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‘Can’t Climb Trees Anymore’ is a short story written by Ruskin Bond. It traces the emotions of a middle-aged man upon chancing a glimpse at his childhood house, the nostalgia that rushes through him upon the knowledge that he was, in fact, not the young boy he had once been.
About the Author:
Ruskin Bond (1934-) is an eminent Anglo-Indian author. He is known for his short stories and his contribution to children’s literature. He is also the recipient of multiple awards, including Padma Shri in 1999. Famous works of his include ‘The Room of the Roof’, ‘Cherry Tree’, and ‘The Blue Umbrella’.
The theme of this short story is nostalgia. The man in the story wishes to go back in time to his childhood days. Him returning to see his old house is an attempt to relive those glorious days once again. Nature can also be observed to be a theme here.
The Old House:
The story begins with a man whose name had not been revealed throughout the entirety of the story. He is seen to be staring at an old house, or rather, the garden there and the trees in it. From his descriptions, it can be understood that he had once lived in the very same house years back. He reminisces over the trees there, or the lack thereof. He identifies that his favourite jackfruit tree was still present however, minus the swing he played on as a boy. Nothing much seemed to had changed. Yet, the changes he sees seem enormous.
As the man keeps staring, a young girl comes out to question him. He explains that he had come there simply to look at how his old house was. She invites him, stating that her parents had gone out and that she was allowed to have friends over, even the middle-aged man she was presently talking to. Suddenly conscious of his age, he decides to prove himself that he was still very much like the young boy he used to be. His attempt to climb over the wall and his subsequent exhaustion, however, was disappointing to him.
Sitting with the girl in the garden sends a bout of memories crashing through the man. He remembers his childhood days, the mango tree, and even the sounds that had accompanied those times. He proceeds to tell the girl how the jackfruit tree had been his favourite and how he had climbed it all the time. This part of the story is rather bittersweet as the persona, no doubt cherished the happy memories, is still anguished that he cannot return to them ever again.
He then goes on to tell the girl how he had loved to collect things and stash them away in an hollow in the jackfruit tree. He states how he had even stored away his grandfather’s Iron Cross, which had been given to him by a German Soldier. The young girl then figures that it should still be there upon learning that he had left it there. She volunteers to look for it and successfully retrieves it, which by then had become rusty. The man gives it to her, insisting that she had earned it and leaves, his eyes and heart both crying out for the youth the girl possessed, the youth he himself had lost.
This is a story that induces bittersweet childhood memories. The man is a representation of people who long to return to their younger self, to retain the youth the young girl possessed. The author successfully brings this out by portraying an interesting conversation between an unlikely duo- a middle-aged man and a young, youthful girl.