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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

I don’t disguise myself as much as I used to: Ruskin Bond

Ruskin Bond says he’s reached a point where stories about his older self are far more interesting than his beloved invention — Rusty

books Updated: Aug 17, 2019 10:08 IST
Navneet Vyasan
Navneet Vyasan
Ruskin Bond
Ruskin Bond (PHOTO: Santosh Harhare/HT)

For a young kid in the late 1940’s, it was always books which gave a much needed escape from their otherwise mischievous endeavors. These stories of misbehaviour found their way into the stories of Ruskin Bond. Now, 85 years old, one feels that the waves of his stories might never reach its conclusive shores. And what delights an Indian reader more than that. His latest book, The Gallery of Rascals, binds together most memorable characters from his fiction into an entertaining page turner. Excerpts:

For a young boy who said ‘I just want to hold a book with my name on it and scream out loud’, you must be immensely satisfied…

(Laughs) That’s true. I became a book worm at a very early age because there were long lonely periods. The thought of writing a book was always appealing to my mind, but what kind of book, was the question. When I was young I remember thinking why don’t I write a book on the history of stamps or on the crests of Indian states. But I never did. I just wanted to write.

How did The Gallery of Rascals come about?

It was David Davidar’s (novelist) idea to make an anthology, to put together stories and sketches of eccentric characters I wrote about. Then, I decided to add a few new pieces to it. Usually, I react favourably to any idea which does not seem too difficult to me (laughs). But I also think my true medium is probably the short story or the odd personal essays. Whenever I set out to write a novel, it usually ends up as a novella. After 30 to 40 thousand words I feel there is not much point in going on. But I am much happier when I write short stories. Publishers prefer longer works because it has always been hard to sell short stories.

Another interesting confession you make is that, ‘Good people are usually rather dull, especially in literature’. If you could name one character from your works — a bad guy much more appealing than the good one, whom would you name?

Well, I have made some literary comparisons (in the book Bond writes, ‘Take (Robert Louis) Stevenson. I can’t remember the name of the young hero of Treasure Island, but I certainly haven’t forgotten Long John Silver and his pirate crew’). But if I have to name one then, I would say Khansama (Tigers for Dinner: Tall Tales by Jim Corbett’s Khansama), who talks about how he shot Jim Corbett’s man eaters.

You make your love for the word ‘rapscallions’ very evident in the initial pages of your new book. Does that come from your own childhood?

I guess I’ve never been wicked in a nasty sense. As a small boy, I was very shy and reclusive. It was when I had got really used to a place — a school or a locality, and made friends that was when I got into doing something out of the ordinary. Perhaps to get attention, who knows. So, I guess it is psychological in a way. The urge of a small boy to get raw attention to himself by doing something mischievous. But, let me tell you, I was cautious enough to not get into deep trouble.

I’m such a subjective writer that I end up writing about almost everything that happens to me. You get two kinds of writers — the subjective and the objective. There are few storytellers who can be very inventive like Jeffery Archer. I feel I am not that inventive. So, I write a lot about my life and the characters are mostly people I know.

You are one of the few detractors of the idea that the youth has stopped reading…

I keep meeting young people who love to read. That’s a strange thing. A lot of people think that does not happen. I meet young school kids who want to write. I think it is something that has happened in recent years. When I finished school in 1950s there were great writers all over the place. You did not think of them as celebrities. Writing as a profession or a vocation did not appeal to young people. I remember there was not a single boy in my school who was interested in writing. When I came home after finishing school my mother asked me what I was going to do, and I said, ‘I want to be a writer’. She then told me, ‘don’t be silly, go and join the army’. Partly, the reason might be fame and glory which comes along with it, but mostly it’s the love for literature. But that never happened when I was young, in 1950s I was in England talking to one gentleman, and only after he left did someone tell me that was Graham Greene. So, back then, there was not much fame, except the odd Hemmingways, who liked publicity (laughs).

It is quite evident from your works that the tag, ‘children’s author’ is not a predicament for you.

Most people think of me as a children’s author. And honestly, I don’t mind that. Because in some ways, I’m making more money from children’s books than my adult novels. In many ways, my writing keeps treading the line between children’s stories and adult fiction. Over the years, some of them got into the school curriculum. The intent was not to write for children and then they found out that these were stories that kids liked, too.

A Ruskin Bond aficionado’s introduction to the author, in most ways, is through Rusty. Will we ever see him come back?

(Laughs) Rusty is a boy who never grew up. But no, I don’t think I will write another Rusty story. Today, I have got to the stage where I like to actually write about Ruskin. I don’t disguise myself as much as I used to.

First Published: Aug 16, 2019 18:26 IST