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Ruskin Bond's wicked memories

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Naughty recollections from one of India's best-loved writers.

Swetha Kannaan

As a child, he was "wicked," confesses India's most celebrated children's writer, Ruskin Bond. Not only did he once tear up his grandma's curtains, when she insisted he sew it back together, all he could manage were long, ugly stitches.

"Oh, she was such a tough lady, so Victorian. Never allowed second helpings at meals," recollects Bond. This is perhaps why he still takes second helpings to this day, he tells a giggling audience.

Recently in Chennai for an interactive session organised by publishers Rupa and Co, along with the Odyssey Book Store, Bond bonded well with his readers young and old narrating anecdotes from his life... as a naughty kid, a pining youth who wrote sad love stories ("love that is usually not reciprocated"), and as an older and more mature writer.

Born in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh, 71-year-old Bond recounts another delightful `instance of wickedness' during his childhood days in Jamnagar (Gujarat). He fondly remembers the day his dad brought home a suitcase full of chocolates and kept them on a shelf in the bathroom. As luck would have it, Bond had been very naughty that day and his mother locked him up in the bathroom as punishment.

"For 10-15 minutes I was yelling and screaming. Then I was suddenly silent. An hour passed... My parents began to get worried if I had passed out or hanged myself." When they opened the bathroom, they found him seated on the floor with an open box of chocolates. "I hadn't just eaten one bar of chocolate. I had opened them all 20 to 30. I had nibbled all around them like a rat, so that nobody else could enjoy them," says Bond grinning.

The audience bombarded him with questions that ranged from the regular and the curious to the straightforward ones one child stumps him with `Are you James Bond's elder brother?' And Bond answered them all patiently. "Patience is something I have managed to learn through time," says this creator of delightful and evergreen characters. Remember Binya, the chit of a girl in The Blue Umbrella? Or the woman on platform no. eight? And who can forget young Rusty!

Ruskin Bond, whose books are bestsellers even today, won the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India in 1992. But did his family always encourage him to write? "No, they thought I was wasting my time. My dad did encourage, but he died when I was ten. My mom would tell me: study, go to college, join the Army... " he trails off.

But Bond's eyes light up when he talks about cricket. "My sympathies are always with the bowlers since as a bowler I got no wickets," he says. His solution for struggling bowlers? Make wickets wider and taller, but let the bats remain the same, he reads from his poem on the game.

As for his interest in ghost stories, did he think ghosts were real... has he ever seen one? "My ghosts are not genuine," says Bond. "But sometimes, when I don't sleep well and my sheets fall away, I am conscious of someone tucking me back. I switch on my lights, but see no one." At this, there is a sudden silence in the room, only to be broken by the next set of rapid-fire queries.

When one aspiring writer says he is dejected that he just cannot write humour, Bond advises him not to worry too much. "When I was your age, I took myself seriously. It's only when I grew older, I began to see the funny side of life."

He saw humour even when his cranky German typewriter, in which the `Z' and `Y' keys were interchanged, gave him a tough time. (So, when he typed, `I got zellow fever in Yanyibar', he actually meant, `I got yellow fever in Zanzibar.') Even when his spectacles went for a toss as his driver once braked with a thud on one of Delhi's choc-a-bloc roads. And yes, even when he is turned into a cartoon himself, although he does detest being caricatured with `three chins'. "I am only double-chinned," he protests in jest.

Well, for more of the Bond brand of humour, wait for Funny Side Up a collection of hilarious experiences from his life.

Picture by K. Gajendran

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 30, 2005)
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