‘For me, writing has never been a chore’: Ruskin Bond on what keeps him going at 87, his advice for young writers

Author Ruskin Bond hardly needs an introduction to readers in India — a doyen of literary fiction who’s written more than 500 books, novels, poems, fiction and non-fiction titles, the octogenarian never finds writing to be a chore. Instead, he weaves words together at his Landour residence, drinking in crisp morning air from the Himalayas.

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Loved by readers of all ages, Bond’s writing seems personal because of its innate ability to tug at your heartstrings — stories about a child’s loneliness, empty railway stations, scenes from nature such as a gurgling stream or the mighty mountains.

His recent release, ‘A little book of India’, published by Penguin books, commemorated his personal experiences of living in and experiencing India. In a telephonic interview with the indianexpress.com, the Rusty series creator shared that the book was “sort of a short record, but a personal one.”

The author explained his writing processes, if he’s ever tired of creating new stories, his literary inspirations and much more. Read on.

Edited excerpts:

Congratulations on the publication of your latest book! How did A Little Book Of India come into existence? Were you toying with the idea for a while?

No, actually, I did it on quite short notice. Over the years, I’ve done a few “little books”, where the books more or less have reflections, thoughts, little extracts and quotes from my work in general. My editor at Penguin, Premanka Goswami, came up with the idea of a little book on India when we were thinking of a new title in my little book series. It’s really an extended essay of 3000-4000 words, a personal essay on my memories of the country, as it’s moved on from 1947 to the present, akin to a few highlights of those years. It also contains references of the things that have appealed to me such as nature, music and in general, so it’s sort of a short record, but a personal one.

Years have passed since you wrote your first novel, A Room On The Roof; has the process of writing evolved for you? 

No, I haven’t changed much in terms of how I write. However, A Room… was written and published in the 1950’s, a time when publishers in the country were interested in literature, school books and textbooks mostly. I had to get it published abroad after herculean efforts, it wasn’t easy at all. Publishing in India only came of age in India in the early 1980s, I think, and with it came the boom of hundreds of young writers getting published or wanting to be published. It’s a good thing and I do hope that the quality of work keeps getting better.

Has the pandemic affected your writing process at all? How are you holding up with the lack of personal interactions?

Yes, actually, it’s been a cold hard winter and I’ve had a bad time of it. I haven’t done as much writing as I usually do. Otherwise, these two years of pandemic and restrictions haven’t affected me that much because I’m nearly 88 now. I don’t go out to parties or to places where there are large gatherings. On most days, I’m very much at home. I do feel for younger people, and especially school children who need to get about outdoors.

Does writing ever seem like a chore to you? Considering that you’ve been doing it since you were 17.

No, because I always did what I wanted to do. It’s very rarely that I’ve taken on an assignment because then you’re committed to writing on a particular subject. You’re given a time limit and things like that, which I am very uneasy about. I’ve always written just what I wanted to write, whether it’s fiction, memoirs, or poetry and, and then let it go from there and see who likes it, who wants it to what to read it. Some books do better than others and some stories are remembered more than others. It’s just that there’s nothing else I can do. (Writing) It’s the thing I do best and try to continue doing it. By and large, I enjoyed it. I do get a little tired now and then, like yesterday, I was trying to do a three page essay. But, after one page, the pen dropped from my hand, and I nodded off and fell asleep. I’ll finish it tomorrow, maybe. If I can’t, I’ll pick something else again.

What keeps you going ? Do you have a fixed schedule for writing that you’d like to share?

Well, the best time is usually early morning, before breakfast. If the weather’s good, then the sun is shining. My windows open and I get the odd visit from a whistling thrush. That’s a good time to write and I’m not fanatical about it. However, I do write with my hand still, so that always makes the process of writing very personal. So no, for me writing has never been a chore. Looking back over the past 70 years or so that I’ve been writing, I think it’s always something that I wanted to do. By and large, I have enjoyed it, because again; I’ve written the things that I wanted to write and that made it easy.

Any advice for young writers trying to make it into the publishing world in India?

My one liner advice is ‘don’t give up, persevere’. If you have confidence in yourself as a writer and you have a command of the language and you know what you want to write about, stick to it. Sooner or later, you will be successful. I think you need a certain amount of persistence and, and sort of never-say-die attitude. Because otherwise, you can get a lot of these disappointments in the beginning. Keep writing, and if you’re any good, you’ll come out at the top.

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