There is nothing one can ask Ruskin Bond that hasn’t been asked before. Having rummaged through interviews, author notes and news reports with little success, I make the call at the appointed hour. A few minutes into the interview, I forget all about myself and my nervous list of questions.
A natural conversationalist, Bond takes over in his inimitable style, listening as intently as he speaks, often breaking into laughter at his own answers. Speaking over the phone from his home in Landour, near Mussoorie, his voice carries a warmth and enthusiasm that belie his age. What is the secret of this happiness, I ask. “Gosh, I don’t know myself,” he laughs. “I guess I have been lucky. I’ve sort of made a good living from doing something I love doing.”
On his 88th birthday today, Bond’s new book, How to Live Your Life, published by HarperCollins Publishers India, will hit the stands. The book meant for children and adults alike, is a meditation on life, love and other things — a pocket survival guide. Bond wrote it about a year back in the form of a letter to his young friends, where he shares the little delights of being alive. “I have, on the whole, had a wonderful life and I will tell you more about it as we go along…” he writes in the preface.
Over the years, he has grown closer to Nature, he says. The book contains an ode to his geraniums. The flowers in his sun-room have never failed to cheer him up, he adds. Whenever he feels a little down in the dumps, he visits them and instantly feels better. “Give Nature a little love,” he writes, “and it will be returned a hundred-fold.”
Nature, an enduring presence
Having lived in Landour, for over five decades, “a quiet corner up in the mountains,” Nature has always been an enduring presence in Bond’s life, writing and his entire persona. He has observed the changes that have crept into the hill station. “The mountains and the hills don’t change. I think what changes is the general atmosphere of a hill station. In earlier times, people came for long summer holidays. Now, it is a weekend place, people visit and they go away back to their busier cities and jobs. It is no longer a place where people live year-round. Even those who have houses here, stay here just for a week or two. It has sort of lost a sense of being a place where people make a home.”
When he first moved to Mussoorie in the 1970s, he says the town had only a couple of taxis and four private cars. “Today, there are hundreds of vehicles pouring in, traffic jams and confusion, which a small hill resort cannot really cope with.” It is, however, a landscape that never ceases to inspire him. “It is nice to be up in the mountains. Earlier, I used to hike a lot. Now, because of age, I don’t walk too far, but my grandchildren take me out for a drive. There are still some unspoilt places. The forests are cold. As you get older, you feel the cold more.”
Though he has travelled, Bond says Mussoourie has always been home. “Like an old tree, I got rooted over here. I have moved around, I like a change, but sooner or later, I wanted to come back. After all, all my books, manuscripts and writing materials are here.”
Bond started writing in 1951, some of his earliest stories were published in Sport and Pastime, a weekly sports magazine published by The Hindu group from 1947 to 1968. “Those are lost stories. I lost those issues. The Runaway Bus is one among those stories,” he says.
So far, Bond has authored hundreds of essays, short stories, poems and children’s books, won the Padma Shri in 1999, the Padma Bhushan in 2014 and people’s hearts since The Room On the Roof (1957). “I have always wanted to establish myself as a writer and I think I have done that,” he says.
He, however, adds that he cannot write a long novel. Short stories that can be done in a day or two suit him better he states, adding: “There are things I don’t write. Science fiction, or fantasy for instance. I tried detective fiction, but I don’t think they were a hit. I also don’t enjoy being given a writing assignment.”
Last year, at the insistence of his grandson Sidharth, Bond conducted an online course for young writers. “I am technology illiterate. As long as I am just sitting there and talking, I am fine.”
So is there really anything that we don’t already know about Ruskin Bond? “Deep, dark secrets, you mean?” he guffaws. “I am an open book, just a few pages are stuck together, that’s all!”