After 500 short stories and 200 books, 87-year-old Ruskin Bond starts all over again every morning
If you were an avid reader in your childhood or your parents wanted to inculcate the habit of reading into you, there’s no way you did not have a Ruskin Bond or two in your bookshelf.
The Room on the Roof, The Blue Umbrella, Time Stops at Shamli…no matter your age, Ruskin Bond’s books never fail to remind you of your first love, a terrible heartbreak, that trip you took with your friends to a hill station, or the friendships that continue to occupy the biggest part of your heart.
Ruskin Bond may have gained immense fame and popularity in the literary world and won numerous awards, including Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, but the Anglo-Indian author remains humble, unassuming, and continues to crack up people with his witty one-liners.
As he turns 87-years-old, he has delighted readers by launching a children’s book, All Time Favourites, a collection of 25 short stories. Ruskin also recently got a chance to share his learnings as a writer during a masterclass on celebrity-powered learning and entertainment platform, Unluclass.
On a call with YS Weekender a day before his birthday and the book launch, the much-loved author talks about turning a year older, life, writing, treating the planet better, and much more.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
YSWeekender (YSW): What is your new book about?
Ruskin Bond (RB): This edition includes some of my popular stories for children in addition to some new ones. I've been writing for more than 70 years now. So there's a lot to choose from. While I may have written around 500 short stories, these are just 25 of them. They are my favourites and also the favourites of my editor. My young readers will especially enjoy this book.
Every year, I try to have a new book on my birthday. That has been the case for several years now. In fact, I bring out a new book and start writing a new one as well on my birthday. So when I get up tomorrow morning, I will start working on a new book. It's a habit.
YSW: You have been writing for so many years. What has changed in your writing? How have you evolved as a writer?
RB: I started writing soon after leaving school. My first short story was published in the Illustrated Weekly of India magazine. I was 17 then. I followed it up with a novella called The Room on the Roof which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957.
I have lived the greater part of my life by writing. I have around 200 titles in print. But my writing hasn’t changed a great deal.
I like to tell a good story. I like to entertain young readers. In fact, I enjoy the very process of writing, putting words together, and writing interesting sentences. I have been trying to write better and hold the interest of readers over the years, three generations of them, in fact.
And I think I have succeeded in doing that to a certain extent.
YSW: You may have been writing for years, yet each time a reader finds a certain freshness in terms of ideas and storylines. How have you managed to accomplish that?
RB: I think it's partly because I'm a very personal writer and write a lot about my own life. When I get enthusiastic about nature, birds, or animals, or even the sun coming up, I try to convey it through the written word so that the reader can share my experience.
I also keep a journal book, sort of a diary, though not regularly. I put down a lot of observations and experiences in it as they happen and they make way into my stories eventually. I've met so many people and had so many friends; there is so much to look back upon, which means that you can never run out of material. My whole life stretches before me when I write.
Every morning is a new day, a new experience. I start all over again.
YSW: Today’s children naturally gravitate to technology, gadgets, social media, etc. Do you think technology is taking children away from books?
RB: Reading has always been a minority pastime. When I think about my own school days, I recall that in a class of about 30-35 boys just two or three of us were fond of reading.
I'm talking about the 1950s. We were in a good school and even had a good library. But in the 1950s, there was no television, no internet, or video games that are there today to prevent children from reading. So what did the others do when they didn't read? They would go to watch a movie once a week and did other things.
Over the years, education has also spread and improved the scenario. Today, there are far more readers rather than in my boyhood because education was limited to only a few people.
Today, if I write a book I know it will be read by a few 1,000 youngsters. Forty years ago, I hardly had any readers because education hadn't really spread.
YSW: How badly has the publishing and bookselling industry been affected by the lockdown?
RB: Publishers have suffered a lot; booksellers have seen a lot of losses. They've been hit very hard. These days books are also sold online, but publishers are having a difficult time.
YSW: You will be turning 87. What are some of the awakenings you have had in recent times?
RB: I won’t say I have lived a very adventurous life, but I have taken risks because I've always wanted to make a living from my writing. In other words, doing the thing I love best and making that my vocation or profession. And, I have been able to do that.
Sometimes, when times have been difficult, I've been ready to take other kinds of jobs. But when things got better, I've always gone back to writing full time.
The world has changed. India has changed. It feels good to be alive and see these changes happen. Not always though. There are ups and downs in everyone’s life but I do feel that we could have done a better job of looking after this wonderful planet. That said, there's still time.