His prolific ability to churn out stories for kids notwithstanding, one of India’s most-loved authors Ruskin Bond read very few children’s books as a boy as he graduated straight from comic papers to adult fiction. Bond shares this secret in his new book Till the Clouds Roll by, Beginning Again, which is a story about his life when he was 10-years-old and coming to Dehradun for his winter holidays, a few months after his father had been taken from him by “death’s dark angel”.
The book, published by Puffin, is a sequel to Looking for the Rainbow, My Years with Daddy and captures Bond’s growing up years where he is seen dealing with the loss of his father, reacquainting himself with his mother who now has a new husband and discovering his love for books. It touches upon the themes of parental loss, readjustments, discovering passion from a youngster’s perspective and in the process tells about making of the legendary author Bond is today.
According to Bond, his father’s sudden death precipitated him into a different and unfamiliar world.
“The transition from an English father to a Punjabi stepfather demanded an adjustment that was far from easy for a 10-year-old boy who had just lost his father. When I came down to Dehradun from my hill school, it was to a home that had yet to become a home. This is the story of that winter holiday
over seventy years ago. To me it seems like yesterday.” During his stay in Dehradun, he discovered a storeroom at the rear of an old bungalow — a room full of old and broken furniture: a settee with the stuffing coming out, a bed with broken springs, a cupboard with a missing door.
“The remaining door swung open at my touch to reveal a treasure trove of books — books that were in good condition because they hadn’t been touched for years, the collection of some bygone forest officer perhaps,” he says. “Here I found enough reading to keep me occupied for the rest of the week. Here discovered the ghost stories of MR James, that master of the supernatural tale, scholarly and convincing. Here I discovered an early P G Wodehouse novel, Love among the Chickens, featuring Ukridge that happy optimist, who was to become my favourite Wodehouse character,” he says.
In the forest bungalow Bond also discovered Agatha Christie’s first Poirot novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, John Buchan’s spy thriller The Thirty-Nine Steps and the short stories of O Henry and WW Jacobs. “There were some children’s books in that cupboard too and I have to confess that I read very few children’s books as a boy. I had gone straight from comic papers to adult fiction,” he says.
The front veranda of the bungalow had a very comfortable armchair, and Bond spent most of the day stretched out in it with one of those books for company. “Instead of becoming a great shikari, as my mother and stepfather might have wished, I had become an incurable bookworm, and was to remain one for the rest of my life,” he says.