Death of the Trees by Ruskin Bond
In Death of the Trees by Ruskin Bond we have the theme of loss, progress, powerlessness, change, conflict and acceptance. Taken from his Collected Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Bond may be exploring the theme of loss. The trees outside the narrator’s home are to be removed. To give way for a new bypass. It is as though the world that the narrator once knew is changing forever due to the loss of the trees. No longer is his world as private or as serene as it once was nor will it ever be quiet again due to the traffic that will travel on the bypass. Not only are the trees to be lost but the narrator’s peace of mind is also lost. The sounds that he was once accustomed to (the birds) are no longer such is the progress that is being made by the development of the road. If anything it is possible that Bond is suggesting that not only does the narrator find the change that is occurring difficult but he may also be powerless to do anything about what is happening.
It may also be important that the narrator wants to move rather than see what is happening to his home. However in all likelihood he accepts that it will probably be only a matter of time before things change regardless of where he moves to. Only the mountain will remain at least for the time being. The loss the narrator feels is also matched by the loss of his brother in a traffic accident. It is as though everything that is familiar to the narrator and everything that brought him peace is changing and he does not have a say in matters. If anything the narrator is forced to accept the conditions he finds himself in. Whether he likes it or not. Something which might play further on the element of powerlessness that the narrator feels. His world is being turned upside down in the name of progress (not the narrator’s). It is also interesting that the narrator equates the growth of the walnut trees to Prem’s little son Rakesh. It is as though he sees both developing naturally and unhindered as nature should be allowed to develop. However the reality is that the narrator is not only in conflict with himself but also with the PWD.
The PWD are an organization that does not feel as the narrator feels. They do not register the narrator’s grievance nor do they most likely understand it. Their goal is simple. To build a bypass to improve commerce. At no stage in the story does the reader suspect that the PWD have any concern for the narrator or how distraught he may be about the felling of all the trees. Something which just increases the tension or conflict within the narrator. The narrator is simply one individual while the PWD is an organization. It is an unfair battle that the narrator has no hope in winning. Again there is a sense that the narrator is powerless and forced to accept the changes that have been thrust upon him. In the narrator’s eyes life would be simpler if there was no bypass being built. If no trees were being felled. It is also possible that Bond is attempting to suggest that with change or progress comes those who might be considered victims of change or progress. Though the bypass will be a relief to most people. This is not the case when it comes to the narrator.
What is also interesting about the story is how simply the narrator lives. Things that other people would take for granted, like the trees and the birds singing, mean a lot to the narrator. They are part of his life. Which is being dramatically uprooted by the PWD. The trees are not the only thing that are being felled but the narrator’s life is changing for the worse too. No longer will he have the simple life he likes so much but rather there will be an influx of traffic and people which will only result in disturbing the narrator’s life more than it needs to be disturbed. The narrator is a man of the mountains and he knows that life will never be the same again. It is also interesting that the narrator briefly thinks about opening a tea shop. However the thought is fleeting. In reality the narrator will find it hard to adjust to his new surroundings. Having lived his life in a peaceful and quiet environment. At the end of the story the reader realises that the narrator can only lament what is happening. There is absolutely nothing that he can do to halt the building of the bypass.