When I run out of real people, I make up supernatural characters: Ruskin Bond

Wednesday, 4 June 2014 - 7:35pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna webdesk

The much loved children's writer Ruskin Bond shares his love for reading, writing and stories, in conversation with Sanjana Pandit

Most of us have grown up with our dose of Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Arthur Conan Doyle. Beginning with 'Rusty', Ruskin Bond was one writer we went on to study in school and even college. The simplicity of the language and attention to detail is what made Bond a favorite among children and elders alike.

Bond spent most of his childhood in Jamnagar in Gujarat and Shimla. After the sudden death of his father, he went on to live with his grandmother in Dehradun. Being brought up in Dehradun, most of Bond’s stories are autobiographical and revolve around his love for nature. Writing his first novel 'The Room on the Roof' at the age of 17, the recently turned octogenarian says his love for books is what made him a writer. “I read a lot. I was a bookworm, that is what helped me become a writer. Some of the writers I read include PG Wodehouse, Charles Dickens. My latest book 'Love among the Bookshelves' talks about my love for reading.”

Living in hill stations most of his life, Bond travelled a lot. Many of his children’s stories revolve around train stations. Every train station story being as peculiar as the other like the 'Night train at Deoli', Bond says, “I travelled a lot by train. The airlines were still in their infancy, then. Train stations were lively, something or the other was always happening.”

Most of his children novels have an element of family. Many of his novels talk about relatives like his grandmother whom he grew up with, uncles, aunts. These novels having a familial element make us wonder whether they are a tribute to his own family in some way. To this he disagrees, “Most of the children’s stories are humourous ones and involve a number of characters like uncles, aunts. But some of the relatives are actually made up. Children like to read about families.”  But away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, Bond currently lives with his adopted family in Landour, Mussorie. Autobiographical accounts of Bond speak fondly of his adopted family.

Apart from children’s stories, however, Ruskin Bond also explored many more genres in literature. His fascination for ghost stories and the supernatural are well known and seen in short stories like 'Susanna’s Seven Husbands', 'Maharani' and 'Ghost stories of the Raj'. For instance, 'Susanna’s Seven Husbands' revolves around a woman named Susanna Anna-Marie Johannes, who in her everlasting quest for love kills six of her husbands. Stories such as this, and Maharani, are led by strong female characters and to quote the writer himself, “are larger than life". Bond shares with us, "Most of these women are based on real people." This is contrary to characters in other books who aren’t robust but in fact simple. They are generally people living in small towns and cities; this purity is what makes all age groups feel a sense of belonging to his stories.

After writing children’s novels for most of his career, when asked about what intrigued him about this theme he says, “When I run out of real people to write about, I make up supernatural characters.  As a boy, I read a lot of horror stories by MR James, Algernon Blackwood, Walter de la Mare.”

Bond doesn’t identify himself with a particular writer, but says, “I like HG Wells, Richard Jeffrey and Chekhov.” On being compared to Rudyard Kipling he says, “Kipling was a good short story writer but apart from Kim, he was not a good novel writer. Even though…. he tried.”

Even though most of his stories have an aspect of love, they normally end on a melancholic note. They leave us with a sense of void, a need for closure.  While when he talks of nature, Bond leaves us elated, his connect with nature is what makes his writing so distinct. On leaving us with this void and this connect between love and nature, he explains, “Nature is constant, while feelings, attitudes and people change. Nature can also be cruel but is largely static. Love is inconstant.”

His views on nature are perhaps most reflective in his poem;
Don't be afraid of the dark,little one,
the earth must rest when the day is done,
the sun may be harsh, but moonlight--never!
and those stars will be shining forever and ever,
be friends with the night the night,there is nothing to fear,
just let your thoughts travel to friends far and near.
by day,it does seem that our troubles won't cease,
but at night, late at night, the world is at peace.

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