E-books and digital media are on the rise today but one writer we would always love to read in print is Ruskin Bond. Even in an age of popular fiction, his works transcend the barriers of time.
His novels and short-stories hold enough juice to move readers, but even they seem to fall flat when one looks at the illustrious yet sublime life of this gifted writer. The life and times of Rusty, as many of his admirers often call him, is an oasis of bliss amid a dreary desert of monotony. Back in the 1950s, Bond provided enough hint to his readers about the kind of life he wanted to lead.
“I don’t want to rot like mangoes at the end of the season, or burn out like the sun at the end of the day. I cannot live like the gardener, the cook and water-carrier, doing the same task every day of my life… I want to be either somebody or nobody. I don’t want to be anybody,” he wrote in his very first novel The Room on the Roof.
Bond went to England shortly after school and, in fact, did not have any idea whether he would ever be returning to India. This novel was written in England and won the 1957 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, awarded to a British Commonwealth writer under 30. Then, Bond did something that many thought could have ended his writing career. He decided to return to India and follow his passion of writing in the country he was born in.
Bond was sent off to England by his mother, who thought he could do better for himself if he stayed there but his bonds with India were so strong that very soon he found himself “longing” to come back. When he finally came back from England after a three-year stint, he tells us in The Lamp is Lit, he had just Rs 800 to start a new life with.
Bond’s return meant making the financial ends meet and it was not a bed of roses. Opportunities for writers were few and the payments that they received were too small to support their lives. He began to freelance his stories in some major Indian publications, primarily The Statesman and the Illustrated Weekly of India. The standard fee at that point of time was Rs 30-Rs 50 and Bond wrote about 10 stories a month to survive.
The most extraordinary feature of his writing life has been the fact that it is divided, unknowingly, into periods of loneliness and solitude. Like most of us, loneliness is something that he did not invite. It was, in his own words, imposed on him due to circumstances. Solitude, on the contrary, was what he was always looking for.
The writer’s love for the hills is well-known today but few are aware that he lived in Delhi for five years in the 1960s after returning from England and it didn’t impress him much. As he mentions in one of his stories, “In Delhi you grow old. In Deoli (in the hills of North) you are trapped in a time warp and stay young forever.” His heart was always in the mountains. He says there is only one truth about the mountains — once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.
And why not, if you look at the ocean of imageries in his settings, across stories that he has penned ever since. Bond’s intimate relationship with nature and the mountains is a story of all things humane. His love for the nature and walks in the mountains are as much a part of his personality as his stories.
He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1992 for Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra, the Padma Shri in 1999 and Padma Bhushan in 2014. Characters take centrestage in most of his stories but it is in times of solitude and the poignancy of loneliness that they reveal their nature in its totality. They move you, they make you want to go close to nature and, indeed, they make you wish for a life like his.
Bond turned 83 on May 19 and has dedicated well over six decades of his life to writing and, fortunately for his readers, continues to write at an incredible pace.