By | Abhijit Bhaduri |Keynote speaker, Author and Columnist
Ruskin Bond’s first novel, The Room on the Roof, written when he was seventeen, won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. Since then he has written over 500 short stories, novellas, poems and articles that have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1993 and the Padma Shri in 1999. His short stories “The Night Train at Deoli”, “Time Stops at Shamli”, and “Our Trees Still Grow in Dehra” have been part of the school text books in India.
His story A Flight of Pigeons was about the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and was made into a film by Shyam Benegal with the title Junoon. Vishal Bharadwaj made films based on his stories The Blue Umbrella and more recently the film Saat Khoon Maaf was based Ruskin Bond’s short story “Susanna’s Seven Husbands”. Read my review of Saat Khoon Maaf <click here>. I ask him if he is planning to go to the Jaipur Literary Fest 2012 starting the next day? He laughs and says that writers of children’s books are perhaps not invited. Jaipur’s loss is my gain for sure.
Abhijit: You have been a prolific writer. Have you ever experienced the dreaded Writer’s Block?
Ruskin Bond: Yes I have occasionally abandoned a manuscript. I write a story in my head. I see the story like a movie. So writing that out is relatively simple. When I write I just keep a waste paper basket handy in case I am experiencing a block. I mostly write short stories. They are best written in a continuous creative process. You have a feel of immediacy. When you write a novel you have to live with the characters for a long time. So I prefer short stories. I never wrote anything more than 250 pages. <picks up my novel Mediocre But Arrogant and looks at the page count> Your novel is 261 pages. You just managed to beat me <laughs>. I can’t ever see myself writing something like A Suitable Boy or Mediocre But Arrogant!
Ruskin Bond: They could be about people or incidents that have happened to you or to others. A lot of my stories are portraits of people.
Abhijit: Is nostalgia a better trigger for you than the reality of today?
Ruskin Bond: I was nostalgic even as a young man. Preferred listening to Opera not Bing Crossby. I read Hugh Walpole, Jack London, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad, Evelyn Waugh, Richard Jefferies and Louise Imogen Guineyas a young man. I watched a lot of movies. I was deeply influenced by movies. I was in Dehradoon with my mother and step father. Neither had much interest in what I did.
Abhijit Bhaduri: Do you feel unhappy when you see your stories on celluloid?
Ruskin Bond: Film is a different medium. So you have to change settings, characters etc to suit the medium. Sometimes the ending may have to be different. Junoon was very close to what I had in mind. So was Blue Umbrella. Saat Khoon Maaf was a black comedy. Not sure if the comedy through.
Ruskin Bond: There are two kinds of authors – subjective and objective. Introverts are more inward looking. Emily Bronte, Virginia Woolf etc wrote from within themselves. Poets like Keats or Shelley were introverts. On the other hand John Grisham would be my example of an objective writer. Frederick Forsyth is an example of an objective storyteller. They are extroverts.
Abhijit Bhaduri: How would you describe yourself?
Ruskin Bond: I am a storyteller from a personal viewpoint. When I run out of people I invent ghosts. (chuckles) I don’t believe in ghosts. Never saw one.
Ruskin Bond: There were no lit fests and launches in India till the eighties when we had the first World Book Fair. In the ’50s and ’60s newspapers also published fiction especially short stories. So I wrote short stories. We did not have many publishers. But many writers have been forgotten – like Kamala Markandeya, Mulgaonkar or Mulk Raj Anand.
Abhijit Bhaduri: Should a writer experiment with different genres of writing?
Ruskin Bond: Readers want more of the same from you. So stick to one genre. Chetan Bhagat has got five novels of a similar nature. Not sure if would want to write an autobiography or a travel book etc.
Abhijit Bhaduri: Advice for aspiring writers…?
Ruskin Bond: The more you write, the better you will write! So – keep at it!