The 78-year-old author still manages to find ‘the better side of human nature’ to keep him motivated.
Silver-haired, plump and surrounded by children waiting to get their books autographed by him, Ruskin Bond could be a genial and beloved grandfather. But his eyes, a twinkling clear blue, tell another story. They are windows to a soul much younger than his 78 years and a mind blessed with Peter Pan’s eternal childhood.
Perhaps, it is these eyes that help him continue to see the world as a child would and spin yarns to engross them for hours. ‘I have been writing for 60 years. Some of those who read my books as children would be grandparents now,’ says Bond, who was in the city recently to launch his new book, Hip Hop Nature Boy and Other Poems, as part of Landmark and Penguin India’s 25th anniversary celebrations.
Perhaps, in those years lie the enduring appeal of Bond’s stories, who is called a child-fiction writer, but read by people across all age groups. ‘Reading is a habit. I still like to go back to books I read as a child and every time I learn something new from them,’ says the author.
His favourite all-time reads include Alice in Wonderland, Three Men in a Boat and Dickens – David Copperfield and Pickwick Papers, to name a few.
‘Also Emily Bronte. When I read Wuthering Heights as a youngster, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up all night reading it. And when I was re-reading it recently, again, I couldn’t put it down. That’s the test of a great book. It still holds you,’ he says.
Unlike many, who crib that children today don’t read enough, Bond feels that the readership for Indian fiction has grown over the years. ‘In spite of competition from television and the Internet, people are reading. And even in my student days, when there was no alternate media, it is not as if everyone was a serious reader. In a batch of 30, even then you would find only two-three who were really fond of reading,’ he explains.
For the writers it has become easier to reach out to the market with the growth of publishing in India, he points out. ‘Back then there were no publishers for English writing in India. If you were writing in English, you had to find a publisher abroad. It helped if you could find a foreign author to introduce your book. Mulk Raj Anand, R K Narayan all worked that way,’ he explains.
He does agree though that despite the pressure of finding a foreign publisher, writers then managed to preserve the flavour of Indian life better in their works than authors today, who seem to be creating an India the western market can identify with. And adds, tongue firmly in cheek, ‘There is a new genius being discovered everyday today.’
But Bond is not one of those who blindly clings to an illusion of past glory. He is as blunt about the past, as he is outspoken about the present. ‘I was checking old bestseller lists and even then the ones that sold well were not necessarily great works. And many writings that did not do commercially well went on to be appreciated later,’ he says.
Bond says he tries to keep himself updated. ‘I did start reading one book of the Harry Potter series, but I gave up when three people dropped dead in the very first chapter,’ he says with a laugh. He also mentions, ‘the vampire series that is doing very well now’ (Twilight). ‘There is a lot being written on the dark side of life now. Trends come and go,’ he says resignedly.
A lot is being written for children, he says, ‘but I am not sure if it is all high standard.’ His new book, he hopes, will encourage children to read more poetry. ‘Children today grow up quicker. They are cynical at a younger age. There is more pressure on them. Everything is so competitive.’
But children, childhood and nature – ‘the better side of human nature’ continue to motivate him to write. ‘Also, as I grow older I am able to see the funnier side of life.’ That doesn’t mean that he believes in hanging on to ‘an idyllic childhood from the past.
'When I am writing about children today, I present them as they are. And if I am writing about the past, I present them the way they used to be,’ he says matter-of-factly.
Children come knocking at his door in Landour, Mussourie, all the time. And he meets them.
But if there is one area where the children’s beloved author has not been able to keep pace with them, it is in cyberspace. ‘I still write with a pen on paper,’ he laughs. And he hasn’t seen the Ruskin Bond fan page on Facebook which has over 12,000 likes, but appreciates the gesture.
Post 2011, a chat with Bond would be incomplete without touching upon Priyanka Chopra and Saat Khoon Maaf. ‘I had intended it as a black comedy, but the comedy didn’t come through in the film. Perhaps, it should have had a different slant,’ muses the writer.