Sunday, May 01, 2011

A rainy day with Ruskin Bond

Bond’s cottage, built circa 1860s, is like his writing: elemental and homely. The walls are made of rocks from the hills. The ceilings are of wood. The small drawing room is filled with books and awards. A single lamp casts a dim glow on the shelves, which are stacked with detective books such as Tales of Suspense, Dread and Delight, Victorian Ghost Stories and Great Cases of Scotland Yard. Emily Bronte and P.G. Wodehouse sit next to a red hardbound edition of David Copperfield, Bond’s favourite novel.

Ahmedabad-based author Esther David’s The Book of Esther, which he is currently reading, is on the chair. “It is unpretentious and has got a nice feeling of family history done in the form of a novel.”

One wall has a framed portrait of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, American singers and movie stars of the 1950s. On the mantelpiece are black and white photos of Bond’s parents. They had separated when he was 8. Bond’s father lies buried in a Kolkata cemetery and his mother was cremated in Delhi. The survivor of a lonely childhood, experiences of which are reflected in his novels and short stories, Bond now heads a joint family of nine—children and grandchildren of his former help Prem Singh, who came with his wife to work for him in 1969. Bond never married.

In contrast to the chaos of the dining room with its noisy children, small eating table and a giant bukhari heater, Bond’s writing room—where he also sleeps—has the sparseness of a monastic cell. It has nine flower pots, two windows, three paintings, one bed, one chair, one cassette player, one unused typewriter and a wooden almirah. The plaque of the Sahitya Akademi Award has come off its wooden stand and is now used as a paperweight.

“My room is like a railway compartment,” says Bond, whose early stories were set in trains. “When there is a storm, the room is like a ship in a stormy sea.” Pointing to the door, he says, “This is my computer.” On it are pasted paper scraps of publishers’ phone numbers and cuttings of book reviews. A steel trunk below the bed has some of Bond’s most treasured possessions: old issues of the Indian State Railways magazine, The Madras Mail newspaper, and the first edition of The Room on the Roof, his first novel.

The light spray of the day’s unexpected rain wets us as Bond opens a window. Waving at the forested slopes, he says: “All these are oak trees, and the winding road down there is going towards Badrinath.” Closing the windows, he says, “I spend a lot of time gazing at this view: the sky above, the hills before me and the garbage dump below. In the night, I can see the twinkling lights of the Doon Valley.”

Bond wakes up daily at 5. From his bed, he watches the dawn breaking through the hills and the sky turning to a light blue. When the first rays of the sun fall on his bed, he goes to sleep again for another hour. His breakfast consists of toast with butter, cheese, marmalade, or parathas with pickles. “As you can see, I don’t diet,” says Bond, who has a weakness for fish curry and mutton koftas. “I eat all the things I like. That is the secret of my happiness.”

Mayank Austen Soofi's gripping write-up in livemint. More Here.

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