Happy 86th Birthday Ruskin Bond!
His words have touched the soul of many. His books have broken your heart, tickled your laughter, thrown you down your memory lane, shocked you out of your wits. One of the most loved authors of the country, Ruskin Bond turns 86 today and in the honour of him bestowing upon us the many invaluable works of literature; Let’s celebrate him today and his many gifts.
Some know him as Rusty from the TV series of the ’90s, some know him as the seraphic children’s writer and yet others see him as the grown old man from the hills who also writes film scripts. He has lived in his deferential Ivy Cottage since 1981 and has written down numerous tales spanning over a 68-year-long journey in writing. And even as he turns 86, 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.
Early Life as a Writer:
Most of his works are influenced by life in the hill stations at the foothills of the Himalayas, where he spent his childhood. His first novel, The Room On the Roof, was written when he was 17 and published when he was 21. It was partly based on his experiences at Dehradun, in his small rented room on the roof, and his friends. The Room on the Roof won him the prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in 1957 at the mere age of 23.
"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.
‘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 to Rs 50 per write-up. He constantly produced numerous stories and articles as they were his only source of income then.
Things changed for the struggling writer when publishing houses started to get establish in India. Penguin India came in 1985 and it changed everything for the publishing market. It started publishing in 1987 with only six books. Five years later, in 1992, HarperCollins arrived and other major publishing houses followed.
Writing for Children:
Bond started writing for children when he was around 40 with Angry River in 1972. On writing for children, he said:
“At the beginning of my career, even though I was writing for the readers of all ages, a lot of my stories were found suitable for school and college curriculum. It was only in my 40s that I started focussing my writing towards kids. I hope my work has been useful to the children and society at large and has helped some of them become readers/ writers and people have started taking interest in books and broadened their horizons. Adults have already formed their taste but one can help young readers develop taste in books.”
He believed that while writing for kids, one needs to have a good story to tell and get into the story as soon without going into description. A young reader will put up with a page or two but if the author doesn’t hold their attention, they will put the book aside. An adult, on the other hand, will be more patient, read a couple of chapters before doing so.
There’s a personal angle to this dimension too. "I had a pretty lonely childhood and it helps me to understand a child better,” he says.
Bond’ Literary Adventure:
Bond's work reflects his Anglo-Indian experiences and the changing political, social and cultural aspects of India, having been through colonial, postcolonial and post-independence phases of India. Bond said that while his autobiographical work, Rain in the Mountains, was about his years spent in Mussoorie, Scenes from a Writer's Life described his first 21 years.
Over 50 years of being a writer, Bond experimented with different genres; early works include fiction, short stories, novella with some being autobiographical. Later, he tried out non-fiction, romance and books for children. He said his favourite genres are essays and short stories. He considers himself a "visual writer" because for short stories, he first imagines it like a film and then notes it down. For an essay or travelogue, such planning is not needed for him. He feels the unexpected there makes it more exciting. Bond likes- Just William by Richmal Crompton, Billy Bunter by Charles Hamilton and classics such as Alice in Wonderland and works by Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.
He was awarded the Sahitya Academy Award in 1992, Padma Shri in 1999 and Padma Bhushan in 2014 for his contribution to the growth of children’s literature in India. On 25 November 2017, he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Chandigarh Literary Society during the 5th edition of Chandigarh Literature Festival.
His latest ‘Coming Round the Mountain’ is a memoir set in the backdrop of 1947, the year when India got its independence. It is about recalling that year and the way Independence and partition affected all of us. The first part 'Looking for Rainbow' was about his childhood during World War 2 while the second one titled ‘Till the Clouds Rolled By’ is about his childhood and vacation in Dehradun.
Last year on his birthday, he sent a loving message for his fans:
“I thank them for the trouble they have taken to be here to wish me on my birthday. For children, I would like to say read more and take care and respect your family and be happy and enjoy life. I would like to assure them that the writing will continue till I am functioning mentally and physically.”
No matter how many more books he churns out, we will never get enough of his creations. Let us honour this literary gem of our country and let’s stand up for what he always stands for:
“Don’t ever stop reading even when you grow up.”