It was only in my college days (five years back) that I came to know that Ruskin Bond was very much alive when I read in the papers that he had arrived in Chennai to interact with his readers. For me Ruskin Bond sounded like a writer of British India, someone like Rudyard Kipling, who would have spent some days here in the heydays of the Raj and would have left the country during independence. It was much later that I came to know that his career has begun precisely after the independence of the nation. Further, he lived in India itself, his home ensconced somewhere in the hills of Mussoorie! The writer could never leave India for good, though he spent some time in Britian, where he got his first book published.
My friend often related an anecdote about his meeting with Ruskin Bond at the writer’s home. The guy had gone to Musssoorie with his friends and they somehow found their way to the writer’s residence in the hill town. Apparently, Bond welcomed them (though they were uninvited) and spent some good time talking to them. I had read a few stories of Bond in my school days and had even read his novel The flight of pigeons.
I got an opportunity to meet him last weekend when he came to Chennai to promote his book Hip hop nature boy, a collection of his poems for children. I was quite amazed to see the crowd that had gathered in huge numbers at Landmark on Nungambakkam High Road, most of whom were children and parents who had accompanied them. Somehow, the whole thing seemed reassuring. There was a feeling that the culture of good reading was very much alive in the age of computer games and television.
His said that his book Crazy times with Uncle Ken was based on a real uncle he knew in his childhood, a man who seldom did any work and lived off his relatives most of the time. The book is extremely humorous and limpid in its style. The reason behind this is that Bond has an uncanny ability to look at life through the eyes of a child. “In real life, my uncle Ken faced a huge crisis during partition. Most of the relatives he depended on left for Britain and uncle had to follow suit. On reaching there, he realized that these relatives were not in a position to support him in a post-war Britain, as they were themselves struggling to make their ends meet. Uncle Ken spent his last days as a postman in the countryside, delivering and reading others’ letters and regaling the people in Britain with his adventures in British India,” he said laughing.
The film industry does make a celebrity out of a writer and Bond’s books like Flight of Pigeons, The Blue Umbrella and Susanna’s Seven Husbands have all been made into movies. “I did not interfere in the making of the first two works. But Susanna’s was a short story running into five pages. Vishal wanted me to rewrite it as a full-fledged novel so that he could adapt it as a movie. That was the only occasion when I wrote a novel keeping in mind that it would be adapted as a film,” he said, as he signed a few books for his readers.
Bond feels that all that one needs to become a writer is a paper and pen, with a dustbin by your desk to trash all the nonsense you write. “I feel that you cannot teach a person to write as people who write are born with an ability to tell stories.” Writing can be a very trying occupation and Bond knows it best. During his early days as a writer, he would hop across shops to find out if his books were displayed there and was disappointed to see that his book did not find a place in the store at all! “Finally I did see my thin book placed at the bottom of a stack of books, which had works of people like Khushwant Singh. I sneakily pulled out my novel and placed it at the top of the stack. But the shopkeeper caught me doing this and said disapprovingly, ‘Yeh nahi bikta’ (This does not sell). Unable to bear the insult of my book being labeled a non starter, I bought it to prove him that my book too could find takers.” Writing is seldom seen as an occupation in India is often unviable as a single source of income. “It is tough for a writer to make a living,” he said, before adding, “But it is a beautiful thing to write.” Budding writers would surely agree.