HYDERABAD: For many Indians who have grown up reading English literature, a man writing from Dehradun had (and has) a place of pride on the bookshelf. Through words that smell like pine trees and are as warm as a patch of sunlight on the hills, Ruskin Bond have been lighting up childhoods (and adulthoods) for almost 70 years now.
The writer was in the city recently at an event organised by Ratna Sagar Publishers. As he read excerpts from the book, “At School with Ruskin Bond,’ he chatted with Atiya Zaidi from the same publishing house. In a hall that was filled with children and academicians, the writer talked about books, childhood, writing and a bunch of other things. The 85-year-old captivated children and grown-ups alike with his signature charm and wit.When asked about the secret of staying young, Ruskin replied: “The secret of staying young is never to look in the mirror.”
While talking about his love for reading, he shares an incident in which books had literally saved his skin! “Though I was not your regular mischievous boy, I did tread that path once and was called by the headmaster to his office. Boys who had experience in such matters advised me to stuff in a couple of books inside my pants so that the thwack of the cane was offset by the hard surfaces of the books. My headmaster was quite amused when I produced ‘As You Like It’ and ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ out of my trousers after the first two strikes.”
But can any discussion around Ruskin Bond be complete without the mention of ghosts? The veteran writer, who has written several ghost stories, says: “I do not believe in ghosts, but I keep seeing them!” When an inquisitive reader asked him the reason behind all ghosts wearing only white, the writer quipped: “It is because they are buried in white attire. I don’t think they get the time to carry a change of clothes with them!”
The writer did not only entertain the gathering with his sharp observations about life, but had words of advice for writers too. For one, he strongly believes that no writer should go for self-publishing. “The publisher should pay you for your work, and not the other way round. As a result of such deals, the burden of selling the books often falls on the writer. If the books do not sell well, the writer might get discouraged for life.”
He, however, has a different take on Instagram writers and poets. He says: “If they prefer expressing that way, let them do that. It is better than not writing at all.”
Ruskin, with his Anglo-Indian ancestry and looks, have unfortunately been the subject of curiosity several times. When someone would comment on his non-Indian features, the writer of ‘Room.....’ used to respond saying: “I am a red Indian!”. How does he stress his Indian-ness during these times when the definitions of ‘national’ and ‘anti-national’ are quite rigid? In reply, he reads an excerpt from an article that he had written in the 1980s: “India is where my father was born. This is where I was born. How far does one have to go back to prove his Indian-ness? ....Race did not make me an Indian, history did.”
Ruskin says that he is in awe of Hyderabad’s colourful history, and adds: “If I had to live over again, I would spend more time in Hyderabad.”