“An examination of Bond’s life and work affords insight not only into his evolution as a writer but also his contribution to the development of English literature in India and to the growing body of diasporic and post-colonial/post-independence literature.”
~ Meena Khorana, Indian author and biographer, in her book The Life and Works of Ruskin Bond.
Ruskin Bond is considered as one of the greatest Indian authors of the English language. His wide array of short stories, novels, essays, poems, travelogues, and articles in newspapers and magazines have inspired many a aspiring writers for the past six decades. Best known as a children’s story writer, Ruskin Bond has dabbled in a variety of genres, from ghost stories to ‘odes to nature’ to unrequited love stories. His writing career brought him fame, honours and a number of awards, including the Sahitya Academy Award (1992), Padma Shri (1991), Padma Bhushan (2014).
Ruskin Bond’s Life and Times
Born to Anglo-Indian parents, Aubrey Alexander Bond and Edith Dorothy Clerke, on 19 May 1934 in Kasauli, Ruskin Bond had a less than normal childhood as other Anglo-Indian kids of his age. By the age of ten, Bond had experienced living with princes and princesses in Jamnagar (Gujarat), studying in a boarding school in Dehradun, watching his parents separated and divorced, and finding out about his father's death, while he was in school. All these experiences influenced his stories throughout his life. His most loved childhood experiences stem from his father’s nurturing affection, his motherly ayah, his gardener named Dukhi, and the thousands of books he read. The first book he ever read was Alice in Wonderland, which still remains his favourite. Other preferred authors included Rudyard Kipling, Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie. All the incidents collectively marked a significant impression on Bond’s young mind.
Ruskin Bond was well-known in his school, Bishop Cotton School in Shimla, as a great debater, athlete, and writer. Even though, he was an average student in terms of academics, his writing talent was recognised as early as 1948, when he won the Anderson Essay Prize. He won the same award for three consecutive years, the only student to do so in the history of the school. His name is in fact, inscribed in the literary and academic Hall of Fame of the school. Apart from writing, Bond also won several trophies for his goal-keeping prowess in the school’s football team.
After completing his schooling, Bond went to England for further education. It was there that he completed and published his first novel, The Room on the Roof. This won him the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize (1957).
Bond spent four years in England, but his heart was back in India, where he was born and had spent some of his dearest days. He decided to return. According to him, he felt more comfortable around “peepal trees” on the slopes than “apple orchards” on the countryside, and he was more attracted to a life with the Indian masses, than the sophistication of British citizens. In his essay, On Being an Indian, he describes his relationship with India as one with “history” and not with “race” or “religion”.
The Author and his Writing Influences
Ruskin Bond in the past six decades of his writing career has more than 500 published works in his name. Many of his stories were initially published in newspapers and magazines. He is also one of the few authors in India whose stories are compiled and re-compiled into anthologies and collections. Many of his stories are part of the school syllabus. Once, when he was asked how he reacted when children came and told him that they read his stories in their textbooks, he jokingly replied he would apologise to them!
His most renowned works include the following:
Short story collections like Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra, Time Stops at Shamli, Funny Side Up,A Town Called Dehra, The Night Train at Deoli, and The Adventures of Rusty.
Novels like The Blue Umbrella, Delhi is Not Far, Vagrants in the Valley, Once Upon a Monsoon Time, A Flight of Pigeons, and Roads to Mussourie.
Autobiographical works like Scenes from a Writer’s Life and A Lamp is Lit.
Ghost stories like A Season of Ghosts and Ghost Stories from the Raj.
Poems like Lone Fox Dancing, It Isn’t Time That’s Passing, and To Live in Magic.
Ruskin’s Bond’s stories have also been adapted in films. Some of the famous films based on his works are, Junoon (based on A Flight of Pigeons) by Shyam Benegal, Saath Khoon Maaf (based on Susanna’s Seven Husbands) and The Blue Umbrella (based on a book with the same title) both by Vishal Bhardwaj. Bond, in fact collaborated with Bhardwaj in the making of The Blue Umbrella.
Most of Bond’s works are believed to be semi-autobiographical. Many of his protagonists’ mothers were estranged, fathers were loved, and the gardeners were modelled like Dukhi. The animals and natural elements mentioned are based on the Himalayan flora and fauna he saw in his lifetime. The themes of his writings show inspirations from his friendships and relationships with the locals, and his favourite town – Dehradun, which he lovingly calls Dehra.
In an interview, Bond expressed his life’s mantra, thus, “[L]ife is fleeting. So one should seize the moment and get as much true enjoyment out of living, out of friendships, loving relationships, out of things that give you pleasure, whether it is books or films or any form of mentally stimulating satisfaction.”
Also on this day:
1904 – Jamsetji Tata, founder of the business group Tata Group, died
1908 – Manik Bandopadhyay, Indian author, was born
1910 – Nathuram Godse, assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, was born
1913 – Neelam Sanjiva Reddy, the sixth President of India, was born
1938 – Girish Karnad, Indian actor, director, and writer, was born
- The Life and Works of Ruskin Bond by Meena Khorana
- Ruskin Bond’s Biographical Sketch by Gulnaz Fatima (Dept. of English, AMU)