Ruskin Bond aka Bestseller Bond has turned 85 and is out with a new memoir
Bond has been selling well for 30 years - a million copies with one publisher alone!Updated: Jun 15, 2019 07:44 IST
Ruskin Bond, the storyteller of the Dehra hills – of shy, awkward boys and their grandparents; of ghosts who sit beside winding roads waiting for a lift; or of the little bear up a plum tree – has readers the way people have families. They read him so as to talk to themselves. This conversation, say his publishers, is actually three ways. Bond may write about what happened when he opened the window one summer. Readers then call him or land up at his doorstep to discuss what happened to them 10 summers ago. And then they open the book again and find that there was more to the story than the season.
This week, the talk, however, is on his new book, Coming Round the Mountain, the third instalment of Bond’s memoir, which includes Looking for the Rainbow and Till the Clouds Roll By. This isn’t the first time Bond has been in autobiographical mode; most of his books are drawn from his own life.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo is a constructed place. But Landour, a British India-era cantonment town just above Mussoorie, exists. It is as solid and real as the spine of a book. Our writer lives there. The tin roof above his head has often leaked, and on one occasion, even blown away. No other modern-day Indian bestselling writer has been quite as candid about how his life sucked before success; the mistakes he made; the failures. Few authors have so involved their readers in their own stories.
Not surprisingly, in a career spanning over six decades, most of Bond’s big books have been perennial bestsellers. He has never tried to write one though; the struggle, seems to have been, to write a good sentence.
Lone Fox Dancing (Speaking Tiger) sold 20,000 copies plus. The Room on the Roof, his first novel, has sold nearly 3,00,000 copies as has Ruskin Bond’s Children’s Omnibus (Rupa). Penguin Random House India has published over 85 titles by Bond across adult and children’s divisions and have sold more than a million copies.
The 2000s heralded the era of quick reads and mass publishing with writers such as Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi. But Bond has been an Indian institution like RK Narayan. They belong to no one era.
But it wasn’t always so. His first editor forgot to tell him The Room… had been published! He only got to know when a magazine told him they were serialising his novel. In the ’90s, the time when foreign publishing houses set up shop in India, Bond began to be well known. Some of his stories were, by then, included in school textbooks. Children who grew up in the ’80s and the ’90s were the people who first made Bond the ‘official’ kid lit, along with Amar Chitra Katha, when they became parents.
Free of tinsel and controversy, and full of good, clean thoughts, Bond began to be packaged as almost a literary Santa Claus. ‘Little Books’ on Happiness, Serenity, Love and Companionship by Bond began to roll out of the presses. And they all sold well. Popularity, longevity, maturity in thought, a generosity of spirit, when a writer has all these he can be asked to share his thoughts about these things, a publisher told me once. Besides Khushwant Singh, and perhaps more than him, publishers have only asked this of Ruskin Bond.
Parents love Bond because his books speak to their kids. But the other half of his oeuvre is for adults. Shyam Benegal made his film, Junoon (1978), on a Bond novella - A Flight of Pigeons - set in 1857 around the simmering passion between Ruth, the daughter of a British officer, and a rebel leader, Javed Khan. Vishal Bhardwaj made his, on a Bond story - Susanna’s Seven Husbands - of a woman who liked her husbands dead in 7 Khoon Maaf in 2017.
On balance, should the writer have been a bit more selective about the Bond brand and perhaps not written about curry puffs and apple pie when he wrote so well about other things? There are some books he wrote as assignments, he says. But he is kind of chuffed to be in great demand in old age. “If you keep at something for 50 or 60 years,” he says in one of his books, “you will have produced so much material – cuckoo clocks or monkey caps or books – that people do take notice”.
Popular writers of the ‘50s: RK Narayan, Kamala Markandaya, Bhavani Bhattacharya and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala were the authors people were reading when Bond started out as a writer.
Bond’s first Indian publisher: India Book House published Grandfather’s Private Zoo (1966), his first children’s book. The Room on the Roof, his first novel, was originally published by André Deutsch, UK, in 1956. It was later published in India in the late ’50s, by Wilco Books and then by Penguin and Puffin.
Who Bond reads: Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham, RK Narayan, Raja Rao, Aubrey Menen.
Ruskin Bond’s favourite Ruskin Bonds: The Room on the Roof and The Blue Umbrella (made into a film by Vishal Bhardwaj in 2005).
Won’t stop doing memoirs because: He keeps remembering things.
What he’s writing next: “I am filing my tax returns. No more memoirs for a while,” he says.
First Published: Jun 14, 2019 18:32 IST