Hermann Hesse’s quest for life has fascinated me; I found Kahlil Gibran’s inspirational fiction charming; Adrian Bell’s books on country life brought me a breath of fresh air; Nicholas Sparks’ love stories left me gasping for more; and nearer home, Khushwant Singh has been eminently readable.
But none of them hold a candle to Ruskin Bond when it comes to the sheer pleasure his writings have given me. Unfortunately, I discovered Bond late in life. Till school, I hadn’t read anything of note by him except the story ‘The Kitemaker’ prescribed in the text. Then I chanced upon a school edition of ‘The Room on the Roof’ and was drawn by its lyrical prose. No wonder the book written when the writer was only 17 had fetched him the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
It was a slow and steady liking for the writings of the Anglo-Indian man who chose to stay in India and call Mussoorie his home. No other writer has described the Doon Valley and the surrounding mountains as evocatively as Bond. For describing Nature with such sensitivity, he has been rightly called ‘our resident Wordsworth in prose’.
Being a poet at heart, the Padma Shri recipient wanted to write verse. But early on, he realised that poetry would not sell and switched to prose. His childhood was not rosy following the separation of his parents and the early death of his father whom he loved dearly. Marriage did not come his way as the high priest of Nature devoted himself to literary pursuits.
Once I took a fancy to his writings, there was no stopping me. One by one, I devoured his entire body of work. His books for children enchanted me no less than those for adults. Rusty’s innocence and the idiosyncrasies of his family became my staple diet.
His novella, ‘A Flight of Pigeons’, which was made into an acclaimed film, beautifully captures the era of the Indian freedom struggle. I thoroughly enjoyed reading ‘Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra’, which brought him the Sahitya Akademi Award. ‘Rain in the Mountains’ took me closer to Nature, whereas ‘The Sensualist’, the publication of which led him to have a brush with the law, was vintage Bond.
I had a chance to meet him at a book-signing session in Chandigarh some 20 years ago. Dressed in a black shirt, he exuded warmth. I got a copy of ‘The Room’ signed, besides having a picture taken with him. Needless to say that the two are among my most prized possessions. During the session, when a girl wanted to know if it was essential for a writer to be agitated to express himself well, he replied that the writer should rather be at peace with himself.
After having churned out hundreds of stories, a dozen novellas and two volumes of autobiography, besides compiling a number of anthologies over a career spanning more than six decades, the octogenarian writer soldiers on atop Landour Hill in Mussoorie. And as I keep going back to the omnibus collections of his writings, only one thought crosses my mind: I would give my right arm if only I could write half as well as him.
The writer is assistant news editor, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh