A rendezvous with an evergreen wordsmith

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Sandipani Saikia

     Childhood dreams do come true in adulthood! The urge which surges exponentially while in book fairs to meet the creator of my healthy doses of Uncle Ken, Indian ghosts and numerous stories has been laid to rest on 25th of last month when I along with my friend Binod, set out for Mussoorie in the morning, all the while excited and thrilled for the upcoming rendezvous. Yes, the name is Bond, Ruskin Bond! The evergreen versatile wordsmith who tenders to every age group and keeps them spellbound and forces to pass on his legacy to upcoming generations.

     After arriving in the hill station, we proceeded directly to Chander Book Depot to fix an appointment. It was easy and I thanked God. And, as if it was a pilgrimage, we set out on foot to his Ivy cottage in Landour, about four kms of steep trek. The road was closed for taxis due to repairing, but we were happy for the pilgrimage to meet this literary God. Nearing his cottage and while enquiring about him with the locals, he saw us from his window and invited us up. For a moment, when he came up to open the door, I was in disbelief and wasn’t sure whether I was in reality. As expected, his house was neatly stacked up with books and awards and brings out his great passion for literature. He connected well with humility and remarked, “It has been very nice talking to you. I am going to wear this (Gamosa) to the market walk tonight. You may call up on my number sometimes”.

     Born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, in 1934, Ruskin Bond grew up in Jamnagar (Gujrat), Dehradun and Shimla. His first novel, Room on the Roof, written when he was seventeen, received the John Llewellyn Rhys memorial Prize in 1957. Since then he has written over three hundred short stories, essays and novellas (including Vagrants in the valley and a flight of pigeons) and more than thirty books for children. He has also published two volumes of autobiography, Scenes from a Writer’s life, which describes his formative years growing up in Anglo-India, and The Lamp is Lit, a collection of essays and episodes from his journal. In 1992, he received the Sahitya Academy award for English writing in India. He was awarded the Padma Shree in 1999. Ruskin Bond lives with his adopted family in Ivy cottage, Mussorie.

     Bond, a charmer has charmed filmmakers.  A Flight of Pigeons (about an episode during the Indian Rebellion of 1857), the Hindi film Junoon was produced in 1978 by Shashi Kapoor. Ruskin Bond made his maiden foray on the big screen with a cameo role in Vishal Bhardwaj's film “7 Khoon Maaf", based on his short story "Susanna's Seven Husbands". Bond appears as a Bishop in the movie with Priyanka Chopra, who kills "each of her seven husbands". Bond had earlier collaborated with him in the film ‘The Blue Umbrella’, also by Vishal Bhardwaj was also based on his story of the same.

What inspired you to write your first novel and follow on?

I used to read a lot. The language attracted me. When you become a voracious reader, these skills pick up on their own. You get to know more and have a good command over language and also can express more. And if you are interested in life around you, that will help you. Your daily life, the people you meet. Occasionally, a short story is a result of spontaneous urge which is often unplanned.

How much of your writings are realistic? Like ‘Uncle Ken’ and ‘the woman on platform 8’?

Yeah. They are pretty realistic, a lot of them are. Maybe based on personal experience or people that i have known. But sometimes, to create story, you need to fictionalize. You see, to bring different characters. Lots of it is semi auto-biographical. Lots of it. There is nothing in my stories that can’t happen, except for the ghost thing (laughs).

What books have most influenced in your life?

Yeah. Lots of writers.  Krasev, Barrie, Emily Bronte, Dickens, Somerset Maugham, Mapasa (the French writer), Jacob (the Russian writer)…dozens of them.

And if you have to choose one of them as a mentor, whom would you choose?

Not any one of them. It’s a combination.

Do you have to travel much concerning your books?

Not necessarily, travel can certainly bring in new experiences. But there have been many writers who never travelled much. Certain writers like Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters didn’t travelled at all. But they were great writers. As long as you put your immediate surroundings, your own life and experience to your work, it will come out successfully.

Do you prepare an outline? And how much do you follow it?

You need a little. At least some outline, not in quite detail. You can deviate a bit but its good to have a plan.

Do you learn anything from writing books?

Don’t learn much. You learn from life itself. The writing is a reflection of your living.

What kind of challenges do you encounter?

Not many challenges. You just have to give it. To have a command of a language, because to write its not just enough to put down your thoughts or feelings but you must do it in words and therefore have a good style and fluency. Command of a language in which you are writing whether English or assamese is very important. This will also help in every aspect of your life, not just as a writer. You may not become a writer and may want to do something else, but if you have a good command of language say English. Then say if you want to be a doctor or an engineer or a technocrat or a businessman, whatever. If you can write well, it will help you. Like in scientific theatre, a thesis, a book on medicine or a business letter. Language will help you. That’s all important.  And if you are going to be a story writer, it is of utmost importance.

Any books you have been reading now?

Yeah. I have been reading thrillers, crime novels (laughs).

Any project that you are currently working on?

Yes, just finished one novel and started another. One is called Maharani and the other one is a historical one.

Which character do you like most in your creations?

Uncle Ken, because he is always getting into trouble. So, I can make up stories about him (laughs).

Any advice for budding writers?

First be sure you can write well. Don’t give up easily. Don’t be discouraged, because you will get disappointments. Keep persevering and if you are any good, one day you will be successful.

What are the prospects in this career?

They are better than they used to be. Right now we have more publishers, more people who can read. There are certainly more openings and scope.

What do think the greatest quality that a writer should have?

An understanding of human nature.

How do the Himalayas help you in your writings?

Not much. To write, I am not environment conscious. It is just a part of life.

Do you have any touch with Assamese literature and northeast as a whole?

I meet Assamese people and even Assamese writers, sometimes when they come to Mussoorie. But since I have not really lived in Assam since been there as a small child in Shillong with my father when it was the capital of Assam. So, I can’t comment on what it’s like there now. But certainly, I am aware that a lot of good writing and literature is coming out of Assam. Magazines and literary journals and even in my notice publishers like Penguin and others have been publishing novels and historical collections by Assamese writers. So, it seems it’s in a good healthy condition, at least the literature and arts. This also applies to northeast as a whole. I think there is a general interest in bringing out literature.

What do you think people look for in a book?

Well, some people look for different things. Some are looking for information; others are looking for entertainment or good writing and good story. Sometimes for knowledge, sometimes for improving their own language or literary skills.

Are there any new authors that grasped your interest?

Well, there are so many now coming up. Almost every week, you hear of a new author, new book. So, at the moment, I can’t put my finger on any particular one but there are a number of talented writers coming through.

What advice would you give to people who “run out of creativity” when writing?

Well, if they are patient and they put aside what they are doing and come back to it after a break or in a short interval, freshen their minds, I think they will recover their creativity.

Your best accomplishment till date?

(Laughs) hard to say, but the fact I think, the very fact that i have been able to continue writing for over fifty years and making a living out of it. That gives me some satisfaction.

What is a typical day for you?

Getting up late (laughs). Then hang around and write a little till lunch. After that i take rest up till tea in the evening. Then go out for walks and meet friends. And today I am going to take this (gamosa) with me (laughs).

You are most welcome to Assam sir!

Definitely. In fact, I have been thinking about visiting northeast for a long time.

Ruskin Bond accepts writings in his website and gives advice and support:

www.zenithstar.org

©Sandipani Saikia & enajori.com

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