Books

A Writer Needs Solitude, You Need To Be By Yourself: Ruskin Bond

'But of course, a writer needs solitude. You don’t want loneliness, but occasionally you need to be by yourself. And over the years, I have always had a quiet corner where I can retreat to and just be by myself, write a little or read. I’m very lucky that way,' says author Ruskin Bond.

At Home: Ruskin Bond lives in Landour, Mussoorie with his large adopted family
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To commemorate Ruskin Bond’s 89th birthday this year, Puffin culled 25 of the choicest nature stories by him in a beautifully illustrated collection. These stories on life amidst nature capture the magical imaginings of childhood. Books dedicated to Bond were also published by Aleph Book Company and HarperCollins India this year. India’s beloved writer spoke to Arun A K

Some of your best stories celebrating the magnificence of nature and your abiding love for it appear in All-Time Favourite Nature Stories. Do you have a favourite among the ones in the collection?

Very often, when I am actually writing a story and if I am enjoying the process of writing, that becomes my favourite at the time. But when I look back there are so many favourites. So, it’s hard to think of a particular story. I remember enjoying writing ‘The Tree Lover’ a lot. But I’ve enjoyed writing most of my stories.

Besides the 25 curated stories, I’m sure there are others dear to you. Was it challenging to leave out many good ones?

I must have written over a hundred stories, essays and articles on the subject of nature, trees, wildlife and forests by now. This particular selection was put together by the editors of the book from previous published works of mine. So, these stories and essays have been written at different times. Some are recent and some go far back. The poems are very recent.

The Gold Collection also features some of your finest stories.

Yes, these are favourites written over the years. I have done a few new stories for Aleph, and they’ll bring them out later this year, most probably by Christmas. The book will be called The Night Has a Thousand Eyes. The Gold Collection was done by the publisher as a sort of birthday gift for me. I love the cover of the book.

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Readers are spoiled for choice with so many books hitting the market every month. So the first thing that draws someone to a book is perhaps the cover.

Covers are so important, aren’t they? If you’re browsing in a bookshop or even if you’re looking online, you see the cover and that makes a difference. This means we should give more credit to our illustrators than authors!

Do you still wake up to watch the sunrise every day?

I do indeed. But nowadays, with all the rain, one wakes up sometimes to see just fog outside the window. But it’s great to see the sun come up. It comes up straight through my window here because my place faces the east. And so it rises over the hills, changing colours.

Some of your stories have been adapted into films. The first was Shyam Benegal’s Junoon (1978), adapted from your book A Flight of Pigeons. Did Benegal consult you on the film’s screenplay? What about adaptations by other filmmakers?

He did. In fact, I wrote an additional chapter for him before he made the film. That goes back to 1978/79. In more recent years, Vishal Bhardwaj adapted The Blue Umbrella, which was quite well made. He then made 7 Khoon Maaf (2011), based on my Susanna’s Seven Husbands, which underwent some changes before it was filmed. But Junoon and The Blue Umbrella (2005) stayed pretty close to
my stories.

Do you recollect any interesting anecdotes about the films or filmmakers?

A Flight of Pigeons was recommended to Benegal by the Urdu writer, Ismat Chughtai. She had read it and told Benegal that it would make a good film. The only film in which I personally got involved was 7 Khoon Maaf, in which I had a small role. I must have been pretty bad because nobody has offered me a role after that. But I had a short scene with Priyanka Chopra in the film. And that was it. There’s a story of mine called ‘Mr Oliver’s Diary’. It’s a funny story about a schoolmaster. Someone is interested in doing that. But I don’t write with the thought of a film in mind. It just happens later when somebody thinks my story could make a good film.

There was also a short film called The Black Cat (2017).

That was quite nicely done. I enjoyed it. My friend Tom Alter was in it. It was the first work of the young director, Bhargav Saikia. Actually, I gave him the story. Now he’s gone on to do bigger things.

You’ve lived in the hills for decades and have seen it all: modernisation, urbanisation, etc. How has life there changed over the years?

We now have traffic jams every weekend. There are hundreds of cars. The roads up here cannot handle so much traffic. Many people pour into the hill station, compared to when I came to live here back in the 60s and 70s. Back then, one had to walk everywhere. There were only two taxis and two-three private cars. Nobody walks anymore now. Everybody is either on a bike or in a car. From my window, I hear the car horns more than the birds. There used to be birds before, but they have flown to the next mountain, I think. But anyway, a hill station depends on tourists, and it needs people to come here and keep the place going.

You’ve been blessed with a long innings. What keeps you going at this age?

I’ve covered these aspects of my life in The Golden Years: The Many Joys of Living a Good Long Life (HarperCollins India). In spite of my health issues, I’ve lived to be almost 90. Mentally, I don’t seem to have problems. I read a lot. I still write a lot and have a good memory. I can remember the past well, and even the recent past, too. Fortunately, I don’t feel lonely as I have a very large adopted family, and they keep me going. Recently I had some physical ailments, but I have a daughter, a granddaughter and a son to support me. But of course, a writer needs solitude. You don’t want loneliness, but occasionally you need to be by yourself. And over the years, I have always had a quiet corner where I can retreat to and just be by myself, write a little or read. I’m very lucky that way.

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Do you find time to read the work of the current crop of Indian writers?

I read them from time to time. In fact, occasionally, publishers send me new books and even ask me sometimes for a quote, which I oblige with. The publishing industry is doing well. There were just a handful of writers who brought out books back in the 50s and 60s. Now, there are hundreds.

Do you enjoy watching films?

Occasionally, I do watch an old film or sometimes, a new one with my family. But I like to watch sports. I watch football and cricket and am in touch with the sporting world. I recently followed the Ashes series between Australia and England, religiously. I used to play football long ago. I can still kick a ball, but then I’ll be limping all day.

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