Not rusty at 85!

Ambika Shaligram
Thursday, 17 May 2018

Ruskin Bond, who will turn a year older on Saturday, will be celebrating his birthday with a new book, Ranji the Music Maker. The octogenarian says that he is writing more than ever, because writers of his age are a rarity now

On Saturday, if you are in Mussoorie and are planning to greet Ruskin Bond on his birthday at Cambridge Bookstore, here’s a request from the author —  ‘Don’t get me cakes. I am not supposed to eat cakes and I get a big pile every year. The sight scares me!’ But what you can do instead is get ballpoint pens for Bond as he still likes to write by hand. Says he, “Notebooks are useful, yes. Sensible people gift me ballpoint pens.” 
This year, Bond will celebrate the day with the release of his latest book, Ranji the Music Maker, published by Puffin. In a free-wheeling conversation, he talks about Ranji, the character who has featured in a few other stories, his association with the mountains and the sea, and the gentle humour found in his works. Over to Bond...

Tell us about Ranji the music maker whose story has been inspired by a letter written by your reader from Sri Lanka. Ranji is a familiar name from your previous writing. 

Ranji is a boy who I have put in a few stories. But I haven’t set this story in 1940s or ‘50s. A young reader from Sri Lanka sent me a photograph of a little boy playing flute to an audience of one small kitten. And that set me off, I thought it would make a nice little story. 

I took it off from there. I am always open to ideas. I even jot down my dreams in the morning if they are vivid enough and occasionally one of them becomes a story. 

All the stories that I have read of yours have kindness and gentle humour associated with them. Is that what you have always felt when you are writing a story? Being nice isn’t always easy. For instance, even in Maharani, except for that one incident...

When I wrote Maharani, I thought I was being very nasty. I am surprised that you say I have been very kind and gentle.
I guess, as I grow older, life seems to become funnier. I see the ridiculous aspect to it. When we are younger, we take life more seriously. All that we have gone through, in order to make success of our lives. And, then at the end, we feel well, what was it all about anyway? I like to write about the times that I grew up in, the times which were gentle. 

Most of your readers know about your love for the mountains and the valleys through your writing. But you have spent a few years by the sea too. Can you tell us about your association with the sea? It doesn’t figure in your books too often.

I always had a fascination for the sea, in literature. I must have read all the great writers who have written about the sea, like (R L) Stevenson and (Herman) Melville. I liked going to the sea. But you are seeing the same sea and same waves coming in. In the mountains, you only have to walk a short distance, to get a different view. The perspective keeps changing, up in the hills. 
But as I was saying, more people have written about the sea, than about the mountains. Maybe because over the years, people have had to travel by the sea. In the mountains, you will find a poor villager, who can’t write. Or maybe a mountaineer, who scales the mountain, and goes away. Maybe there are not enough people who have spent all their lives up in the hills. 

Coming to sports, you have written a few stories about cricket and local games that kids played on the maidan. But in real life, you find cricket very boring and like football. 

I have written about it because I think it’s funnier of the odd things that can happen in a cricket match. Like I wrote a story about a crocodile getting interested in one cricket match. I used to play cricket, but the boys never kept me in the main team, because I  didn’t like running between the wickets and caused many a player to get run-out (laughs). A football match gets over in less than an hour. So there’s not a great deal you can write about. 

Are you still following football league matches? Do you have any favourites? 
 

No particular favourite. I usually try to back the team that’s at the bottom of the table. It’s fun to see if it can get off the bottom and climb up a bit. Whereas the ones at the top are all rich teams and pretty predictable. 

That’s also been your approach to your life, I suppose. Supporting the underdogs...
 

I do feel certain sympathy for 
the underdog. But let’s not forget 
that the underdog can bite you at times (laughs). 

We received a copy of your autobiography a year ago. You said that maybe a biographer would have done a better job with it. Who do you think can write your biography?

Well, I hope it’s not a jealous person or an enemy who discloses the secrets that you have kept over the years. Because which writer is totally honest about himself, huh? It’s much better to have a biography written by someone who likes your books and finds you interesting. 

You have appeared in some of your writing, and then there was this series, Ek tha Rusty, on Doordarshan. Any plans to come out with more TV series or films on your books?

I have never actually written for films or TV. But if some good director comes along and wants to make a film on any books, then I would be pleased. I have been lucky with Shyam Benegal making a film, Junoon, on my book, A Flight of Pigeons. And, then Vishal Bhardwaj making The Blue Umbrella and 7 Khoon Maaf. Vishal is interested in doing another movie on my book, Mr Olliver’s Diary. It’s humorous. We thought it could make a nice, romantic comedy. 

You seem to have a good association with filmmakers, considering you haven’t cried foul that your books have been ripped apart...

(laughs) Apart from the three films that I mentioned, which have done quite well, there have been three other movies, that weren’t even released. That means, they must have been pretty bad.

Which were those? 

There was a film made on The Last Tiger in the ‘70s. There were two others made for Children’s Film Society of India, which never released. At least I didn’t get to see them. 

Does going back in time come easy to you? We get to know how India was in the 1960s and ‘70s through your works.

I have suddenly realised that there aren’t too many writers who have lived in the pre-Independence era. So I am becoming a rarity and I hope I can stay that way for a little longer (laughs). Recently, someone asked me why don’t I write about politics? I replied, ‘I am not interested in politics’. 
But I was writing something the other day, which looked back on the Nehru period. Then, I realised that there aren’t many people around who were there in the 1950s. I have attended a couple of Nehru’s lectures and talks. I was also lucky enough to go through his jail diaries. 
I also met Mr Morarji Desai when he was the finance minister, who advised me that I should drink orange squash and not alcohol (laughs). I am afraid that I didn’t take his advice. 
At 84, I am still writing a few pages every day. 

How would you like to be recognised as — a writer, children’s writer or an adult’s writer? 

If I have to choose, I would like to be known as a children’s writer. I feel that I have done something for the world if children start reading. 

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