Writing has never been easy to make a living, says Ruskin Bond

Aman Kanth

It was a bright sunny morning on Day 3 of DSC Jaipur Literary Festival 2011, where India’s popular and most loved storyteller Ruskin Bond shared his views on life, nature and books.

Sitting cozy at the Vodafone Front Lawns, Ruskin Bond in conversation with Ravi Singh for ‘Boys will be Boys’ was a full-house session.

Ruskin Bond is the recipient of Sahitya Akademi (1992) award for English writing and Padma Shri (1999) winner for children’s literature.

Here are some of the excerpts:

Ravi: Given the scale of this literary festival, wasn’t it very different when you stared out?

Ruskin: I began writing fifty years ago, I am an ancient now! When I began writing, there was nothing like literary festivals or book fests. I was never in my youth asked to address large audiences. Though there were plenty of readers, there was no promotion of books. If I remember correctly, the first book fair in Delhi was held in 1960s and now we have world book fair. Jaipur Literary Festival has become a national event.

Ravi: How was it way back then in Mussoorie?

Ruskin: It was very difficult for a writer to sell his book. I remember going to a bookshop to check out my book at display. I found out that one of my books was stacked under a pile, which I took out and put it on the top. While I was doing this, the owner of the bookshop saw me doing this and pushed the book under the pile back again saying that no one is buying it. It was just Rs 3 for a copy so I bought one for myself.

Ravi: Did you get any royalty?

Ruskin: Yes, I did get a trickle of royalty. In those days, writers had to write in papers and magazines for livelihood.

Ravi: As the title of the session is ‘Boys will be Boys’, people associate you and your writings with eternal youth. Very few writers achieve that. Are you conscious about your readers?

Ruskin: Every writer has a projection of an ideal reader in his/her mind. They write for themselves and for someone, who is of their wavelength. The ideal reader is someone, who is just like you. Things are getting better now; it took me a long time to get established. Writing has never been easy to make a living. I am lucky to make a living out of something which I enjoy.

Ravi: When you say that you are lucky to make a living out of writing, there is an extraordinary simplicity in your living. Is it so easy?

Ruskin: I was always happy to have one room for bed and one room for books. I only get angry when someone tries to murder English language.

Ravi: Most people now identify you with children’s writing but your earlier works were quite mature.

Ruskin: (Smiles) When I was sixteen, I was an old man and now when I am seventy six, I am a young boy. Earlier I used to take myself seriously, now I write for children and adults alike.

Ravi: You never shied away from sensuality in your writing, for instance ‘Room on the Roof’ and ‘A Handful of Nuts’.

Ruskin: I have been an autobiographical writer. I only write about people and when I run out of people, I write about ghosts.

Ravi: Most of your stories are based in small towns, squalid places with not much hope. Why were you attracted to small places?

Ruskin: I grew up in small places like Mussoorie, Dehradun, Shimla, Delhi and London. Perhaps in small town you get to know people better and you see buoyancy and good humour in life. Now even towns have become cities.

Ravi: One finds a wonderful description of nature in your books. Do you think this connection with nature makes you sensitive?

Ruskin: Take a walk out in any small locality and you will find birds and trees. Nature has both gentle and cruel side. Nature can be red in tooth and claw.

Ravi: For about ten years, you have been writing more of poetry.

Ruskin: Every now and then I write poems. When I saw foxes in night, I wrote ‘Lone Fox Dancing’.

Ravi: One finds autobiographical motif in all your writings. Tell us about your father and mother.

Ruskin: I grew up largely with my father as my parents had separated. My father read to me, he spent all his time with me, while my mother was outgoing, party going types.

Ravi: One finds wonderful grandparents in your stories.

Ruskin: It was purely fictional, wishful thinking.