Sunday, 18 April 2010

YOUNG AT HEART ALWAYS


YOUNG AT HEART ALWAYS


He hasn't changed, confirms Ruskin Bond. We are talking about Rusty, the evergreen boy in many of Bond's stories. “Rusty is me as a boy. He might have grown up as a man, and grown old, but the 'boy' is still there in his heart,” the writer tells me about himself. Indeed, I could hear the boy from Bond's happy and doting tone as he replied to my questions.

Off late, I've been reading Bond's Mr Oliver's Diary. The teacher, Mr Oliver, seems to be a symbol of conformity, while his students at the boarding school are always rebellious. Bond laughs, as I tell that to him. “Yes, Oliver is an old-fashioned fellow, and people make fun of him. But then there are good things in him as well... the set values of proprieties,” he says. So what would the creator of Mr Oliver and the naughty students tell to the younger lot --- to conform or to be rebels? “Kids are now bombarded with so much of television and the Internet, I fear there's no scope for them to conform,” Bond replies. Then he cites an example: “Just this morning I was listening to an FM radio station. And they were playing a salacious song... very suggestive. Within few minutes of it, I heard 10-year-old kids singing the same song as they walked on the road in front of my house. The youngsters now can't escape all of that”.

As I tried to imagine how different Rusty had been when he was literally a boy, Bond perhaps reads my mind. “Well... Rusty was brought up in a sheltered environment. He had adventures, but they were of different nature... very innocent,” he says. “Now, the innocence is lost”. Did I hear a sigh? Perhaps not, as Bond mentions the “bright ideas” that younger people now are full with; “their dreams and achievements” and the rest. He sounds hopeful. Just like my father always did. Interestingly, both Bond and my father were born in the same year. Bond a month older than my father. I know how Bond looks now. I wish I knew how my father would have looked now.

Back to Bond. The septuagenarian author, who began with his novel The Room on the Roof, when he was just 17, penned numerous essays, poems, autobiography (Scenes from a Writer's Life), short stories and novellas. I ask him whether he prefers writing stories for the children than those for the adults. “Frankly, I have no such choice about my reader's age. The Room on the Roof was for the adults. The children's writings are for the young minds. And there are also stories that I leave it to the readers. But, yes the characters and the writer both remain young at heart,” Bond reiterates.

Besides Rusty and Mr Oliver, some of the famous characters created by Bond for children are that of Uncle Ken, the grandfather and the aunt among others. As we dwell on them, Bond mentions how his “childhood experiences helped” him to pen the stories. “They all existed in my life. Now I use those characters to build my stories. However, the stories are largely fictitious,” he informs.

But no matter how fictitious they might be, the stories are realistic; the setting of the serene hilly regions of northern India add to the charm of reading Bond's stories that young and old like to read. I ask him about whether he will set his stories in other parts of India. “There haven't been many writers who've set stories in the hills in India, except Kipling maybe to some extent. So I chose the hills,” Bond says. “But sea also appeals to me. I guess, I will set some of my stories in coastal India... the coastal towns, the people there...” Bond pauses for a while perhaps to visualise the places he has on his mind.

Before the quiet of Mussoorie can take control, I ask the author to choose his favourite story from among his creations. “Each story becomes my favourite as I write them. That happens when one writes and enjoys what he's writing,” Bond says. “But looking back... well... my best writings have been the ones I wrote during my romantic years,” he laughs. “But as one grows older, there's lot more material to write on,” he adds.

Bond went to England after finishing school in Mussoorie in the 1950s. And it is there that he wrote his first book. But the book was about his nostalgia for India. And over the years, it is India that has remained at the heart of his stories. “The Indian in me and the love and affection for my country combine to let me write the stories. It's easy to know the people in India. People accept you more freely as part of their family than anywhere else. And this intimacy is irrespective of the region, language or religion. It's a wonderfully inclusive country to write about”.

That takes us to the label of Indian Writing in English or IWE. I mention to him how Indian writers in English are becoming prominent in the West; their nominations for coveted literary awards possibly are the signs of our inroads into the Western readership. “Ah.. yes... the Booker...” Bond picks up the thread. “For that one has to get published in Britain. My readership is primarily in India,” he says, adding, “I never had any literary agent. They are just interested about the commercial prospect of a book and not the literary values. So the awards are about publicity and sales”.

Getting back to the label of IWE, Bond categorically says that English is now one of the Indian languages. “Do you say Indian Writings in Bengali or Indian Writings in Punjabi? People in the West can refer us as the Indian writers, but within India...” Bond goes quiet for a while. And then, as if he needs to remind us about the quality of English language in India, he says, “In India, English is taught as a language that one can get by with. But the literary English...” he doesn't complete the sentence again.

We turn our attention to filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj who has made a film out of Bond's novel The Blue Umbrella. “He's a good director. I liked the way he did that film,” the author says. “He's now shooting a film titled Saat Khoon Maaf, based on my story Susanna's Seven Husbands. It is a 'black comedy', and about a lady and her ingenuous ways. I actually expanded the story for him. I think Vishal will do a good job this time also,” Bond adds.

Up next on Bond's list are the short stories that he's writing for the adults. “The characters are the ones I saw during my boyhood period, but they were all too lonely. I am studying loneliness,” he reveals. “But yes, I am also reading Peter Robinson's detective thrillers of Inspector Banks. Have you read Robinson?” Bonds asks me only put me in a spot.'Well no... I am still stuck in Sherlock Holmes,' I tell him. Bond chuckles. “Yes.. Holmes... but then you must also read Robinson,” he says. I promise to do so before we wrap up.