Ruskin Bond: My young readers want me to make ghosts scarier

Ruskin Bond's latest book How To Be Happy is out now, the latest in his celebrated 'How to' series.

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There is almost as much to observe as to speak when one is at India’s most popular writer Ruskin Bond’s house in Landour, Mussoorie.

Crisp white sheets of paper on his dining table.

A bed that serves as his chair.

A window to look at the still but alive mountains.

The fact that he still writes by hand.

That there’s almost a ceremony of rugs in his flat.

And the best part about any conversation with this Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan winning writer who recently turned 90, is the fact that it is never linear.

One can talk about ghosts, and he would not hesitate to tell you that when his publishers threw a party for his birthday, which carried on for a week, he needed a steady supply of Digene and Ranitidine.

The author, whose latest book How to be Happy (HarperCollins India) aimed at young readers recently hit the stands, says the idea came from the publisher. In the book, he stresses that one cannot buy happiness, and you cannot get it wholesale or retail or online.

“It inhabits a small space in your mind, and you must look for it there,” Bond asserts.  “This is a book that carries decades of experience on how to be content, how to lead a fulfilling life, how to inhabit the delightful world of books and stories, and most of all on how to be happy.”

The first book in the series was How To Be A Writer followed by How to Live Your Life.

“This latest one was suggested by my publisher Tina Narang of Harper Children’s Books. They now want me to do another. So, as I am becoming a ‘How To’ person. Of course, I am a storyteller and this gives me a break from writing fiction,” says the author, over whose writings films like Junoon, The Blue Umbrella and 7 Khoon Maaf have been made.

Talk to him about his famous ghost stories, and he smiles as he has yet to see any, he prefers the mischievous ones. “But nowadays, it is not easy to get the children scared. One young reader wrote to me that I should make my ghosts scarier.”

Living in Mussorie (Landour) for decades now, the celebrated writer says the hills keep him alive. Ruskin Bond, who lived in Delhi for five years during the 1960s doubts he would still be alive if he had continued being there.

“They (the hills) let me breathe, and not just in the physical sense of the word but also spiritual and mental. Trees, wildflowers, and small creatures – impart me matter to write about, a reason to smile. The simple people here are a delight to talk to. I may not like the extreme cold very much, but it is definitely better than the torturous heat of the plains.”

For someone who has authored more than 500 short stories, essays, and novels which includes 69 books for children, Ruskin Bond admits to never running out of stories.

“I have a good memory for people. Looking back over the years, including my childhood, provides enough fodder. Every individual offers something interesting about him/her, which can be extracted.”

Adding that his interest in the natural world always gives him something to pen down, he reveals: “Sometimes I just stand. I think a writer needs a room with a window. You cannot live in a shut and closed space. So, if you have a window, you are looking out at the hills, at the sky, at the road beneath you, at people coming and going. Even if you are not doing anything, you are a witness to continuous activity – and something might just stand out.”

Not obsessed with penning a set number of words every day, he smiles that he is yet to figure out his ‘process’. “I think there are no mechanics involved, everything flows just naturally.”

Ask him about his favourite book (his own) and he immediately cites The Room On The Roof, which he wrote at the age of 17. It took him two years to find a publisher and he had to write three drafts.

“I have never worked on anything so hard before, though it did not sell too well at that time,” he smiles. However, after 70 years, it was recently on the bestseller list in India.

“So, you never know with books. Sometimes you expect a lot from work, yet it never takes off. Many times, the opposite happens.”

Believing that writing is no less than an adventure for him, right from his teens, he admits that there have been ups and downs, good and low periods, but the very act of putting pen to paper has been worthwhile.

“It has always kept me going and taken me along with it on unforgettable voyages.”

Even at the age of 90, the process of ageing does not scare the author. “I live from one day to the next and try not to look too far ahead. The best part is, I am still working and writing, and reading two to three books a week.”

For the past year, Bond has been keeping a journal about living in the hills. “So that might be published too. Besides, HarperCollins wants me to do another title – ‘How to be What You Want’.”

Now it is time for Ruskin Bond to stop talking. He will now look out of his window at the mist-enveloped road and valley. He is bound to find someone/something.

READ MORE: Satyajit Das on “leaving the natural world alone”

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