How has your experience in Hindi cine-
The only experience I’ve had is in 7
Khoon Maaf (based on Ruskin
Bond’s story, Sussana’s Seven
Husbands). I had to give
Priyanka Chopra a fatherly peck
on the cheek in a pub that was
supposed to be Goa, but we did
it in Pondicherry.
I was a little nervous about it.
In the first attempt I knocked
her glasses off. I had to do it
again. After seven takes, Vishal
said, ‘Mr Bond, I think you are
doing this deliberately.’ (laughs)
In 7 Khoon Maaf, I even
worked on an initial screenplay,
which got changed quite a bit.
I have a good relationship with
Vishal Bhardwaj. He has a flat in
the next building and comes up
from time to time.
Do you watch Hindi films?
Off and on. Sometimes I don’t
sit right through, that has happened even in some American
films. There is just so much violence, car
chases, monsters, aliens... They use technology to create all these terrible things
and it gets very boring.
I was a great movie goer when I was a
There is that charming story that you
gave away all your old records to a cinema
owner in exchange for free movie shows?
Yes, that was in Dehradun. I had a free
pass which lasted two years. I saw some
Are you a wealthy writer?
I am comfortable. It was never always
the case. In the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, the bank
balance was pretty precarious.
Now I have many books constantly in
print. Even if they are not bestsellers,
A few books have done better than
others, but still I can’t stop writing.
Partly because writing is in my blood. If
I can’t write, I might as well be dead.
But also I still need to earn money.
That also keeps me going. I want to earn
enough because I have so many other
commitments too. There are people
dependent on me, so I have to keep at it.
I like the thought that I am competing
successfully with writers who are much
younger than me.
You were awarded the Padma Bhushan
last year and the Padma Shri earlier.
Every Indian who reads English must
have read at least one of your stories...
Maybe even if they don’t want to (
laughs) because in school they might encounter them in some class or the other.
Do you think that a boy born to British
parents, who chose to stay back, has got
his due in India?
Oh yes, I’ve had more than my due.
I made a conscious choice to come
back and make a life and living here. I
didn’t expect maybe to be as well known
as I am today because things were very
different in the ‘50s, ‘60s. You didn’t
become famous as a writer until you had
lived abroad or published abroad.
Here I am publishing in India; I did
publish abroad in the early days, but
now everything is published here and all
my readership is here.
Considering the condition for writers in
the ‘50, ‘60s, ‘70s, I didn’t expect much
more than what I’d achieved then. I have
benefited in a way from the increase in
education, publishing and the fact that
more people are reading now.
Even when I was in school, book reading was a minority pastime and it is still
a minority pastime but that small percentage in actual numbers is huge and it
is constantly growing.
What are your memories of
In 1947, I was 12, 13. I was there when
the Indian flag was put up on our playing field in my school in Shimla.
The following year, when I was the prefect, I raised the flag in my school. I think
I raised the Indian flag long before many
people who are alive were doing it. I was
an English looking boy and it must have
looked rather odd at that time (laughs).
Did you see Gandhiji, Nehru and other
I was sitting in a cinema hall when Ma-
hatma Gandhi was assassinated. After 10,
Yes, that’s true and that too from the
perspective of the hill top. Looking down
at it all (laughs).
Although, I’ve never really been into
politics, I keep myself informed.
True, I’ve seen changes, when I went to
school in 1951, there was no Chandigarh.
I saw it being built. I’ve seen Delhi
change dramatically since preIndependence when I was a small boy
with my father during World War II.
When I came to live here in 1964,
1965, there were three cars in town and
You are an observer of people. What
one taxi in Mussoorie. Now, there are
1,000 taxis and 1,000 private cars, but
the surroundings are much the same.
changes do you see in the people?
The middle class has expanded, which
was a small minority when I was a boy.
It’s grown in numbers and economic
well being. There are also so many
When I finished school and came home
Did your siblings also make India their
and my mother asked me, ‘What are you
going to do with yourself, Ruskin?’
I said: ‘I want to be a writer,’ and she
said, ‘Don’t be silly. Go and join the
Most of the boys were going into the
army. If I had, I would have been anoth-
er Beetle Bailey in the ranks (laughs).
The army was well off without me.
Not really. My younger brother
William left India in the early 1960s. He
settled in Canada.
My sister was invalidated from childhood, she was staying with my stepsister
in Ludhiana who was looking after her.
She died a month back. So, I don’t have
any blood relatives in India.
And your adopted family?
Rakesh and Bina. They have 3 kids. The
girl is doing biotechnology in Bhubaneswar, one boy is in NIFT, Chennai, the
younger one is still in school.
Rakesh has a brother who lives down
the road and has two kids in school.
They all come under the same umbrella.
Their father has a small tea shop.
What are some of your personal indul-
I like simple things... a nice hot buttered toast, maybe with some marmalade. Fish and chips.
I always look for a bookshop wherever
I go. Dehradun has a couple of bookshops. Mussoorie has one. I find the best
bookshop is the railway bookshop. The
Wheeler bookshops. n
Iam trying to recall that morning, over fifty years ago, when I saw my first novel in print...
My hands were not exactly trembling as I opened the magazine, but my heart
was in my mouth as I flipped through the pages...
And there it was: The first installment of The Room on the Roof, that naïve,
youthful novel on which I had toiled for a couple of years. It had lively, evocative illustrations by Mario, who wasn’t much older than me. (The famous illus-trator/cartoonist Mario Miranda). And a picture of the young author, looking
gauche and gaunt and far from intellectual.
I waved the magazine in front of Mr Gupta. “My novel!” I told him. “In this
— Excerpted from A Town Called Dehra
and the next five issues!”
He wasn’t too impressed. “Well, I hope circulation won’t drop,” he said. “And
you should have sent a better photograph.”
‘If I can’t write, I might
as well be dead’
India Abroad February 27, 2015
THE MAGAZINE M5
Ruskin Bond has written scores of stories from this desk. Inset, he offers a peek into the hand- written first pages of the autobiography he is working on.