The world is, according to a saying, only the size of each man’s head. Deodar trees, misty hills, night trains, haunted spirits, leaping langurs, mountain air, unhappy women and lonely children make the world of Ruskin Bond. And for 60 years, millions of readers have shared this world.
“I’m a little more successful than I thought I would be,” he says, on reaching the six-decade milestone as a writer. Bond, 77, was first published in August 1951 when The Illustrated Weekly of India carried his short story My Calling.The unassuming author, born to Anglo-Indian parents in Kasauli, has all he wished for: a home in the hills, a loving family which looks after him, thousands of books, pen and paper and an income from the royalties he receives from the sale of his books. Bond has published more than 80 titles, many of which are still in print. “I belong to the middle class, no, the upper-working class gentry,” he says.Mussoorie has been his home since 1964, and Bond is the town’s greatest monument. From hotel managers and shopkeepers to cab drivers, vegetable sellers and coolies, everyone knows the way to Ivy Cottage, Bond’s home, which is as much of a tourist attraction as the hill station’s ropeway ride. Many locals also know his landline phone number (Bond doesn’t keep a cellphone). Tourists knock daily at his home. In summer, they come in such large numbers that Bond has to go underground. In all seasons, every Saturday evening (from 4-6), Bond is sighted at the Cambridge Bookstore on Mussoorie’s Mall Road, where weekend revellers from Delhi and Uttar Pradesh flock to him for photos and book signing.“I’ve been congratulated as the author of Kipling’s The Jungle Book and occasionally mistaken for Enid Blyton,” says Bond. “I’ve also been believed to be Jim Corbett. Can’t believe that I shot so many tigers!” Once a proud parent brought his little boy to Bond’s house and requested him to autograph their copy of “his great book”, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Bond signed as Mark Twain.“My room is like a railway compartment,” says Bond, whose early stories were set in trains. “When there is a storm, the room is like a ship in a stormy sea.” Pointing to the door, he says, “This is my computer.” On it are pasted paper scraps of publishers’ phone numbers and cuttings of book reviews. A steel trunk below the bed has some of Bond’s most treasured possessions: old issues of the Indian State Railways magazine, The Madras Mail newspaper, and the first edition of The Room on the Roof, his first novel.