Ruskin Bond on Writing, Growing Old & Kissing Priyanka Chopra
[As told to me at his house this January for an interview that wasn't published].
|Ruskin Bond shows me his childhood photograph in a sherwani|
I started writing when I was in school. I would write the odd story that would get me into trouble with teachers. The very first story I wrote, I remember, was in August 1951. It was about my maths teacher. They really didn’t like it back in my old school, Bishop Cotton (Shimla) – they didn’t send my final character certificate! I am still waiting for it.
I wrote The Room on the Roof in 1952-53, when I had moved to England. It was based on a journal I had kept in India. I was young, sick, hungry and cold, and missing India a lot – it was all about that longing for the love and friendship that I missed. The Room... wasn’t hard work: I had to do two or three drafts and landed an advance from the publishers of £50. All I wanted to do was return to India. It only cost £40 to get me back to Bombay by ship, and I had £10 left over for the journey to Dehradun. So it all worked out well.
I got a lucky break when the book got serialized in the Illustrated Weekly of India, which was a major magazine back then, with illustrations by Mario Miranda. That brought me a lot of attention – although there were no celebrations or parties or launches at that time. In the 50s and 60s, Slowly I began to get published.
Some magazines like Sainik Samachar, a weekly for the armed forces, published my love stories back then (that was my Romantic Period!)
I was published by the Sunday Statesman, Sport and Pastime from Madras, the Tribune, and some other magazines like Sainik Samachar, a weekly for the armed forces which published my love stories back then (that was my Romantic Period!) Then there was My Magazine of India, a quaint little periodical which mostly made money from aphrodisiac ads. I sent them most of my rejects and they paid me five rupees per story, which meant I could see at least three movies for every story they printed. Being a bachelor, young and freelancing, it was all manageable and fun.
I came to live in Mussoorie in 1964. When I shifted, my writing changed but only slightly. Over the years my style hasn’t changed much, only sometimes there is the odd cynical phrase, or some statement with an edge to it.
Maybe now there is a little less of the innocence that I had when I was writing about pretty girls on railway platforms.
I have always written about people and unusual characters, but my writing did change as I became more conscious of the natural world. For the first ten years I lived in Mussoorie, I lived near a forest, near the Wyneberg Allen School, and was surrounded by a nice little forest – birds, small creatures, even large creatures. And I gradually developed a relationship with the natural world around me and that was reflected more and more in my stories, essays and poems.
I’ve always enjoyed writing, but now I started enjoying it even more. It used to be about relationships with humans but now it became about relationships with the natural world. And both would coalesce in a way. I did some of my best writing then. I also started writing books for children: The Blue Umbrella, The Angry River and others. If you are going to write all your life, you jolly well better enjoy it: it’s the least you can do.
Anyway, I can write about anything. About the ladybird on my desk or about the snail. Just think of it: what an epic journey for a snail to cross a busy road without getting squashed!
On His Acting Career
Acting in Saat Khoon Maaf (2011), based on my story Susanne’s Seven Husbands, was a first. That was fun. It was director Vishal Bharadwaj’s idea. He said, ‘Ruskin would you like to try it?’ and I just said, ‘Yes.’ We went to shoot in Pondicherry, but couldn’t get permission to shoot inside a church, so finally ended up shooting in an old church in Bombay.
I had a very small scene with Priyanka Chopra, in which I played a bishop. I was supposed to give her a fatherly peck on the cheek, but I was quite clumsy and knocked her specs off. She was very sporting about it, and we did it again… and again. And again. And again. Until the director said, ‘That’s enough, Mr Bond. I think you are doing that on purpose.’
I must have been really bad because nobody ever asked me to appear in a film again!
On Growing Old
The nice thing about growing old is that you have so many memories. I look back a lot for writing stories. You often remember things that you had forgotten all this while or not bothered to remember. I also write in my journal. Not necessarily every day – but I jot down notes about any interesting person I meet, or thoughts I have, or an experience of the natural world. So I am dealing both with the present and the past.
I am not a person with regrets. I have done all the things I wanted to. I wanted to write and have managed to make a vocation of it. I’ve even established myself to a certain extent, which I wasn’t sure I would be able to do but it came about. I had the friendships and companionship I wanted. I have no complaints.
And as you grow older, life seems to get funnier.
My childhood was a lonely one and later in life, when I was no longer lonely, I found myself looking for solitude – which is a very different thing: it’s not imposed on you. I want to write, to read, to sleep, and to laze about. I don’t want distractions from that so I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t have a computer. Even my typewriter has gone now and I simply write by hand. Fortunately I have very neat handwriting so my publishers accept it (they obligingly send a typed copy back to me – full of mistakes, I might add!).
I have been fortunate to have received a lot of love from readers. Sometimes when I go to meet people at the Cambridge bookshop, the occasional reader says, ‘Can I give you a hug, Mr Bond?’ And I say, ‘Of course.’
I love getting hugs. I have complained to the bookshop, they have put a desk in front of me, now people can’t come and hug me anymore…