On a cold, winter evening in Delhi, book lovers got to experience something very rare.
‘Literary talks’ more or less follow the same pattern: one or more speakers, a panel discussion or a one-on-one with a carefully decided upon host and an interactive session with the audience afterwards.
This lecture was too planned on the same lines. But with one remarkable exception in Ruskin Bond, India’s much adored reclusive writer, who had descended from his beloved hills to delight an audience with his take on writing and much more.
An evening to remember
As Bond, who has evaded literary fests and panel discussions most of his life, entered the auditorium the entire hall rose to its feet to give the author a standing ovation. What followed was not a lecture in the conventional sense of the term, but a storytelling session to be more exact.
It was a story about Ruskin, a boy who lost his father at 10, his special bond with nature and who even at the age of 81 does not feel the need to act like an adult.
“I have had a long innings; 65 years of joyful writing, more than 20 of them in the company of Penguins and Puffins. I write about things that are dear to me: people, places, mountains, forests – and I open my words to the world. There is a lot of talk about on a winter’s evening,” Bond said on Monday while delivering the ninth Penguin Annual Lecture.
For those who gathered for his tips on writing, he talked about authors like AA Milne and Lewis Carroll mentioning them not for their best known works (Winnie the Pooh for Milne and Alice in Wonderland for Carroll) but for their least.
For he said, “We may spend our entire time and energy on something that we might not even be remembered for and instead write something in passing that just might go down in the pages of history as was the case with the two authors.”
The author also spoke about the hardships, the disappointments and the discouragement a writer faces after choosing writing as a profession. “Writing was not fashionable in those days. I remember telling my mother, ‘Mum, I am going to be a writer. And she said, ‘don’t be silly. Go join the army’,” he said.
A ‘window’ on the roof
Bond, the winner of Sahitya Akademi Award in 1993, even said that he was not any good at “giving advice since he never followed any” but asked aspiring writers never to give up and always “respect words.”
He, however, said dreams, windows and journals are a few things that helped him.
“For a writer, a window is most important. I lived in Delhi for seven years. I found joy moving to Mussoorie where windows opened to reveal trees. If you are living close to nature, there is always something to write about. And visitors are always welcome,” said Bond, who has published well over 500 novellas, short stories, essays and poems.
He said it is the very openness of windows that allows the mind to wander and dream which can do “amazing” things for a writer. And it is this very ability to dream that a writer should always cherish.
Bond had the entire audience hanging on to his every word from the very moment he walked on the stage. With a few funny and embarrassing, but mostly touching, episodes from his life he narrated them all.
From reciting limericks when he was in school to watching a bookseller in Shankar Market put away his book saying “ye nai chalta hai” (These books don’t work), he shared everything.
In the end, the words that surmised Bond’s joy of writing and perhaps struck a note with each one of us belonged to one of his poems: “Sometimes, when words ring true, I’m like a lone fox dancing in the morning dew.”