May 19th marks the 86th birthday of Ruskin Bond. He is often described as India’s most loved author even as he has been writing fiction and non fiction for over 60 years. Ruskin Bond’s repertoire as a writer glorifies the art of writing – by his own admission in a televised interview he described himself as a writer inspired by his own life. Bond has written short stories, novels, novellas, essays, travelogues etc that have been published and republished and the reader has so often re read these over and over.
A few years back, Ruskin Bond published his autobiography called Lone Fox Dancing. As usual for all Ruskin fans, the book is a delight and was lapped up to know more about this ever so loveable man nestled in the hills of Mussoorie. I picked the book as a fan, and as i progressed reading about Ruskin and his life, I began to marvel at the man himself.
Today on his birthday, I am thinking about Ruskin as a child. At the age of 8, his parents separated and Ruskin started to live with his father in Delhi. Ruskin described this as a time of solitude – time when he was left to his own devices except weekends when his father would spend time with him. Reading about his time with his father, I thought of my time with my father; though the relationship that we respectively had with our fathers was perhaps very different. I assume he had a more informal relationship with his. At the age of 11, when Ruskin was in boarding school his father passed away. He was told by his principal. And ever since he built his life on his own. He moved to other boarding schools and took to reading & then writing his first short story at 16. A couple of years later his first book, A Room On The Roof was published and awarded the John Rhys Award for Writers under 30.
I assume that there isn’t a day when Ruskin doesn’t think of his father. There is not a day when I don’t think of mine. How can one not. For fathers often are that one mark of a person that a child wants to be. It’s a brooding aspiration – to be the silent wall, who stands behind like a rock & never sheds a tear. The father is the vision, he is supposed to set sights firmly on the future and guide the child with firm hands on their shoulders. Ruskin’s father did that perhaps, when he told Ruskin to read as many books as he could, took him to bazaars and cinemas. I imagine that he used to tell Ruskin that he would be alone for the weekdays when his father went to the office and that Ruskin should take care of himself as he was a big boy! And Ruskin would have believed him. And once back home, he would have asked Ruskin how his day went and what did he read that day. Later at dinner, he perhaps told Ruskin how his own day went. And at bed time, he would tuck Ruskin in and tell another quick one story from the day, till little Ruskin went off to sleep. Aubrey would then, stand out in the verandah of the big Atul Grove bungalow and perhaps smoke a pipe; or a cigar thinking about his day in actuality, about Edith and his time with her, about the Royal AirForce and WW2 before his thoughts came to rest to little Ruskin sleeping peacefully tucked in. I am sure in his last moments, Aubrey thought of Ruskin and how his life would be once he was gone. Perhaps he took confidence that the boy would do well, for he was shaping into a fine independent boy. A short prayer, if not to the Gods, then to the human spirit must have passed his lips.
Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake has an episode where Ashoke walks a child Gogol to the end of the wharf. Once they reach the point from where they cannot go further, Ashoke realises that he has forgotten his camera in the car and now they cannot take a photograph. He tells Gogol that now this moment in life would have to remembered as a place from where there was no where else left to go.
Ruskin must have had his moment with his father. And I guess so do all of us.
Happy Birthday Ruskin Bond. Wish you live long.