Devjani Bodepudi talks to a legend in the world of Indian writing, Ruskin Bond reflects on his career, children’s literature and his hopes for the future of the country.
Credits for the featured image: Anaina Malik.
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You are one of the biggest names in Indian writing with a career spanning nearly six decades, when and how did writing become a conscious decision and how has it evolved?
Back when I was leaving school or about to leave school, that goes back to 1950 or 1951,your grandparents’ time (laughs) , as soon as I finished school, I started bombarding magazines with stories and articles, so it goes back to the beginning.
You’ve spent a lot of your life in the hills and mountains, tell me about the characters in your story and how they have been influenced by your landscape or their landscape?
A lot of my characters are based on real life people or friends, as is often the case for most writers, even if they don’t say so. Also, the longer you live the more you have to write about. In a way more the memories are there, there are more people you have known, and so you don’t run out of material, and when I run out people, I write ghost stories!
I am going to talk about the books that have been turned into films or the stories that have been turned into films, is there a compromise anyway or is it a painful process?
Not with me, because I have never written a story with the idea that it is going to be filmed, it’s just by sheer chance that maybe directors have come along and said, “Ruskin I like your story and can I make a film of it.” And if I know if he is a good director, I would say, “sure, go ahead” and I will not interfere, because I know it is a different medium and certainly you have to adapt or change things in it or maybe present it in a different way but an intelligent director will, in any case, perhaps talk to you, consult you about it and take in your ideas. So, I have by and large, been lucky in that way.
Is it fair to say that your childhood was quite fractured?
Yes, a little bit.
Would you say this led you try to create a more idyllic and linear narrative in your writing for children?
Yes, certainly a difficult or traumatic childhood would have to condition a writer and his outlook as it has done with many writers, you know many writers who would have had perhaps lonely childhoods or difficult childhoods and it shapes their writing , so yes, in that sense it has perhaps made me more sensitive to other children and their problems.
Some could argue about the quality of children’s entertainment today is at an all-time low. Are children being underestimated and marginalized and seen only as consumers in today’s society?
You are right I think to a great extent, yeah and there is a lot of entertainment for children, which is sort of superficial very often and if you have the opportunity sometimes to compare it with the, what was perhaps written or films that were made for children many years back, you could see the difference.
Where are we in terms of children’s writings in India now? Are there any names which stick out for you personally?
There are good writers for children, because it’s being taken seriously at last by publishers. At one time up to ten years back, publishers here wouldn’t touch children’s books; commercially they weren’t very viable, but now perhaps because parents and teachers want better writings for children, publishers are bringing out children’s books. There are writers like Paro Anand, in terms of good work for children, and others who also write for adults like – Jerry Pinto and Sudha Murthy, as I think they are good children’s writers.
India before and the India now, the changes you have seen, what worries you and what excites you about the future of this country?
I think young people have more confidence, have more self confidence and they are ready to be adventurous, do new things, take on the world, so, I think that’s a good sign for the future.
What did you read as a child?
Comics (Laughs), and my first book was I think, Alice in Wonderland, and lots of nursery rhymes, I remember them still. Do you want one?
There was a little girl, who had a little curl,
Right down the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good, she was very very good,
And when she was bad, she was horrid. (Laughs)
That’s wonderful. Thank you so much!