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Of strawberry shakes, drives and four newspapers a day: Ruskin Bond turns 90

Spending most of his days at his picturesque home Ivy Cottage in the quiet cantonment town of Landour, a short drive from the noisier Mussoorie, the twin towns’ most famous resident shows little signs of ageing.
Last Updated : 18 May 2024, 15:36 IST
Last Updated : 18 May 2024, 15:36 IST

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Landour (Uttarakhand): Old writers never die, they simply go out of print, says India’s storyteller through the decades Ruskin Bond as he turns 90 on Sunday, adding with his famed self-deprecating wit that 99 per cent of his tribe are forgotten in the long run.

The companionship of his adopted family, drives on the serpentine Landour-Mussoorie route, frothy strawberry milk shakes, shelves filled with books to read and a handy notepad to write down his daily musings… they were and are just a few of his favourite things.

Spending most of his days at his picturesque home Ivy Cottage in the quiet cantonment town of Landour, a short drive from the noisier Mussoorie, the twin towns’ most famous resident shows little signs of ageing. High blood pressure and dwindling eyesight aside, his childlike enthusiasm is intact as he discusses life, old age, writing, food and everything in between.

"Ninety-nine per cent of writers are forgotten in the long run. We are writing for posterity but nobody remembers us afterwards... 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,” Bond told PTI in a rare interview at his home, often breaking into laughter at his own answers.

The ace raconteur makes light of his celebrity status and of being India’s favourite children’s author with more than 500 titles, including short stories, essays and novellas, since his debut novel 'The Room on the Roof' in 1956.

'They say 'old soldiers never die, they simply fade away'. Even old writers never die, they simply go out of print,' Bond laughed.

His latest 'Hold on To Your Dreams', published by Penguin Random House India (PRHI), offers a unique glimpse into Bond's personal space and everyday life -- memories of his boyhood, his friends, lost love, moments of joy, anguish, triumphs and tragedies.

He became a writer almost by accident.

Bond said didn't aspire to become one, at least initially. His first two ambitions, and he failed miserably at both, were to become an actor or a tap dancer.

'I wanted to be an actor, that never happened. I wanted to be a tap dancer, never had the figure for it. Then I realised I could write. I was a great bookworm. I grew up on books. Then I thought this is the best thing to do. Nothing better than a book, then why not write a few. Join the brigade of authors, so I did.'

At 90, Bond continues to be a voracious reader with his nose either in the books or newspapers -- quite literally -- due to his poor eyesight.

'I am a newspaper addict. In fact, I get irritated when I don't get my newspaper early in the day. I read four newspapers a day. Books, I finish two-three of them a week easily. I read biographies, history, if it is interesting, crime thrillers for entertainment, and read classics... I have a fairly wide range of interest in books,' he added.

Born to British parents Edith Clarke and Aubrey Bond in 1934 in Kasauli, Bond was only four years old when his mother separated from his father and married an Indian.

Though Bond's custody was handed to his father, he soon relocated to his grandmother's house in Dehradun after his father lost his life to jaundice.

Bond grew up in Jamnagar, Shimla, New Delhi, and Dehradun. He finally made Landour his home in 1963.

The quiet mountain town has for years been attracting fans hoping to have a glimpse of the star author sipping tea at the famous Chaar Dukaan, a string of four shops somewhere on a winding road, or grab a fleeting look at him through the window of his bright yellow room.

In fact, when Bond's grandson Sidharth created his Instagram account, which in no time amassed over two lakh followers. Bond jokingly said, 'I hope they all don't turn up here together one day'.

'Lots of people come, knocking at the door, ringing the bell, wanting to meet me. Now, how can I spend all day meeting them? Still, I meet people sometimes when I can,' said Bond.

Till the Covid pandemic in 2020, Bond was a regular at book signing sessions in Mussoori’s Cambridge Book Depot. Those visits have become infrequent but Bond fans still inquire at the shop about when he might come next.

Bond has received numerous awards and honours, including Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in 1992, the Padma Shri in 1999, the Padma Bhushan in 2014 and the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship in 2021.

Having lived all his life in India, barring the four years that he spent in the Channel Islands and London, Bond, who has always identified himself as an Indian and nothing else, admits that even now some people take him for a foreigner in the country.

Ever the storyteller, he recalls with humour a visit to Odisha's Konark Sun temple.

"They wanted to charge me extra because they said I was a foreigner. They charge extra from foreigners for entry. I said 'I am not a foreigner, I am an Indian', but then to avoid an argument I paid extra. And behind me came a sardar ji, he had a British passport but they let him in. He wasn't charged extra because he didn't look like a foreigner," he laughed.

Bond said he leads a happy and content life and doesn't think twice in indulging in things he likes, be it slurping his favourite strawberry milk shakes or going on short drives with his grandchildren.

Bond also scrupulously follows his doctor's advice. He gave up on his favourite tipple vodka but isn’t a teetotaller and 'chota, chota whiskey pegs' is his current favourite.

"The doctor tells me to cut down on salt as well. But I can't give up pickle. This morning only I had haldi pickle on bread toast. Very nice," said Bond, whose favourite all time delicacy is Kashmiri style 'mutton kofta curry'.

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Published 18 May 2024, 15:36 IST

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