With a life well lived or rather wonderfully lived, there couldn’t be anyone better suited than Mr Bond to tell us how to live our lives. The Sahitya Akademi Award winner in 1992, Padma Shri award 1999 winner and the Padma Bhushan 2014 awardee, released his latest book with HarperCollins India on his 88th birthday recently. Told in true bond style, each piece of advice in the book titled How to Live Your Life, will ring true with everyone who reads the book as you’ll discover true wisdom on its pages, again and yet again.
Be whatever you want to be…Give it your heart and soul, and you will have made something of your life, my friend…says Bond in this book packed with all the good advice anyone, any age, would love and benefit from because it is sound wisdom distilled from the wonderful life and times of the inimitable Ruskin Bond, unmistakably one of India’s most popular authors. The other book he wrote recently that was released on his 88th birthday was Listen to Your Heart: The London Adventure. In 2020, he released his book on how to be a writer with tips for budding writers.
How did you celebrate your 88th birthday this month?
It was two days of back to back celebrations. Many people came over and wished me. There were lots of birthday cakes at home. Some of them were sitting on the table for a few days after the celebrations too. I’m 88 now and like jalebis, so I had more jalebis on my birthday than cakes. Next year I’m planning to go underground, so no one can come (he quips).
What is your first memory of writing as a child? Was it all God gifted it or did you have to work towards it?
My first memory of writing is when I was a young nine or 10 years old. I used to make lists of all the books, movie songs and also people I liked. It was strange. Infact, I think that was how I set about writing. Later in school, I realised I was good at writing essays and in school exams I did really well. After school when I was 17, I wrote my first set of short stories. After many rejections, I got one published in a prominent publication and in 1952 I got paid 50 Rs. In those days, we could do a party with that money. So we got cakes, pastries, homemade lemonades and samosas. It was great fun getting my first story published. I still write stories, but I feel I’m still not satisfied. I’m still improving on them every single day.
My father was a great companion. When I was small, he would read to me. I was a book worm from an early age. The books I read made me who I’m today and inspired me to be a writer too. I realised that this was the thing I could do best and if I could make a living out of it then there would be nothing better suited than this, since I really enjoyed writing. I was lucky as time went on my books started coming out and I became more established as a writer. I made a decent living from what I enjoyed doing. So, by and large, it has been a good journey through life. Writing always made me happy. Young readers should be encouraged to read and write more as this is something that will give anyone immense satisfaction if they\
Your latest book talks about finding joy in the small things in life and following your passion. It is something that most of us do know at the back of our heads, but don’t really find the time for as we are caught in the daily cycle of life and running around earning our living. Are there any easier ways how one can find that balance of earning money while also following their passion?
I follow what goes around me. I read newspapers, I follow world wars, political affairs but at the same time I feel life should me made worth living. I follow the current affairs but at the same time I don’t worry about politics and conflicts. I want my readers to enjoy what I write and get something out of it. I want them to enjoy what they do. I’m doing more writing now and am trying to give a little more time to writing other things. In the earlier days, I was writing more of stories.
One can always do with a little more money. But it’s important to not get lost in only earning your bread. Certainly the first 20 to 20 years of my writing life, even I was struggling. I was ready to do odd jobs, even if it wasn’t writing work. I was ready to go beyond my comfort zone of writing. Writing was what I loved but I was ready to do other things. Some writers are lucky as they get overnight success. It wasn’t like that with me. It took many years for me to establish myself to get the right readership. But at the end it was all worth it. It’s been in many ways satisfying and rewarding and makes one feel that you should stick to all the hard work and passion.
I’ve done many odd jobs after school when I was younger. After living in India for a while, I went to the UK. I didn’t have enough money then, so I would go to office in the day. I worked in a firm for photographic supplies and also worked briefly in Channel Islands as a travel agent. I also worked at a grocery store for a while which was horrible. I would come home and write at night. I came back soon to India did some editorial work. I also worked for an NGO. I wanted to get back into full time writing or freelance. From the time my first book The Room on the Roof was published, when I came to India from Britain, I would bombard every publication in the land with my stories and articles. Well, in those days most publications published my short stories. I would make 500 Rs in 1955 for a short story. You can multiply it by 10 or 20 for today’s times. In my book How to be a Writer I’ve given tips for budding writers. These days they can even publish it themselves which is fine, but it is still hard to make a living for most writers.
How has life been living in Landour, Mussoorie? Please share what a typical day in your life is like?
It’s a long cold winter here and I hated it last year as I wasn’t too well. Now it’s summer and this weather suits me. I’m not the Delhi summer kind of person, but Mussoorie summer suits. I’ve lived here for 50 years. Well, I probably just forgot to go away (he laughs). I did live in Delhi for six years, but Mussoorie is home. I also loved my time in Bangalore. There were smaller homes there and I used to walk about a lot in Bangalore. It was sad to see that one of the lakes had become a parking lot, when I visited the city again around six years back.
A typical day for me starts with writing in the morning before breakfast and then the rest of the day, I do my routine work. The day passes by quickly. I sometimes do some work on the laptop as well and my grandchildren help me fix these things if I need help.
I write for one hour and also read for three hours. I take my afternoon siesta and I’m very grumpy if someone wakes me up. I walk in the evenings. I used to love my treks, but now I can’t do long treks or hikes. I watch football or cricket on TV and stay away from news channels. I also watch Netflix, Youtube and also watch some old movies sometimes. I have a small vodka with orange juice every day. I make one small one for myself and I stick to only one everyday just to enjoy my dinner. I eat well without any dietary restrictions. I can eat everything – from vegetables to north Indian food and also Italian, English and Chinese and Tibetan food. I also indulge in samosas, pakoras, tikkis and jalebis sometimes. I also like my Shepherd’s pie.
What are the few things that attracted you to come back to India many decades back?
I grew up in India and after my school, my mother packed me to England, but after a few years I wanted to come back. England was home, but my heart was in India my other home, so after coming here, I never went back to England or to any other country, apart from many brief visits to nearby countries.
In those days, London was a lonely place for me. I was only 18 and I didn’t know anyone there. I had to stay in a small attic room and also work and do odd jobs for a living. Some publishers published my book but there was really not much of a life without friends. Friends, if there were any, were far away. It was lonely for a boy. So when my first book The Room on the Roof was published I used the money to come back to India. I had only 50 pounds from that book, so I bought a 40 pounds ticket and stayed in Mumbai with 10 pounds. I was grateful for English language but never wanted to live in England or Europe as it was cold and miserable. India and Indians are warm and friendly. Well, most of them. I like to take that in my stride. I get on well with people and people here get on well with me. I’m used to life here. We grumble about power failures, garbage bins and stuff but we have to try our best to improve things too. Many of them write to me and enjoy my stories. Maybe, I wouldn’t have had such a good following if I was in the UK.
I have been here since 1955. I went by ship to England in those days and came back by ship as airlines were not fully developed then. One couldn’t fly straight. There were a lot of layovers on flights and stopping at different ports even on ships. Travel has changed so much since then. I have travelled to many countries like Nepal, Dubai and others to attend many Literary festivals.
You have more than 500 short stories, essays, and novels, including 50 books for children. You were awarded the Padma Shri in 1999 and the Padma Bhushan in 2014. Tell us more about the highpoints of your journey?
The highpoints were getting first novel published, working in Delhi and then coming to the hills in 1964 and discovering nature and wild life and my relation with the natural world.
What have been some of the strongest influences in your writing?
I write about life around me, so I’m very influenced by people and books.
Your books have also been adapted into movies and TV series. What is your view on these adaptations?
I wasn’t disappointed with any of these movies. Junoon was made well and was based on A Flight of Pigeons. It was produced by Shashi Kapoor and directed by Shyam Benegal. The Rusty stories were adapted into a Doordarshan TV series Ek Tha Rusty. Several stories were incorporated into the school curriculum in India, including The Night Train at Deoli, Time Stops at Shamli and Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra. Vishal Bhardwaj made a film based on The Blue Umbrella which won the National Film Award for Best Children’s Film. I also made my maiden big-screen appearance with Vishal Bhardwaj’s film 7 Khoon Maaf which was based on my short story Susanna’s Seven Husbands. I was the Bishop in the movie with Priyanka Chopra. Hopefully more movies will be made.
Can you name 10 top books that everyone must read atleast once in their lifetime?
I would say everyone must read the sort of books they enjoy to read. Also read classics, travel books and lives of great people and autobiographies. Whatever you do you must read widely. I like Henry David Thoreau’s book titled Walden and The Story of my Heart by Richard Jefferies.