At 85, Ruskin Bond has come up with his third memoir, Coming round the mountain.
In every book lover’s shelf, there will be a book by Ruskin Bond. His stories, written in simple language, have been catalysts in nurturing imagination of generations. And, all these years, Bond has been writing, without a writer’s block! “I will give you three solutions to overcome a writer’s block. First one is to fall in love. When you are in love, the writer’s block will disappear, and you will write beautiful romantic poems and stories. But, if you can’t find someone to fall in love with, put your work aside for some time, do something else and return later. And, the third solution is to use a waste paper basket! Write and throw it away. But, I never get a writer’s block because I am in love all the time,” laughs Bond, who has written over 500 short stories, essays, novellas and more than 40 books for children. He is also the recipient of the Sahithya Akademi Award for English Writing in India and the Padma Shri award.
Bond, who turned 85 this month, celebrated the day by releasing Coming Round the Mountain, the third book in his memoir series. The first two books were Looking for the Rainbow, where he described the two years he spent with his father, and Till the Clouds Roll By, which describes his efforts to adjust to a new life with his mother and step-father. In Coming Round the Mountain, which is set against the backdrop of Independence and Partition, Bond reminisces his school days through the ‘fearsome four’ boys of Bishop Cotton School that include the author himself.
“I enjoyed recalling them and writing about them,” says Bond, who thinks of compiling the three in one volume or box set later. “I thought of focussing on that particular year since so much happened during that time to me and around me. I felt it would be more interesting as a story,” he says, and goes on recounting those days. “We didn’t have television, Internet or video games. There was cinema and we used to go for it. Then, of course, books, comics and a lot of games. All these kept us busy throughout. In a boarding school, there will always be something or other to do — compulsory games, PT and punishments,” he laughs and says, as mentioned in the book, he never liked morning PT. “Even the talk of it today makes me shudder,” he chuckles. And, the caning? “Caning, you get used to after sometime,” he laughs again. “As said in the book, the boy who got caned the most was admired the most. It didn’t do much harm unless you had a sadistic teacher who was handed over to do it. Otherwise, it was not bad,” says Bond.
Partition was, indeed, a difficult time for them. In the book, one of the friends leaves the school forever following Partition. Ask Bond whether he ever met him after that, he says, “We had a brief meeting when I went to England after finishing my school. After that, I didn’t meet him. In school, friends came from different places. So, unless you took the trouble to write to them and keep in touch, they would drift apart,” he says. “There was a lot of exchange of population during Partition. In the process, many lost their homes and family. Well, it was traumatic for a few months. But then situations were back to normal,” recalls Bond, who has been writing since the age of 17.
Though his mother advised him to join the army after school, which was a norm among boys then, he chose to write. “Writing was one thing I could do the best. And, I stuck to it. It took me a while to live on my writing. Before that, I worked in a travel agency, photography firm and did editorial work for magazines to make money.”
Although he is known as a children’s writer, Bond says, it was only in his 40s that he started writing keeping children in mind. “Now probably, I would write more for children than ever before,” he says. He considers it a service. He believes if he could woo young audience with his works, it will attract them to literature and make them write better.
In his opinion, writing for children is all about catching their attention through good stories and characters. He cites an instance, “I write ghost stories sometimes. Once a little girl told me, ‘Sir, I like your ghost stories. But, they are not scary enough. Can’t you make them more frightening?” he bursts into laughter. “Maybe they watch much scarier stuff on television. But, my ghosts are friendly,” he says. “What I would try to avoid while writing for children are elements like extreme cruelty and sexual details in a rude way,” says Bond, whose stories have animals and birds as characters. He recalls a crow that would steal his beer. “I was in another cottage then. A crow used to visit me. I had an open window where I would sit in the afternoon, sometimes, drinking a glass of beer. This crow would come, put his beak into my beer glass and take two, three sips and fly away rather groggily. Yes! It was an alcoholic crow,” says Bond, who loves India.
He could lived abroad, but he stayed here. “Life in England can be monotonous. Customs don’t vary much and people are the same everywhere. But in India, everything is different in every 50 miles. There is not a dull moment in India,” concludes Bond, and vows to be back with more stories.