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Author Ruskin’s eccentric bond with pickles, cricket and fantasy

On his 85th birthday, author Ruskin Bond proves why he is not just any octogenarian as he opens up about his love for pickles, cricket, and more.

books Updated: May 19, 2019 12:01 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
Ruskin Bond,Children's books,Mussoorie
Padma Bhushan awardee author Ruskin Bond turns 85 this year. (Subrata Biswas/HT Photo)

Uncle Ken, Binya, Sita, Madhu, Daljit, Somi, Rusty and Ranbir are characters that became our close friends in childhood. Today, as the jocular and not-at-all grumpy grandfather, and creator of some of these pals from our growing up years, turns 85, Ruskin Bond indulges us with some lesser-known aspects of him and his life. But, before we begin, it’s important to sing in that mandatory lullaby tune, Happy Birthday To You...


You haven’t written much about your childhood memories associated with your birthdays. Why?
I’m not really a birthday person. Nowadays, the local book shop [in Mussoorie] and my publishers like to turn it into an event. And I go along and meet readers, which I do anyway on some occasions. But, as a boy I didn’t have big

“I think from next year I should take sanyasa, and [I] will disappear and won’t celebrate my birthday anywhere.”

parties. From the age of 17, through my 20s I was living on my own so sometimes I wouldn’t even tell anybody it was my birthday. It was not a big thing for me. And personally it still isn’t. I think from next year I should take sanyasa, and [I] will disappear and won’t celebrate my birthday anywhere.

Not many know about your weakness for pickles. Have you tried your hands at making one?
I’m a pickle fiend. I like all kinds of pickles: garlic pickle, lemon pickle, mango pickle, jackfruit pickle, you name it... I eat too much pickle and end up with a sore throat and then I have to stop eating pickles for a week or two. As soon as my throat is better, I start again. So there you are. Can’t do without pickle (chukles)! People are trying all sorts of pickles nowadays. Even I tried making a pickle with Nasturtium seeds — they are quite hot, like chillies — and I’m afraid I gave myself a very bad stomach ache.

Do you cook?
You wait for my masterpiece to come out. It’s 50 different ways of boiling an egg. Because even when I boil an egg, if I’m trying to make a half boiled egg, it’ll come out soft boiled. So, I’m afraid I’m the worst cook on earth! But I do try an omelette now and then and it comes out very squishy, and nobody will eat it. I prefer having other people do the cooking (smiles).

Some of the author’s works such as The Blue Umbrella have been adapted for the screen.

Readers think you would like fancy fountain/ink pens, but you prefer the new age ball pens. Why?
I use a ball pen because fountain pens are clumsy, and I get ink all over my fingers by the time I finish with it. Ball point is fast and my handwriting is quite legible so my publishers don’t complain. I submit my stories handwritten. Although in the early days, I used to type but I find it uncomfortable now. I get stiff neck typing. It’s more comfortable, you know, just writing by hand; it may be on an easy chair or anywhere I’m comfortable... And usually I use blue or black ink. I don’t mind other colours, but I don’t get them very easily. But I have a red pen; I use it when I’m doing my income tax return. So then I can put on some underlines to show that I have spent more than I have earned, so that I can hope they give me a refund; but they never do. Still waiting for refunds! By next month, I guess instead of a story I’ll have to write my income tax return, but it’ll be non-fiction I promise you.

Why do you prefer reality over fantasy?
I’m not very good at writing fantasy, or even reading it. Although I grew up on Alice in Wonderland, that kind of fantasy which is maybe reality, it’s a dreamland. But, my stories are set in the real world, in a town or a village or on the hills and deal with life of usually ordinary people or myself for that matter. So definitely its reality, but looking upon the magic that we find even in the real world, the magic of nature or flowers, you know that the natural world has its own magic. But, I’m not very good at science fiction or fantasy, I leave that to others.

Your thoughts on the superhero characters that are being made…
I don’t see much of them. In the world, today, we don’t have any real heroes so we have to project these superheroes, to make up for perhaps the lack of confidence in ourselves. When I look around, I don’t see any superheroes on the scene anywhere. So I think we have to create a few, and especially I guess, well everywhere we sort of create superheroes.

You were a goalkeeper in school, and loved football. Do you still watch it on TV? Which other sport you follow?
Now, of course, we can see so much on television, but when I was young I did occasionally go to see a football, cricket or a hockey match at stadia in India, and once or twice In England, when I was young. Even now if I had the opportunity I would go and watch a game… I remember when I was living in Delhi back in the early 1959 and 60s, I

“When I was living in Delhi back in the early 1959 and 60s, I actually climbed up on the walls of Feroz Shah Kotla to see a cricket match. West Indies was here... but we could see half the field. So either you saw the bowler or the batsman.”

actually climbed up on the walls of Feroz Shah Kotla to see a cricket match. West Indies was here. I was on the walls with all the street children who weren’t buying tickets, but we could only — from that position — see half the field. So either you saw the bowler or the batsman, but couldn’t see both. So you had to sort of guess what was happening after sometime. But that was fun. It was a test match but even then the stadium would be full because people followed test matches very closely. Now of course they don’t come much to tests anymore. There’s this shortened version that seems to have taken over.

Who was your favourite cricketer then, and now?
I grew up as a small boy in Jamnagar (Gujarat), which was the home of Indian cricket. I started taking an interest in cricket when I was in my 20s. I played football, but I did follow cricket. There were players like Chandu Borde, Polly Umrigar and then later on it was Gavaskar and the great spin bowlers like Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan and Bishan Bedi. In those days they didn’t make much money so they very often played for the love of the game and to represent the country. Now of course there’s a lot of money in the game particularly the one day game — the IPL (Indian Premier League). When I was in Kolkata last winter, I was given a KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders) T-shirt, but it was too tight for me, I don’t have the figure for a cricket or a football shirt anymore, so I passed it on to one of my grandchildren. [Today] Dhoni is popular with everyone and he is good to watch.

Cover of Ruskin Bond’s latest release, Coming Round the Mountain.

You have witnessed Partition, but written about it rarely such as in your latest book Coming Round the Mountain. Why so?
I have in one or two memoirs perhaps written about that period but haven’t actually set stories during the Partition because it’s something that you don’t forget. I was 12 or 13 in August 1947 when India became independent. There were two or three months of distress and great turbulence, but things came back to normal in due course, and we carried on and then India became an important part of the gallery of nations across the world. So there it is, as part of my growing up period. I’m not sure if I could write a full length book on this theme because I was very young and a lot of things that happened didn’t have an impact on me. Had I been older at that time, I think I would have absorbed more of all that was taking place.

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First Published: May 19, 2019 12:01 IST