Sometimes he leaves his beloved home in the hills to see what little folk in the plains are up to. Last week, Ruskin Bond was in Chennai, as a part of the Landmark Ruskin Bond Tour, to celebrate the bookstore's 25th anniversary. An informal chat with the author proved to be interesting and insightful.
High up in the hills of Mussourie, lives an old man with a pen. That pen produces miracles, stories of people and ghosts, birds and animals.
That old man is just like anyone else you know; casual, funny and always ready to crack a joke. There is only one difference. That man's name is Ruskin Bond.
All of us have read his books at some point or the other. We have grown up with Uncle Ken and his adventures, wishing for more, wondering what would happen next. Ask the author which his favourite characters are and he votes for his humorous stories. “When I run out of uncles and aunts, I always just turn to ghosts!” he laughs. But, how many of his stories are really true? Does Uncle Ken really exist? What about all the others adventures he writes about? Some true, some fiction. Though most of them begin with the truth, there is always some imagination involved. “Uncle Ken is real but sometimes, he runs out of adventures,” he jokes.
He started writing when he was 17 and straight out of school. His first story was in August 1951, about his school master. Not surprisingly, his school did not like it and refused to give him his school-leaving certificate.
“So many years later, I am still waiting for it.”, he says.
Everyone knows Ruskin Bond as the man who spins magic out of words. Ask him what he reads and he will tell you that it is very for him to read his own work. He likes Charles Dickens, Graham Greene and PG Wodehouse. He also loves reading detective stories, a habit that has stayed with him since he was a young boy!
People change over time. Writing styles change, preferences change and sometimes you become a different person. If you ask Ruskin Bond if his 17-year-old self would recognise him now, he comes back with a typically funny response. “I still have buck teeth and my ears still pop out of the top of my head.”, he laughs.
We have all written – school essays, little stories, maybe even poetry. We have all found it difficult at times, when the right word doesn't seem to come and the grammar just doesn't fall in place. How does someone as famous as Ruskin Bond respond to that? Does it happen to him as well? His suggestion is simple. When you cannot write, either keep a dustbin with you and throw it away or come back to it later, when you are fresh.
Ruskin Bond has won the Padma Shri as well as the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award. Yet, he sounds just as excited as a young boy who has just written his first book. Years after he began, he still loves what he does. His stories are an essential part of any Indian childhood. This is a reality that is here to stay.
The Cat Has Something To Say
Sir, you're a human and I'm a cat,
And I'm really quite happy to leave it at that.
It doesn't concern me if you like a dish
Of chicken masala or lobster and fish.
So why all these protests around the house
If for dinner I fancy
A succulent mouse?
Or a careless young sparrow who came my way?
Our natures, dear sir, are really the same:
Flesh, fish or fowl, we both like our game.
Only you take yours curried,
And I take mine plain.
Hip-Hop Nature Boy and Other Poems by Ruskin Bond, Puffin, Rs. 150
Ruskin Bond was born on May 19, 1934, in Kasauli, Solan. He loves writing and in 1992, he received the Sahitya Akademi award for his short story collection, Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1999 for contributions to children's literature.
Most of his works are influenced by the social 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 Dehra, in his small rented room on the roof, and his friends. Since then he has written over 300 short stories, essays and novels (including Vagrants in The Valley, The Blue Umbrella, Funny Side Up, A Flight of Pigeons) and more than 30 books for children. In 2007, the Bollywood director Vishal Bharadwaj made a film based on his popular novel for children, The Blue Umbrella. The movie won the National Award for Best Children's film.