Bond, with the beasts

Quick Take

Ruskin Bond is an author who needs no introduction. The many number of novellas, short stories, children’s books, essays and poems he has penned over the years have endeared themselves to one and all owing to the legendary author’s simplicity of writing style and natural storytelling abilities. Several of his stories have been included in school curriculums, while several of them have been adapted for the big screen. The latest on the list is a web series on ZEE5 titled Parchayee — Ghost Stories by Ruskin Bond, based on select works of the iconic author. This Sahitya Akademi, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awardee lives in Landour, Mussoorie, with his adopted family.

Excerpts from an interview:

Inspiration for your ghost stories...

I grew up reading ghost stories and enjoying them, so when I became a writer, I thought that it would be fun to write the odd ghost story myself.

Your favourite — Rusty or the ghosts?

Rusty, I think. There’s only one Rusty and there are dozens of ghosts! So I’ll stick with Rusty, since he’s my alter ego, and let the ghosts look after themselves. They can look after themselves very well.

If the ghosts from your stories appear before you...

Well, I’d offer them a drink probably, and if they don’t drink, I’ll maybe offer to make them a cup of tea, just to start the evening on a friendly basis. And maybe then the ghost can tell me the story of how he or she became a ghost.

Your preference — novels or short stories?

Short stories, honestly. Because I like to get a thing done in a short period of time. I have difficulty staying with a theme or a subject over a length of time, and a novel would take months.

Your take on the digital platform...

Don’t know much about it, but if it’s an outlet for my work, for my stories, for my own creativity, then great, I’m all for it. I’m a fairly practical person. But being lazy, I don’t use technology much. But I am happy to have someone else use it for me.

Your thoughts on watching your stories come alive on the big screen?

It’s always nice to see that happen, to see how a good director has adapted the story, and visualised it for a different medium. So I enjoy that usually. Unless the film is totally different, you know, from the story. As long as it keeps to the theme, and the characterisation is good, and the acting is good, I usually enjoy watching an adaptation.  

Which of your books would you give children to introduce them to literature?

Maybe The Adventures of Rusty. Although I have had the odd parent complaining that their son, after reading it, decided to run away from home. So, I don’t want to encourage children to do that! (Laughs)

Your favourite authors...

Well, going back to the classics, I grew up on (Charles) Dickens, I’ve read all the works of Dickens… thoroughly enjoyed them. Now, actually, I get a bit bogged down when I try to read Dickens. I enjoyed Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights… that was one of my favourites. Then John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps. More realistic writers like Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene. These were writers who were popular when I was in school or in my 20s and 30s. I still go back to them from time to time. Nowadays I enjoy reading crime fiction. I read a lot of detective stories, both old and new. Because, sometimes, as a change from writing, you want something light. I’ve read all of Agatha Christie, in fact, some of them twice over. There have been many new writers, too. I’m just finishing one by a writer called Patricia Cornwell. But her heroine is a forensic pathologist, so she is always cutting up dead bodies, which gets a bit depressing at times (laughs)!

A hero of fiction dear to you...

Well, I loved Mr Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers. Because he was round and jolly and getting into a mess every now and then. I like humorous, sweet characters.

Is writer’s block for real? Have you dealt with it?

Not very often. Because before I sit down to write a story, I’d have written it in my head from beginning to end. I even visualise it, almost like a film. I think it’s absolutely important to have the end of the story in view before you start writing it, so you build up to a sort of denouement. If you plot it in advance, you won’t get writer’s block.

Your relation to the hills...

Well, it’s become closer over the years. And I’ve begun to look like a hill myself (laughs). But I like going down to the plains now and then for a change. And right at the moment, since it’s freezing up here, I’d be quite happy to be in Pondicherry, maybe (laughs)!

Your pet pastime...

I guess reading. I am still a great reader. And my afternoon siesta is also a great pleasure to me. What else? I am eating a Mars bar this evening. I don’t have a very sweet tooth, but I like the odd chocolate.

Your interests, other than reading & writing...

I used to hike a lot when I was younger. When I used to go hiking or trekking, I was always interested in the flora around me, the wild flowers, the plants… things that grew. I am still very interested in plant life and I can tell you the names of most wild flowers and plants and grasses.

Your favourite person in the world...

I can tell you a lot of unfavourite people, but it’s hard to say about one favourite person (laughs).

Your present state of mind...

It is quite philosophical. For my age and reasonable health, I’m grateful. And since I’m also writing, it means I’m still creative. In fact, last month. I wrote three short stories.

Your comfort food...

Well, I did mention the chocolate. I like things like aloo tikkas and chaat, salty, namkeen things. I shall now have some finger chips with my evening rum. In the cold weather, with hot water and a little nimbu… My hot water bottle in bed is a great comfort in this weather.

What do you most appreciate in friends?

Good companionship. I think a friend is someone you can spend a long time with, live with for a long period, not have secrets from, in a way — be open with, and even argue with or quarrel with from time to time, but it should never lead to bad feelings.

Your greatest achievement…

Golly! I guess being able to write reasonably well over such a long period of time, from the early 1950s to now, and to have kept up a steady output, and at a reasonably decent level of writing. And that I’ve been a literary writer, not a writer of potboilers, and selling quite well now, after years of just getting by. So I feel I’ve in a way done what I’d set out to do in life… and I’d like to do a little more.

If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?

Maybe a squirrel in a big banyan tree, with lots of nuts. Or maybe a bird… a bulbul. And sing better than I do now! I’ve got a horrible singing voice, so I think I should come back as someone or something that can sing beautifully.

Best advice to aspiring writers...

Well, make sure you can write to begin with! A lot of people plunge into writing a book or a story when they haven’t even mastered the elements of grammar. So I think one should take a little care with language… practise writing a decent sentence, dialogue, and then indulge yourself.

I would never discourage anyone from writing, I would only say prepare yourself, as you would in any other profession. 

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