In a tete-a-tete with The Statesman, prolific writer and a well-known author Ruskin Bond spoke about his personal life, professional life, love, relationships and much more, unabashedly. Bond has written over 500 short stories and articles that have appeared in magazines and anthologies.
He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1993, the Padma Shri in 1999 and the Padma Bhushan in 2014. Born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, and growing up in Jamnagar, Dehradun, New Delhi and Shimla, Bond has immense love for India. As a young man, he spent four years in the Channel Islands and London and returned to India from England in 1955 and started freelancing from Dehradun.
He now lives in Landour, Mussoorie, with his adopted family.
In an interview with NIVEDITA R, he reminisced about his childhood, his father and the unforgettable times spent with him.
Q: How did you feel when your first article got published in The Statesman? How old were you?
A: I came back from England in March 1955 when I was 19 years old and I would bombard most of the magazines in India with stories, essays and articles. My priority was writing for The Illustrated Weekly of India and The Statesman of Calcutta. In fact, one of my most popular stories The Eyes Have It, which is till today frequently put into anthologies, was first published in The Statesman in early 1955.
I was thrilled when it got published and I still do get thrilled sometimes when my story gets published (smiles). I got about Rs.35 per story back then. I had cuttings of some of the stories, which I lost over a period of time. There were many stories that went into The Statesman, which in a way I've lost but maybe I shall have to go there one day to find them again and, hopefully, they have kept all the old papers.
Q: What do you like most about India? Why didn't you ever think about returning to England?
A: Well, I like the general informality of life here and also the morality. From one part of the country to another, there are so many cultures and languages and customs. There's always something happening and no writer here can ever complain about running out of material or stories. On a personal level, I find it easy to get to know people and make friends. I have relationships and attachments, which is not easy in other countries maybe. Growing up here, there is love of the land itself and that sense of belonging has always been there.
Q: What do you have to say about controversies surrounding freedom of expression and intolerance towards liberal writers?
A: Controversies come and go. I think, inherently by nature, Indians are a tolerant people although there are, maybe, periods or moments of conflicting ideas and ideologies. But by and large people here have always believed in 'live and let live'. And I have been living in a place for 50 years, where everyone knows me but no one intrudes or tells me how I should be living. So, I think by and large the natural tolerance of people will predominate.
Q: Do you think writers, in general, should get into these controversies?
A: It depends on writers and some by nature are likely to want to be activists and prevent social inequalities and so on. There are so many causes always. So that's fine. Some will succeed and others won't.
Q:Where do you draw your inspiration from?
A: I draw my inspiration from people as they are stories. I'm always interested in people, very often humble people, from different walks of life. Also, from the natural world since I’ve always been close to nature.Trees, forests, rivers, mountains, birds, they all give me something to ponder on and write about. Contemplation of my life has also been an inspiration. I’m a fairly subjective writer. There are so many memories, so many friendships, and relationships that I don't really run out of material or stories.
Q: What keeps you persistently motivated?
A: It’s the fact that I love writing and also I’ve to support a fairly large adopted family. It's a combination of things. Even if I didn't need to write for income, I would nevertheless be a writer. I'm an obsessive writer.
Q: Six decades on, do you have any qualms or regrets?
A: I'm a writer without regrets because I've done most of the things I wanted to do at least as a writer. I know I'm not going to write a magnum opus but within my limitations I’ve written stories, essays, poems, memoirs and given time I'll continue to do so. I wouldn't stop writing. Maybe in personal relationships sometimes you feel you could have done better or not hurt somebody or been more supportive to a relative or a friend or loved one.
Q: Whom do you miss the most?
A: Looking back, I was very close to my father and I’ve written a special memoir about him called Looking for the Rainbow. That's more or less for young readers and older people seem to like it too. Of course, there were others close to me too but as time passes, the connecting links get weaker.
Q: Do you have any fond memory of your childhood?
A: My father would come back from work and then he would take me for walks around Delhi and this was Delhi in 1942, when World War II was on. If he took me to Purana Qila or Red Fort or Humayun's Tomb, he would tell me the history behind those places. I learnt a lot from him that way. Although I missed school for one-and-a-half years, when I was eight or nine-years-old, he did put me in boarding school in Simla (now Shimla), where everyone thought I would find it difficult to keep up with others but I got double promotion (laughs).
Childhood memories are of course disjointed but the news of my father’s death was quite a traumatic experience. Then when I went to my second home to my mother and step father in Dehradun, it took some time for me to get adjusted. These incidents gave me insight into childhood and helped me to write about other children too and empathise with their difficulties. Then and in my teens, everyone told me that maybe I was a bit too old for my age. Now, it's opposite as people say I'm too childish for an old man.
Q: Tell me about your autobiography, Lone Fox Dancing.
A: A lot of it covers my writing life and personal life or the connection between the two. This is purely factual. This took me over a year to complete. I did other short stories in between.
Q: You have written in various genres. What's your favourite one?
A: I like writing for children. I write realistic stories as I’m not very good at fantasy. It would be about children having their adventures or some experience that might be very challenging or affecting their lives. And short stories are probably my favourite genre, which I’ve been most successful in. I’ve written over 100 short stories, novellas, etc. I can write about anything.
Q: Do you ever suffer writer's block? If yes,how do you overcome it?
A: Yes, occasionally, but not very often as I enjoy writing. If I sit down to write something, I would have done it in my head first. I would visualise a story from beginning to end first. Visualising is important. Although the dialogue and description can come in later, the beginning, middle and end of the story should be there so that you don't break down half way through. Sometimes in longer works, you do get stuck. Then put it aside for some time, and come back to it later. Probably you will get new ideas and if all else fails, there’s a waste paper basket.
Q: How's your life in Mussoorie?
A: Well, one isn't really living away from hustle and bustle because most of the year round, a place like Mussoorie is invaded by good citizens of Delhi, who come for holidays and I also get tourists knocking and begging on my door every now and then. There’s a lot of horrendous traffic jams. Getting in and out of the town has become difficult. It's got very commercialised.
Q: What would you like to say to budding writers?
A: Well, we do hear about a lot of success stories of young writers across the globe and in India too, which was rare in earlier times. I think there are a lot of young people who want to take up writing or emulate the more popular writers. Sometimes they are not polished enough in their language but so keen to get published that they often make the mistake of going to vanity publishers or self publishing, spending all their savings on bringing out a book. Try to get your book published by an established publisher who would give you royalty. You must be paid for your work, which I've said throughout my life. You must insist on a royalty or payment for your work.
Q: Is there any shortcut to success?
A: There is no shortcut to success. Perseverance is the key to success and don't be impatient. Persevere if you are confident in yourself.