Ruskin Bond: Initial disappointments should not change your course of action

Please Note: This interview is originally published for the website- Pinkvilla.

“Happiness is as exclusive as a butterfly, and you must never pursue it. If you stay very still it may come and settle on your hand.”- Ruskin Bond

If you don’t know about Ruskin Bond then you just don’t know enough! He beams with joy when you call him a mini-sensation of India and further reveals how this was not exactly the case- 10 years back when his time was solely dedicated to his eternal lovers: Paper & Ink.  

Happily settled in the beautiful locales of Mussorie (India), Mr. Bond expresses his childlike joy when asked about his fascination with the city. “What is there to not like about this place? We have wonderful weather, delicious Lychee gardens in almost every backyard, lovely Monkeys that keep visiting me every now and then, panoramic tea estates and a lot more. Why don’t you come here and see it for yourself?” 

In an enthralling conversation with me, this 86-year-old lone fox gives an insight into his celebrated journey as a writer, his acceptance of the grief that life had to offer, and some wonderful tips for all the aspiring writers out there.

Excerpts from the Interview: 

You’ve been writing since forever, what could be your biggest takeaway from all the stories that you’ve written so far?

Ruskin Bond: My biggest takeaway could be the fact that I am still writing. I feel I am lucky to have such a long innings as a writer and that it continues and I am able to write as fluently as ever, maybe in some ways better. I would never want to stop writing.

You’re not a social media person at all, but out of sight is out of mind! Has this thought ever struck you?

Ruskin Bond: I try to lead as less a complicated life as possible and concentrate on my writing and do the things I enjoy doing the most which are reading books, watching Television and oh, sleeping…I love to sleep! 

When not writing, reading or sleeping, what do we see you doing?

Ruskin Bond: I take interest in my large extended family here; my children, grandchildren. I like to know what they are doing. I don’t have a garden but I do love plants and flowers. So whenever I get a chance to go to a park or a garden, I go there. I used to do a lot of walking but now it’s just limited.

But I have to tell you that I am never bored (laughs). The other day someone was asking me don’t you feel bored, Ruskin? and I told him no! I can’t recall a single moment when I have ever been bored. Except for the time when I have to sit at some functions and listen to long speeches. You can’t escape it.

What differences are you seeing from your era to ours in terms of Novel writing?

Ruskin Bond: To tell you the truth, I don’t read much fiction nowadays. Except maybe the detective fictions. And that I feel have shifted from the classical crime stories to more towards the violence. 

I am more into reading biographies, history. Like these days I am reading quite a mixture. I am reading a book on history, a classic book that I missed out on when I was younger. 

Many of your books got adapted into plays and movies, did you ever wish to play the hero there as you played in your books?

Ruskin Bond: Well I did have a cameo with Priyanka Chopra in a Bollywood movie- Saath Khoon Maaf. I even had to give her a fatherly peck on the cheek which I did so clumsily that Vishal (Bhardwaj) had to ask me to do it again where I was clumsier than ever. 

You just came out with your Autobiography: Lone Fox Dancing! What’s next? Do we see a biopic being made on you too?

Ruskin Bond: Nobody had ever come to film my life all this while. I don’t think my biopic will be very interesting. It will be just about a writer so it might not have any great dramatic angle. I feel some of my short stories or fiction work could be more effectively filmed than a biopic.

A major portion of your autobiography talks about separation and grief. How did you deal with it?

Ruskin Bond: Over the years, I have learned to become philosophical and accept certain situations as they come along. I haven’t always been a cheerful optimist. In fact, I think when I was younger, I was quite a pessimist. But you come to an acceptance of life when you grow up. You learn to deal with ups and downs and take things in your stride. With major events of life, you’re pretty helpless anyway. There can be depressing moments but you should not let them affect your personal life. 

You were diagnosed with severe Malnutrition once, which had even resulted in affecting your one eye! But that did not stop you from making a career in writing. How tough was this journey?

Ruskin Bond: I feel I got lucky that my eye problem hasn’t gone worse over the years. It would have been horrible to not be able to read and write. And listening to somebody would not have been the same fun. 

What is the mantra of your life?

Ruskin Bond: Try to be happy. Try to make others happy! And with others, I mean those who are within your circle… You can’t make the whole world happy but those who are close to you can certainly be made merrier. Also, don’t be too much of a self-centred person.

Writing is often known to be a solitary task but people mistake it with loneliness. What’s your take on it?

Ruskin Bond: Loneliness is something that is imposed on you. That comes from outside. Like if you lose your friend or someone very close then you’re suddenly alone but it’s not what you are choosing. Loneliness can make you sad but solitude is what you seek out yourself. It is when you desire to be alone for various reasons. Say if you want to write or if you want to go closer to nature, or that you want to take a short break from humanity or what the crazy world around you has to offer.  

Solitude can bring a certain amount of contentment, if not happiness. Whereas, loneliness leads to frustration and unhappiness. Because it’s not something which you have planned for. So you can be lonely in a crowd or you can be perfectly alone and not feel lonely. 

Talking about the desire to be alone, do you think you gave up on the institution of love and marriages a little too early in life?

Ruskin Bond: Maybe you’re right! I was too young to bear the thought of getting married and nobody wanted to marry me at that time. I should not have been in much of a hurry in wanting to settle down. I somewhat grew impatient. And by the time I was in my 30s and 40s I had sort of gotten used to the idea of being single. 

But today I am leading a very happy life. I don’t think I am a lazy fellow. And when you think of marriage, you have to think about raising a family too. Then you can’t take financial risks and you certainly can’t freelance for so long, with much lesser income coming in. So it was all for good.

Do you have any wishlist in mind or you think you’ve covered it all?

Ruskin Bond: I can’t complain. I have had almost everything. I feel if I had to lead my life again, I wouldn’t really change it very much. 

Are there any regrets?

Ruskin Bond: Not many actually. Though I feel I could have made and maintained certain relationships. I shouldn’t have quarrelled with some friends or a relative. But in general, I would have still been the kind of writer that I am today, and have made those same friends I know today of. It’s been a long road to some achievements and I feel long roads are always better than a shortcut.  

Lastly, any tips for the aspiring writers; who’re gearing up for their first novel? 

Ruskin Bond: Your first novel is where you have to work hardest on. The first looks a bit difficult. For my first novel, I had to write two-three drafts before it could get free from certain errors of writing. You can show it to a good friend who knows something about good books, reading, and writing. Get an opinion of friends and not those friends who’d just sugarcoat and say oh, it’s wonderful!

2) Don’t get discouraged. If you feel that you really have it in you inside then don’t get disheartened by early rejections. They’re only going to make you better to the next one. 

3) Sometimes, it may take a long time to get your novel published but learn to remain persistent. Persistence is very important in life. Initial disappointments should not change your course of action.

4) Rejections are disheartening. Ask me, I have gone through a time where I used to collect rejection slips. Now at least they don’t bother to make such slips. So you’re in a better space out there. Everything will fall into place. Do not give up.