The five tales of danger and adventure in this collection have feisty characters that live life on the edge and combat grave situations with inspiriting courage. “Earthquake” is a semi-historic record of the tremors that convulsed Assam in the late nineteenth century.
The narrator’s family is displaced and devastated, but see themselves through the crisis with courage as they reflect, “We’re the lucky ones! We’re alive, aren’t we?” In contrast is the character of little Romi in “Riding through the Flames” who throws a gauntlet of challenge towards Nature when he fearlessly rides through a burning jungle on his new bicycle which has endowed him with a sense of power.
The narration is fast-paced and engaging and the content is exploratory. “A Flight of Pigeons”, an extract from a novella by the same name, is a slice of socio-political history set in Shahjahanpur in 1857, an eventful year in Indian history. The central protagonist, Ruth Labadoor displays rare mettle while nursing her wounded father and an uncommon dignity while in hiding. “Escape from Java” moves out of the precincts of civil disturbances and enters the realm of the Second World War realistically depicted with imperialist rulers and Japanese fighter-planes set to alter power equations and territorial boundaries. A seaplane is the means by which the narrator and his father escape from war-torn Djakarta before they spend a couple of days in a dinghy; sun-burnt and parched with whales for company. The story has elements of adventure that are sure to make for fascinating reading for young boys.
“Sita and the River” is a particularly noteworthy story since Ruskin Bond has admitted that it was the first ever story that he wrote specifically for children. Sita and her friend Vijay are dislodged from their rustic bliss by the flooding of a river. Their experiences which follow this incident make up the content of the story which is marked with meticulous description, tension, terror, fantasy and a happy ending with a reasonable measure of didacticism.
The collection weaves in nuggets of history, geography and nature study with a sprinkling of Bond’s inimitable de facto humor and homespun philosophy making it a wholesome reading fare.