Tuesday, September 4, 2012

BONDING WITH THE BEST – RUSKIN BOND!

Ruskin Bond came into Chennai with a bang, enthralling one and all with his trademark sense of humour and his cherubic smile. He was here in connection with the Landmark Ruskin Bond Tour, to launch his latest book. In 1992 he won the Sahitya Akademi Award for ‘Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra’, followed by the Padma Shri for his contribution to Children’s Literature in 1999. An interview with him seemed to be a dream come true, and he did not disappoint! My Father and I: “My father was the one who gave me that little nudge towards writing. I wrote in little notebooks, as he regaled me with stories to stimulate my imagination. I recall reading Kipling’s ‘Phantom Rickshaw’ and my father taking me along the market in an actual rickshaw. He ran a little Girls’ school for the Royal family in Jamnagar. At the age of four, I sat with the princesses and learnt to read and write. When I joined school, I found myself far ahead of my peers who were still learning their alphabets. Inspiration: Inspiration came from books, a great escape after I lost my father. I immersed myself in reading Dickens and the Bronte sisters. I was twelve when I came across Wuthering Heights, and I sat up all night reading it. Strangely enough, last month, I picked it up again, and once again, I found myself sitting up all night in a leaky room. It had lost none of its intensity, and I enjoyed it even more this time. When I was a boy, writing was considered unfashionable. I was asked often, “Why do you want to waste your time? Join the Army instead!” Thank God I didn’t, for otherwise, the Army would have been in bad shape!” [With a twinkle in his eye!] “In my youth, I wrote for an adult readership. Ironically, it was only when I was middle aged that I began to write for children. Over the years, the two divisions have merged. It is easier to write for adults, as they tend to put up with me as I waffle along. With children, you need to capture their attention and pull them into the story, through that one character they can identify with. Nature’s Favourite Child I escaped Delhi in the 1960s and lived in a cottage near a forest in the mountains. I encountered panthers, leopards, birds and even a stray bat in my room. When young, I took these wild creatures for granted, unaware that a day would come when they would slowly disappear. I have often been called the ‘Resident Wordsworth’, but I prefer the poems of Walter de la Mare, Mansfield, John Clare, Robert Frost, as also RL Stevenson’s ‘Child’s Garden of Verses’. My Victorian Grandmother I had a strange relationship with my grandmother, a strong and good person, who lived in Dehra Dun. I still eat whatever is put in front of me, which was one of her rules. “No seconds, if you don’t behave!” She believed that children should be seen and not heard. One day, just to provoke her, I tore her curtains. As a punishment, she actually made me sew them up in big clumsy stitches. Being a rebel, I promptly cut down all her sweet peas. She never forgave me for that and cut me out of her will!” [Smiling] The India I Love “While in England, I was homesick for India – my friends, familiar faces and the places I had grown up in. In India, one is never alone as there are always people around. One might die of a hundred things here, but never of boredom! In contrast, life in the West is monotonous. I love the little seaside resorts, the out-of-the-way, neglected places that dot India. Two years ago, I discovered Gopalpur on sea. I can lose myself in hill stations like Dalhousie, Mussooorie and Ranikhet. I grew up in Army cantonments like Ambala and Meerut, rare spots which still preserve green and open spaces. Many of my stories can be traced back to these picturesque spots. From the pen to celluloid ‘A Flight of Pigeons’ was made into Junoon by Shyam Benegal, a film that did justice to the book, and brought out its lyrical qualities. ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’ was a short story which I had to expand on. In some ways, the story got a little lost in translation, and the black comedy ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’ had more black in it, than comedy! ‘The Blue Umbrella’ was also turned into a film which won the National Award for Best Children’s Film. Other Interests Apart from writing, I enjoy reading, going for long walks in the solitude of Nature and watching old movies on TCM, right from ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’ to ‘The Shop Round the Corner’. I also enjoy the old Nelson Eddy musicals from the 1950s. On Chennai: I visited Chennai about seven to eight years ago, but just for a day. This time again, I am here only for a day and a half, to launch my latest book. So I have not seen very much of the city. Hip-Hop Boy and Other Poems When I was in Bhubaneswar, I saw some young boys doing the hip-hop in the rain and was very tempted to join them. However, it would have looked odd, so I put the idea into a poem, which is how the title of my latest book on poems for children came about. The poems are all about childhood, nature, growing up, and are a mix of old and new pieces.” Two hours had flown by, and I was still under the spell of the master story teller, a spell that stayed with me long after I left. And that is the essence of Ruskin Bond!

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