After following up for a couple of weeks, we finally managed to reach one of India’s most eminent and reclusive authors, Ruskin Bond. Originally from the UK, the author has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India, the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan.
Speaking over the phone, the shy literary genius tells us, “Everything I’ve written is on print somewhere or the other. I have written about 150 titles, which is not bad, I think (laughs). But then, I’ve been at it for the last 50-60 years.”
The 82-year-old’s latest book, Whispers in the Dark, is a collection of ghost stories set in the Himalayas. Ask him if he believes in supernatural events and Bond is quick to say, “Not really. But I keep seeing them. I have to see them to write about them (laughs). In other words, I imagine them. But I meet many people who claim to have seen ghosts and, sometimes, it’s their experiences that I write about. There are many such macabre tales that originate from guest houses and bungalows in the hills.” The author admits that horror stories are an important form of fiction writing. “Most ghost stories are short. For the story to be effective, it ought to be crisp, so that you don’t have to think too long about it,” he adds.
WRITING FOR KIDS
Bond can be credited for turning several generations of Indian children into avid readers. He points out that the publishing industry has now realised the potential of children’s books in the market, and that they do quite well. But when he started out, there wasn’t much demand for children’s books and such writing in India. “Twenty years ago, there were no publishers to take my work. But now, the demand is such that they keep reprinting and repacking the old children’s books as well,” he says.
While he is happy about the evolution of children’s books and writing in the country, Bond does not feel events such as literary festivals are encouraging a greater number of people to read. “I am told there are as many as 90 festivals across the country. The invitations have already started pouring in for next year. These literary festivals are not for writers; they are for the readers. If you keep making rounds of the festivals as an author, when will you write?” he asks.
Speaking about the books he read as a child, the writer says, “The first book that I ever read was Alice in Wonderland. I went on to read adventure stories. In my time, there were no subdivisions as such, so I also read what a lot of people would call ‘adult’ books. A lot of the books that are classics now used to be children’s books back then.” But it was Charles Dickens’ 1850 book David Copperfield that inspired Bond to start writing. “The one book that has stayed with me is David Copperfield. I was 13 or 14 when I read it. It encouraged me to become a writer. I ran away from home, like David Copperfield. But I had to return soon; I eventually ran out of pocket money,” he says.
Bond is known to be a recluse and he stays away from technology. So, how does he write his stories? “I used a typewriter earlier, but I started developing a stiff neck. So now I write by hand. That’s more comfortable. I have fairly decent handwriting or maybe my publishers don’t complain. There’s something seductive about writing by hand. The thoughts go straight from your mind onto the paper,” he explains.
However, Bond has a verified Twitter account that he opened earlier this year. He doesn’t tweet from it, though. “I don’t know much about Twitter. I don’t even have a laptop or a cellphone. I’m a Paleolithic man from the 19th century, and I’m very happy about my way of life. But I am cunning, so I use my grandchildren’s cell phones from time to time,” he says.