I did not want the book to end is what I have to say after completing Ruskin Bond’s Lone Fox Dancing, My Autobiography. Enamoured of his writing skills, I have always enjoyed reading Ruskin Bond, but his endearing autobiography, which allows readers to get further up close with the author, weaves an enchanting web from which they may find hard to break free.
The raindrops settle on the window panes, and the sun striking through them converts them into beads of bright topaz, effervescent jewels meant only for a few moments of reverie..This excerpt from the last chapter, ‘A Saga of Old Tin Roofs’ will give you an inkling of what to expect from the rest.
As Ruskin revisits his childhood, teenage years, struggling times as a writer, passionate moments… you too become a part of the journey of a boy on whose tiny shoulders, hardships seem to weigh heavy. Ruskin’s father Aubrey Alexander Bond was a teacher and took up tutorial jobs in the erstwhile princely states. His father was 36 when he met his would-be wife, Edith Dorothy, who was 18, in Mussoorie. They had a torrid affair and Ruskin was born in 1934 in Kasauli. But the marriage did not last long considering their age difference and contrasting temperaments.
When his parents separated, Ruskin remained in the custody of his ‘daddy’ — both parent and playmate. His father was employed with the RAF then as a flying officer, and Ruskin went to live with him in Delhi. He was more close to his father than his mother and says that the time he spent with daddy was ‘the happiest phase of his childhood’.
Giving us a glimpse of 1942 Delhi, he draws up a picture of Connaught Place when the Quit India Movement and World War II were on and cinema halls were flooded with war movies. He and his daddy loved going to the theatre. Another great interest that they shared was stamp collection. His father had a trunk full of albums, which they both treasured.
After spending a year with his dad, Ruskin was sent to Bishop Cotton boarding school in Shimla to continue with his education. At the tender age of 10, he lost his father and his world came apart. It took him a lifetime to come to terms with the loss and he still wonders if he has.
After his father passed away, Ruskin spent his school vacations at Dehra with his mother, step father, his sister Ellen, who was epileptic, his younger brother William and half brothers Harold and Hansel. But what he really enjoyed was the company of his friends at Bishop Cotton. It was one of the finest schools in the country and his grooming there was more than perfect.
Senior Cambridge School Certificate, the equivalent to today’s Class X Board exam, was the end of his academic career after which he decided to be a writer although there was resistance from his family. But he was determined. A room of his own, a barsati to be precise, at his parents’ place, a second-hand typewriter and lessons at the Typing and Shorthand Institute near his home, was the beginning of his writing life.
At 17, he left Dehra, his friends, boyhood and innocence behind to pursue his writing dreams in England. He did clerical jobs and managed to survive on his own. He also fell in love with a Vietnamese girl but she was non-committal. The experience overseas taught him valuable lessons but he felt lonely. The urge to return home — India, where he could feel free to be a failure —was strong.
He began all over again. From small beginnings, to rejections, getting arrested, suffering personal tragedies, moving homes, and finally finding financial security and buying a home in 2002, Ruskin today is in his twilight years. He still enjoys writing at his Ivy Cottage in Mussoorie where he resides with his adopted family — Rakesh, his wife Beena and their children.
He no longer uses the typewriter but a simple pen to write books and postcards. He also stays far away from technology, so no computers or cell phones.
Those who want to better acquaint themselves with the author, the autobiography is a must read. Also, the black and white photographs (and a few coloured) of himself and his family will draw attention. And the way he describes nature is simply marvellous.