On the cover of Ruskin Bond’s Notes From A Small Room, a Siamese cat looks meditatively back at a typewriter next to an open window.
Inside, the genial author has assembled a collection of new essays and a few old favourites. They are rounded off with an apt tagline: Thoughts on Reaching 75. (This interview was conducted when he turned 75). In it, Ruskin Bond writes:
“Happiness is as elusive as a butterfly, and you must never pursue it… contentment is easier to attain.”
Brilliant musings like these is just one of the things in common with these essays, whether written yesterday or years ago. You will find in them a love of books, of kindly people, of the endless fascination of nature, of the wide-eyed wonder of children, of the sights, sounds and scents of a country that never runs out of surprises.
If you haven’t heard of Ruskin Bond yet, he is an Indian author of British descent. He was born in Kasauli in Himachal Pradesh. His first novel, The Room On the Roof was written when he was 17 and published when he just 21. Bond’s historical novella A Flight of Pigeons about an incident during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 was adapted into Bollywood film Junoon (1978) starring Shashi Kapoor and directed by Shyam Benegal. The Rusty stories were adapted into a national TV series Ek Tha Rusty. In 2005, he worked with Vishal Bhardwaj on the adaptation of his 1980 novel The Blue Umbrella into an eponymous movie which went on to win the National Award for Best Children’s film.
The author even made a cameo (as a Bishop) in Bhardwaj’s film 7 Khoon Maaf (2011) based on his short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands. The film stars Quantico star Priyanka Chopra in the lead role.
In 1992, Bond received the Sahitya Akademi award for English writing. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1999 for his contribution to children’s literature.
Millions of kids all over the world have grown up reading Bond’s books. I am one of the few who discovered them much after I could call myself a kid. After that, I’d scamper about for his books when I could.
This humble novelist’s simple yet powerful stories had just as much of an effect on me. The way he describes nature gets me every time. Perhaps it’s because of the daily walks in the woods he takes around the hill station Mussoorie where he lives. Or the years he spent in happy solitude that bring on a certain bliss. His voice is like that of a gregarious uncle who always brings your favourite candy for Christmas (even if it takes him a day’s trip to source it). He is such a ray of sunshine that even in the pessimistic state of mind I was in the day I interviewed him (about Notes From A Small Room for a newspaper), I was grinning wide after I hung up the phone. So infectious was his laugh.
The cat reappears as an example to live by in A Year With Suzie. “I should have called the cat Souza,” Bond says over the phone from his home in Mussoorie where he lives with his adopted family.
“Suzie was five months old when I discovered that he was actually male. But he kept his girl’s name for the rest of his time with me. Sometimes, I would find him curled up on my typewriter, reminding me that I have not been working regularly of late.”
Yet, writer’s block is something you’ll never hear this prolific 83-year-old author complain about.
“I never suffer from writer’s block. I have only to sit down at my desk for the words to come tumbling onto my writing pad. And if an ant moves across my desk, I shall record its transit,” he says.
Perhaps, it has to do with the work precept he follows: ‘Love your art, poor as it may be,’ Antonian Emperor Marcus Aurelius recorded in Meditations. “I have tried to use words creatively and lovingly,” he writes in the essay Love Your Art. I am reproducing an excerpt from the essay:
Love your art, poor as it may be, which you have learned, and be content with it; and pass through the rest of life like one who has entrusted to the gods with his whole soul and all that he has, making yourself neither the tyrant nor the slave of any man. –
‘Love your art, poor as it may be…’ I have never regretted following this precept, despite the fact that it was sometimes difficult to make ends meet as a writer. The gift for putting together words and sentences to make stories or poems or essays has carried me through life with a certain serenity and inner harmony, which could not have come from any unloved vocation.
Within my own ‘art’ I think I have known my limitations and worked within them, thus sparing myself the bitter disappointment that comes to those whose ambitions stretch far beyond their talents. To know one’s limitations and to do good work within them: more is achieved that way than by overreaching oneself. It is no use trying to write a masterpiece every year if you are so made as to write only one in ten or twenty. In between, there are other good things that can be written — smaller things but satisfying in their own way.
Do what you know best, and do it well. Act impeccably. Everything will then fall into place…
Because I have loved my art, I think I have been able to pass through life without being any man’s slave or tyrant. I doubt I have ever written a story or essay or workaday article unless I have really wanted to write it. And in this way I have probably suffered materially, because I have never attempted a blockbuster of a novel, or a biography of a celebrity, or a soap opera. But in the end things have worked out well. I am a writer without regrets, and that is no small achievement!
– From Love Your Art by Ruskin Bond
Or is the reason his mind that is able to flit from childlike innocence to profound wisdom? He says, “The other day, a friend remarked that I’m still 14. Life seems to get funnier as you get older. Funny things keep happening to me. I took a train to Delhi and woke up in Lucknow. I didn’t mind, because I had a friend there too.”
(A version of this interview was first published in the tabloid mid-day)
Via #daily-prompt Scamper
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Ruskin Bond is one of India’s most beloved authors. The prolific writer has published numerous books. There are scores of others at various stages of the book publishing gamut. I have linked to some of the best recent posts on the themes of authors.
- Pros and cons of our modern e-readers – Karen Ingalls
- Five ways to contact your favourite author – The story reading ape
- Open letter to an unnamed author – Stop the harassment (Tattooed book geek)
- Authors of one country who set their novels in another country – Dave Astor
- What I learned from working at Penguin – Louise Brady
- Do authors on social media police reader interpretation? Beacoup books
- Being a good writer doesn’t make you a good author – Secret diary of a porter girl
- Head hopping and migraines – The romantic quill
- Learn how to self edit – Kristina Stanley
- Judging books by their covers – Caroliena Cabada