India was fraught with the unrestrained atrocities of the Raj(British rule), when Ruskin Bond was born to British parents. He lived in Jam Nagar (Gujrat) and Dehradun and had an elite British-style secondary education in traditional schools at Shimla and Mussoorie. But upon independence, in an event something of a rarity, he chose to spend the major chunk of his life in India, rather than migrate to Britain. Since then, he has been a witness to great deal of India’s trials and tribulations. A reclusive literary genius, he has been an author of plethora of masterly carved novels, stories, essays and poems. His works are replete with fine humour and witty anecdotes. He weaves remarkably simple tales around the pivot of mundane, everyday life. The key aspects of his extraordinary creative vision include unqualified love for India, nostalgia for childhood, mesmerizing descriptions of the flora and fauna and above all, an unshakable faith in the essential goodness of humanity and design of god.
- The Eyes Have it
- A Flight of Pigeons
- Angry River
- The Woman on Platform 8
- Tiger in the Tunnel
- The Road to Shimla
- Boys will be Boys
- Delhi is Not Far
- Dust on The Mountains
- Room On The Roof
- Garland of Memories
- Book of Saki
- Scenes from a Writer’s Life
- Rusty Runs Away
- Ranji’s Wonderful Bat
- The Blue Umbrella
- Susana’s Seven Husbands
- John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for ‘The Room on the Roof’ in 1957
- Sahitya Academy award for English 1992, for his short stories collection, ‘Our trees still grow in Dehra’
- Padma Shree in 1999 for contributions to children’s literature
MEETING WITH BOND
Sarjana: Good morning sir. It is a matter of great joy to seek your blessings and the essence of experiences, which shall certainly be much valuable to us and all the people who can access them. There have been many interviews, people always come pestering you, and we are again another group. But we are ready to shoulder this blame in lieu of getting the gist of all the learning, experiences of your life.
Ruskin: It is great joy to talk to you people and have a chat. I am reluctant in crowds but I like meeting people, especially children and book lovers. Earlier writers used to be just names. People admired their articles but they would not recognize the face if they meet. Once I met a person in road, had a bit of conversation, and then the person walked away. Later somebody asked, “Do you know with whom you were talking?” I nodded. He told me that this person was Graham Greene. I was unfortunate enough not to recognize him. One day, I was visiting a book stall, some girls shouted from behind, ‘see the Kite maker ‘. Once I was standing, and a man stopped his vehicle and greeted me, ‘ It’s you Mr. Bond, I recognized you from behind. ‘Well, it feels better to be recognized at all, even from the front. Ha ha. (Laughs). At least those who admire me, would know me, recognize me, that would certainly be a better feeling . Moreover I would know more about the world, the people around.
Sarjana: It has been an unprecedented way that you have presented your autobiography in “Scenes from a writer’s life” and before that in “Rain in the mountain”. Indeed it has been very motivating and inspiring one. And we want to know more. Please tell us some treasured moment of your family, family background, the members who have inspired you, the members who have such an impact which has given you the present shape, or the ones you had / have special attachment with.
Ruskin: My mother’s side go back two or three generation in India itself. My grandfather was a soldier, he came to India to in 1880s, during the Afghan years. My father was born here in India. I was born in Kasauli, with my childhood spent in place such as Jamnagar, Dehradun, Shimla and Delhi. In Jamnagar I was there, when I was very young, before the war, my father worked there. I was perhaps of age five or six. My father started a school for the Jamsaheb and the other princess children. In those days they didn’t send girls to boarding schools and even any other schools. And this was mostly for girls, an old patterned one though. My first five to six years were spent there, till 1939-1940 that was till the World War broke out, then my teacher went to work for the RAF. I had always a deep attachment with my father, he was one who instilled in me the traits to become first and foremost a human and then to become a writer. His aspirations have always inspired me to accomplish a knotty task and he has been the beacon light to me all these years. After his death, I remember I was ten years old then, I came to live with my mother and stepfather. My step father was Indian and that is how I got domiciled in India. About the “Scenes from a writer’s life”, I have written in it the life up to age of 21, when I published my first book – the Room on the roof. During those days I was so fond of writing diaries. You can say it to be a semi-autobiographical type. Maybe I should write a complete one about the recent past. Though I have written essays and stories, but I desire one autobiographic type.
Sarjana: In “Scenes from a writer’s life” you have mentioned a name of your unpublished work, named “Nine months”. Please tell us something more about it, why is it not published?
Ruskin: It was in the school life, basically an account about our school life, the friends, the staff, and the teachers. It had some funny remarks about our teachers. So when the class master found the book on my desk, it was written in copies and exercise book, he took it away. I was called to his office and he said, “Bond you are investing your time in writing these remarks about headmaster’s wife, what a fat lady she is.” So he tore it down and threw in the waste paper basket, and I was caned bitterly.
Well I will try to recreate it, if you all wish it to be; now surely they are not going to cane me.( Laughs)
Sarjana: Please tell us something about your other hobbies. And writing, editing, rearranging requires a brilliance of management, sticking to deadlines. What are points which you will suggest for such perfect management?
Ruskin: In schooldays I was football goalkeeper. Now also I am keen at keeping my goals. (Laughs). Still I stick to cricket and football matches, though just watching them on my television. Apart from writing and reading, I am a loiterer. I like walking through the lanes and hills. Strolling down the hills fascinates me more than other luxuries and I am still a walking person. As far as possible I prefer covering my distance by walking. I have never bothered about deadlines. Well I have been writing since 50- 60 years, that’s why there are so many books, either a novel or it may be a collection of stories, or some children’s book. So it accumulated over the years. I don’t undertake deadlines. If somebody asks me that we want a story from you next week, I do not force myself to complete it, I prefer rather than saying ‘sorry’ to them. Because I am not a journalist, so I don’t have to meet their deadlines. If they wanted, then if I have a story ready I will give it, otherwise I say when I get it ready I will give it but do not give me any deadline. I enjoy writing but with deadlines it would rather become a work.
Sarjana: You have seen vast number of events, the agility of time, the disastrous World Wars and much more. What is your view for this planet earth? In which direction this mankind is approaching?
Ruskin: Time changed, I was lucky enough to be involved in wars. I was 12 years old in1947 when India became independent. As a kid you are not directly involved in events of that time. I used to be in the boarding schools and when I came home I was not to be involved in the freedom movements of those periods except that I knew that Nehru went to jail and wrote a book Discovery of India. During one holiday I was seeing a film in Dehradun when they stopped the film and we were informed that we cannot continue the film as Mahatma Gandhi has been shot dead.
Mankind has always been going towards the wrong direction I think and it is no different today. Some how you can say that logically that has changed, living style has changed but change is the nature of mankind and its inherent characteristic. About moral bankruptcy, I would say it has always been like that. Even I calculate my income tax now , which even I would not think about 40- 50 years back , ha ha ha , that is a different matter that I didn’t have enough income then, the thing is , I was not even concerned so much. When you are young you could take risks and you are not so taken up with material things. Though the world has seen so many worldly advances but still I feel the world has become more insecure place and people feel far more insecure, not just in India but in any other county. Let me show you a cartoon which I came across yesterday going through some old magazines. It is depicting mankind progress from early man to the front of television.
Sarjana: You have devoted a considerable part of your life in promoting and writing children literature. What are the things a child’s literature should contain and which type of child literature should be promoted?
Ruskin: I have always been fascinated by this genre of children literature, and I feel unparalleled self-gratitude when I am able to write for them.I desire to inspire them and want to feel their faces sparkling with delight when they read my works.A child has many changes in body, physique and mind. The works should be able to understand them properly. Regarding the type of child literature, I would like to point out those writings should be promoted which understand their psychology and each life values, how to lead a successful life and how to metamorphose into a better person and overall a better human being.
First when I was writing, you see, in the journals, magazines, I wrote about my own childhood.Later on when I was asked to write books for children in general. And because of having a lonely childhood, I feel I understand better the feelings of a child and his problems. Maybe isolation or loneliness takes you towards love and affection they need. Not always I write deliberately for children but sometimes certain stories must be suitable for younger readers. Otherwise I don’t write for very young or small kids.It is mostly about adolescent at that time.
Sarjana: Please tell us the most challenging moments and instances of your life, the bitter failures. You have mentioned some of them in the book “Scenes from a writer’s life”. What was the driving force that kept you moving on? Why you still chose your profession to be a writer? Please tell us something about your higher education.
Ruskin: Well, writing has always interested me since my school days. And this writer has grown inside me through the passage of time. My father was involved in the war. He was in Royal Air Force in the intelligence section. After his death I lived with my mother and the stepfather. Then I was four years in UK and I always wanted to come back. I was very restless there and homesick. So as soon as I managed to save a little money for my return fares and got my first book accepted, I returned back without delay. In those days it took two weeks by sea.If you go by air even then it would take more than a week. So I went there by sea, came back by sea.I left India in the end of of 1951 and came back in March 1955 after being in the Channel Islands for two years and then in London.There I did all kind of job during the day and in the night I sat and wrote my book. I wrote my first book. I worked in public health department, I worked in a photographic agency, and I worked for a travel agency. It was not difficult to get a job there, but at least you must be educated and literate. Through all these times, my father’s memories and love of my friends over here in India was the driving force and still is.
When I was in school that time, in India first choice was to get in the army. Otherwise one would be taking a course in engineering or medicine, that was all. We didn’t have that much great variety of career choices that you have now. Yet now there is more number of young people who are competing for a job now. In a local book store, a boy of your age came up to me and asked me, “Sir when did you do MBA?”I said,”I never heard of MBA that time, they have appeared in the recent years.”
I have only self studied after my high schools, recently I got the honorary doctorate from Uttarakhand University, and that’s not for doing anything, not at least for the studies (laughs).
Sarjana: Why have you chosen, firstly, literature as your aim and in it only English as means.In spite of this being so popular here, why this language is still treated alien, when talking about literary pieces, there is still no literary magazine in English in India.Why now the kids are reluctant to accept reading habits?
Ruskin: Yes you are right! Now there is no literary magazine in India but earlier there used to be. There used to be but somehow they have disappeared, they are gone. Magazines have now become specialist of political awareness. In 50s and 60s there were journals and general magazines which included stories and poetries. Then there were magazines like ‘Thought’, ‘Illustrated weekly’, then some dailies and weeklies had literary sections. Even earlier every magazine had some literary section, I used to write for a defense services weekly. It was called ‘Sainik Samachar’. And that would carry stories, even poetry too. Even sports magazines such as ‘The Sports and Pastime’ which was published by the Hindu in Madras, had stories. Perhaps they have tough competition and were ultimately pulled of by television, or by magazines which are now available such as film magazines, for the society, for the current affairs like ‘India Today’, ‘Outlook’, other news magazines you know. With these, it is hard to sell a literary magazine. There is a dearth of literary magazines in present day India-especially in English. There are few newspapers like the Hindu which has ‘Hindu literary reviews’ occasionally on Sundays. I think it is due to lack of proper organization; we have lost an English magazine which caters exclusively for literary pursuits. Somehow we Indians have adopted this language just formally and not emotionally. But it is a good sign that now the number of readers is increasing.I had little option left other than English and career option other than being a writer. I was born to write. If I would not have been a writer perhaps I might have been a football player.
About limited interest in reading books, it has always been such.When I was a school boy going back 60 years from now, I was in a good school, there was a good library, but in a class of about 38 student, there were only 2-3 students who were fond of reading actually. There was the library and there were no televisions, no internet, and no video games, none of the things which we blame now for diverting our kids from reading habits. But reading was always a minority pastime. In those time comic books were very popular, then you could go to cinemas once in a month. So these things must not be blamed, reading is such a thing which does not appeal to everybody. If you do become readers you are very lucky. In big towns and cities there are good book shops but people living in small places don’t not have access sometimes to books or book fairs. So a kid should not be blamed along with the television or video games even if he wants he can’t find books. In schools they don’t have good library sometimes.
Sarjana: You have always been delighted by minute and small things- chirping of birds, laughter of children, and a scenic beauty. What keeps you here far away from this world? Your mesmerising description of the flora and fauna is really unparalleled. How did you develop such a great love for Mother Nature?
Ruskin: Much part and time of my childhood have been spent on the mountains. I strolled along the hills and lived among the flora and fauna. And so I think it happens naturally. Nature has always played a prominent role in my life. I devote a certain amount of quality time everyday watching and admiring the nature and of course writing about them daily. It gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction.
Sarjana: You have confessed that you have supplemented, added and many a times cooked descriptions. But awfully real coherent and compatible they appear, it is very hard to believe that these are just fictions. We want to know about your invented method of writing, sketching with text and editing. What tools and equipments do you prefer?
Ruskin: Yeah many a time people call me and say “Bond you are a great liar you write big lies in your stories”. I say I am a fiction writer and what else are fiction writers supposed to be? Many a time I make up stories but the soul within is real. Most of them are based on actual experiences and real characters. I have felt them, the moments, the feelings, the desires. I just put them down in the order they appear and I do not believe in any special method for writing. My writing has not changed much down the years. Even in the schools I was quite good in writing essays and it had a fluent style. My style even has not changed great deal. You can say though that my feelings about life changed during these years. When I was your age, I was a bit romantic so the stories during that time had a romantic feeling. But when you get older, life does not remain so romantic, you become somewhat cynical. So the writing does not change but the attitude changes. The characters become a bit more complicated. I write by hand still. I used to type but I get a stressed neck typing and my eyesight would not permit me to use a personal computer. Computer screens hurt my eyes so I am more comfortable writing by pen and paper. And my publishers never complain, perhaps I have a good handwriting and I make little mistakes.
Sarjana: Please tell us something about lores, ghost stories, folktales, the rumours, hearsays and the gossips which you admire. You have included many local lores and ghost stories in your writing.
Ruskin: I will surely confess that I wrote those what odd gossips and short stories for fun as a boy. I have always enjoyed reading such kind of stories. Kids really relish the supernatural things, I do too. Feeling a safe fear is what they want and my folklores are too friendly. I admit they are scientifically incorrect but they are only for the recreation and not to be made for taking seriously. Fantasies prove great stimulators to improve imagination in a child’s mind. Well I am yet to see any ghost but I can show you if you stay tonight with me. We shall go to the Hilltop and I am sure some must be there. There is an old house about 400 years old with an ‘ Imli Tree ‘, Mr. Ghost must be there.
Sarjana: You have seen quite a many generations, you have felt the two cultures, the western and eastern very closely. You have witnessed a change. What other things our generation is lacking now which ought not to be?
Ruskin: Well you make me feel too ancient again. Yes I was confronted with the consequences of the Second World War but I was not in any way directly involved. I’ve seen a struggle for freedom. After 1947, much of my friends, the people of Anglo Indian society left India. I have been to England, lived there, but there is availability of only strangers. Even the persons you know are far away but here in my India I have felt even the friendless and love in the strangers and unknown faces. People here are embedded in nature and I feel so homesick whenever I go away from here even for a single day that I always return without delay. About generations I have already mentioned that change is inevitable but some developments in the recent past have been quite satisfactory only much of the trees have been slain mercilessly though it is good that man has become more environment conscious, especially the kids are. Earlier we never have had such words, in fact we did not need at that time.
Sarjana: You have achieved quite recognition for yourself. You could have settled at the choicest places and nation. Still you prefer to run away from stardom, from crowd, from cities, why so?
Ruskin: I am built for the mountains. I fear the crowds and the hustle bustle. The vegetation, the breeze and solitude have always attracted me. A man like me cannot live in cities. Though I like traveling and I had to travel quite a lot. Now moving to my age I have reduced my traveling assignments. They are less frequent now still the publishers demand me to move to places meet the fans and promote my website. I visit each week on weekends to the book store and sign for whoever comes along there. I like to be unaffected about my little accomplishments. It gives pleasure, to be recognised for your work but I desire to be contented with what ever I have got. I would quote an incident a few days back, a journalist from Hindustan Times came up to me and asked for his permission to note my activity for a day. A camera man had accompanied him. He said he wanted to publish an article titled ‘ A day in the life of Ruskin Bond ‘, but I got good riddance from him by saying that he would notice me most of the time resting in bed. “There’s nothing exciting enough to make your article to even get read by anybody.” I did say (ha ha).
Sarjana: There are some literary devices/ styles which are extinct, many have perished. Letters, diaries, journals, standard interviews, conversations, opera etc. as literary devices are endangered. What can be done to bring back their very soul?
Ruskin: Well the soul can only be brought back by putting one’s soul in them. Any piece of such work should come from within not from any outside pressure. One got to feel first, then only can he express, otherwise any method, any tool won’t help much. One should have a concentration and admiration for the events around the nature, first, one should experience it with all his senses and then expression would surely be automatic.
Sarjana: What is difference between ‘writing for pleasure’ and ‘writings for motives ‘?What are your writing motives ,and how do you feel when kids have to do questions and answers based on your stories included in the textbook ?
Ruskin: I have always written only for pleasure. And really I would be grieved if one has to prepare lessons on my stories. But I do not mind my stories in text books, that is how they know me. Well the kids don’t mind me even. Every Saturday I visit the book store to sign books, and the kids there say they enjoy reading them, the stories in the textbooks. Writing for motives is what does not exist at least in literature, I feel for them course books are there but a feeling of moral up gradations are good and one third of my short stories do include them.
Sarjana: You were an avid movie watcher. Many of your works put as movies, documentaries, ‘The Flight of Pigeon’, ‘The Room on the Roof’, ‘Susanna’s seven Husbands’, what is opinion about impact of movies on youth, how they can be used as a medium for their upliftment in terms of knowledge and standard?
Ruskin: Yeah I was and I am still an avid movie watcher. I do not forget the names of the movies and the lead roles. It’s the truth, movies are more appealing than texts and they are literature indeed in higher form. They have wide scope and wider reach than mere books. Movies pertaining to adolescent development should be promoted which will only guide the youth and the nation. Especially caution should be taken for preparing for children movies lest they should hurt their feelings.
Sarjana: What suggestions would you like to give to those who want to pursue writing as career?
Ruskin: It is very risky if you step directly into writing. I struggled to make a living in the beginning. Now I am making a fair living because of so many books and they are still selling or in print. But when you start off, you have to with just a book and some articles or stories in some magazines or newspaper and it is very difficult to earn enough money so keep it up as backup in beginning. Carry on with whatever your present study lead to and with your career. You can write in your spare time, in evening, during your holidays, otherwise you will have problems. Once you get established as a writer than you can make it full time occupation. There are many examples of such writers, say Somerset Maugham, he was a doctor when he wrote his first novel then he didn’t make much money, then he wrote one or two plays which were very successful. Then he gave up his medical profession. Same case with Archibald Joseph Cronin. Then he was a ship captain. For many years he worked for the Commodore ships in merchant navy, sailed around the Malaysian isles, the China seas. He was 40 when he wrote his first novel ‘Almayer’s Folly’, then ‘An Outcast in the islands’. Then ‘Heart of darkness’ was set in Africa, Congo I think.
Sarjana: We are quite touched by your amazing recalling capacity, you could remember so many things vividly and clearly .What is the secret of having such an excellent memory?
Ruskin: I am having a good memory. I haven’t got Alzheimer’s yet. I do forget names ,but I don’t forget books, writers or even films or memories from distant past and life of people .In fact I have a good memory ,I always remember which publisher owes money too(laugh) and always remind them timely.
Sarjana: What is your opinion about the modern trends in books and literature? Some authors are getting the best sellers with their very first book .Have you ever met the contemporary writer in English yet?
Ruskin: I have met Khuswant Singh and many other persons in this field. They have an admirable disciplined life. Mine is too casual. They can really be called devoted ones. I have gone through some works of Tagore and R.K Narayan. They are indeed gifted personalities and all Indian should read them. What we do have now is more number of book publishers. Recently I met a girl who had written some chicklet. It is a type of romantic sort of novel and they sell very well. They won’t be called literature but are very popular. They are meant for light reading, people want something romantic. Generally these would easily be available in railway book stores, for light time pass sort of reading during the journey. Chetan Bhagat is admirable for writing such light enjoyable pieces, he indeed made good money. (Laughs)
Sarjana: When do you write poems?
Ruskin: Poems I do write sometimes, when I am in mood. You cannot make money by writing poems. Nobody wants to publish poems anyway. Love lyrics I wrote about –it must be 30 years ago, when I was in love I think you need to be in love to write a love poem. Poems are more natural and come out from the emotional part of the heart. They are nearer to the heart. Occasionally I start writing them, whenever I want a change. Well the readers and admirers of poetry are decreasing and good poetry are hard to find from modern generations.
Sarjana: You have an amazing sense of humour. How do you manage to keep always the funny side up?
Ruskin: Well ,this world is too tensed and to lead comfortable life one has to keep a humour ready attitude .I don’t know how I always find something enjoying and funny in each remark or event but it would have been difficult for me to survive if I had not that sense of humour. Humour and fun are as essential as air and water, and those who can figure humour in disastrous of the moments could only enjoy the life to fullest of the nature, the environment gives you many chances to enjoy, to laugh, and one would be too unlucky to miss those chances .
Sarjana: From 17 to now the age of 77 what still pushes to keep on moving and pursue writing, what is your source of perennial inspiration? Most of your books are collection of short stories at most Novellas .Why do you prefer short stories?
Ruskin: Well I enjoy writing. And since I do it well reasonably well so that I have been able to survive to my writing economically, except those of few years when I took different jobs but for these last fifty years I have been living only on my writings. And it is the thing which I do best. I had interest in football but in 76 even I could not be a footballer (laughs). Recently I had a sore foot. Some kids were playing football, the ball came rolling to me, I was passing by, and without twice I gave a mighty kick. I don’t know where the ball flew away, but I was left there hopping with my swollen foot.
My friend Omar suggested me to be a writer during the school days. He was himself a good hockey player .I also played hockey but I didn’t like cricket because I was always sent for fielding , for there were star batsmen to bat and surely I was not among them. I couldn’t make my living in sports.
I keep writing short stories, what I have done all my life. I feel happier in writing short stories because they don’t take much time. See I started during age 17-18. In those days my source of income was only writing, writing short stories, that is how I used to make my living. And I used to create one quite fast to be published in magazines and journals. So during those times I restrained from writing novels .A novel may take a year or two. But I have later published these stories in together in book from. So they served many purposes. (Laughs) They kept me going.
Sarjana: What according to you are the parameters for assessment for success in life? What suggestions would you give for the youngsters?
Ruskin: Well the parameters for success are eternal .Time changes but they are same. Well since consistency is that character for assessment, it must be consistent (laugh).Do not give up .Continue with your work persistently .With the passage of time, rewards will surely come.
Sarjana: Our Sarjana- the college magazine has become more of a literary one .How do you feel about a literary magazine coming out from technical college? What should be the role of such magazines?
Ruskin: Good work! Not many colleges take upon such endeavors. (He turns the pages).I would certainly go through the English ones .Vina (addressing his daughter in law), there are some Hindi portions and so you can read them and explain them to me.
Sarjana: What message and suggestion you would give to the students of technical college?
Ruskin: Well now a days, perhaps engineering and architecture do not go hand in hand, as I have seen buildings collapsing due to architectural faults .Well my dear friend be architect of humanity .I do not know what your respective branches are .What is my idea about engineers, that you people make bridges between rivers with reinforcing steel rods and bricks. Well go on and make similar bridges between rivers and more importantly between people. By the way you can make a nice house for me near your region so that you don’t have to come across so large a distance to meet me. (Laughs)
Sarjana: Thank you very much sir, it has been so kind of you to give us your precious time and it is our earnest request, do visit our college sometime.
Ruskin: Thank you and best wishes for you all, stay in touch. I really enjoyed a chat with you. I am keen to visit Jharkhand. Let’s see, what my age permits ,don’t wait for me or invite me now ,for the time being as my age doesn’t permit me for frequent travels but surely you all are welcome to meet me, wherever I am .My best wishes and blessings for you all.