On Monday this December, the Penguin India Annual Lecture took place at India Habitat Centre. Even with 20 minutes still left for the lecture to begin, Stein auditorium was already full. Penguin India, foreseeing such a situation because of the overwhelming requests for invites this year, had made arrangements of relaying their annual lecture outside the auditorium. And thus, the rest of us were relegated to braving the big open winter sky of Delhi.
There we were: orange Penguin invites flashing in our hands, scarves being gathered tighter around necks and jackets hoods raised, as the evening chill gave way to the biting cold of the night. Then the time arrived: the man spoke. The rest of the hourthen, was but a blur. We listened as Ruskin Bond did what he has done for decades: bound us in the spell of his words as he imbibed stories, his dreams, his life history and his poems into a wholesome narrative, giving us a forthright glance into what it is to write and what it is to find the joy in writing. The crowd outsidethe auditorium that only grew as the night (and cold) progressed is testimony to Bond’s captivated audience that night.
Illustrating Milne, Bond began with the ‘irony of writing life’: that which is precious to the writer might sometimes be forgotten and that which was cast aside as frivolous might be what the readers cherish after all. Dividing his writing life into ‘periods of loneliness and periods of solitude’, Bond dipped his toes into the annals of his memory beginning from the beginnings: from his lonely childhood to his life in the school where his funny couplets made him popular (“Poor little Johnny is with us no more. For what he thought H2O was H2SO4”), to the time he returned to India to become a professional writer. He talked of disappointments and rejection in trying to find publishers and readers while also talking about small joys like finding his cottage in Mussoorie after he left Delhi, where solitude seemed impossible to find.
The languorous enjoyment of nature, and life’s little joys: a theme which threads through much of Bond’s work, were conveyed again in his speech. It was indeed like a tête-à-tête with an old familiar friend talking about a simpler world carved in the nostalgia of childhood’s innocence and the beauty in the infinite incomplete stories that life is made up of. Peppered with aphorism such as, “You want to look at life as though you are looking at it for the last time”, Bond’s speech was the way his books are: simple, confessional and honest, rooted in the yearning to catch life’s fleeting moments.
“I’m not good at giving advice. I never took any”; he added, before addressing budding writers on the question of how to better hone their craft. The chief among Bond’s commendations were: Reading as much as possible, which has a direct impact of the quality of writing.; to respect the language one writes in and thus, not to treat grammar and composition callously; to develop a style of one’s own which is distinct. Working fairly regularly (Bond talked about feeling pangs of guilt if he skips his writing even for a day). And not to be discouraged, adding, “Never despair but if you do, write on in despair.” Most importantly, to enjoy writing and to find joy in it, without which there is not point in wanting to be a writer.”
While, calling most of his romantic stories dreams, when the discussion during the question and answer session veered to his ghost stories, Bond wittily quipped, “When I run out of people, I write about animals; when I run out of animals, I write about uncles and aunties; when I run out of uncles and aunties, I write about ghosts.”
The love for mountains and stories that most of us find in ourselves: Bond’s words capture and alleviate these, which is why his writings continue to inspire us all. He stands as the sole sentinel to another era where writing was not yet a route to celebrity-hood and writers were not Page 3 personalities; where having a conversation with an author did not mean a publicized lecture, but a visit to their house and correspondence by letters. Bond remains elusive as ever for public events like lecture or lit fests, but if one wants to meet him and have a conversation, all one has to do is pop over to LalTibbawhere he lives in his tiny cottage and meets his fans and aspiring writers every day.
Bond finished his lecture with these verses, which explains his state of mind that evening better than anyone else could and epitomises the honesty and innocence that his readers have loved in his words:
“The day is done, it’s time to sleep
And with this world, to make our peace.
Enchanted days have all my life
Brought beauty more than bitter strife
May you who hear these words today,
Be blessed in every way
And as we part, I give you all
That lies within my heart.”
Pronoti Baglary is a research scholar at CSSS, JNU. She works for Art and Culture Pool at The Informer.
Categories: Arts and culture