Scenes from a Writer’s Life

Ruskin Bond on writing about the Partition in his recent memoir for children, making and losing friends and his new collection of short stories.

Author Ruskin Bond signs books for his readers every Monday at the Cambridge Book Depot in Mussourie. But the author made a special trip last Sunday to celebrate his 85th birthday. Looking back at his life, he says he has no regrets and has spent it doing what he loves — writing. He marked the occasion with the release his latest book — the third in his series of memoirs for children — Coming Round the Mountain (Puffin, Rs 250). “In this book, I write about my school days, which involved hockey, football and other mischief,” says Bond, in a phone call from Landour, where he resides. “This was also an interesting time, as we lived through 1947, when a lot of changes took place around us,” he adds. This is the last book in the series, as it is for children and only spans his boyhood days.

The first two books in the series were Looking for the Rainbow and Till the Clouds Roll By — he’s borrowed the titles from old boy scout songs. He shares moments from the two years he spent with his father at the age of nine in the first book, while in the second, he tells us about a new and different life with his mother and stepfather. In the third, we’re at Bishop Cotton with him — a residential school in Shimla — where he spent time with his best friends Azhar Khan, Brian Adams and Cyrus Satralkar, popularly known as the ‘Fearsome Four’.

Hailing from Peshawar, which is now in Pakistan, Khan had once asked Bond if he would return to England after India gained Independence. But soon the school lost one-third of its students after Partition, when those who were Muslim went home, Bond mentions in the book. “A few months later, I was in Dehradun for the winter break, watching a movie in a theatre, when Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination was announced. Everything fell silent, there was darkness all around, the town was shut for a week,” he remembers.

“A lot of things happened to me and around me. The making of friends; the loss of friends; the country’s freedom and its division; changes everywhere… But there was one constant — my love for books and an inclination for putting things down on paper. It was this that gave me the confidence and self-belief to take on the uncertainties of living in a changing world,” says Bond. “These days children have the Internet and the TV, they maybe reading less books, but even back then, books were the companion of a few, not everyone read books,” says the author.

Returning home to India from the UK after college, he met a twelve-year-old girl named Koki on the ship, who shared her chocolates with him, having heard that he did not have money for any. He did not see her again, but she turns up in his stories from time to time. She is also part of Koki’s Song (Harper Collins, Rs 250), that released recently. “Over the years, I have written hundreds of stories. Whenever I write a story about children and the creatures of the forest, the years slip away and I am a boy again,” says Bond, who is now writing a collection of short stories.

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