A Face in the Dark by Ruskin Bond
A word about the author .. Ruskin Bond is a story teller par excellence. An Englishman by birth, he chose to make India his homeland and his canvass to pant his imagery of astounding effect. He lived in and around Simla, near the foothills of the Himalayas, and used the simple rustic environment and the rural folks to weave his short stories. He has written stories manly for the young readers, but the grown-ups find them gripping too. This is why, Bond is a household name in India. His English wife left him, unable to live in the lonely cottage amidst the mountain forests. The author was devastated, but didn’t abandon his passion for writing. He found solace in the charm of the rural surroundings which gave him interminable ideas for his stories.
This short story hits the reader like a lightening as he reaches the end. It is a ghost story that catches the reader off guard.
The story ..
Mr. Oliver, an Englishman, teaches in a school fashioned in the true British aristocratic style, where the children of the affluent Indians studied. Unlike their counterparts in most other schools, they wore blazers, caps and ties. It was undoubtedly a premier institution, renowned far and wide. Some likened it to the famed British school Eton.
It was situated some three miles away from the small town Shimla Bazar. A thicket of pine trees stretched between the town and the school. At night, when wind blew, the darkness combined with the mild hustling of the tree leaves to create a feeling of mysterious unease among the locals. So, none dared to tread the road that passed through the forest.
Mr. Oliver was a bachelor. He had no such fear. He used to return to his quarters in the school compound late every night. Defying the caution of the locals, he, with a torch in hand, chose to walk through this forbidden road on his way from the bazaar to the school. It was his daily errand.
One evening, when the darkness had enveloped the whole area, he was walking along the lonely road that cut through the cluster of pine trees. His torch’s beam swung from side to side as he moved along.
His eyes fell on a boy seated on a tump. The boy seemed to be crying inconsolably, apparently stricken by intense grief. His body convulsed as he wept. He had a cap on his head that hid a good portion of his face.
Mr. Oliver was as curious as he was surprised to see a boy seated in such a lonely place in total darkness. His curiosity rose sharply, as he found that the boy was weeping so miserably. Mr. Oliver wanted to find out why the boy was there in the first place. The boy didn’t reply to Mr. Oliver’s questions. The latter approached the boy, removed his hand from the face, and peered at him. To his intense horror, he discovered that the head had no ears, no nose, and no mouth: it was just a ball of flesh. Mr. Oliver was awestruck. A chill ran through his spine.
He began to run with intense panic. Fortunately, there was a man walking at a short distance with a lamp in hand. Mr. Oliver approached him, hoping to unburden himself. The man inquired what made the Englishman so distraught. In a trembling voice, Mr. Oliver narrated what he had seen a little earlier – the featureless head that was just a sphere of flesh. The pedestrian nonchalantly exposed his own face, and asked if the boy’s head was similar to his. The man’s head also no nose, eyes or ears.
Mr. Oliver was frozen dead, with fear.
- Describe how the author has created a feeling of suspense and awe in the minds of the readers before giving the final turn when a thunder of fear and shock strikes them.
Ruskin Bond is a master weaver of plots that make his stories so gripping. In this story, he prepares his un-suspecting readers by slowly building up the suspense. The school is far away from the town, and the Englishman has to cross a stretch of pine forest each night to reach his room in the school premises. The rustling sound made by the trees drives fear even among the locals. The Englishman is armed just with a torch. He stumbles upon a boy sitting atop a mound crying helplessly. This is a very unusual sight. When he exposes his face to the curious Englishman, the latter is aghast to see just a lump of flesh with no ear, nose or mouth. The shell-shocked Englishman flees from the place, but the villager he encounters to narrate the strange sight has more horror waiting for him. He unveils his face in the dark, and it is the same featureless flesh ball that he had seen earlier.
No human being can withstand such back-to-back shock. It’s like a thunder strike that would fell even the bravest humans. This is the artistry of the author.
2. Describe Mr. Oliver as a person.
Answer .. Mr. Oliver led a bachelor’s life. This enabled him to roam outside late into the evening and return to his room after night fell. He was not superstitious and so the fear of the jungle at night prevalent among the locals didn’t deter him from walking through the thicket after dusk. He was both curious and kind. This is why he approached the boy seated on the rock piece. As most human beings would react, he fled the place in horror seeing the bizarre face of the boy. The second encounter with a passer-by was a double whammy for Oliver. At the end, Oliver emerges as a normal human being, carefree and rational.