A writer of Anglo-Indian descent, Bond is the quintessential Indian writer in English and a lifelong lover of India. Born in pre-independence India, he has lived through more than seventy autumns. The love of books and writing started early for him, thanks to his father, himself a bibliophile. Young Ruskin or Rusty as he was called, found encouragement from his father to scribble along in a small note book. Bond senior would often take Ruskin on nature trails, and wild flowers, trees, birds and other nature’s wonders became a permanent part of Bond junior’s psyche. These elements would become inseparable from his writing, too.
In 1944, as the Second World War still raged on, Ruskin’s father passed away, succumbing, not to the war, but to malaria. Rusty, along with his siblings and mother, had to move to England. During the four years he was there, a terrible homesickness for India overtook him. Yet, there wasn’t any feasible means of crossing the sea once more. Young Ruskin continued writing, though.
He was seventeen when The Room on the Roof, his first novel came out. The book won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. The book’s advance, 50 pounds, helped him buy a ticket to return to India—his home forever.
Upon returning, Bond set up base in the hills in north India. He chose the charming landscape of Dehra Dun to begin his career as a freelance writer. Here was someone, who only wanted to write, refused to be bound by the dreariness of a nine-to-five job, and who dared to eke out a living off freelance writing at a day and age when such a vocation was risky, bordering on eccentricity. Yet, he did it successfully through all these years—long hand and a rickety typewriter aiding him loyally.
Any day now, I shall have to shut up shop and join the ranks of salaried clerks or teachers. Any day now, I shall find that I no longer make a living as a freelance. Any day now…
I’ve had this dread for the past five years, but somehow, just when the going gets really rough and my bank balance touches rock-bottom, something does in fact turn up…and if I can go on writing, not always in the way I want to—because, if cheques are to be received, deadlines and editorial preferences must be met—but pretty much as I want to.
Any day now…
[From My Notebook, Ruskin Bond]
The books continued getting published, too. Vagrants in the Valley picked up from where The Room on the Roof trailed off. A series of short stories came along too, most of them marked by a stunning simplicity of language and an innate intimacy with nature.
People often ask me why my style is so simple. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, for no two sentences are really alike. It is clarity that I am striving to attain, not simplicity…Of course some people want literature to be difficult. And there are writers who like to make their readers toil and sweat. They hope to be taken more seriously that way. I have always tried to achieve a prose that is easy and conversational. And those who think this is simple should try it for themselves.
[Introduction: The Best of Ruskin Bond]
His novella, A Flight of Pigeons, set against the backdrop of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, the first Indian rebellion against the British Empire portrays human emotions and passions with a sensitive touch. Adapted for the silver screen as Junoon by acclaimed director Shyam Benegal, the book recounts the story of a young British woman whose father, a clerk working for the British authority in India, is killed in the Sepoy Mutiny.
About half a dozen novels and novellas, hundreds of short stories and essays, and more than thirty children’s books later, Bond’s pen is far from retirement. Settled in the quiet charm of Landour, a hill station in the lap of Himalayas, he doesn’t have any dearth of story material. A lifelong bachelor, Ruskin Bond doesn’t live alone. He is surrounded by the mirth of his adopted family (he adopted a boy from the hills and has since graduated to become a proud foster grandfather). Indeed, he is more Indian than many of “pure” Indian descent can claim to be.
It must be the land itself that holds me. But so many of my fellow Indians have been born (and reborn) here, and yet they think nothing of leaving the land. They will leave the mountains for the plains; the villages for the cities; their country for another country…
But it’s more than the land that holds me. For India is more than a land. India is an atmosphere. Over thousands of years, the races and religions of the world have mingled here and produced that unique, indefinable phenomenon, the Indian; so terrifying in a crowd, so beautiful in himself…
Race did not make me an Indian. Religion did not make me an Indian. But history did. And in the long run, it’s history that counts.
[At Home In India, Ruskin Bond]
Ruskin Bond touches a cord in me the same way as Wordsworth and Tagore do. For, his heartwarming relationship with nature and the spectacular simplicity of his words never fail to remind me of the magnificent beauty a glistening dew drop or the song of a skylark hold.
And the natural thing for me to do now would be to lead you all to Matt, the next link in the AW chain. Follow the trail…
At Home, Writing
Fireflies in the Cloud
The Road Less Traveled
Mad Scientist Matt’s Lair
Youth – Our Most Valuable Natural Resource
Kappa no He
The Secret Government Eggo Project