118 years of Trust Interview THE TRIBUNE
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Sunday, December 6, 1998
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"Keep writing, never despair"

AMIDST the media-hyped ‘exuberance’ over the bold new voices in Indo-Anglian writing such as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Allan Sealy — stands apart Ruskin Bond, the timeless "gentle-dreamer" of Garhwal hills. His simple, lucid writings bring alive the smells and sounds of pine knolls, valleys, streams; and the lives of the simple hill folk that inhabit his arcadian world of the mountains. Occasionally eccentric uncles, grandpas and schoolboys delightfully bring mischief to his lyrical writings laced with nostalgia, longings and unfinished romances.

Ruskin BondRecently this recluse from the mountains was in Chandigarh to interact with his readers and to promote his forthcoming book The Lamp is Lit: Leaves from a journal. Notwithstanding the fact that he won the coveted John Llewellyn Rhy Memorial Prize at the young age of 17 and the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India in 1975, his real life simplicity is as endearing as his print persona. Rajnish Wattas interviewed the 64-year-old writer with evergreen boyish charm and spontaneous, puckish humour.Excerpts:

In Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra, you have written "Once you have lived with mountains, there is no escape. You belong to them". How come you have undertaken such a hectic tour to promote your book in the plains?

It’s true that I belong to the mountains— and I don’t leave them very often. Over the last few years I thought it will be a good idea to meet my readers more often, and since Penguin Books, too, is keen on letting me move around to promote my books, I occasionally visit a few places where there are readers or potential readers.

So it’s the annual coming out of the hibernation!

It will probably be another year or two before I emerge from my cave!

Does your persona as a "recluse" residing in the hills in sylvan settings popularising your writing? Does it evoke the latent desire in all of us to escape the din of cities and live in quiet communion with nature at a languid pace?

Well, I do live at a fairly languid pace, but I am not really a recluse. I live with a large adopted family, and I have a lot of friends and meet lots of people. This image of a recluse residing in the hills does have a romantic tinge to it. It probably appeals to certain readers who too would like to do the same. Probably if they did it, they would get fed up in a week or two and not sustain it over a long time.

Do you think living life at your own terms, and sacrificing money, perhaps even greater critical acclaim — has been all worth it?

Yes, it has. Don’t think I really missed out on anything much because a lot of people are enamoured by the idea of my living in the mountains and doing my own thing which is part of the reason why they are drawn to my writings. At any other place, perhaps I wouldn’t have been writing about the mountains and lovely romantic places. I don’t think it has affected my income from writing or critical attention in any significant way. Of course, obviously if I had been living abroad and writing for publishers there or magazines there, I wouldn’t be known here in India, as I am today. My readership is only here.

Of course living life at your own terms means that you don’t stretch yourself . There will be no deadlines or assignments!

Yes, one has that much of freedom.

One, associates your writings with nostalgia, boyhood and unfinished romances! Do you think this is the full range of your writing canvas and creativity?

Yes, to some extent, but I try to write about as much as I possibly can. I have a fairly wide range of interests. I suppose, living in one small town the year round does limit one to a certain extent, but I do let my imagination roam. Being a subjective writer, it doesn’t matter so much where you live. I don’t have to draw on big or topical events.

Your novella Flight of Pigeons was a major departure from your usual writings. How did it happen?

Just occasionally I’ve done the odd historical story or novella. This was at a time when I was living in Delhi 20 years back. Didn’t have the inspiration of the mountains and nature, the usual subjects of my writing. I had been visiting parts of Old Delhi and meeting people in small towns with a history attached. One of the places I visited, was Shahjahanpur where this particular incident of the 1857 uprising took place. I also fished out accounts of various incidents. This particular place and story took my fancy....

Your lucid style has endeared you to many readers but it hasn’t quite given you that place in the "hall of fame" as has been given to internationally acclaimed writers dealing with more complex themes. What is the reason for this?

This is because I haven’t been published very much abroad. For that reason I wouldn’t particularly be very well known there. You have to be published in England or America to be reviewed by critics and also for your books to appear in the bookshops. It’s a very strange system, unless a book is published there it is hard to find it in the bookshops.

There seems to be some imbalance in trade. While we import books from the world over, there seems to be some trade barrier at the European and American boundaries. In recent times writers like Arundhati Roy and Allan Seally are first published abroad (through an agent) and then someone over here acquires the rights of their books.

What is you opinion about the exuberance over the new crop of Indo-Anglian writers, such as Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth and, more recently, Allan Sealy?

Nowadays characters are not being fully developed in stories written in the mould of magic realism. Word play seems to take over. The actual value of story and characters gets diminished. Moreover, I think this kind of writing is a trend, and trends come and go. In the West today, they’re looking for something different. May be they’re bored with their own writers and they like variety, and so they have become attracted to exotica.

May be some of them are writing with an eye on the West?

Perhaps they are. But whether they all will be successful is a different story.

You and R.K. Narayan have both brought your own little worlds of Dehra and Malgudi respectively, to the hearts of your readers. Any comments?

That’s true. He also writes simply without recourse to bombacity. He’s out to tell a good story and create believable characters with whom the readers can also identify their lives and day-to-day problems. That’s a part of his lasting appeal.

Which other writers have influenced you?

Hard to say. Some short story writers — Anton Chekhov, H.E. Bates, William Styron, Katherine Mansfield perhaps did.

Most of your short stories, have quaint characters like grandparents, eccentric uncles, aunts or quaint hill people. Don’t you want to delve into more complex adult situations or conflicts?

Children like eccentric uncles, so I created some even if they didn’t exist! Uncle Ken — one of my characters — is a mixture of a particular uncle who walked zig-zag and me. I’m also a bit of an eccentric, who drives cars through walls and takes people up the wrong valley so that they get lost in the mountains!

Tell us about a typical day in the life of Ruskin Bond.

Usually I get up late in the morning; laze around, write a bit till lunchtime. After that I wait for the postman who often dozes off on the way, as he drinks a lot. In the evenings, I go to meet friends and just chat, or go for walks in the valley.

How do you begin your writing— I mean the first line, the first para... the entire creative process; and the inspirations that fuel it?

I guess the first thing is to get the first sentence down and then carry on from there. I get my ideas sometimes on walks, or while lying in bed, doing nothing, or contemplating — There is no pattern really.

Although you have revealed quite a lot about struggles to become a writer in your last book; Scenes from the Life of a Writer you have somewhat abruptly ended it. When are you going to share with us —the trials, travails and the triumphs?

In the next book The Lamp is Lit: Leaves from a Journal, but not chronologically.

What is your criteria of having written well?

You get that feeling, most writers get it when they have written well. It’s hard to analyse it. It’s an instinct of feeling. Sometimes you are not satisfied.

Will this present trend of media hype and big money, help the cause of good writing or damage it?

It won’t make much difference. It might help particular writers to sell more copies of their books, bit I don’t think it would help the cause of good writing.

What would be your advice to budding writers?

Keep writing. Never despair, but if you do, work on in despair.

What are your future plans as a writer and a person?

Keep writing. May be a little more poetry. I enjoy writing poetry. A few new stories may be. As a person, I’ll have a few love affairs.Back

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