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How He Missed the Marriage Bus? I have Seen and Done it All, Says Author Ruskin Bond

Ruskin Bond

Ruskin Bond

By Raj Kanwar

RUSKIN BOND, India’s most lovable storyteller, celebrated his 79th birthday on 19 May. His has been a long, long journey spanning nearly six and a half decades during which he hardly ever took a break. In this yet-to-finish marathon, Ruskin has written over 500 short stories, nearly 50 children’s books, a dozen or so novellas and 150 other books that include numerous anthologies, collection of his short stories and even non-fiction. Four of his stories have been made into movies.  His first novel the “Room on the Roof” had won him the prestigious ‘Llewellyn Rhys Prize’ given to a Commonwealth citizen under 30. He had also won ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ in 1992 for his ‘Our Trees still grow in Dehra’. Ruskin was also honoured with Padmashri award in 1999. 

When I met Ruskin last week for an informal interview at his Ivy Cottage residence in Landour Mussoorie, he was in a nostalgic, expansive and frank mood. 

EXCERPTS:

Ruskin, now that you have been writing for six and a half decades, and have seen and done it all, are you now left with any unfulfilled ambition or are you fully satiated? 

Raj, you were there when the “Room on the Roof” won the “John Llewellyn Rhys Prize”and you were good enough to get that news with my picture published in The Statesman.  You have also seen me in those struggling years. It has been indeed an uphill journey, both figuratively and literally. I have been acclaimed and venerated by generations of fans. From those ‘hand-to-mouth’ days, I have now reached both financial stability and professional fame. What else men like me in my twilight years now wish to achieve? Yes, you are right. I have seen and done it all. I will continue writing and will happily go with pen in my hand when my time comes.

Tell me about those struggling and tough years. What was the motivation and inspiration that guided you through that tempestuous period? 

Thank God, that turbulent phase is now in the past. Of course, those were the difficult years and occasionally I thought of giving it all up and taking up a job, suitable to my qualifications, not much to boast about. Remember that I had only done my Senior Cambridge and did not even possess a college degree. I was on my own most of the time, even though occasionally I lived with my Mom and stepfather. Fortuitously, those days some mainstream newspapers and magazines such like Sunday Statesman and the Illustrated Weekly of India published short stories and that provided me a ready outlet. Many other newspapers too started carrying my stories. It was tough but I nevertheless managed. I then made 300-400 rupees a month.  Mandy encouraged me a good deal. Later, the Weekly also serialized my novel “Vagrants in the Valley” and that helped a lot in building my reputation as a short story teller.

You are no doubt aware that I had worked with CARE for a couple of years or so when I lived in Delhi during 1958-64 in order to supplement whatever little income I got from my short stories and other pieces. The motivation, in fact, was my desperation, since I had then hardly any other option. Eventually, my determination and audacity paid dividends, and I started making a reasonable living, though nothing to shout about.

 How many of your stories have been made into movies and what has been your experience with the film industry? 

Junoon was the first movie produced in 1979 by Shashi Kapoor and directed by Shyam Benegal. It was based on my novella, “A Flight of Pigeons”, set around 1857 War of Independence. The next was “Blue Umbrella” by Vishal Bhardwaj. It was based on my story of the same name. Again Bhardwaj made another movie “Saat Khoon Maaf” based on my story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands”.  I have had to expand my four-page story to an 80-page novella to make it suitable for film adaptation. I was then paid rupees three lakhs. Currently, a movie named “Life Mein Hungama” directed by Sunil Advani is being shown in Maharashtra and couple of other states.

My experiences with people in the film industry are by and large very pleasant. Everyone there including some of the top directors, producers and stars gave me due respect and regard.

Ruskin, tell me why you have remained unmarried? Didn’t you have any love affairs? And how come you are today a ‘Bachelor grandfather’?

Yes, there was a Vietnamese girl in London and we dated for a while. But then one day she suddenly left, without a word, for home to join her family in those turbulent civil war years in Vietnam. I was somewhat heartbroken but there was nothing I could do.

Then there was a Punjabi girl in Delhi whom I liked but her family thought that she was too young to marry. Oh! [he sighs!] It’s a long story of teenage crushes, instant infatuations and all else that generally happen to men of marriageable age. When I was young and personable, most parents or even their daughters did not find me a “Suitable Boy”, possibly due to my financial instability. And when finally I had gained that stability and more, I was in my 50s, past the marriageable age.

Happily by then I had become a ‘House-holder’ and soon over the years I became head of a growing family. It so happened that in 1969-70, I had employed Prem and his wife Chandra as domestic help. While the duo looked after my household chores, they also gave birth to three children.

Then in due course, those three children too grew up and got married. In the course of natural progression, they too became parents.

All of my children and grandchildren are suitably placed; a granddaughter who has a master’s degree in English language is married in Punjab.  Thus today I am a grandfather with seven grandchildren. Surely, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Starting your career with an average income of rupees 300 or thereabout, what is your annual income today? Don’t answer if you do not want to.

On the contrary, I will happily answer your question. Yes, you have been with me in those early days during which we both struggled; you as a journalist and I as a story writer.

Today my average annual income ranges between rupees 20 to 30 lakhs. Even then, it is just about enough to meet the needs of my large extended family. I am really very grateful to my guardian angel.

However, all this affluence has come much too late in my career. In 1970s when I lived as a tenant in Mussoorie’s Maplewood Lodge, it was then offered to me for just rupees 10,000. But alas, I then could not even arrange that small amount. Today, when my income has gone up manifold, the price of the property has jumped more than a thousand times. That again takes a real good property out of my price range.

And Ruskin why you have chosen to remain an internet illiterate and don’t even own a mobile phone? 

Raj, you are rather naïve. Don’t you remember that I never ever could learn to ride a bicycle in my younger days! How do you now expect me to learn the complicated rigmarole of internet and mobile telephoning? I even have given up typing, and I now hand write all my stories. I think I am happy as it is.

Ranj kanvar3

Raj Kanwar is a Dehra Dun based freelance journalist and writes columns on current affairs for local and national newspapers. He is also the author of the official history of ONGC, which is one of the top three companies in India in terms of market capitalization. Kanwar is also associated with World Oil as its Contributing Editor for South Asia. 

 
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