From the hills to your heart

On his 90th birthday, renowned author Ruskin Bond released his new book that works as a self-help guide for everyone who harbours a dream
Hold on to your dreams
Hold on to your dreams

CHENNAI : Reading was more than just a hobby for me. It was my way of escaping into the oak or deodar forests, scented with the smell of fallen leaves and rhododendron flowers, with the warbles of mynahs ringing in my ears. But that wasn’t all. As if in a dream, my mind would drift away to munching hot jalebis, my pyjamas bearing the traces of mud from my trails in Landour Bazaar, all the while mindful of the towering, dilapidated clock tower chiming at midnight.

Well, this is what a fantasy life sounded like to a nine-year-old who was living away in a land of deserts, yearning for endless days amid the majestic Himalayas. You may be wondering how I managed to vividly conjure these images in my mind. It’s all thanks to the author, Ruskin Bond, the wizard of words as I prefer to call him.

Despite never visiting Mussoorie, knowing it more than my hometown didn’t come as a surprise to anyone I met. My ardent desire to meet the writer, fondly called Mr. Bond, often ended up in me making unrealistic travel plans that sparked unwelcome quarrels at home. As seasons shifted both in nature and in my life, new chapters were inscribed onto its pages: some in burnt orange, a few in bright yellow, and quite memorable ones in pine green. Yet, amid these changes, one thing remained constant: my love for the mountains — a sole characteristic trait I would say that I’ve picked up from Ruskin Bond.

It felt like a silver lining had been added to a dark, bellied cloud (a phrase that I surely adopted from one of his stories) when his recent book landed on my lap (read: mail) — titled Hold Onto Your Dreams: A Letter to Young Friends, a Penguin Random House publication, released for his 90th birthday (May 19).

Just like a little girl eyeing an unopened box of chocolates, a myriad of guesses about the new book flooded my mind. Nevertheless, even if it meant pulling an all-nighter, I had to finish it. I, of course, devoured the book, and the beautiful illustrations by Pearl D’Souza added an extra charm to his words.

“Hello, Ruskin Bond here,” he introduces himself to me in a chirpy yet soothing voice, when I ring him up for an interview. I was grappling for words, but duty called. Without further ado, questions were asked, answers exchanged, and a memorable experience was etched into the pages of my life.

Just tell the story and let the readers come to his or her conclusion
Just tell the story and let the readers come to his or her conclusion

The nature writer

Ruskin Bond, a simple human and a lover of nature and animals, always ensures that elements of nature are explicitly woven into his narratives. Whether it’s a walk in the hills or a little conversation with his cat, Mimi, the author seldom ceases to amaze his readers with his vivid use of imagery. When asked about the influence of nature in his writings, Bond says, “I think I’ve spent most of my life in the hills. Even as a schoolboy, and now for the last 50 years, I have been living close to nature. If you’re living in a small town like Mussoorie, you’re in the mountains and only a few steps away from streams and forests filled with birds and animals. So over the years, you develop a certain familiarity with the natural world around you, and you come to care for it. You want to preserve it because you don’t want it to go away; it has given you happiness.”

This concept is reflected in his book, in which he hilariously draws parallels between animal actions and those of people, emphasising their presence in our lives. He writes, for example, “Humans, like monkeys, are gregarious by nature and are inclined to go off their heads if left alone for too long.” Expanding on this during our conversation, he remarks, “Animals are free from traits like greed, jealousy, and envy — factors that often drive human conflicts and wars. They are not devious. Thus, in a sense, they are the natural inheritors of this earth.”

Not all superheroes wear capes

Renowned for his writing for readers across age groups, the author emphasises the importance of capturing the attention of readers from the very first page, especially when writing for children. “Children are tough critics,” he notes. “If they don’t like a story, they’re going to throw it away.” Moreover, he stresses the significance of crafting relatable central characters for younger audiences that are authentic yet do not preach or moralise their nature and deeds.

“Just tell the story and let the reader come to his or her conclusions,” he says. Each character in Ruskin Bond’s stories — whether it’s Arun from Women on Platform 8, Rusty from The Room on the Roof, or Rakesh from The Cherry Tree — possess distinct qualities that let the readers step into their shoes, bringing their experiences vividly to life through his writings.

As he shared these insights, I couldn’t help but marvel at the irony. Why seek testimonials when I exemplify the engrossing nature of his work? Seamlessly transitioning from children’s literature to adult fiction, his writing has effortlessly drawn readers in, including me. Spitting facts and giving a reality check through his writings is yet another feature of this John Llewellyn Rhys Prize awardee. In fact, in Hold onto Your Dreams, he candidly admits that he is not one to dispense advice, nor does he adhere to it, and that at times people tend to learn from their mistakes, while mostly the case is otherwise. Well, how more genuine could a writer be, right?

Dream, and it shall happen

The book feels like a heartfelt letter from Ruskin Bond to his readers — a note of self-reflection for some and a source of inspiration for others. Bond describes it as “a little book of inspiration, telling people to do what they want to do in life. Not to give up easily, not to despair, but to carry on working on what you want.” Filled with anecdotes and short stories from his boyhood, youth and present, this book is sure to capture both the minds and hearts of its readers. It feels like a conversation with a wise elder next door or a new friend, offering comfort and reassurance. It reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles and that better days are ahead, even after the toughest times.

This book will let you enjoy the world around you, especially nature, says Bond. “These little things would be helpful not just to a writer but to any young person or anyone dealing with difficulties or problems. It is different from my other works, which were either fiction, stories, novels, or autobiographies. It might be characterised as self-help, with a little guidance from me,” he adds on, while also hinting that he might write a sequel to it if his readers wish for one.

His love for books and his secret relationship with words have always intrigued me, to the extent that reading has become an inseparable part of me. Bond’s Hold Onto Your Dreams is an exemplary reminder echoing to hold on to one’s dreams. I held on to my dream of interviewing the wordsmith of the mountains — whose works made me fall in love with books and writing. So readers, hold on to your amorphous dreams, as you never know when they take form, and once they do, let your untold story fill up the blank leaves of your book named ‘life’.

The book is priced at Rs 399 and is available in all bookstores across India, and online on Amazon.

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The New Indian Express