When Ruskin Bond told his mother that he wanted to be a writer, she laughed saying with his good handwriting, he could only be a clerk in a lawyer’s office. This was early in 1951 when Bond was waiting for his school board results. He knew he would do well in English literature, history and geography, but wasn’t too sure about maths and physics.
Bond’s aim was to write stories and become an author, but no one else seemed to think it was a good idea. His stepfather wanted him to attend college, his mother advised him to join the Army, while his school headmaster wished he became a teacher. These very thoughts would terrify Bond.
“A teacher! That was the last thing I wanted to be; I’d had enough of school rules, homework and early morning PT. And I had no wish to inflict it on others. The Army? More rules, more PT, heavy boots, routine marching…” he would think. So finally he told his mother that he is going to be a writer.
She laughed and told him: “Well, you have a good handwriting. You could be a clerk in a lawyer’s office.” After that, Bond says, he stopped talking about what he was going to do.
Bond could not afford to buy books, but thanks to a lending library, he could borrow as many books he liked for two rupees. Thus he was able to read quite a few popular fiction writers — PG Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, Dornford Yates, W Somerset Maugham, James Hilton and others.
“Sometimes, my stepfather would also give me a rupee or two, but I was anxious to supplement my income on my own, and the only way I could do this was by putting my literary talents to practical use,” he recalls. So he began to use his stepfather’s old typewriter and sent stories and skits to magazines and newspapers all over the country.
“Then, finally, a little magazine in Madras called ‘My Magazine of India’, accepted one of them and paid me by money order the princely sum of five rupees! After that, I bombarded the magazine with everything I wrote, and, to my delight, the five-rupee money orders kept coming in,” he writes in his latest book “A Song of India: The Year I Went Away”.
“A Song of India” is the fourth book in the memoir series by Bond and is published by Puffin. Set in 1951, it is the story of the beginning of Bond’s writing journey. In this book, Bond takes the reader back to his last days in Dehradun, before he set sail for England, the year that later became the basis for his first novel, “The Room on the Roof”.
The illustrated book also marks the 70th year of Bond’s writings. “In these seven decades, I have written hundreds of stories for children and just as many for adults too, and I am still continuing to do so. I am very fortunate to have lived in a beautiful part of the country, in the mountains,” says Bond.
“I am blessed to have received inspiration from the natural world around me, from children and animals, and all of this is reflected in my works,” he says.
Born in Kasauli (Himachal Pradesh) in 1934, Bond grew up in Jamnagar (Gujarat), Dehradun, New Delhi and Shimla. He now lives in Mussoorie’s Landour with his extended family.
His first novel, “The Room on the Roof”, written when he was 17, received the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1957. Since then he has written over 500 short stories, essays and novellas (including “Vagrants in the Valley” and “A Flight of Pigeons”) and more than 40 books for children.
He received the Sahitya Akademi Award for English writing in India in 1993, the Padma Shri in 1999, and the Delhi government’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.