September 25, 2021 8:17:58 am
“In a broken and contentious world, it can be difficult for an individual to find the happiness that he seeks, even if by nature he (or she) is not a contentious person. It is difficult to enjoy the flowers by the wayside if a tear gas cylinder (or something worse) has just burst in front of you. Throughout history the peace-loving, happiness-seeking individual is caught in the crossfire of human conflict. But still, he grows flowers, and sometimes he gets to enjoy them,” writes Ruskin Bond in an entry in It’s A Wonderful Life (Aleph Book Company), vignettes from his 2020 lockdown journal alongside reflections on life and changing times, published earlier this year.
At 87, Bond knows more than most others about the unevenness of time, whose corrosiveness can only be tempered by resilience and the ability to find joy in the mundane. And the global pandemic has been no different. “It’s been a very difficult time, especially for young people — boys and girls, school-going children. It’s easier for someone like me who’s a writer because, after all, writers work from home in any case. So, in a way I was fortunate because I wrote a little more than I usually do, I read much more than I usually do and I slept much more than I usually do. So, I can’t complain much. My grandson takes me out for drives occasionally and there are some quiet spots in the hills where I can take a little walk, away from the crowded Mall Road and the town itself. It’s difficult for people who are living alone. They have to get used to the solitude,” he says, over a telephonic conversation from Landour.
He’s always been at home with solitude but at the moment there is little time to savour it. Only a few days earlier, the writer has been awarded this year’s Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, one of the eight distinguished recipients of the award that recognises outstanding literary merit, and congratulatory messages have been pouring in. “It was quite unexpected. I have, of course, over the years, received more than one honour from the Sahitya Akademi. They have been doing a wonderful job in making so many regional language writers available in translation to readers all over the country and that’s unique,” he says.
He’s watched with interest the changing landscape of writing in India and its transformation from a lonely enterprise to a glamorous vocation. As the keynote speaker at the virtual Neev Book Award 2021 ceremony on September 25 (awarded annually by the Neev Literature Festival), to honour the best in children’s writing published in the last year, Bond says he is often thrilled to find how writing has come to occupy a place of prominence, so far removed from his own beginnings. “When I started writing in the 1950s, there were no such things as literary festivals, at least, not in India. Even book launches were rare. If you were lucky enough to find a good publisher and have a book published, it could be reviewed in a few newspapers and you’d be happy if you saw it in a bookshop, and, if it got some readers, you’d be happier still. But then again, in those days, writers were anonymous. We weren’t visual, we weren’t seen because there was no television, there was no internet, there was none of the things that today turns well-known writers into minor celebrities. In a way, young people who wanted to write wrote because they were passionate about literature and about writing,” he says.
His own passion for his craft remains unmitigated. With a lifetime’s accomplishment behind him, is there still any genre that he wishes he had explored more? “I have done children’s stories, essays, poems. Oh, I’d like to write a good detective story! I tried once but whoever read it said we could tell who the murderer or the culprit was in the first chapter! So I wasn’t very good at devising a plot where I am giving it a surprise ending. So maybe, I will try again some day!”
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