“If mice could roar
And elephants soar
And trees grow up in the sky;If tigers could dine
On biscuits and wine,
And the fattest of men could fly!If pebbles could sing
And bells never ring
And teachers were lost in the post;If a tortoise could run; And losses be won,
And bullies be buttered on toast;If a song brought a shower, And a gun grew a flower, This world would be nicer than most!”
Often referred to as ‘our very own resident Wordsworth’, (he doesn’t liked being called that) his books are a delight to everybody, whether its is children or adults. At the age of 17, he wrote his first book, ‘The Room on the Roof’ which won the 1957 John Llewellyn Rhys prize. Haunted by memories of India , he came back three years later and thus began his exciting journey. With over a 100 book titles to his credit, this Sahiitya Akademi (for English writing in India for 1992) and Padma Shri award winner, age is just a number, for he sounds warm, funny and enthusiastic as ever. City Express catches up with the legendary author Ruskin Bond, just before the launch of his latest book ‘Hip-Hop Boy and Nature and other poems’ in the city. The above poem is just a glimpse of his magical work, which has provided fodder to the thoughts of more than one generation.
Firstly, belated birthday wishes.
RB: Oh thanks. It was on May 19. But, I believe that everyday is my birthday.
How do you manage to write for kids and maintain that child-like innocence in your writings even today?
RB: It is just a part of my nature. My friends say I have grown up. But, that is one reason how I can still write for a child’s mind.I have written books for adults too. But, I prefer writing for the kids.And it wasn’t till I was about forty, so that’s about 20 years after I set out as a writer, that I actually sat down to write stories directed at or meant for children.
When was the last time you visited Bangalore? The city you saw back then must have been so different.
RB: I have been to Bangalore often over the years. When I visited the city back in 1960, it was very very different. It was like a small garden where you could walk all over the place. Now, its a bustling city. Here, change took place in a very short time. And such things are inevitable. Dehradun itself has changed a lot, from a small town to a mini city.It has not always changed for the better. Now it is untidy and disorganised.
How is a regular day in the life of Ruskin Bond? How much time do you spend writing?
RB: I still read a lot. I write for an hour or two everyday and do various other household activities. I have got a over a 100 book titles now. So, it takes time to keep a track of all of them. I do a little gardening, take little walks.
Do you cook?
RB: If I cook something for, you would never want to eat it. I will write a book titled ‘101 failed omelettes’ (laughs). I can still teach you 50 different ways of boiling a egg.
How do you react to your stories being included in the school curriculum?
RB: I usually apologise to children who come up to me and tell me that they have read my stories in school (laughs). And I try to explain that I had nothing to do with it! Children get familiar with my name that way and continue reading.
Things are a lot different today for writers, than back in the days when you set out to become one. What do feel about this change?
RB:Things have changed, and for the good. When I set out to be a writer in the 1950s, it was a popular profession. Back in the 50s and 60s, if you became successful, you were known more or less by your name. People didn’t recognize you when you walked down the streets. Book launches and literary fests are all a recent phenomenon. It was a lonely profession back then and you wrote because you felt you had to.
Today, there is a celebrity status attached to a writer. I keep getting bombarded to write forewords and go through the manuscripts.I think it is amazing. There is still a certain magic about getting your name on a book.
What advice would you like to give to the budding authors?
RB: Everyone plunges into writing without mastering it. They need to understand that there is no shortcut to fame. I would never discourage anyone from writing. But, be sure that you can write. Be well grounded in literature. Be prepared to be disappointed. Don’t expect too much too soon.
The main purpose of writing is to give pleasure to oneself and to the readers. And if you plan to become a writer, do not pay to get published. It has been one principle of my writing life and I have always stuck to it, that is, whenever I have written a book, even when I was 17-years-old, I have expected something in return. Otherwise you end up with books that nobody wants to read and you go about trying to force them on friends and acquaintances.
Does you love affair with India continues till date?
RB: India still fascinates me. There is always something new to discover here. In the West and in Europe, life can be pretty monotonous. In this country, your lifestyle changes from one place to another with different music, customs and habits. There is something happening all the time and there is never a dull moment. You can die of a hundred different things, but you can’t die of boredom in India. Hence, I never run out of stories.
Who are your favourite Indian authors among the new ones?
RB: I am not well-versed with the new authors. I still stick to my old favourites and I am addicted to crime fiction. You don’t want to read something too heavy all the time. So, I like reading short stories or biographies of interesting people. Charles Dickens is my favourite.
Isn’t Rudyard Kipling your favourite?
RB: Not my favourite really. I like to read his short stories mostly. Actually he was an inspiration, but there were several others like Bates, Maugham, Barrie to name a few, who actually made me want to write. Kipling has always been an inspiration though. And I always felt bad about the way he has been savagely criticised in the 50s and 60s. He is a man who loved India more than many others.
What is your favourite food item?
RB: Fish and chips! I hope I get time for a mutton cutlet at Koshys when I come to Bangalore.
How was the experience of acting in ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’, which is based on your short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands?
RB: It was fun. It was a cameo role. That particular scene was shot in Pondicherry and it was opposite Priyanka Chopra. I was a bit clumsy as I had to give her a sort of a kiss on the cheek. I was quite bad at it (laughs).
After about 9 retakes, the director said, “I think you are doing it deliberately.” Yes, the story is based out of my book. The tale is more of black humour. I had collaborated with Vishal Bharadwaj around five to six years ago for The Blue Umbrella, which is also based out of my story.
Do you think that the children today don’t read enough?
RB:I have always said that reading has been a minority pastime. Back when I was in school, in a class of 30, there were just 2 of us who were fond of reading. The rest would read comics, though there weren’t many distractions like TV, video games and Internet then. Having become one, you are a reader for life. Book lovers are a chosen few, and I think it has increased in recent times in totality. Increase in English education compared to 50-60 years back, is one of the factors.
Do you watch TV or you stick to reading?
RB: I follow sports quite a bit, international football and a little of cricket.
Did you follow the IPL?
RB:I get a little confused with so many teams and players. At the end of the day, you wouldn’t care less on who won!
You once said, “The India I Love, does not make the headlines, but I find it wherever I go - in field or forest, town or village, mountain or desert.....” Why is that?
RB:Yes, I said that. Today, headlines are mostly politics, cricketers or people in public life. Not people down the street, in your neighbourhood. Its always some kind of trouble or disaster which makes news.
Tell us a little about ‘Hip-Hop Boy and Nature and other poems’.
RB:It is a compilation of all my poems, old and new, some of my best work, which come together in this book. Its about nature, love, friends, school etc. My next book is going to be released in August this year. Its called Maharani. It is an adult novel, published by Penguin.
Have you been to any of the old bookstores in Bangalore?
RB:I have been a regular to Select bookshop since the 1960s, and I went there when I came to Bangalore in December last year. I knew KBK Rao (owner KKS Murthy’s father) very well. Apart from books, he used to take care of us. If I get time tomorrow or day after, I will visit the store. Gangarams is another bookshop which rings a bell.
Ruskin Bond released his latest poetry book at Landmark, The Forum Mall, Koramangala on June 6th.