Published: 29th May 2018
Happy birthday, Ruskin Bond! Though late to the party, we celebrate him and his works
Though late to the party, we catch up with author Ruskin Bond, who celebrated his 84th birthday on May 19 and spoke to him about all things literary
“I have never been a fast walker, or a conqueror of mountain peaks, but I can plod along for miles. And that's what I've been doing all my life — plodding along, singing my song, telling my tales in my own unhurried way. I have lived life at my own gentle pace, and if as a result I have failed to get to the top of the mountain (or of anything else), it doesn't matter, the long walk has brought its own sweet rewards; buttercups and butterflies along the way."
Ruskin Bond, Roads to Mussoorie (2005)
And plod along he did
These lines best describe Ruskin Bond, India's favourite children's author. For someone who has been writing from the age of 17 (with his very first book, The Room on the Roof, he gave us the unforgettable Rusty) till the age of 84 (his latest being Ranji the Music Maker), Bond’s work has plodded its way from Doon, Mussoorie, where he currently resides with his adopted family, to the hearts of book lovers all around the world. And in doing so, he may not have conquered any mountain peaks, but he has certainly conquered many hearts across generations. And along with buttercups and butterflies, he has won a lot of sweet rewards including the Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Bhushan and many more.
Undoubtedly, Bond's charm is as indelible now as it was before. And as he celebrated his birthday on May 19, we caught up with him for a chat about his latest book, why he is still reading the Oxford English Dictionary and how he wishes to be remembered.
Ranji the Music Maker is published by Puffin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House and is illustrated by Sayan Mukherjee
Bond, who was born in Kasauli, spent his 84th birthday doing what he loves — spending time amongst books and book lovers at Cambridge Book Depot in Mussoorie. But this time, he even launched his latest book Ranji the Music Maker, inspired by a postcard sent by a fan from Sri Lanka. The postcard depicted a young boy playing the flute for a tabby kitten, who is his only audience and Bond expertly spun this into a story. It surely doesn't take much to spark Bond's imagination we say and he humbly agrees. "I do see a story almost everywhere because for me, where there is life, there is a story," says Bond and considers himself fortunate to be able to find stories in the smallest of details.
Speaking about his latest book and its protagonist Ranji, who on an idle afternoon explores his grandfather's attic and finds musical instruments there, we ask Bond about his tryst with music. He confesses to being devoid of any musical bone in his body. "If I start singing in a car, it breaks down. If I sing in the house, everyone goes out and if I start singing on the roads, everyone suddenly wants to go home," he says, with the typical Bond humour that we have come to know and love. But when we ask him about his favourite song, he recalls and sings an old Scottish song —
Keep right on to the end of the road,
Keep right on to the end,
Tho' the way be long, let your heart be strong,
Keep right on round the bend.
I never went out of the way to celebrate my birthday. It is only in recent years that bookshops and publishers lovingly make a day of it
Ruskin Bond, Author
No cake for Bond
Birthdays call for cake, "which I am not very fond of, I don't have a sweet tooth. Give me aloo tikkis and pickles any day!" and retrospection. "Hmmm... I could have written better books, better stories, but by and large, I think I have achieved most of what I set out to do. And I did it here in the place I love to live in, among the people I love," he says sweetly, when we ask him to look back at his life and share his regrets, if any. We ask him about how he wants to be remembered and he brushes it aside, saying that it doesn't matter as long as his books continue to be read. Otherwise, he doesn't mind behind remembered as a, "round, podgy man, stumbling through life," he says and laughs heartily.
Book lovers, unite
The last time we spoke to Bond in October 2016, he told us that he was reading the dictionary. When we ask him what he is reading now, he says that he is still reading the dictionary to discover new words, alongside detective stories by Peter James.
Bond feels that all it takes to be a book lover is a love for the language to begin with and an inquiring mind. And though he has always maintained that reading book has been a minority pastime, he does concede that the number of readers has grown from strength to strength thanks to the increase in access to education and the advent of digital technology.
Before signing off, he promises to send us his birthday cake, "though I can't guarantee the condition it will reach you in." We laugh it off and promise to send him all our love anyway.
As we combed through the state to find lovers of Ruskin Bond, we were not disappointed by the disparity in age groups. Here are what four ardent readers of his books had to say about his work:
I've met Ruskin Bond on several occasions. The first time I met him, I was working in a bookstore which he had simply walked into. The next time, he confessed to me that he loved visiting bookstores and asked me to take him around a few. He came to our bookshop and picked up a book by Agatha Christie. The last time we met in 2016, he indulged the audience with a reading and book signing session here in our shop at Khandagiri. He is a simple man with absolutely no airs about him. Every time he is in the city, he calls me. He is a very familiar and warm figure for me
Akshaya Rautaray, 38, Founder, Bookfairs, Khandagiri
There is a lot of simplicity in the way he writes. I love the fact that he's made his sorrows his biggest strength. He describes nature in such a beautiful way that it always manages to calm me. His theories about the Boy Scouts and Mr Oliver are mind-boggling. Ruskin Bond was, is and will forever be one of my favourite authors. And after reading so many of his stories, I know that if I ever befriend him, he'll be my best buddy. Thank you Mr Bond, for writing such lovely stories. Thank you for inspiring me, I admire you. You make me a proud reader!
Anoushka Panda, 11, Sai International School, Bhubaneswar
It was in class VIII when I came across my first story by Ruskin Bond. After that, I purchased four to five books by him. The ones that have stayed with me are The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories and The World Outside My Window. When I read his books, I feel like I am in the same place as him. It’s like if he writes that it is raining, I can smell the fragrance of the earth after a rainfall. The stories are small and hence one has to spend less time on them. The language is also truly touching. He usually writes about places like Mussoorie, Shimla and Manali which makes me want to visit them and explore these places through his eyes
Debashis Nayak, 24, Founder, CoolHax Labs and ExelinServ
It is a beautiful feeling to celebrate the birthday of Ruskin Bond. Even though he is very popular as a storyteller for children, I have had the privilege of reading his work while growing up as a teenager. I am almost approaching 40 now and I'm thrilled to find how his stories, inspired by everyday life events, change in meaning with age. As a child, I always found it difficult to comprehend the message, so I settled for enjoying the vividness of his imagination, which he could draw you into. But as life moved on, I could really begin to immerse myself in the lessons he wittingly concealed in his stories. The few poems he compiled in the collection I was the Wind Last Night, leads you straight to the hills and the valleys of the beautiful Himalayas. I feel like I need to read his work all over again, maybe it will help me snap out of the monotony of life. He is the 007 of the literary world
Aseem Mishra, 38, Co-Founder, Prantae Solutions
I've literally grown up reading Bond's books. His crisp and natural writing style makes the characters come alive! His vivid descriptions of nature take you on a journey to a different world. I am from the hills and he portrays the tranquility of Himalayas beautifully, which touches my heart. I loved Rain in the Mountains. The beautiful imagery is an all new experience. I am still on my zigzag way, pursuing the diagonal between reason and heart — this quote from the book stirred my soul. Another book by him that I can't go without mentioning is The Room on the Roof. The story portrays a myriad blend of emotions of an orphaned boy, Rusty. It teaches many life lessons
Mahua Sen, 34, Writer
There are very few authors that have ink coursing through their veins. The simplicity and the detail with which Bond expresses himself is as timeless and beautiful as the hills he has made his home. Truly, his book The Room on the Roof touched my heart like no other book, evoking a nostalgia that made my heart ache for easier times
Esha Chaddha, 19, St Francis Degree College for Women
I read Thick as Thieves: Tales of Friendship just last month. This book has a beautiful collection of short stories with characters who are innocent and pure at heart. The book talks about carefree childhood, relationships, hardships, pain, loneliness and above all, it talks about the everlasting impact of friendship. At various instances in the stories, I see myself as one among the group of friends. That is the beauty of the narration. My favourite character is Kamal in The Crooked Tree because despite his difficulties, he looks at the brighter side of life. Some of the most inspiring words from this book are — Without the touch of friendship there is no life and we must fade away
S Hemaditya, 8, Ganges Valley High School
Two things happened when I was seven years old. Through our English textbook, we had the opportunity to read Ruskin Bond's short story, The Eyes are Not Here and at the same time, my best friend's elder sister was selected as the winner of a young authors contest and got to meet Ruskin Bond. These two events and his work somehow made me feel alive and present to the whole world. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single book written by him and I particularly cherish my copy of Maharani with its twisted humour and alarming yet delightful imagery. His books have left a lasting impression in my mind. As an 11-year-old navigating through the troubled waters of adolescence, his work was one of my constants
Abhineeta Raghunath, 26, Writer
To get the book, click on amzn.to/2rXQuRZ