Breeze from the hills
Ruskin Bond has taken a break from the cool hills for a whirlwind promotional tour of his works
THERE'S ONE word to describe Ruskin Bond gentle. As you talk to him or read his works, you feel a bit envious of the man and his world that seem so distant from the grime and strife of the workaday world.
An increasingly rare world where afternoon naps are not unthinkable. Bond writes in his dedication to The India I Love: "In the spirit of goodwill, tolerance and ahimsa, I dedicate this book to all those who come knocking at my door in the middle of my afternoon siesta. May they discover the benefits and pleasures of a good afternoon's sleep."
The prolific English writer of children's works and more, who lives amidst a large adopted family in a cottage in Mussorie ("Where the grass is still green and the air is still free"), is at his best when he is talking about the simple, beautiful things of life.
Even those who find him a little too simple for comfort are often enticed by the lyrical, old world charm of his writings. Bond confesses in one of his essays: "As a writer, I have difficulty in doing justice to momentous events, the wars of nations, the politics of power; I am more at ease with the dew of the morning, the sensuous delights of the day, the silent blessings of the night, the joys and sorrows of children, the striving of ordinary folk, and of course, the ridiculous situations in which we sometimes find ourselves."
The same endearing quality characterises his latest collection of poems (A Little Night Music). He is charming not so much when he is attempting social commentary, but more when he is talking about the little beauties of Nature or saying something funny with a wonderful comic timing. Bond is on an all-India promotional tour for A Little Night Music and his other Rupa and Co. publications.
Excerpts from an interview:
This is your first exclusive collection of poems, though there are smatterings of poetry in your prose works. What took you so long to publish poetry?
I've been writing poems since I was a boy. But publishers are not always keen on poetry because it's difficult to sell... But even in my prose I do try to create a rhythm or a sort of musical cadence so that it flows in an almost poetic way. So, I think my poetry is more an extension of my prose.
You started writing long before English writing in India came to have the recognition it has today. How do you view the evolution of English writing?
R. K. Narayan and Mulk Raj Anand started much before me. I'm actually the second generation of Indian English writers. But even when I started writing, we had to publish mostly abroad. Now you no longer have to publish abroad for a living. I make quite a good living from writing and now publish exclusively in India.
You say in one of your essays that you are glad you no longer have to "hawk" your stories and books in other lands.
Yes, I have always had an Indian reader in mind when I write. May be that's why some of my books and stories didn't make an impact abroad. They weren't directed at them. When you write for readers in another country you often need to explain what you take for granted here.
But is the English writing scene getting too crowded now in India?
The more the merrier, as long as there are publishers to absorb them all.
The market has changed in India too. You wouldn't, for instance, have gone on a promotional tour earlier.
Yes, the scene has changed in the last five to seven years. Partly because of the visual media. Writers are recognisable figures now. Some 30 years ago, a famous writer was a name. I once met Graham Greene in a studio in London without realising it was him. Writers remained anonymous and it was a good thing, I guess. Authors aren't, after all, meant to be like film stars or cricketers... Nevertheless, you sometimes have to promote books and so on in order to sell them.
There are apprehensions about the death of the reading habit. Do you agree?
The reading habit has always been a minority pastime. Even when you go back 50 years, just two or three of us in a large class were fond of reading. Those days there was no television, Internet or any other distraction we have now. So, reading is something only some people take to.
How have you managed to remain a teller of simple tales for so long in a complex, fragmented world, unaffected by even changing literary trends and movements?
I guess I'm basically an uncomplicated person. I'm an impulsive, intuitive writer. I write from the heart and think that's the easiest way. If I had tried to follow the trends, I would have probably fallen by the wayside. Like Thoreau, I have always said simplify, simplify. Life does get complicated, I know. But I guess I've been lucky.
I believe you have also escaped technology. You still use long hand and the typewriter.
I've pensioned off even the typewriter. Now I just write by hand because it's easier. Typewriters and computers bother my eyes, back and neck. With a notebook and pencil, you can lie down or sit on the hillside and write. It becomes part of natural, everyday living. It's a question of habit also. I'm lazy about a computer really. I'm very impractical, you see.
You continue to be called `author from the hills' though you have written about plenty of other things. Does this straightjacket bother you?
It's okay, I guess. Hills extend a long way!
Fifty years is a very long time to be doing anything. Aren't you bored or tired of writing?
I'm fortunate that I'm able to write for so long. But Khushwant Singh too is still writing. He recently included my name in the list of up and coming young writers in an article. I'm 20 years younger to him and I guess that makes me a young writer with a lot of promise. So, there's still hope for me!
You've never been tempted to do something else?
I'm no good at anything else. Yes, at one time I was a good football player. But at 70, you can't play football. Well, you can't even be a referee!
* * *
The duck is seventy
This year, '04, I'm 70 years old,
And so is Donald Duck,
At writing verse he's rather slack,
I'm not much better when I quack!
So here, dear Donald, is my boast
Roast duck is best with buttered toast.
Says Donald, `Friend, don't push your luck,
You might be born again a duck!'
(The last poem in A Little Night Music)
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