BOOK EXCERPT

Ruskin Bond is 83 today. He reveals where he found the novels he wrote

‘The Room on the Roof came out of my longing for India and the friends I had made.’

As a novelist and storyteller, I have always drawn upon my memories of places that I have known and lived in over the years. More than most writers, perhaps, I find myself drawing inspiration from the past – my childhood, adolescence, youth, early manhood...

It is over sixty years since I wrote my first novel, The Room on the Roof, the story of a sixteen-year-old on a journey of self-discovery in small-town India – chiefly Dehradun.

But to talk of my early inspiration I must go back to my very beginnings, to the then small, princely state of Jamnagar, tucked away in the Gulf of Kutch. Here my father started a small palace school for the princesses, and I learnt to read and write along with them. I was there till the age of six, and I still treasure vivid memories of Jamnagar’s beautiful palaces and sandy beaches.

Some of these landmarks are preserved for me in photographs taken by my father, which I have to this day. An old palace with pretty windows of coloured glass remained fixed in my memory and many years later gave me the story “The Room of Many Colours”, which also inspired an episode in a TV serial called Ek Tha Rusty, in which that wonderful old thespian, Zohra Sehgal, excelled in the role of an eccentric, albeit fictional rani.

The first book I read by myself was Alice in Wonderland, and it might well have been set in the palace gardens – rose bushes, privet hedges and croquet lawns, all at hand! But this fairytale world disappeared from my life forever when World War II broke out and my father joined the Royal Air Force.

I spent a memorable year and a half with him in New Delhi, then still a very new city – just the capital area designed by Edwin Lutyens and Connaught Place, with its gleaming new shops and restaurants and cinemas. We had to walk through scrub jungles to get to Humayun’s Tomb; take a tonga to get to the railway station at the other end of Old Delhi; keep cool with table fans and khus-khus matting well-soaked by the bhisti or water carrier, who came around at regular intervals. I saw Laurel and Hardy films and devoured milkshakes at the Keventers Milk Bar, even as the Quit India Movement gathered momentum.

I was seven years old and yet to go to a proper school. I would have been quite happy to never go to one, but my father took me to Simla (now Shimla) and put me in Bishop Cotton. While the best thing about Simla was the mountain railway, the best thing about the school was the library.

School life did not inspire much of my writing, but that well-stocked library gave me a solid grounding in the classics and the literature of the time.

I was barely ten when I received the news of my father’s death, and my life was turned upside down for some time. I had to adjust to my stepfather’s Punjabi home in Dehradun, and that took a little doing, as his main interests were shikar and second-hand cars. But Dehradun at the time was a pretty little town of some 40,000 inhabitants; today it is a state capital with a population nearing 17 lakh in number. These days, the lychee gardens have given way to blocks of flats. But the old Dehra, with its country lanes and rolling hills, found its way into many of my stories.

When I was seventeen, I was shipped off to the UK to “better my prospects” as my mother put it. Out of a longing for India and the friends I had made in Dehra came my first novel – The Room on the Roof – featuring the life and loves of Rusty, my alter ego. Two years and two drafts later it found a publisher, André Deutsch, who would later introduce VS Naipaul to the literary world. In those days, the standard advance was just £50 – but it was enough to bring me back to India.

In the 1950s everyone travelled by sea, as air services were still in their infancy. A passenger liner took about three weeks from Southampton to Bombay (now Mumbai), stopping for a day or two at Gibraltar, Port Said, Aden and Karachi.

After docking in Bombay, I took a train to Dehra, where I stepped onto the platform of the small railway station and embarked on the hazardous journey of a freelance writer.

Railway stations! Trains! Platforms! I knew as long as these were there I would never run out of stories. Ambala Junction gave me The Woman on Platform8, the Kalka-Shimla Railway route gave me The Tunnel, and a small wayside halt on the fringe of the Siwalik forests gave me The Night Train at Deoli.

In the 1950s trains still used steam engines, and there was a certain romance attached to train journeys, a romance that was captured by Rudyard Kipling in Kim and many of his short stories. It is over 130 years since AH Wheeler & Co. started their chain of railway bookstalls, and published many of Kipling’s early stories (written in the 1880s when he was a journalist with The Civil and Military Gazette) in their Indian Railway Library series – collectors’ items today.

I did not have Wheeler’s or The Gazette, but I had publications like Sainik Samachar, Sport and Pastime, Shankar’s Weekly, The Leader, The Statesman, Illustrated Weekly and others – all willing to pay a budding young writer anything from Rs 25 to Rs 50 for a short story. I wrote for anyone who would publish me, and I had great fun eking out a living for a few years.

Those small cheques enabled me to live off dhaba food, but what I badly needed was home cooking, so I ended up in Delhi, where my mother was living.

There I looked for inspiration in tombs and monuments and the ever-expanding city, but did not find it, and my productivity dropped. Then came an excursion to Shahjahanpur, my father’s birthplace, where the old cantonment hadn’t changed since 1857 – providing me with the background for A Flight of Pigeons, the mutiny story that was to be filmed later by Shyam Benegal, called Junoon. It had been recommended by legendary Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai, who also took a small role in the film.

Escape from Delhi had become a priority for me. I felt drawn to the hills above Dehra. On the outskirts of Mussoorie I found a small cottage, surrounded by oak and maple trees where the rent, thankfully, was nominal.

Since then my forty-five years in Mussoorie have been an epic in themselves, and have already filled several books. I do go away sometimes – to Delhi, Orissa, Rajasthan – but I always return in some haste to my small study with its window looking out upon the mountains and the valley.

I’m of the opinion that every writer needs a window. Preferably two.

Is the house, the room, the situation...important for a writer? A good wordsmith should be able to work anywhere – in a moving train, in a hotel room, on board a ship struggling against a typhoon, or under an erupting volcano. But to me, the room you live in day after day is all-important.

The stories and the poems float in through my window, float in from the magic mountains, and the words appear on the page without much effort on my part. I can see the curvature of the earth from my window, because there is nothing between me and the far horizon. Planet Earth belongs to me. And at night, the stars are almost within reach.

Excerpted with permission from Journey Down the Years, Ruskin Bond, Rupa Publications.

Correction and clarification: An earlier headline for this article mistakenly stated Ruskin

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Also those looking to upgrade their TV to a smart one can get Rs. 20,000 off by exchanging it for the Sony Bravia 108cm Android TV.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and the super compact JBL Go Portable Speaker at 56% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Amazon.in and not by the Scroll editorial team.