School days of writer Ruskin Bond in Shimla evoke old Cottonian nostalgia | books | Hindustan Times
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School days of writer Ruskin Bond in Shimla evoke old Cottonian nostalgia

The recent autobiography of the seasoned writer ‘Lone Fox Dancing’ stirs many memories among the Bishop Cotton School alumni

books Updated: Jul 10, 2017 12:57 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Author Ruskin Bond
Author Ruskin Bond (HT Photo)

‘Ram Advani, the famous bookseller of Lucknow, told me once that he remembered the day my father brought me to the school office for admission. Ram was the bursar at Bishop Cotton School; a young man in his very early twenties who had landed the job because he was good at cricket’.

Thus opens a very intense and fond account of his school days at the Bishop Cotton School (BCS), Shimla, in Ruskin Bond’s recent biography ‘Lone Fox Dancing’. Bond who passed out of the school in 1950 had shown precocious literary talent. He set off with passion to become a writer and the moving finger has moved on well indeed. The autobiography which looks back with love and pain at his turbulent childhood having lost his air force officer father to malaria.

Gurgaon-based Anil Advani, nephew of the legendary bursar, who is of the 1970 batch and runs the Old Cottonian Website, says, “We had all heard of Ruskin Bond and knew that he had made it big as a writer but I never met him. However, I posted on the website an interview in which Bond recalled what happened to his first novel written in school’. In Bond’s words, “I was in Class 8 or 9 when I set out to write what I thought would be a great novel. But I made the great mistake of putting my teachers into it. I wrote a funny story in my exercise book about the principal’s wife who fell down the stairs (among other things). Unfortunately, my class teacher found it in my desk and I got punished (in those days, you got flogged with a cane). Not only that, but he also tore the book up and threw it into the waste paper bin.”

Caning was the order of the day in times when the adage both at home and school was ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ but city-based H. Kishie Singh of the 55 batch says: “It was discipline that was engrained in the boys and once caned we would step out with fists clenched in pain and the Master would remind us that we had forgotten something. So we turned back and said ‘Thank you Sir’ for invariably we knew that we were at fault’. Kishie, a well-known writer and adviser to several literature fests recalls, “I was happy to see my name up on a board along with Bond’s for winning the Anderson Essay Award”. Bond’s and his own love for nature he attributes to the music made the cicadas and the wind singing through the pine trees around their school.

The school was elitist as could be nicknamed ‘Eton of the East’ with royal and aristocratic ancestry dating back to the proclamation of Queen Vioctoria Empress of India after the first war for Independence which the colonisers called the mutiny of 1857. But even elite schools have sad stories and one of them was the lonely childhood of Bond when he wondered after his father’s death that he may be sent to an orphanage. But the school gave him his solace. Bureaucrat-writer Robin Gupta, batch 66, says, “Bond suffered the trauma of a broken home and a loveless life. He was shattered after his father died. In the substantial section in his book that he devotes lovingly to BCS, it comes through clearly that Bond was nurtured and groomed entirely by the alma mater (other mother)” It was a happy moment for me when I became the Library prefect come 15 years after Bond held that position” .

Bond also looks at the Partition which came with Independence and how he lost his Muslim friends to Pakistan and many British boys moving to England and the much-loved preparatory school being closed. Yet, Bond has immortalised the school and the 76-batch Raaja Bhasin, who is a writer and has also penned the history of BCS, recalls; “While still at school, I was writing poetry and had the gall to send a poem to Bond, who was then editor of the ‘Imprint’ magazine. The poem was not published but I got a fine hand-written letter from him saying that there was hope for me. I cherished the letter and it may still be somewhere in my papers.” The foreword to Raaja’s history of BCS had a foreword by Bond. Raaja is today a well-known writer and chronicler not just of Shimla but all of Himachal.

Times change but school pride is forever as Robin says, “Bond’s memoir has stirred up so many memories--most of all the excellence that was leitmotif of every department of teaching and sports in BCS”.