Wednesday December 19, 2018

Ruskin Bond Shares the Voyage of His Writing World

In England, he found a home for "The Room on the Roof," his very first novel that won him the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1957 at the mere age of 23.

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He's lived in this humble Ivy Cottage since 1981 and has penned numerous tales to traverse a 68-year-long journey exclusively spent in writing
Ruskin Bond is one of the most celebrated Indian writers across the globe. Wikimedia commons
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Up above the hills, where a forest of nodding flowers and an endless valley of Himalayan mountains paint the sky, lives one of India’s most-loved writers — Ruskin Bond.

He’s lived in this humble Ivy Cottage since 1981 and has penned numerous tales to traverse a 68-year-long journey exclusively spent in writing. And even as he turns 84, he shows no signs of slowing down. “In fact, I think I am writing more now,” he revealed in an exclusive interview to IANS at his residence ahead of his 84th birthday.

Bond’s vivid tales from the Ivy Cottage, and his descriptions of the view from the window at the foot of his bed, can often be deceiving for what one imagines to be some sort of a mansion of a celebrated writer is actually a humble first-floor flat of “an ordinary man”.

“I’ve never cared for riches; what will I do with them?” he asks.

And yet, when Rusty, as his readers lovingly call him, looks back at his writerly life, memories of several consecutive years when his love for writing plunged him into financial depths come flashing by. There were very few resources and opportunities for writers when he set out with his literary career. Multinational publishers were yet to find a footing in India and so, as his longtime friend and publisher David Davidar puts it, “our would be man of letters set sail for England”.

In England, he found a home for “The Room on the Roof,” his very first novel that won him the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1957 at the mere age of 23. But contrary to the prevailing notion, Bond contended, that his time in England was not very fruitful.

” ‘The Room on the Roof’ was what I carried with myself from India. I wrote very less there; or even in Delhi, there was no writing at all,” he said. And thus from the royalty advance that he was paid for his first novel, he sailed back to India. Stopping by in Karachi, he went looking for the names and contacts of editors whom he could “bombard” with his stories and articles. The then young man wanted to make a living by freelancing his writings.

The Illustrated Weekly of India and The Statesman were the main sources of income for Bond during the 1950s to the 1970s and even the 1980s, paying about Rs 35-Rs 50 per write-up. He constantly churned out stories and articles because they were his “bread and butter”. And when things went really bad, he even did some odd jobs.

Things changed for the struggling writer when publishing houses began to find a footing in India.

He's lived in this humble Ivy Cottage since 1981 and has penned numerous tales to traverse a 68-year-long journey exclusively spent in writing
Ruskin Bond will turn 84 on 19th May this year. Wikimedia commons

Penguin India came in 1985 — and the publishing space would change forever. It started publishing in 1987 with only six books. Five years later, in 1992, HarperCollins arrived and other major publishing houses followed. Even though Rupa was founded way back in 1936, its publishing gained a lot more momentum after their arrival. So did the rise of other home-grown publishers.

While the search for authentic stories from India was just beginning, here was Bond, with his tonnes and tonnes of stories and articles, ready to be compiled in anthologies and collections. The freelancer soon became an adored figure — loved and revered by generations of readers.

“Of course I want the royalty checks, but my desires are very simple. I did not have a very happy childhood so I want to ensure that my grandchildren have a secured life, so should Rakesh and Bina (his adopted family),” he noted.

For the last 37 years, he has lived on the top floor of “this windswept, somewhat shaky house on the edge of a spur” in Landour. His bedroom window (in picture) opens “on to the sky, clouds, the Doon valley and the Suswa river — silver in the setting sun — and range upon range of mountains striding away into the distance”. But thousands of others living nearby too have a similar view, so what is it that strikes a chord with Bond and perhaps not so much with others?

A child at heart, Bond leads this visiting IANS correspondent to the legendary window and says that “nobody, nobody has this view”. At night, “the sky is tremendous with stars”, the sparrows come at noon “to squabble on the windowsill” and clouds are “passers-by” during the day. “Here I sit,” he says, pointing to a small bed, tucked in the far end corner of the room, “and write”.

There are occasional visitors, trekking all the way from Mussoorie to see his house. “Yesterday, someone was clicking pictures of my staircase and I thought this is the worst staircase in all of Mussoorie, why would someone want its pictures? Then he saw me looking out of the window and the camera immediately turned towards me, I quietly disappeared,” he laughed.

He's lived in this humble Ivy Cottage since 1981 and has penned numerous tales to traverse a 68-year-long journey exclusively spent in writing
Ruskin Bond said in the interview that he felt he was writing more. Wikimedia commons

The postman comes four to five times a week, bringing letters and gifts from readers. And in these calm and serene, undisturbed and solitary surroundings, Bond sets his pen to paper — everyday without fail.

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A chronicler of his life, almost everything that Bond has written comes from his own experiences. He maintained that he is writing more than ever before because, apart from his memory growing stronger with age, he has a much broader and larger range of people and experiences to write about. In his latest book “Stumbling Through Life” (Rupa), releasing on his birthday, he weaves together a selection of his essays and writings to bring to the reader the rich tapestry of his life, peppered as it is with delightful eccentricities and a geniality rarely found.

“If some day I am to be remembered at all, it should be for the stories and tales I have written. I am a very simple man, always believed in the beauty of small things, I am grateful to the readers for loving me so much. My stories belong to them as much as they belong to me,” he says, his voice soft and emotional.

Happy birthday, Rusty! (IANS)

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May 19 is Ruskin Bond’s 83rd Birthday: Author Ruskin Bond’s memories of his Dearest Father

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Ruskin Bond. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

– by Saket Suman

New Delhi, May 18, 2017: It is almost customary for Ruskin Bond to surprise his readers with a subtle reference to his childhood. The readers on the other hand — having devoured much of his works — prefer to assume that they know all about the life and times of this timeless writer. Every time you think you know enough about the writer, adored so dearly across the country, there is something new that he throws at you.

The elegance with which he does so is perhaps what keeps us intrigued about the life of the author, who has been writing for well over six decades now. What do we already know about Bond’s early days? That he did not have a very happy childhood, that his parents were separated and that he was often lonely.

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But one splendid year from Bond’s life escaped the public eye and this memoir, releasing on his 83rd birthday on May 19, takes readers back in time and lays bare the sheer joy that the then eight-year-old boy had with his father. In the foreword, he impresses upon the fact that sometimes memory improves with age and he now remembers things that he thought he had forgotten.

“Most of all I remember my father — ‘Daddy’, as I always called him.”

Bond seduces his young readers by repeatedly capturing a boy’s state of mind and reminds the elders that kids are particularly looking for “tenderness” from those they love. In this context, he says that not many fathers succeed in providing this tender care to their children because “they are usually too busy earning a living for the family”. Bond, fortunately, was lucky to have Aubrey Bond as his father, who gave him nearly all his spare time, shared his interests and held his hand in the dark.

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The ease with which he fits into the shoes of an eight-year-old boy and yet succeeds in maintaining the perennial charm associated with his vivid writing is commendable. The memoir’s narration is from the 83-year-old Bond’s perspective, but the imageries that he creates are all straight out of the eyes of the eight-year-old Rusty. He does not travel to and fro, rather it is a simple narration that starts in 1942 when he arrived in Delhi after leaving his school in Dehradun, and ends on a tragic note shortly after he joins a new school a year later.

In “Looking For The Rainbow”, readers are taken on an exciting ride down memory lane and elaborately told about the one year that Bond spent with his father in Delhi, having escaped his “jail-like boarding school in the hills”. This period is full of books, visits to the cinema, music, walks and conversations with his father — a dream life for a curious and wildly imaginative boy. But all of this turns tragic too soon.

He arrived in Delhi in the middle of World War II, the period when his parents too “had been at war with each other”. His father was serving in the Royal Air Force and was living in an Air Force hutment on Humayun Road in New Delhi. It was during that summer that Bond saw his first snake, went for walks up and down the ramparts of Red Fort, stored drinking water in an earthen jug or sohrai, and was quite happy to be on his own while his father was away at work.

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When the father-son duo were together, they went for movies and spent time arranging stamps of his father, who was an avid collector. But that was not all, his father always made him breakfast before leaving for office. A couple of toasts with a half-boiled egg, occasionally a sausage, lots of jam and lots of tea with condensed milk were what the “greedy little boy” preferred.

The little boy goes to a boarding school again and makes some good friends too. And then one day, his teacher, Mr. Young, was handed over the unenviable task of giving him the bad news.

“‘Your dear father,’ he stammered. ‘Your dear father — God needed him for other things.’ I knew what was coming and I burst into tears. I had no one else in the world — just that one dear father — and he had been snatched away. We had been taught that God was a loving, merciful being, and here he was doing the cruellest possible thing to a little boy,” Bond recalls.

An extraordinary offering by India’s most loved author, the book captures the little nuances — fantasies, expectations and often void — that children face but remain largely unknown to their guardians. The book has been beautifully illustrated by Mihir Joglekar and is published by Puffin india. (IANS)

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