Friday, March 18, 2011

A Meeting With Ruskin Bond - In Mussoorie

The day I decided to go to Dehradun I also started doing some research on where Ruskin Bond lived.. I remembered reading somewhere that he lived somewhere up in the hills and as luck would have it, there was enough material on the net about how to find him. Several people who met him, wrote down about their meetings with him, his address, his numbers and there was at least one long video on you tube. I took down all the details, noted that he was open to meeting people, provided they called before, and got myself a whole bunch of Ruskin Bond books which I intended to get signed by him. Here was one author who I always wanted to read but never did and guess what, he wrote a few cricket stories as well. I called him at the land line number I found on the net and he said he would be in Mussoorie on the 18th so I could call and fix a time.
With Mr. Ruskin Bond in his room overlooking the mountains

I read his stories on the flight, in the airport, on the seven hour long drive to Dehradun, at every spare moment I could get, before I slept, with the morning tea, in every gap I got in those few days. The stories were easy to read, highly entertaining and so very relatable. They transported me back to a world I seemed to have left far behind - the world of summer vacations, blue skies, trees, Enid Blyton's. Ah, it was delightful! I finished most of the books I took along with me by the 16th itself. Now I knew him well enough from his childhood stories, his friends, his memories, his descriptions of people and places. Here was a man who grew up in the hills since his was born, grew up without his parents for most part of his life, decided to make a living with his writing at 17, decided that India was his home forever after a brief three year stint in England. Born of English and Indian parentage, Ruskin Bond however is as Indian as one can get. And if you speak to him once you know that - not a hint of the accent that so many Indians sport so fashionably. He has lived on the road, travelled with strangers, walked the mountains, made friends with all sorts of people, got by on his convictions, his belief and his love for writing. And to this day, his eye twinkles just as it must have when he and his friends had those wonderful times in Dehradun and Mussoorie.
The view from his house, the sun rises over these mountains

I called him on the 16th and we fixed up a time for 12ish because I had to travel from Dehradun to Mussoorie, a distance of 35 winding kilometers, which would take an hour. To make matters that much more interesting, there was a dharna at the narrow clock tower road on rebuilding the clock tower which had been brought down by an enterprising entrepreneur a few years ago, so I had to abandon the vehicle and travel uphill for about twenty minutes by foot, an activity which got my heart n my mouth. I stopped a couple of times, embarrassed at the shape I was in, at the ease with which all around me, young and old, were climbing the hills. Everyone seemed to know him and where he lived and why not, he has been the best ambassador for Dehradun and Mussoorie with such wonderful descriptions of places and people that you want to meet.
The windows on the right, first floor overlooking the mountains

I walked up to the place where the road splits, one going to Dhanolti which we had passed the previous day on our way to Tehri, and the other going further up into the Landour Hills. After turning the bend and climbing up a particularly steep incline, I found the house, or rather the red steps to the house, climbed up, found no bell, knocked on the silent doors, walked up another stair and knocked on another door, came back, wondered if this was the house, and finally called. I could hear the telephone right next to me, Mr. Bond's voice as he spoke to me, and then after disconnecting, I knocked on the door. And there was Mr. Ruskin Bond, Padmashree awardee and Sahitya Academy Award winner, writer of seventy books, smiling and welcoming me in.
On the way to his house, part of the white building on the right

I huffed and puffed my way into his study, a small room filled with books all over. Shelves, table tops, every flat surface was covered with books. There was the phone - he only uses a land line and he sat in the chair next to it. I sat on a couch and waited for my breath to come back to normal. I told him that I was delayed because of the dharna at the clock tower. I handed him a packet of the Karachi fruit biscuits which I had bought along for him. 'Thanks,' he said. 'I love biscuits.'
The path to the Bond house, 'just round the corner'

'Ah,' he said when I gave him a copy of 'The Men Within'. 'A novel on cricket.' As he saw the cover, I told him that maybe I made a mistake in assuming that TMW was the first novel on cricket in India, because he had written some stories on cricket too. 'Ranji' wonderful bat,' he said. 'But that was a short story. I wrote another one too where a girl plays the game, Koki. You know they made a Hindi movie with 'Ranji's wonderful bat' and never even told me about it. The story is the same and some of the dialogues as well. Not a word from them to me though. Rahul Bose acted in it.'

'Oh yes,' I said. 'Chain khuli ki main khuli. I saw that movie. It was pretty nice. But they ought to have acknowledged you somewhere.'
'I told Rupa my publishers,' he said. 'But they said it was too troublesome. So I left it at that.'

'I am not sure if you like reading about cricket,' I said apologetically. 'I know lots of authors must be giving you books and manuscripts to read. I also read in some book of yours that you did not like cricket that much. I got this as a gift to you and not to make you read it.'
'Oh no! I like reading about cricket. I played a bit of cricket here in Dehradun,' he said. 'We had a team. I was a bit of everything then - batsman,, bowler, fielder. But school cricket was not much fun. I was always the 12th man. I played football for the school though. I was captain,' he said.
'Ah, here is Rakesh,' said he introducing me to his adopted son. 'He plays a bit of cricket too. Hari is a first class cricketer.' Mr. Bond never married. However he has adopted a family that stays with him.
Another view from Landour

After Rakesh left, he smiled and told me a story.
'You know, once my friend, an IAS officer who now lives in Delhi, a first class cricketer from Orissa and an autograph collector to boot gave me Ian Botham's biograghy. He wanted Botham's signature on the book. I told him to give me the book and I would get Botham's autograph for him. After one week I gave it back to him with Botham's signature. He was surprised at how quickly I got the sign. I don't think he knows to this day that the sign is forged by me,' he laughed. Then I remembered that he is famous for signing away on other people's names especially if people mistake him for someone else. Enid Blyton, Pickwick and what not? His eyes lit up as he recounted the story.

'I saw a bit of cricket too. One test match at the Feroze Shah Kotla in the late 50s. The West Indies beat us in the first four tests and we held on to a draw in the last. Chandu Borde got a hundred I think.'
He turned the book around and saw the reviews on the back. 'Ah Rajan Bala,' he said. 'He writes on cricket does he not? He used to write for the Illustrated Weekly?' I told him that Rajan Bala was a well known cricket writer who had passed away a few years ago.
He saw the cover and asked. 'Is this a real school?' I said that the picture was a computer generated picture. I told him that the book has been made into a Telugu movie. 'Maybe,' he said. 'Someone might start a Golconda High School after your school.'
I asked him how his experience with 'Saat Khoon Maaf' was. 'I helped a bit with the script,' he said.
Mountains from Landour

I had asked him time for half an hour and it was getting to be closer to his lunch time so I brought out the books and requested him to sign them for me. He went inside and got his pen. He has such a lovely handwriting. He writes all his stories in longhand even now. He asked me to sign the copy of 'The Men Within' for him, which I did. He got me a copy of his book which had the cricket stories and signed that for me as well.

As we settled down for some serious talk I asked him how he wrote children' stories. My children stories don't seem to work I said. Something was not right with them I felt.
'Don't talk down to children,' he said. 'Don't preach. Write like you are one of them. Pretend you are one of them. It is easy for me because my friends say I am still fourteen.' I liked that piece of advise. I think I will revisit my children stories again with this advise.
Another question that always intrigued me was how children were so drawn to fantasy, magic and even the ghost stories and I asked the same.
'Yes, children seem to like to escape into some fantasy world,' said Mr. Bond. 'They like all these things that allow them to escape. They also like to be scared. Not too much. Just enough to feel the thrill.'
I wondered aloud if it was because we like relating ghost stories to one another. In fact a great deal of my one hour travel to Mussoorie was spent discussing the existence of the 'bhoot aunty' ghost that Mr. Bond wrote about. This particular ghost apparently lives on the Dehradun-Mussoorie road and takes lifts and causes accidents. When I told the driver, he told me twenty stories in return, especially about the Englishman ghost in Mussoorie who asks for a cigarette and vanishes.
'I never saw a ghost in my life,' laughed the writer of several ghost stories. 'But I have heard of so many ghost stories in the hills.'

I asked him how he knew so much about the flora and fauna of the place, trees, birds, flowers. He laughed. 'Oh I grew up here,' he smiled. 'And if you don't know some name, just make up some name. That might become the original name for all you know.' That was a  relief but he seemed to take things in that spirit. Nothing was sacred.

I asked him what he thought of life, what he learnt in life. 'Life?' he smiled. 'I never think about it too much. But when the going got tough I worked harder that is all. I have been writing for fifty years now. For forty years I have had the odd cheque coming in and financially, I was just about making do. Only in the last ten years have things been looking up financially. But no complaints. There is always tomorrow to look forward to. At this stage in my life there is no point in planning too much ahead. But I do plan my work.'

He asked about my publisher. 'Do you get your statements regularly from your publisher?' he asked.
I replied honestly that my publisher does not send statements regularly.
Mussoorie

'I was in Hyderabad three years ago,' he said. 'I was invited by Odyssey for an event. What are the other bookstores in Hyderabad?' I reeled off the names - Crossword, Landmark, Odyssey, Walden, Akshara, A.A.Husain...He connected with the names of Walden and A.A.Husain. I told him he could be my guest when he is in Hyderabad next. He smiled. 'I don't travel much these days,' he said. 'But let's see.' I told him that we have our own Literary Festival now and he seemed pleased to hear that. 'I went to Jaipur this time,' he said. 'It was fun meeting all the writers and others.'

The telephone rang. 'A debate? That is the last thing I would like to do. I am sorry but I fall asleep at the first speech.' Then he turned to me and said. 'You have to be firm. I cannot judge debates. I fall asleep.'
Another perspective of Mussoorie from the top

I asked him if I could get a picture with him and he ushered me into his bedroom. 'There is more light here,' he said. Rakesh clicked two pictures. 'Ah, very tall,' said Mr. Bond as I stood next to him. 'You must have been a fast bowler.' I nodded. The two windows overlooked the mountains. I asked him where the sun rose from. He indicated the mountains across the window. 'The morning sun falls directly on my bed,' he said. It was a fantastic sight, the mountains and I can only imagine how it would look at sunrise. Must be magnificent. That would certainly be a view you cannot trade for all the gold in the world.

I collected my stuff and bid goodbye. As I left the house and the door was shutting behind me I heard his voice calling after me. 'And thank you for the biscuits.'

If I had not met him, I would not have believed it but that is how he lives his life. In his two rooms, his Mussoorie, his Dehradun, his walks, his writing. There was so much more I wished I could have spoken because we were just getting warmed up and there was much to ask and hear. Maybe I will get a chance to do that later. Until then Mr. Bond, fare well!

20 comments:

Asr said...

Lovely!!. You left me wanting for more on Mr.Bond.

Harimohan said...

Asr, it really was an experience to cherish - the place, the person. Very nice indeed.

Dr. Ranjani said...

How wonderful to have a writer meet another writer and write about it! Mr.Bond seems like a real-life role model for all wannabe writers. Thanks for sharing, Hari.

Harimohan said...

Ah, it was very interesting of course to meet him. He is the kind of a person you would enjoy going on a walk with, or watching a cricket match with!
Now it is time to meet other writers in Hyderabad that I have not met for a long time - starting with you.

Biswajit Dasgupta said...

Thanks Hari for sharing such a wonderful experience...was going through his autobiographical sketches in 'The Lamp Is Lit' and thinking if I could meet him someday...the very next moment 'Googled' and was just thrilled to see your blog...also great to see you Mr. Bond! Me and my wife, we are big fan of yours.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Biswajit. Worth visiting Mussoorie just to meet Mr. Bond - and get your copies signed by him. Certainly was the highpoint of my visit.

TaNuja said...

Hello Mr. Hari.

You Indeed had an awesome meeting with the author. I would very much like to meet him. when I goggled, I found your blog. Can you tell me how can I go and meet him up in the hills.
I'm from Orissa.

Please reply me in my e-mail.
tanuja.1986@gmail.com


Please :)

Unknown said...

hello sir,
I have always loved books and Ruskin Bond has been an author who touches reality very closely but with elegance and grace.I am currently reading short stories written by him, the book is a coimpilation of his writings.I would really like to meet him,if you could please mail me his contact details on priyanshirastogi0403@gmail.com.
Thank You.It would be of much help.

Anonymous said...

Hello.

I really enjoyed reading your post.
I'm a medical student, and I have a short break in January. I intend to go to Mussoorie with the express purpose of meeting Mr. Bond.
I will be most grateful if you email me his number, that I may arrange to meet with him at his home.
Thanks.

My ID is drmrigank@gmail.com

Jaishree Sharma said...

Hello

I am an English teacher, always have wanted the students to spend some time listening to Ruskin Bond, as his stories have been appreciated by all generations alike.
Please can you guide me as to how can I get in touch with him.

My mail id: jaishree.sharma@oakridge.in

Unknown said...

Hello!!

Please mail me his contact details!!

really want to meet him :))

Himankur
(Delhi)

himankur92@gmail.com

Unknown said...

Hello sir
Mr. Ruskin Bond is my best author. I adore his work and love his narrative. I plan to visit mussorie on his birthday(19th may). May I request you to send across his house address at my email Id. I shall be obliged.
Thankyou.
email-- pranvika26@yahoo.co.in

Unknown said...

Is Right

commited to life said...

can u pls provide me with his number. i couldnt find nywhere on net. i will be visiting mussoorie and really want to meet him

Anonymous said...

Came across your blog while searching for Ruskin Bond's number. Could you please provide me with his number as i am planning a trip to Mussoorie in September just to meet him!

Unknown said...

Dear Mr Paruvu
It was wonderful to read about ur meeting with Mr Ruskin Bond in person. I have always wanted to meet him atleast once since my childhood.
It wld be very kind of u to give me his contact no, so that I cld fix a time to meet him. My email is: pukhrajs@neogi.com

Regards
Pukhraj Neogi

Gurleen said...

Hi Sir
I read about your wonderful experience with Mr. Bond. I would love to meet him and especially arrange the meeting for my husband as he is a huge fan of his. I would be really greatful if you could share his contact number and email address with me.
My email id is : gurleencca@gmail.com

Thank you.

Priya said...

Ruskin Bond is a great writer. I am a huge fan of his from childhood days. We use to have his stories in our CBSE English curriculum. I loved each and every story. The way he describes the beauty of hills and mountains makes me feel how it would be to live in the lap of mountains. I wish I would meet the stupendous writer soon. I have a strong desire to meet him. Could you please share his contact details and address please. send it to my email i.e swarneempriya@gmail.com

dreams unlimited said...

Hey mr hari
Will he reply to my mail or letter

Unknown said...

Greetings Mr. Hari,

I have been a huge fan of Mr. Ruskin Bond and I would like to invite him to our college fest. It would be great if you could provide me with his contact details. I kindly request you to mail them to dvn2345@gmail.com