Endearing Bond

In the serene Doon valley, Ruskin Bond is a living legend. Humble and down-to-earth, this world-famous writer is forever striving to preserve the innocence of childhood, and exudes a fair amount of it even in the seventh decade of his life. His birthday falls on May 19, and in this piece, written exclusively for The Tribune, he shares his thoughts on turning 75

THE barket calls from the top of the spruce tree. Summer is here again. The 75th summer of my life, although I have to admit that I donít remember the first five. I remember an early summer in Jamnagar, paddling on the beach and staring out at a little steamer making its way across the Gulf of Kutch; an April morning in Dehradun, the air scented with mango blossom; a long hot summer in New Delhi, the bhisti splashing water on the khus-khus reed curtain (no air-conditioning then); a summerís day in Shimla, consuming ice-creams in the company of my father. All these summers before I was 10.

Ruskin, at 4
Ruskin, at 4

I was born early one morning in May, hence my predilection for summer. Thereís nothing like the sun. In the plains it makes you more appreciative of the shade provided by leafy peepal and banyan trees. In the hills it brings you out of your chilly rooms to bask in the glory. Gardens need sunshine, and I need flowers, so we follow the sun together.

What have I learnt in these seventy-five years on planet earth? Quite frankly, very little. Donít believe the elders and philosophers. Wisdom does not come with age. It is born with you in the cradle. Either you have it or you donít. For the most part I have followed instinct rather than intelligence, and this has resulted in a modicum of happiness. Happiness is as elusive as a butterfly, and you must never pursue it. If you stay very still, it might come and settle on your hand. But, only briefly. Savour those precious moments, for they will not come your way very often.

Contentment is easier to attain. The best example is the small ginger cat who arrives in the balcony every afternoon, to curl up in the sun and slumbers peacefully for a couple of hours. Thereís nothing like an afternoon siesta to help mind and body recuperate from the stress and toil of a busy morning.

To have got to this point in life without the solace of religion says something for all the things that have brought me joy and a degree of contentment. Books, of course. I couldnít have survived without books. And living up here in the hills, where the air is sharp and clean, and you can look out of your window and see the mountains marching away into the sunset or sunrise.

Dawn, daybreak, sunrise. They are all different. Twilight, dusk, nightfall. All quite different. We must be aware of these subtle differences in the light around us if we are to appreciate the life around us. There is no harm in sitting in an office and making money, but sometimes you must look out of the window, too. And look at the changing light. ĎFor the might has a thousand eyes and the day but oneí. But the light of millions of lives is that fiery sun.

Happiness is also a matter of temperament, and temperament is something you are born with, acquired from near or distant ancestors. Unfortunately we cannot choose our ancestors, and often we are saddled with their worst traits ó quarrelsome natures, unmanageable egos, envy, a tendency to grab what isnít ours.... "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings..." Shakespeare put his finger on it occasionally.

And luck. Is there such a thing as luck? Some people seem to have all the luck. Or is that too a matter of temperament? A nature that doesnít sue for happiness often receives it in large measure. A nature thatís placid, undemanding, does not suffer the same frustrations as do those who are impatient, ambitious, power-oriented.

Luck would seem to walk beside the healthy and those unencumbered by the daily struggle for survival. We try to summon lady luck, but there are long periods when she stays away and we have to be patient and hope for her return. "Luck, be my lady tonight!" sings the gambler in the Damon Runyon story, and once in a while she does smile upon us, albeit when least expected.

Luck and Chance are the same thing, I suppose. I have found that chance gives, and takes away, and gives again. And so, when things are looking dark and gloomy, know that daybreak is not far off.

I have been extremely fortunate in that I have lived to this ripe age without too much disappointment or distress. I have made a fair livingó doing the thing I enjoy the most, putting work together and telling stories ó and I have been able to find people to love and live for.

Was it all accidental, or was it ordained, or was it in my nature to arrive unharmed at this final stage of lifeís journey? I love this life passionately, and I wish it could go on and on. But all good things must come to an end, and when the time comes to make my exit, I hope I can do so with good grace and humour.

The boy forever
Rajnish Wattas

AS a boy I grew up reading Ruskin Bondís delightful stories about quaint bazaars, remote railway stations and small towns. Eccentric uncles, naughty schoolboys and drunken postmen brought further delightful mischief. He seemed to be perennially daydreaming ólying beneath pine knolls by the side of a mountain stream redolent with wild flowers. It was an idyllic existence that I wanted to emulate on growing up!

However, I met Ruskin Bond only 15 years back when he came to Chandigarh for a book launch. As I introduced myself, he first talked to my children and teased, "You know your father calls you Ďbratsí in his article today; donít listen to him," referring jocularly to a middle piece written by me that was published that day.

Ruskin Bond loves to interact with young fans and is happiest talking to children
Ruskin Bond loves to interact with young fans and is happiest talking to children

Later, we met at a dinner hosted in his honour where he kept the evening alive with his gentle, laid-back humour and spontaneous wit ó in spite of a guest getting drunk. His warmth, humility and simplicity were most endearing.

Gradually, our acquaintanceship grew into a deeper bond. In spite of the pressures of time, he would always take my phone calls and reply letters with warm, encouraging notes; written in his beautiful long hand; that I have preserved as treasured family heirlooms.

Subsequent meetings with him became events to be looked forward to. On a trip to Mussoorie sometime back, while browsing at a famous bookstore on The Mall, I noticed a special excitement and unusually large number of visitors. It turned out to be Bondís day out to the store to meet his fans and sign autographs. He looked like a portly, affable, favourite family uncle; who was happiest talking to children. As the movie Blue Umbrella based on his book, had just been released at that time ó a shy, little girl after obtaining his autograph, presented him fondly with a small umbrella. "Oh thank you very much, my dear; but Iím too fat to be covered by it in the rain."

However, it is quite unfair to label Ruskin Bond primarily as a childrenís writer, as some critics and academicians tend to. He, like R K Narayan, is the master of simple, elegant writing with heart-tugging human stories, and characters plucked from life. He simply takes the "funny side up" view of life. Although he has written a lot about his lonely childhood, fatherís untimely death and personal hardships; there has never been a tinge of rancour, bitterness or lack of grace. The quintessential Bond is always kind, good-humoured, decent and generous to a fault.

He just likes to take pot-shots at his own self, and forever making fun of his name, especially its likeness to the famous Hollywood character James Bond. "Oh, I get all the fun sitting on a chair, while he has to do all the running around," he quips.

As a writer, the canvas of his literature may be limited to the world of hills, its people and geography ó especially of the Doon valley and Mussoorie. But like a legendry bard, his writings make the Garhwal hills sing with dew-fresh innocence and soulful beauty. He is as much an informal historian and a chronicler of these places, as he is a novelist using them as material for creating his own "Malgudi".

While sipping tea in his cosy, living room-cum-study in the now famous address the Ivy Cottage, Mussoorie; Bond reminiscences about his long journey to becoming a writer, and the struggles that went with this steely resolve ó as the calling of his life. At the time Bondís first book Room on the Roof (that went on to win prestigious John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial prize) was accepted for publication, he was living in Britain. In spite of this big literary break, his heart was in his favourite Doon valley, and he was determined to come back. Back home in the late 1950s, for years he eked out a Spartan living out of writing, with bits of contributions and meagre payments. Today he is internationally famous and perhaps the best loved writer in the country, endearing himself to the young and old alike. But even now, every day he rises at 5 a.m writes religiously for an hour or so, takes in the beauty of the dawn breaking, goes back to bed, to rise again and write on.

He quietly lives the life that he advises young writers to follow, "Keep writing never despair, and even if you do, write on regardless". At 75 Ruskin Bond is eternally young. And a boy forever.