldn’t talk’, aunt Ruby buys a parrot, as talking parrots were very fashionable in those days, she tries to teach her parrot talking, but the parrot refuses to oblige, in anger & frustration Aunt Ruby repeatedly tells the parrot, ‘you are no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’ The young Bond feeds the parrot everyday & one day feeling sorry for it, releases it from it’s cage. It looks like the parrot has grown fond of Bond, so after being freed, it flies regularly into the balcony & sits on Bond’s shoulders & takes feed from him. When aunt Ruby comes the parrot speaks to her & what does it say to her?? ‘You are no beauty! Can’t talk, can’t sing, can’t dance!’ …so it has learned talking after all. Isn’t life like this too? A boomerang, an echo, whatever we give out to the world, is returned to us, in due course. I am not very sure whether Bond wanted us to take this lesson or not, but the story spoke to me of that apart from being a good natured, humorous tale.

Reading this collection made me hungry for more..I am taking out my old books, ‘The Lamp is Lit’ & one more that is missing from my collection, I am frantically searching for it, I am looking forward to spending many more delightful afternoons lost in the world of this (unlikely) Zen Master!!


February 13, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , . Book Review, Books, Reading, Reflections/Musings, Simplicity, Zen.


  1. Chico replied:

    Reblogged this on Red Rock Crossing and commented:
    Zen Buddhism is one that refuses to be categorized or explicitly defined.

  2. Zen & The Joy of Cooking: Zen Moments #5 « Ritu’s Weblog replied:

    […] Meet an Unlikely Zen Master: Zen Moments #4 […]

  3. The Great Fool of Zen Rokyan: Zen Moments #7 « Ritu’s Weblog replied:

    […] Meet an Unlikely Zen Master: Zen Moments #4 ( […]

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