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I am a family man without getting married: Ruskin Bond

"Almost half of what I write is for children. I give it as much importance as anything else I write. I feel I am contributing something to the growing up of young people," Bond said.
Last Updated : 19 May 2024, 14:34 IST
Last Updated : 19 May 2024, 14:34 IST

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Landour: Ruskin Bond's warmth, wit, and wisdom shine through as India's beloved author turned 90 on Sunday.

In his interview with PTI, he walks down memory lane, spilling beans on the smile-inducing tale of his failed attempt at driving a car in Delhi's Friends Colony to reflecting on his inspiring successful foray into writing with bestselling 'The Room on the Roof' back in 1956.

Excerpts from a freewheeling conversation at Ivy Cottage, Bond's hilltop home on the byways of the small cantonment town Landour.

Q. Talk about your journey of becoming India's beloved author and what veered you towards writing children's books.

A. When I set out to write, the year after I finished school in 1951-52, I was focusing on short stories. I was ready to write anything in order to get published, and I did write children's stories then. I was really writing for the general reader but some of those stories, the ones I wrote in the 1950s, are the ones read by children.

So, it would be inaccurate to say that I only became a children's writer when I was 40 or so. The first children's book that I wrote -- Angry River -- the second -- Blue Umbrella -- I had submitted those to a publisher in London. Those were slightly longer works and they suggested that if I cut them down a bit, it could make good children's books.

Being a pragmatic person, I did that. Almost half of what I write is for children. I give it as much importance as anything else I write. I feel I am contributing something to the growing up of young people.

Q. What was your ambition in life? Was it always to become an author? A. I don't think I went so far in my vision. I was ambitious. There used to be a popular song when I was a boy, the first line was: 'I don't want to set the world on fire', but I did it in my small way. I certainly did not want to become a politician or a general or a 100 metres (sprinter), I was usually last in a marathon race. I had 2-3 ambitions. I wanted to be an actor but that never happened. I wanted to be a tap dancer, but never had the figure for it. Then I realised I could write. I kept winning essay prizes in school and I was a great bookworm. I was always reading at least two books a week from the school library or otherwise at home. I grew up on books. Then I thought this was the best thing to do. Nothing better than a book so why not write a few. Join the brigade of authors, so I did.

Q. How do you want to be remembered?

A. Ninety-nine per cent of writers are forgotten in the long run. We are writing for posterity but nobody remembers us... I don't know. I am happy if my family remembers me and a few readers get some pleasure out of my writing but it is very easy for a writer to disappear, to go out of print. They say 'Old soldiers never die, they simply fade away'. Old writers never die, they simply go out of print.

Q. How do you keep yourself updated about the happenings across the country and the world? Is it newspapers or TV channels?

A. I used to watch news channels, but I felt uneasy with some of them and felt they were being a bit deceptive. So, I rely more on newspapers because that's actual reporting... I want news, not opinions, one can form one's own opinions. I read four newspapers in the morning and get very irritated when they get late. I have been a newspaper person over the years. That's the first thing I do when I get up in the morning, go through the papers. I am an addict as far as the newspaper goes. Not TV channels. I watch TV for sports.

Q. You have seen the rule of every Indian prime minister -- from the country's first PM Jawaharlal Nehru to the present PM Narendra Modi. Any favourites? Also, how many of them did you get to meet in person?

A. I went to a literary event where Nehru gave a talk to publishers about the books he published in the UK, his autobiography and others. I also interviewed Indira Gandhi because I was asked to write a small children's book on Pandit Nehru. I got rather overawed and didn't ask good questions... I met Mr Chandra Shekhar, that was after he retired, I met him in Mussoorie. He had expressed an interest in meeting me. When I got the Padma Shri, I met Atal Bihari Vajpayee briefly then. I had also seen Mr Vajpayee when he was almost anonymous, a few years before he became the prime minister, I was in the Landour Bazaar in Mussoorie and he was stopping and chatting with shopkeepers very informally.

I can't pick a favourite because I never really knew anybody that well. They all had a certain charm. I would rather, although we didn't have much in common, like Morarji Desai. He gave me a lecture on the merits of drinking fruit juice over alcohol. He was the finance minister then... It was a pleasant meeting.

Q. In your books and interviews, you have often talked about your love for walking or riding a bicycle but not even once you mentioned about driving a car. You don't know how to drive? Did you ever try to learn it?

A. I can't drive. When I was in Delhi, working for CARE, they were like Mr Bond, 'Please learn to drive so that we don't have to give you a driver every time you go on a tour'. So, I decided to learn driving with a Land Rover. But I would start dreaming on the road and end up on the pavement. Once in Friends Colony there was a roundabout and I went round and round, and the instructor kept shouting, 'now straighten out'. Then I straightened out and went through a brick wall onto somebody's lawn. I had to pay a couple of Rs 1,000 for repairing the wall.

Then they said, 'You stick to bicycles, Mr Bond'. Even bicycles I used to fall off. I would only go down my feet, walking or play football. But now I can't walk very far.

Q. Are you a foodie? Any favourite indulgences?

A. I am not a greedy person or a big eater but I enjoy a good meal. And I don't have any dietary restrictions, maybe I should, I don't observe any. I've cut down on my Vodka. Now, I have a very small whiskey, 'chota chota peg'. I can't give up pickles. This morning I had haldi pickles on toast for my breakfast. I know salt is not good and I have high blood pressure. I like 'Mutton Koftas', especially the one cooked in Kashmiri style.

Q. How does it feel to be Landour's most famous resident?

A. Lots of people come knocking at the door, wanting to meet me. How can I spend all day meeting people? I meet people sometimes when I can. I am not exactly a youngster who can rush around. I used to do book signings in town at Cambridge Book Depot. Maybe I'll do it again on my birthday. Let's see how I feel.

Q. Do you regret not getting married?

A. When I was in London, I had a very close relationship with a Vietnamese girl. It didn't come to anything. Time passed and I never really felt that I could, in those days at least, have a family life. I was very much a lone ranger until my present family became part of my life. Now I am a family man without getting married. So, to answer your question, I don't regret it at all.

Q. Talk about things that you like doing and those that annoy you at 90.

A. Not many things annoy me. I get annoyed with myself because of the visual problem. I bang into things and I get clumsy. I drop things and grumble at myself... The things that I love the most are the companionship of my family, books to read, strawberry milkshakes, birds, drives with my grandchildren. Can't complain.

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Published 19 May 2024, 14:34 IST

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