Ruskin Bond, the high priest of Nature, and our resident Wordsworth in prose, has been enchanting his readers for over half a century. Generations of children have grown up reading his magical fare. In fact, his books appeal to readers of all ages. He lives with his adopted family at Landour, Mussoorie. Divya Goyal recently spoke to him on various issues.
Which are the areas where India lags behind?
India needs to go a long way in terms of providing medical facilities available in remote areas. In Uttarakhand, I have repeatedly seen a whole day being wasted in travel, getting patients to Dehra Dun and many lives are lost in the process. Even Dehra Dun has very few good hospitals and those are costly. There is no medical insurance for citizens. I feel Uttarakhand hasn’t developed the way neighbouring Punjab has. Similarly, our education is deteriorating. Good schools are just for those who can afford them. India needs to have schools for all kids.
What do you have to say on reading culture of Punjab?
It is very weak. Reading culture is growing only in big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. I am amazed that big cities of Punjab have literally everything except good bookshops. I often meet people from Punjab in Mussoorie bookshops complaining about dearth of bookshops in their state. I am surprised that even a city like Ludhiana does not have many good bookshops.
Your books are affordable. Has this been a deliberate effort?
Yes, I always impress upon my publishers that my readers are youngsters, those from schools and colleges with no money to spend. As a child I always felt the need for money to buy books, so I want my books to be easily available to children. I often see parents telling children not to waste money on buying books. This is wrong. When parents do not encourage them to read, how can you blame children for watching television and playing games? It has to start with parents.
Which are your new books coming up?
I have two new books coming up in early 2013. One to be released by Penguin is ‘My Adventures with Books’. It is a complete leisure read, describing my childhood adventures with books. After my father passed away when I was 10, I was a lonely boy with books as my sole friends. When my mother married for the second time, I was not in a position to afford books, so I always looked for a refuge in books wherever possible, like my grandma’s cupboard where there were some old books and the lending libraries where I paid Rs. 2 for a book per month. In Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, I was amazed when my teacher made me in-charge of the library; I would visit the library even at odd hours to read books. The book describes all such adventures of my childhood with books.
The second book is a humorous read. It is called ‘Jim Corbett’s Khansama’. In this, Corbett’s cook narrates some fantastic stories of wildlife adventure which make all of us laugh. It is by Rupa. Penguin is also bringing out a collection of my old stories in an illustrated form next month.
You have been media-shy. What convinced you to play a cameo in Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Saat Khoon Maaf’?
(Laughs) See, when Vishal converted my short story ‘The Blue Umbrella’ into a film, I was not much involved. But when he decided to make ‘Susanna’s Seven Husbands’ into a film, he wanted me to lengthen the five-page story into 70-80 pages as the original story was too short. That increased my involvement in the film and suddenly Vishal offered me the role of the bishop. I decided to give it a try and had fun doing it. But I guess the audience didn’t like it as no one has come to offer me another role (laughs). I am ready to do another one, but just a cameo.
Your take on politics? Any current leader who appeal to you?
I am a non-political person. But when it comes to leaders, I feel Narendra Modi is an intelligent man. He is important for his state. I have spent some years in Jamnagar, Gujarat, and can feel the change he has brought. Modi is going to become increasingly important in future. As for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he is an honest man but has failed to project himself in a way the masses can connect to him.
The present-day writers you like to read?
I have read books of Ramchandra Guha and Amish Tripathi. Chetan Bhagat is connecting with the youth and his books are earning a lot (laughs). I wonder why my books are not bestsellers. But that does not bother me. I am happy and satisfied with the love and praise I get from my readers. Writing a bestseller is not everything.
Which work of yours is closest to your heart?
‘The Room on the Roof’ which was published when I was 17. It took me three drafts to rewrite before the publisher accepted it around 50 years ago. I still love reading it.
Anything new on TV?
Yes, ‘Ek Tha Rusty’, the 10-year-old television serial adapted from my childhood, is making a comeback with the second part on Doordarshan in mid-November. The director Shubhadarshini Singh completed the shooting in Mussoorie recently in which my granddaughter Srishti, 15, also plays a role.
On being a nature-lover?
Even after spending parts of my life in Delhi, Shimla, Gujarat and England, I always wanted to come back. You can say my heart lay in the hills and after settling in Landour, the love for nature has grown with each passing day.
Your message for young writers.
Never get discouraged. The more you read, the better you would write.
(Divya Goyal our reporter in Ludhiana)