The book “Song of the Forest: Tales From Here, There and Everywhere” by Ruskin Bond brings together the very best tales he has written in the twenty-first century.
The book starts with the title story, ‘Song of the Forest’, which has never been published before, and includes extraordinary pieces of fiction like ‘A Man Called Brain’, ‘Rhododendrons in the Mist’, and ‘Miracle at Happy Bazaar’.
Dazzling, comic, and gripping, this book is the latest masterpiece from India’s most beloved writer.
Read the complete short story ‘Crossing the Road’, that has been excerpted from the book.
Samuel was a snail of some individuality. Some considered him to be the bad snail in the family, but that was because he did not listen to his elders and liked to do things in his own way, trying out new plants or venturing into forbidden places. Birds and butterflies recognized no man-made borders, so why should snails? They’d been around longer than humans and were likely to be around even longer.
Not that Samuel had any global ambitions. It was just that the cabbage patch in which he and his fellow snails had been living did not appeal to him any more. He was heartily sick of cabbage leaves. And just across a busy road—his international boundary—was a field full of delicious looking lettuce. And any snail would prefer lettuce to cabbage.
The trouble was, it was a very busy road, linking one city to another, and on it flowed a constant stream of cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, vans, even the occasional steamroller. Samuel did not like the idea of being crushed under a steamroller. There were better ways of exiting planet Earth—being swallowed by a large stork, for instance.
And then, of course, snails can’t run. With the help of a little of their own juices, they glide slowly and leisurely over grass and weed and pebbles, in search of a juicy leaf or the company of a fellow snail. They were not made to run. They are not predators like the larger carnivores. Nor do they prey on each other like humans. They are all for minding their own business. And now here was Samuel, making it his business to invade that lettuce patch on the other side of the road.
Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And ignoring the warnings of friends and familiars, Samuel set out to cross that life-threatening road. He could, of course, have waited until it was dark, but the road would have been no safer then. A constant stream of container trucks came thundering down the highway all through the night.
Tentacles waving, he began his stately crawl across the road.
Almost immediately he was nearly run over by a boy on a bicycle. Instinctively, Samuel withdrew into his little shell. Not that it would have made any difference. It might have protected him from a small bird, but not from a cycle tyre.
Samuel looked up and down the road. It was a single width road, and vehicles could approach from either direction. It appeared to be clear at the moment.
Samuel advanced, covering a distance of some twelve inches in sixty seconds flat.
Then—woosh—a car sped by, its tyres missing Samuel by inches. He was almost blown away by a cloud of dust and exhaust fumes.
And then came another car. Samuel cringed. And survived. And wondered if he should turn around and go back the way he came. But snails aren’t great thinkers. The lettuce patch was all that mattered.
Samuel had advanced by two or three feet when there came a deep rumbling sound and he felt the ground quiver beneath him. A huge truck was bearing down on him!
Sometimes it is an advantage to be small. Samuel was somewhere in the middle of the road, and nowhere near the wheels when the truck thundered over him. All the same he was dazed and shaken, unable to move any further. Soon another truck would be coming along. Or was it a tractor that was chugging along towards him?
Just then there was a squeal of brakes, a blare of horns, and a tremendous crash. The truck had hit an oncoming car and both had veered off the road and were lying in a ditch. For a time all traffic ceased. Samuel emitted a slimy jet and began to crawl again. Then there was a burst of activity.
A motorcycle came tearing down the road, whizzing past a bewildered Samuel, and then stopping at the accident site. A policeman dismounted. In the distance a siren wailed. An ambulance was on its way.
And then it began to rain, a gentle patter on the tarmac. Refreshed, Samuel slid forward. The rain came down harder, and a fallen peepul leaf came sailing towards Samuel. It stopped beside him and Samuel crawled to the leaf. A spurt of rainwater picked up the leaf and sent it sailing across the remainder of the road and onto the grass verge.
Samuel was home if not dry.
The lettuce field stretched before him. Motor horns and ambulance sirens melted into the distance. Humans could take care of themselves. So could snails! It would take him weeks to munch his way through a small corner of that lettuce patch, but he was going to try. To the winner the spoils!
The rain stopped and he began his feast.
The lettuce was all right, but it wasn’t much better than the cabbage field he had left a little over an hour ago. Had the journey been worthwhile? Could he cross that road again? The odds were against survival.
He’d just have to settle down in this new and unfamiliar world. The grass is always greener on the other side—until you get there!
Excerpted with permission from Song of the Forest: Tales From Here, There and Everywhere, Ruskin Bond, Aleph Book Company. Read more about the book here and buy it here.