“Some say the real India is to be found in its villages; others would like to think that India is best represented by its big cities and industrial centres. For me, India has always been an environment, an emotional more than a geographical entity; but if I have to transpose this rather nebulous concept into something more concrete, then I might say that India is really to be found in its small towns”
-Ruskin Bond, Time Stops at Shamli
Since decades, Ruskin Bond has been the voice of real India. Yes, the real India that often seems to be lost between the wide range of contrasts the country has to offer; contrasts like that of rural and urban, wetlands and deserts, rich and the poor and lastly, the imagined and the real. Leaving other restless souls to sing the praises of five-star hotels and tall buildings of cities, Bond chose to write of the people that inhabit the small towns.
Having spent most of his early years in beautiful towns like Dehra and Mussoorie, Bond’s writings mostly evolve around stories of nature; sometimes mysterious and sometimes of a beautiful magic. His hands possess the magical ability to bring nature to life, be it the forests of Dehra or the roads to Mussoorie. His books are the ones we feel inspired to read in quiet twilights, in silence when we can hear the whispers among the roses and see the leaves in wind that blow; even when we walk roads that lead to our own village. His books take us to hills that remain static, and on the clouds that slowly pass; sometimes we recall the old trees we left long back and sometimes we remember the child in us; the child whom we had managed to kill.
In the Room on the roof, the first book that Bond wrote, he writes of a character- Rusty, who is orphaned and thus lives with his guardian but is very lonely and sad. The book written from a teenager’s perspective proves to be a mirror of Ruskin’s own experiences because when he wrote this book, he was just 17. The book speaks of racism and to follow one’s own instincts. In Rusty- the boy from the Hills, Rusty’s most exciting adventures and escapades and his development from early childhood to early teens are included. All roads lead to Ganga, the Room of many colours, the Blue Umbrella, The Road to the Bazaar, Our trees still grow in Dehra, The Night train at Deoli and A little book of Happiness are just few out of his many books that continue to capture hearts of book-lovers. His autobiographical book- Scenes from a writer’s life shares the description of his childhood and also the later years when he found his true calling in India.
Today, Bond has several awards attached to his name; being the most famous Indian author and the most beloved, both to kids as well as adults. He was born to Edith Clarke and Aubrey Alexander Bond in Kasauli. His father taught English to the princesses of Jamnagar palace and Ruskin lived there till he was six. Shortly after that he was sent to a boarding school in Mussoorie. When Bond was eight years old, his mother separated from his father, following which he became very close to his father. He describes this period with his father as one of the happiest times of his life. When he was ten, his father died of malaria. He later did his schooling from Bishop Cotton School in Shimla, from where he graduated in 1950. He won several writing competitions within the school including the Irwin Divinity Prize and also the Hailey Literature Prize. He wrote one among his first short stories, “Untouchable”, at the age of sixteen in 1951. His first novel- The Room on the Roof was published in London though. But soon, he came to India and began as a freelance writer. Since 1963 he has lived as a contract writer in Mussoorie, where he lives along with his adoptive family in Landour, Mussoorie’s Ivy Cottage, which has been his home since 1980. Asked what he likes the foremost about his life, he said, “That I have been able to write for long. I started at the age of 17 or 18 and am still writing. If I weren’t an expert writer who was getting published I would still write.”
Explaining his Indian identity, Bond says “Race did not make me one. Religion did not make me one. But history did. And within the long-standing time, its history that counts.” Bond has mostly written books for kids, like Angry River, ghost stories like the Face in the dark have continued to touch hearts of many readers. His love for trees and animals and his concern for disappearing natural resources, the anguish he has often felt at the rapid disappearance of our forest and animal wealth is expressed in ‘Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright’ in which he identifies with the tiger, a loner in a rapidly changing environment. The empathy he has for birds and animals even extends to the world of the crow. In ‘A Crow for All Seasons’ he becomes a crow—and great fun it was too, he says.
“The king of our forest is dead”, said Shyam. “There are no more tigers.”?”
“There must be tigers,” said Ramu. “How can there be an India without tigers?”
– Tiger Tiger Burning Bright
Being a writer for over fifty years, Bond experimented with different genres; early works include fiction, short stories, and novels with some being autobiographical. Later, he tried out non-fiction, romance and books for youngsters. His favourite genres are essays and short stories. He considers himself a “visual writer” because for brief stories, he first imagines it sort of a film then notes it down. For an essay or travelogue, such planning is not needed for him. He feels the unexpected there which makes it more exciting for him.
He has also been honoured with awards like Sahitya Academy Award, Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Lifetime achievement award in 2017; this year he has just been conferred with Lifetime Achievement award by Tata literature. Till today Bond remains the most popular and most beloved writer in the country. So the next time you feel bored and have nothing to do but mop around, just grab a book by Bond and discover the thousands of characters that live inside you; be it a twelve year old Rusty; or perhaps a tiger or a tree. Beware! It might turn out to be a crow!
“And when all the wars are over, a butterfly will still be beautiful”
Varsha Hridaynarayan Kushwaha , Mumbai