Ruskin

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.

The Travel of Words

2 days after the 83rd birthday of Ruskin Bond, I happened to pick up a collection of his fiction & non fiction writings this morning. And as I went from one piece to another I smiled and laughed at the tales he had to tell. A feel good book largely that kind of took me back to my childhood – especially the summer – his stories were about mangoes and baths in the canals in the towns where Rusty lived. One tale spoke about his journey to becoming the cook of the scouts team. Another took me to an attic in London; where in the loneliness of the first few days, a mouse was company.

As the day wore off, I took a short ride for business. Once out of the house I couldn’t help but notice the sights that were always on the roads when I rode on them, but never presented themselves in the manner as they did this evening. I noticed the small shop selling pakodas on a tiny turn; a dry wheat field across the stream that usually I fail to notice when I cross it. I also stopped at the highest point of the highest flyover in my city to observe the land scape that it overlooked. To a great distance in the sky I saw the roofs of buildings, open spaces on either sides of the road that the fly over crosses; I saw the sun setting in a golden hue.

As I sit and write this out, I find it imperative to mention how my heart yearns for travel; something that has not happened due to the commerce required to run life. Coming into May of 2017, I decided to bring pending businesses to a close so that the criss cross of the Indian Monsoon and Summer are months when I would be out to look around the country side. Usually May is a long month and its taken a toll on my plans, I am delayed in completion of all work by another 15 days.

But I did travel. Rusty took me to the canals and mangroves in his town. The words of his stories – simple and effective – painted their cities, caricatured their people – be it the bumbling Uncle Ken, the authoritative Bhabhiji – lady of the house or the two white mice who were gifted to Rusty by a station master when he landed up in Lucknow instead of New Delhi after an overnight train journey. What does also stand out in memory is the working miniature train model – I’ve seen those and in the days of the past planned to own one by saving a lot of money and building the collection one by one.

I have come to know someone (though not directly) who reads the book Shantaram but has never bought it. Thats because he finds the book every place he has travelled to. I also know a lot of folks who read up about the places that they intend to visit. Some also read famous stories from the place they are visiting. I think they do this because it gives them a sense of belonging and identification. I also know people who have remembered incidents/ lines from stories and put them into their travel experiences (read photographs). In his autobiography , Khushwant Singh’s descriptions of the places that he has stayed in across his life are beautiful; at a certain place he mentions a walk that he took from Simla to Kausali; one almost walks with him. In her biography of the Late Mohan Singh Oberoi, Bachi Kakaria recreated for me, the erstwhile pathways in Simla as Oberoi walked from his home to the Cecil – the first hotel he managed and ran. She wrote about the boilers and steam coming out of them, and the farm house where Oberoi lived till his last and how the sun shone through the windows in the soft Delhi winter. Such was the impact of that reading that I desired to stay at the Cecil and about 15 years post the first reading, I finally checked in to the Oberoi Clarkes in Shimla only to learn that it wasn’t the Cecil. Gosh I need to read that book again!!!

They travel – these words. They take us places.

And as my plans of travel for 2017 take another bout of delay enforced by my pursuit of commerce, the fact that I can travel with words brings a smile to my lips and peace to my heart.

May I travel soon.

And Rusty is such a darling!!!