Young Ruskin with his father at Dario's, Shimla | Illustration by Mihir Joglekar
Lost summers, sticky afternoons spent watching cinema and the memories of his father stand centre stage in Ruskin Bond’s latest book, Looking for the Rainbow. In time for his 83rd birthday, the book finds Bond reminiscing about the time he spent with his old man, meandering through Delhi gullies and collecting stamps. The most crucial relationship in Bond’s life – of that with his father – also happened to be the shortest. But perhaps that is what made him hold on to the memories fervently, not letting a single one slip through his fingers. Coupled with endearing illustrations, Looking for the Rainbow marks Bond’s first ever memoir for children.
Over a phone call, he takes me down memory lane, as he relives the few years of his childhood that shaped the book.
What inspired you to write about the time you spent with your father?
Well I’ve written about him in other stories and books, but this is the first time I have devoted a book to him. I wanted to pay a kind to tribute to him, while I’m still here. When I started drafting the book, I concentrated on the little over two years that I spent with him in Delhi and Shimla. That time meant a great deal to me, during which I didn’t go to school for one and a half years. Lately I found myself thinking about him a lot, and that is how the book came along.
How did losing your father at an early age influence your life and your craft?
Maybe if I hadn’t lost him at the age of 10 I could have turned out to be a different person. But I think losing a parent, makes you turn to your own resources in a way. You also learn to appreciate their memories, and it brings you closer to them even though they’re no longer with you. In a way, his passing when I was in such an early age, left such a deep impression that now, even 75 years later, I’m still recording that time and writing about it. It’s still fresh in my memory. If life had gone on normally, and he had grown old and I’d grown up, I wouldn’t be looking back on our time in such detail, but now reflecting at each and every moment spent with him is somehow very important to me.
How irrelevant or important is isolation for your writing process? What is your take on the idea of a writer essentially being a recluse?
I don’t think it’s necessary to be a recluse, but a certain amount of isolation and solitude is definitely a part of the make-up of a serious and subjective writer. But being a recluse and cutting yourself off entirely makes one miss out on many experiences. And a writer needs experience too. So I think one must have relationships that last throughout your life, which essentially sustains a writer. Companionship is key. Most of my books are about people I’ve met and befriended at different stages of my life.
Your work has always shuffled between two extremes – between your stories for adults and children. It’s almost as if the words belong to two very different people. Do you think we all have two extremes within?
If you look at a few famous writers, you’ll see that many have faced a traumatic or moving experience early on in their lives. I think dealing with such a situation lends a certain duality to your voice and your character. My experiences as a child enabled me to look at things in a different light, which I put to use when writing for different readers. But I suppose underneath a dominant façade, we all have different versions of ourselves, if not two extremes.
Over the years, has your relationship with writing changed at all?
Not really. Stylistically my work hasn’t changed a great deal. Ever since I was a young writer, I had a habit of marking passages while reading, and taking down notes. I have this little journal to jot down thoughts that I still carry with me. So these little nuances have stayed with me over the years. Even now, when I sit down with a pen and piece of paper, sometimes I find myself feeling like the 20-year old version of myself – giddy, excited and full of ideas.
Do you think one’s childlike soul can be retained despite age and the world’s ways?
Absolutely. The hardest thing about growing up is to learn to deal with complications. It is surprisingly easy to hold on to the child within you by just keeping one thing constant in your life, which is what childhood is really all about – simplicity.
Are you still the little boy inside – the one you write about?
Oh very much so. I’m still very moody, and till date, nothing cheers me up like strawberry jam does. I don’t play football anymore, which is sad. I still do love kicking the ball, but there’s no way I’m going to run after it. Haha! So I guess I’m still the little boy somewhere deep down.
If life gave you a chance to meet your father again, what is the one thing that you would have told him?
I would probably say – ‘Dad, can we get on with that stamp collection?’ He was very fond of his stack of stamps, which is something I write about in Looking for the Rainbow. I never got to keep the collection, so there’s nothing more I’d like than to go back to it, and the simpler things in life.
Illustration by Mihir Joglekar
What are you looking forward to?
I do look forward to a good book to read. Lately I can’t seem to find the perfect one. But more importantly, I’m looking forward to my full-length autobiography that’ll be out in a month or two. It’s called A Lone Fox Dancing. The line is from a poem I wrote about myself, which goes like this –
As I walked home last night
I saw a lone fox dancing
In the cold moonlight.
I stood and watched.
Then took the low road, knowing
The night was his by right.
Sometimes, when words ring true,
l'm like a lone fox dancing
In the morning dew.
Why do you think you’re a lone fox?
Well I’ve always been a loner in way. And like I said earlier, while I’m not a recluse, I do love solitude. They say no man is an island. But at the same time, in some ways, every man is an island.
Looking for the Rainbow releases today, 19th of May.
Text Ritupriya Basu