An Exclusive Interview with Doon Valley's Favourite Author: Ruskin Bond

India’s favourite children’s writer and Uttarakhand’s very own literary treasure, Ruskin Bond talks to DehradunBuzz about his early childhood in Dehra and his latest book Maharani.

Our first question is how much do you use the internet?

I am afraid I am still living in the 19th century in that aspect (laughs). My adopted family of course uses the internet but I hardly do so. In fact I don’t even own a mobile phone. I borrow one when I need to use it! I prefer to use the land line.

Do you know that you are quite popular on the internet? Somebody has started a Ruskin Bond face book page and it has around 13,000 followers!

Well yes, somebody did mention about it to me. I have not seen it though. Well, thank you, thank you very much. It is very gratifying to know that so many people love me!

What do you think about the trend of e books that is catching on?

That is OK. As long as people read, it doesn’t matter what form it takes. Whether they are reading from a laptop or from a book in their hands, what matters is that they are reading.

Please share your Dehradun memories with us.

My earliest memory of Dehra is when I was 6 years old in 1940s. The World War II was on at that time. What many people don’t know is that Dehradun was a recreation centre for the Allied troops. Thousands of officers were sent to Dehra to rest and recoup for a few months at a stretch. The Astley Hall area was a lively place at that time. It was the boom period in Doon at that time. There were night clubs, dance halls and cafes. After independence, business in Dehra saw a slump in the 1950s. Then in 1960s the ONGC came and business revived again. Of course over the years Dehra has grown and prospered. Simultaneously, the problems that come in when a city grows big have also come in. The city has to cope with the increased traffic and the civic amenities are not in place

How often do you come to Dehradun

Once a year definitely to file my income tax return! That apart, I do come down once in a month or two to do some shopping. I drop in at the Natraj Bookshop and have lunch at Yeti. It is quiet and convenient. I really miss the old cinema halls in Dehradun. Earlier, I used to come to Odeon quite often to watch movies.

Yes, we have heard that you are quite a movie buff. Have you been to the new multiplexes in Dehradun?

No, I haven’t. Mussorie too doesn’t have any cinema hall now. I prefer to watch movies on TV these days.

What are your childhood memories of Dehradun? Did you ever study in Dehradun?

As a boy, I played cricket in the Parade Ground when I came to Dehradun for the holidays from boarding school in Shimla. My mother lived in Dehradun. Once when I was in class 8th, I told my mother that I was fed up of boarding school and wanted to study here in Dehradun. So, I was admitted to St Joseph’s Academy. But, one day in the school and I wanted to be back in my old school! Well nothing against St. Joseph’s, it’s just that I could not make any friends there. So, the second day I told my mother that I wanted to go back to boarding school in Shimla (laughs heartily at the recollection).

We want to convey messages we have received for you from our readers (we convey the same to Ruskin Bond and he thanks each one). A fan wants to know, “Do you feel that Dehra Dun and Mussoorie lack good libraries? What can we do about it so as to inculcate a trend of more reading?”

I don’t think the problem is the lack of libraries. Mussorie has two libraries and so does Dehra. The problem is that people don’t use them much. Maybe they are not up to date. The libraries are used more as reading rooms for newspapers and magazines. I myself am a member of the Khushi Ram Library. Maybe the funds are not there to upgrade the libraries. The schools though have good libraries. I know Doon School and Welham Girls does. Doon Club too has a good library. It is really up to the people to use them. Maybe, they are doing more reading on the internet these days.

Coming to your latest book Maharani, the content is more suited for an adult audience and you are better known as a children’s author.

Although, my writing is not aimed at any particular age, I am better known as a children’s author. Yes, some of my stories are more suitable for kids. Over the years some of my books got included in the school curriculum which has given me the reputation of being a children’s author and I am quite fine with being known as a children’s author. It feels good to be creating readers out of young people.

Are your characters inspired from real life? Is HH in Maharani real or fictional?

Certainly my characters have grown out of my interactions with people. The feeling of authenticity comes from that. When I write, I think of someone and embellish the character. If 80% is fiction, 20% is reality. I have met many Maharanis, Ranis and Maharajas in my lifetime. My fictional characters are a mix of characters that I have met.

What is your daily routine like?

I write every day even if it is a page or two. I read a lot. I like to read old classics, crime thrillers and biographies. I was quite a book worm but these days my reading has gone down. I do like to have my afternoon nap. 2pm to 4pm is siesta time. Sometimes fans come knocking at my door at that time. Please tell people through your website to not come between that time! They will catch me in a grumpy mood. Otherwise, I love to meet people. I am found on most Saturday evenings at The Cambridge Book shop on the Mall Road in Mussorie signing autographs.

We will certainly do so and many thanks for talking to us!

Ruskin Bond has written over 500 short stories, novels, essays and poetry, all of which has established him as one of the India’s most beloved writers. Maharani, his latest novella is about love, death and friendship.

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Exclusive Excerpts from Ruskin Bond’s book ‘Maharani’

The Terai jungles were far more extensive then than they are now. So keen was His Highness on having a young tiger for a pet that he actually engaged the services of Jim Corbett, the celebrated big-game hunter, in his efforts to obtain one.

Corbett specialized in hunting man-eaters (or so he tells us in his books), but he was always ready to oblige royalty, and they would sometimes engage him to supervise VIP shikar parties—like the one for Lord Linlithgow, viceroy, in which a couple of tigers had to be rounded up and driven in the direction of the great man, who fired at them from the safety of his elephant’s howdah. If he missed (and it often happened) Corbett would be conveniently placed to fire the fatal shot, attributing it to the guest of honour. He had, poor man, to make a living.

It was while the sport-loving Maharaja was away on his many forays into the forests of north India that his Maharani, bored with palace life and the novels of Baroness Orczy, whose Scarlet Pimpernel regularly saved the lives of French royalty during the Revolution, took to taking long drives around the surrounding countryside in her Hillman Minx (or sometimes Sunbeam-Talbot), the latest in fast cars.

The State employed three drivers, and the Maharani’s favourite was Gafoor, a good-looking, good-natured Muslim youth who had been recommended by the Nawab of Dhol. Gafoor was the ideal employee—competent, courteous, willing to please, and exuding sex appeal. From sitting in the back seat, the Maharani took to sitting in the front seat, beside the driver. It gave her a better view of the countryside, she said. (And a better view of Gafoor’s handsome profile). She left the palace seated at the back, but once they were out of town she transferred to the front of the car.

If a sex-starved Maharani has to spend several hours a day in the company of a virile young driver, she is bound to become attached to him. Those drives into the countryside became more intimate. There were stops at small towns where the Maharani was anonymous. They dined together at dhabas and small cafés where royalty would never think of dining. And one evening, when the car broke down, they were forced to spend a night at a small hotel outside Saharanpur. They took separate rooms. But when, on retiring for the night, the Maharani complained of a headache, Gafoor was there with a small container of Oriental Balm which he applied gently to his employer’s fevered brow. It served only to make her more feverish. She sighed and moaned as his beautiful but rough fingers caressed her forehead, her temples, the lobes of her ears. His hands went to her breasts, his lips to her welcoming mouth. Five minutes of frantic kissing, and then they flung aside their garments, embraced, thrust at each other like gladiators lusting for love rather than blood. Hers was a thirst that could not be quenched. The Maharaja had given her a son but little else. Years of loveless lovemaking had made her vulnerable to the first real lover who had come her way. Gafoor fitted the role perfectly. Well endowed, considerate, willing to give as much pleasure as he took, he was the ideal foil for this neglected but passionate princess. While His Highness hunted elusive tigers, his chauffeur tamed a real tigress in his master’s very own den.

Publisher: Penguin India; Genre: Fiction; Pages: 180, Price: INR 350