Children’s literature in the English language in India has long been almost, synonymous with Ruskin Bond. He published his first book, The Room on the Roof, in 1956 and since then he has written more than five hundred short stories, essays, and short novels. In an interview with, Bond spoke about his boyhood in India and the days leading up to the publication of his first book. Excerpts from the interview:

In Looking for the Rainbow, you recall witnessing the Civil Disobedience Movement. How did being an English boy affect your relationship with your friends during the freedom movement?
I grew up during an interesting period in Indian history. I was a small boy at the time of Independence and I lost my father when I was only ten. I was sent to a boarding school in Shimla where eighty percent of the students were Indians. At this point, many British and Anglo-Indian students had already left.

This was no problem for me and I made friends quite easily. The school had students from every part of the country. My mother had married a Punjabi gentleman and by this time, I was living in a semi-Punjabi household. I was mostly surrounded by Indians both at home and in school. So I got to experience a bit of both worlds.

In your second boyhood memoir, Till the Clouds Roll By, you remember going back to a brand-new family complete with step-siblings. Since all of it happened so quickly following the death of your father, coping as a child must have been challenging. Would you say you write children’s literature to create an idyllic childhood for your readers since you did not have one?
That is quite true, I did not have an idyllic childhood. A few years before my father died, my parents had broken up and were living separately. Soon I had to adjust to my new stepfather’s home. All this wasn’t easy. But I hope my books might help children who have similar problems or adjustments to realise that there’s always a way out.

I became a bookworm and I read obsessively. My nose was always in a book. It was the only way to immerse myself in another world and that helped me a lot. I think by the time I was thirteen, I was already an old man! Just the other day I was visiting the shops and I thought of having a lollipop after seventy odd years. They tasted just as delicious as they did back then. I think I am getting to experience a happy childhood now. At eighty-eight, I feel like I am eighteen years old again!

Soon after Independence and the Partition, almost one-third of Bishop Cotton School in Shimla had emptied out as students made their way to Pakistan and other parts of the world. How did you as a child make sense of these events? Did you ever get in touch with your friends again?
The Partition was quite traumatic because schoolboys who lived in Lahore and other cities across the border had to leave overnight. So many friendships were broken. Their education was disrupted in a way and the school suffered too. It nearly closed down the following year because there weren’t enough students! But thankfully, it recovered and my school still stands.

Nevertheless, it was a traumatic experience. It all happened so suddenly. No one expected that Independence would come so soon. The British were in a hurry since they had problems of their own. The directions from England were to get it done with as soon as possible. The Partition was done in a hurry and the terrible events that followed were never quite forgotten.

When I went to England, I did bump into a few of my old schoolmates who had gone abroad to study, including a couple who had to go to Pakistan. Although I do not know what happened to them later.

Coming Round the Mountain is optimistic about independent India’s future despite the collective grief. Do you think the nation has lived up to its promises?
It’s been 75 years since Independence and I think by and large India has done all right. People are better off today than they were all those years ago. We have certainly made impressive progress in education.

Education has spread – when I was in school, there were only a handful of schools similar to mine but now there are a hundred thousands of English medium schools scattered around the country. This gives children opportunities to pursue a range of careers, a privilege that we certainly did not have then. In the 1950s, we were expected to join the army once we were done with school. Today there’s so much to choose from, but of course the competition is also fierce. Nevertheless, children have a choice.

Bishop Cotton School, Shimla | Credits: Official website

We get a glimpse of Ruskin Bond the poet in A Song of India. After a writing career of more than seven decades, which form would you say is closer to your heart – prose or poetry?
I like writing short essays, memoirs, but of course, it’s fiction that I have written the most. This includes short stories, short novels, and poetry too. Well, verse really – in the sense that it’s not abstract like poetry.

I have tried my hand at everything because I just enjoy putting words to paper. I have had newspaper columns, I have written book reviews, I have written a fair amount of everything. I like sitting at my desk and writing about what’s happening outside my window. In a way I record what I see and what I have seen over the years. All my writing comes from my own experiences and the people I have met – I don’t think I would be very good at writing fantasies. I once tried writing crime fiction but everyone who read it said they figured out in the first chapter who the murderer was! So I gave up on that!

You write very fondly of animals, rivers, and nature in your books. Many authors recommend spending time amidst nature to be a better writer – do you recommend it too?
It helps, I think. Although it’s not a necessity at all. You can live in a city all your life and still write a great book. But it depends on your own nature, I guess. I’m the sort of person who responds to the natural world. It conveys something to me. Nature is my religion and it has played a big role in my writing, increasingly so over the years. I write more about animals and trees in my recent books than I did in my earlier works. They are inseparable from my personal life too.

In Listen to Your Heart, readers get to see Ruskin Bond in his early days of publishing. You admit to being lonely in London yet you remember those who were kind to you. To sum up your writing career, would you say it’s a solitary pursuit or one buoyed by the generosity of those around you?
In a way writing is a solitary pursuit because you need a certain amount of solitude in order to write. But writing is also about people and if I hadn’t made friends or known the people I know, I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I’m a realistic writer and I write about real people.

While I have had solitary periods, I have always been surrounded by people. My adoptive family grew up around me for nearly fifty years. I’m not a recluse and I never was. I just prefer to live in a quiet place up in the mountains. Nevertheless I have always had people to care about. It gives me the incentive to keep writing. I’m not just writing for myself – I’m writing to make a living and I have been lucky enough to do so for the better part of my life.

“It may not have made for wealth, it has certainly made for happiness,” you write in Listen to Your Heart. Would you offer this advice to every young writer?
Writing as a career is easier now than it was in the 1950s and 60s. You could not make a career out of it back then. At that time we did not have many publishers and we considered ourselves lucky if we got paid a bit for our stories. There were magazines and newspapers that would publish stories. If I churned out a dozen articles and stories in a month, I would manage to survive.

Things started easing up and getting better in the 1970s as international and local publishers started their business in India. Now there are so many young writers who are making more money than I do! I have always advised to not rush into writing. There’s a risk involved along with lots of hard work and a bit of luck. If you enjoy writing and are good at it, you have a chance of making it as a writer.

The Room on the Roof and other short stories were eventually prescribed for reading in schools. It took a long time but being a part of the curriculum helped me become known. Children grew up reading my stories and some even encouraged their children to read my books. I am grateful for that.

At 88, is there anything about yourself as a writer that you are just discovering?
Only a few days back I was writing limericks and nonsense verse. I think life gets more ridiculous as one gets older and I am trying to put some of it into words!

The author at his home in Mussoorie | Image credit: Ruskin Bond on Instagram