It would be a safe bet to say Ruskin Bond is one of India’s most loved author. The journey of writing he started at 16, is still going strong at 83. Known as the Kipling of India, Bond is the brain behind hundreds of short stories, and more than 25 novels. The count, he claims will go on, as writing is his passion. As fancy as his last name may sound, his work is far from that persona. It is soft, real, heart-touching and life-altering.
Born in Kasauli to Edith Clarke and Aubrey Bond, he spent his life in various parts of the country, from Jamnagar in Gujarat, to Delhi, to his favourite Mussoorie and Dehra. At the age of four young Ruskin saw the separation of his parents and the death of his father at the age of ten, due to which he moved around a lot. While most would concede it is very traumatising for a young child, Bond decided to channel his energies positively. Bond’s writing style is semi-autobiographical in nature and one can peep into elements of his life, through his books. For someone, with whom a lot many things happened really early in life, his outlook towards life hasn’t been marred. Even through the most heart-touching and melancholy of his stories, you can feel a silver lining coming on.
His love for writing began when he spent his childhood in Shimla and attended the Bishop Cotton School. He lived with his grandmother for a while after his father died in Dehradun, which helped him write about the people he met as a child, be it the ayah, or the famous character of Uncle Ken. His experience in Dehra during and after his high school is what becomes the story for one of his most famous novels ‘Room on the Roof’. He often claims that his works reflect his lonely childhood and how he spent his life in school and London. Not only that, his stories also have Indian characters taken from his personal life, like Kishen, Ranbir and Somi in ‘Room on the Roof’ and Sushila from ‘Love is a Sad Song’. He writes of his struggling days and how he made friends with all kinds of people; from wrestlers to thieves.Image Courtesy – Search of Life
Life took him to UK to live with his aunt in search of better opportunities. He worked at a grocery store and later even for Thomas Cook and Sons, making travel reservations for people. It was in UK that he started writing ‘Room on the Roof’ and stayed there till he had a publisher. In London, while looking for a publisher Bond worked at a photo studio to get by. When he finally got his book deal and a writing bonus of fifty pounds, the first thing he did was to get a ticket back to India. He maybe of British origins, but in his heart, he has always known he belongs to India. He has even famously quoted once that he would like to be reborn in India, should such a thing exist.
No life as a writer is really ever free of struggles, and it was no different with Mr. Bond. As a freelancer, Bond wrote short stories and poems and kept sending them to publishers. He became a struggling writer who wrote about nature, friendship, romance and ghosts; such a romanticised notion of what a writer really is. You will find that he has more short stories than novels, because short stories were the means to an end – to support himself while he pursued his other writing ambitions. The beauty of his writing lies in how true to life they are. He writes about the locals he encountered, the rural lifestyle of India, the flora and fauna that lend such beauty to our country, the everyday life of children, homemakers, life in the hills, etc. He is masterful in the art of really reaching out to his audience and touching their heart, as if he was your everyday neighbourhood friend (or uncle, depending on how old you are) sharing the happenings of everyday life with you. Yet, each story is written so beautifully, that it is nothing like anything you have experienced before.
As an autobiographical writer, Bond admits to omitting and polishing a few facts and details to make the story an interesting one. A writer, he says, makes a story or a novel interesting by polishing it and making the facts worthy of telling people. For him, to be a good writer one must be interested in people around them and be able to write in any kind of situation. His work emerges from a period of struggle and loneliness, whether autobiographical or not.
He has a collection of Rusty stories, like ‘The Room on the Roof’, ‘Vagrants in the Valley’, ‘Rusty the Boy from the Hills’, ‘Rusty Runs Away’, etc. While growing up, Bond was fondly called Rusty. Thus, these stories emerge from his life. He maintained a journal in his teenage years which he used to create the Rusty anthology.
Ruskin Bond has also edited a few magazines, like Imprint, which he edited for four years. He also worked with a school in Bhubaneshwar and edited Kloud 9, which is a national magazine for school children.
Mr. Bond won a John Llywellyn Rhys Prize in 1957 for his book Room on the Roof. He has even won the Sahitya Akademi Award in the year 1992 and a Padma Shri in 1999. Recently, he was honoured with the Padma Bhushan, which he received in the year 2014. His stories about Rusty were made into a Doordarchan series called Ek Tha Rusty. He now lives with his adopted family in Mussoorie.
If you haven’t read any of his work, we recommend starting with the Room on the Roof, Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra and Delhi is Not Far.