He has been one of the very few writers in Indian literature who has managed to keep three generations of readers hooked on to his stories. Whether it’s grandparents, parents or teenagers, Ruskin Bond has managed to bind every generation with his literary genius. Many of his books have been adapted into movies, and many have received literary awards at various international festivals. In a brief tête-à-tête, he talks about his writings, his inspirations, and his books which have been made into films. The popular author shares tips on writing and narration. Excerpts:
You recently turned 87. Is there any custom that you have been following on your birthday?
On my birthday, I like to spend the evening at my favourite bookstore, Cambridge, in Mussoorie. Because of COVID-19 restrictions since last year, there has been no public function. This year, I received a lot of birthday wishes on social media. I am one of the mentors at Unluclass and they presented me with Rusty’s Birthday Adventure. I really loved this gesture. Also, my students sent me some of the loveliest messages, which made my day.
Tell us a bit about Rusty’s Birthday Adventure.
It was a classic birthday present. Rusty and Toto was something that I loved. Made for little kids, the story was simple and took the character of Rusty on an adventure. I am sure many kids will end up learning some good things out of this story.
Through the writing, they’ve managed to keep my love for windows intact. The way they’ve built the narrative with the window acting as a gateway to adventure brings me immense joy.
In your writing career of so many years, who or what has been the most inspiring?
Nature inspires me — trees, plants, breeze, wind and weather, birds, mountains, and people too. You can’t have a story without them and I am interested in people from different walks of life. At times, dreams too, have inspired me. Like some of the romantic ones in which I go into my 20s and do some wishful thinking. The Night Train at Deoli is one such.
Your books are loved by children and the elderly alike. How do you maintain that balance while writing so that all generations can enjoy the book?
I like to tell a good story and entertain young readers. In fact, I enjoy the very process of writing, putting words together, and writing interesting sentences. I have been trying to write better and hold the interest of readers over the years, three generations of them.
Your books have been adapted to movies like 7 Khoon Maaf, Junoon, The Blue Umbrella among others. What do you think Indian filmmakers love about your books?
I visualise the story in my mind as a film and then put it in words to make it interesting. This could be one of the reasons for filmmakers’ interests. All three film adaptations of my stories were from short formats.
A Flight of Pigeons is a short novel of 140 pages; The Blue Umbrella is a novella of around 3,000 words and Susanna’s Seven Husbands is a short story. This is exactly how I guide aspiring writers too and light the way for them on the road less travelled.
Did you feel that any of the films have a better representation of the book?
The 1978 Bollywood film Junoon is based on my novel A Flight of Pigeons (about an episode during the Indian Rebellion of 1857) and it was a good representation. It was produced by Shashi Kapoor and directed by Shyam Benegal. The Rusty stories have also been adapted into a Doordarshan TV series Ek Tha Rusty.
What do you like more an open ending or a proper closure?
It depends on what the writer is going for. I like both. An open ending gives me the opportunity to imagine and take the story to a different level while a closure has that really comforting and satisfying feeling.
In your opinion, are writers born or made?
Certain innate qualities are present in good writers. These are qualities that we are all born with — intelligence, sensitivity, imagination, an observant nature. And then there are qualities not everyone possesses — creativity being one of them. But to be part of a writer’s makeup, these unique qualities, have to be channelled into the use of language. And that’s where words come in.
What would be that one tip that you would want to give to budding writers?
To be a good writer, a successful writer, you must be original. Create your own characters. They may be based on real people, but not on other writers’ creations. Originality is everything. Be different. You can almost hear them when you read their work. They have their own way of writing, their own style.
Any stereotypes a writer must avoid while writing a story, novel, or movie script?
As writers, we should avoid creating stereotypes. Let me put it this way: Long John Silver (the pirate in Treasure Island ) is an original character, a great creation. But if you or I try to create a similar character, we would be creating a stereotype, a cardboard figure, or a cut-out rather than a living person.
What are you working on now?
I am working on more short stories as well as on a day-to-day journal which should help me to create non-fiction.