A train chugging its way through a gap in the foothills, shadows of lychee trees, long walks in the narrow lanes of Dalanwala in Dehradun, and sojourns in the jungle which open ways to hidden treasures of books. These are the memories that comprise Ruskin Bond’s latest book for children, titled Till the Clouds Roll By: Beginning Again.
But that isn’t all. In the book, Bond also offers a peek into a shift he had to face, which made him grow up at the age of 10 — the transition from having an English father to a Punjabi stepfather, “an adjustment that was far from easy”. His father, Aubrey Bond, died in 1944, and that brought him to Dehradun, where his mother lived with his stepfather and siblings.
While he missed his father’s company, he did make adjustments for the sake of a few unlikely friendships and the solitude that the hill town offered. Mela Ram — their housekeeper, Mohan — the cook at the forest resthouse, Bibiji — the first lady shopkeeper of Dehradun, and his grandmother — they all filled the void. The book is a sequel to Looking for the Rainbow: My Years with Daddy, where he writes about the two years he spent with his father in Delhi and Shimla, after his parents’ separation.
It was in June last year that his autobiography Lone Fox Dancing was launched, which is meant for adults, but the 83-year-old says he wants his memoirs to be read by children as well, for “childhood is his speciality”. While going back to what happened 70 years ago can be tough, the author — who has written over a hundred stories till now — feels the opposite. “It wasn’t tough. As we grow older, we are more inclined to look back, especially at our childhood, since so much has happened there. There is so much to write about, provided you have a good memory,” he says over the phone from Landour.
The memoir is similar to many of his short stories that show his deep love for the city of Dehradun, and the simplicity of its residents. While the absence of the quietude in the city is not lost on anyone, Bond moans that the residents give more importance to “property” than the city itself. He says, “Towns and cities have to grow, so I don’t grumble about that. But what I do have a problem with is the fact that Dehradun is no longer the city that was known for its cleanliness. Whichever direction you enter from, there is a heap of rubbish. You can hardly spot any lychee trees. This has to affect the people and the climate. A rise in the number of hospitals and doctors are a proof that the populace is unhealthy.”
The author, who still prefers his own company, has made another adjustment over the years — of being actively seen in public and interacting with his readers. The author’s corner was jampacked at the World Book Fair in Delhi earlier this month, where the book was launched. “Thirty years ago, there was no TV media, writers remained anonymous.
They didn’t become celebrities, only their work was read. That was probably good, a writer should be read. I have been writing for 60 years, but only in the last few years has my writing become more popular,” says the author.
Having spent a large part of his boyhood on trains and railway platforms, a setting his readers are familiar with, the author still enjoys travelling, but the medium has changed. “I have travelled a lot in my life. Earlier, I used to travel by train, now I travel by air. But it’s not the travel that matters; it’s the people you meet during the journey,” he adds.