LEGEND M4 THE MAGAZINE
India Abroad February 27, 2015
I am a very personal writer. I write
direct to the reader. I don’t hold back.
The reader often feels s/he knows me
and is participating in my life. It gives a
sort of directness and intimacy which
perhaps you don’t always get.
I enjoy writing so maybe I convey that
Who are your favorite writers?
I am a bit old fashioned. I have my old
favorites. Writers from the ‘40s-‘50s I
PG Wodehouse, Somerset Maugham.
I like reading biographies of interesting people, literary biographies, journals,
Over the years are there things that
people have said to you that you remem-
My aunt had a friend in Jersey in the
What’s a day in your life like?
Channel Islands. My aunt told her that
Ruskin keeps writing these stories, they
keep coming back with rejection slips
and he doesn’t get discouraged. So her
friend said, ‘He has a determined chin.’
I don’t see how a chin can be deter-
mined (laughs) Or how people can have
a ‘noble nose’ or ‘intelligent ears!’
But I was determined to be a writer of
Very lazy (laughs). I love to sleep. I try
to write something everyday. Two-three
pages and I usually succeed, unless there
are too many interruptions.
I usually do that in the morning or if
there is any correspondence that I need
to deal with.
In the afternoon I usually take a nap. I
have a pre-lunch nap or a post-lunch
siesta, one or the other. Then do some
reading early in the evening.
These days I am reading a book of
detective stories that my publisher sent
me. It’s good. Also an old one by Marga-rey Allingham. I like detective stories.
And I like classics.
In A Town Called Dehra you wrote that
your dream was to have your own tree,
your own room, your own place in the sun.
With eight decades behind you, if not all,
have most of your dreams been fulfilled?
Even in my boyhood, I had a room of
my own even if it was a small one. Even
today, I have a small room — these two
rooms (pointing towards them) that I
live in and the rest of my adopted family
have the rest of the flat.
I never want a lot of space but it should
be my own (Laughs). And the room must
have a window, that’s essential. I can’t live
in a room without a window. I have a nice
window. I look out. I can see two or three
roads below and can see what people are
doing. That helps me write stories.
You look over the valley, you can see
the mountains, the plains, people. I can
spend time at the window without getting bored. The room is important but
the window too.
In London, I had a room with a small
Apart from writing and napping, what
window that overlooked a cemetery
which was not very cheerful (laughs), but
that was better than nothing.
are the things you enjoy?
I used to do hiking and trekking, not
any more. I am not walking as much as I
used to. I am getting more deskbound.
I seem to have more work and have
become busier in my old age. Since I am
functioning, why not be busy?
You wrote about Meena and how your
love for her sustained you. For the next
10 years you wrote love stories for her...
That was not only for Meena. There
were other people too. I had a bad habit
of falling in love with any girl who was
nice to me (laughs).
So, what is Ruskin Bond’s eternal love?
I don’t know. Maybe the family that
has grown up around me.
When I was a boy, my father.
Some of my friends from my youth.
In The Room on the Roof I have written
about a friend called Somi. I last saw
him in 1955. A few days ago he came to
see me; he is settled in America. It was a
surprise, wonderful meeting. I have
always sort of managed to keep up relationships where possible.
Do you have any regrets?
I let two, three pretty girls escape
I am sure they regret it too.
No, I wasn’t much of a catch in those
I have no real regrets. I would have
liked to have maybe more garden space.
I like flowers. In my next life maybe I
can be a gardener.
Does it happen to you that people
you’ve written about say to you: ‘Ruskin,
why did you write about me?’
They don’t recognize themselves (
laughs). I don’t think Meena must have
known it was her because I changed the
One of the interesting relationships in
your books is the one you had with Bibiji.
Oh yes, she was quite a character. She
was my stepfather’s first wife. I stayed
with her. We had this rather quaint relationship. After my mother and stepfather
left Dehradun, I stayed with Bibiji. She
ran a provision store. I later met her, she
went to live with her daughter in Delhi.
I always told her that I would write her
story. She was always after me to get me
married. With strange women, the ones I
would run from (laughs).
And she had no bitterness towards you
because her husband had remarried your
She had bitterness towards them, but
not to me. She was quite fond of me. I
stayed with her for two years in
Dehradun, then lost touch with her.
When she came to Delhi to live with
her daughter who was also then looking
after my sister, I saw her. But she was
She used to be very physically strong
and could pick up two sacks of aata
(wheat) and run behind her son with a
We know so much of you through your
stories, how much of you still remains
unrevealed to the reader?
All will yet be revealed (laughs). There
is always something that everyone keeps
back I guess.
Usually autobiographies are very unreliable. You need a biographer to come
along 40, 50 years after you are gone to
probe around and dig up things.
I was reading a recent autobiography,
Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham.
Brilliantly done. I discovered he was
such an unpleasant man. Sometimes the
work doesn’t always give you the correct
picture of the private person.
You wrote A Flight of Pigeons set
against the Revolt of 1857. There hasn’t
been much fiction written against the
backdrop of 1857, as opposed to say
Of course, Partition is much closer.
There are people who experienced it that
are still alive.
Even when I was a boy, there wouldn’t
have been anyone alive with memories of
1857. Even my account, though fictionalized, was actually based on actual events
that had occurred.
There were many accounts that were
written, but not much written from the
As for fiction, I think John Masters
wrote a novel set in 1857, Nightrunners
But you are right, not much fiction.
Even writers like Foster and Kipling
dealt with the later period. Kipling was
born 8, 9 years after the Revolt and
started writing in the 1880s. He did not
write so much historical fiction.
The best novel about 1857 was On the
Face of the Waters written by Flora Annie
Steel. It was set in Delhi and she was
sympathetic to both sides of the conflict.
I wrote sketches of unusual adventurers which appeared in the (The
Illustrated) Weekly (of India) in the ’60s
and put them in a book called Strange
Men, Strange Places. It is still around,
but not very well known. They are factual accounts.
How much did Shashi Kapoor pay you
for A Flight of Pigeons on which he
Rs 10,000 ($160). It was 1978, and I
suppose it wasn’t too bad.
I wasn’t present at the shooting. Though the story is based in Shahjahanpur,
they shot it outside Lucknow. I did meet
some of the cast later on.
Have you met Geoffrey and Laura
I saw them perform Shakespeare. At
that time it was only Geoffrey Kendal,
Shashi Kapoor had already left and
Jennifer had, of course, married him.
They were only 3 of them and constant-
ly changing roles. They did it very well.
‘If I can’t write, I might as well be dead’
The book cover of A Town Called Dehra. Ruskin Bond was born to English parents in Kasauli during the British Raj. He went to England at 17 but returned after three years. He never went back.