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Happy Birthday Mr. Bond

Ruskin Bond signing a book for a fan.
Sandip Roy
Ruskin Bond signing a book for a fan.

An Indian institution turns 90 at the end of this week.
It’s not a bricks and mortar institution. It’s one of India’s most prolific writers - Ruskin Bond.

There are other more celebrated writers in India’s cultural history. Nobel winners. Booker winners. But few are as beloved as Ruskin Bond.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata

Malavika Banerjee is the director of the Kolkata literary meet which has hosted Ruskin Bond many times. She is also a director of Gameplan a sports management company.

MB1: we are used to a lot of adulation and crazy fans around cricketers and celebrities associated with sport. But Mr. Bond elicits the same response from readers of all age groups. Its a challenge sometimes to manage the crowds.

I read Ruskin Bond’s ghost stories as a boy growing up in Kolkata. My nephew and niece read them in turn. Now a new generation of kids are reading him.

Mayura Misra is a bookseller in Kolkata. She remembers the first time she met him.

MM1: He also asked me whether I made a living selling children's books. To that I answered. If you can make a living writing children's books then I can also make a living selling them.

That is the amazing thing about Ruskin Bond. He has been a full time writer all his life, writing in English, something very few of his peers can manage to do.

Bond is actually of English origin. He was the son on an English army officer born in pre Independence India. His parents separated when he was very young.

RB1: And I think that solitary childhood would probably have done a lot to make me a writer as it has done for many writers

He grew up more with more house help than family

RB2: I grew up sometimes more with, with domestic servants than with parents as a, at a very young age. And they would. Tell fairy stories sometimes. Or stories of events in their villages. And. And the villages had ghosts too.

When Independence came to India in 1947 many of the English left.

He too left India to go finish school in England. But no sooner had he got there than he realised he missed India.

RB3: The place I'd grown up in, the atmosphere. The hills,  the fields the mango trees the mangoes and the life it's you know the the tenor of life here.. In England it was so formal and difficult

But he didn’t have the money to come back.

RB4: when I had my book accepted in those days fifty pounds was the advance. I came back 

His first novel, a semi-autobiographical coming of age story, The Room on the Roof was published in 1956

RB5:  I thought the best way I could make a living was to write and we didn't have many book publishers but there were newspapers and magazines around.

He lived in Dehra Dun up in the mountains and many of his stories are set there. And he’s been a writer for over 50 years now. He’s written more than 500 short stories, over 70 books for children, some of which have been made into films.

He did briefly toy with the idea of writing for adults as well. Till a story published in the 70s got him into trouble.

RB6: I was accused of obscenity writing an obscene story and the publishers and editor and I were all hauled into court and this case dragged on for two years until the judge said he'd enjoyed the story and gave us an honorable acquittal. But after that I thought I’d stick to writing children’s stories

About ghosts, trees, little kids and oddball aunts.And he doesn’t find it surprising that even now Indian children love reading him.

RB7: It's the story itself is important. It doesn't matter how old the people are. If if they're interesting and young people like reading about eccentric adults

As young Rishi Ganguly Biswas, waiting to get his book signed by Ruskin Bond, testified to me.

RGB1: the books are so good. This kind of simple language. How does he do it. I am wondering.

Even Ruskin Bond doesn’t know the answer. But all he knows is he still has stories to tell.

RB8:writers don't retire. You know it shouldn't as long as their minds are functioning so I'll be writing.

Ruskin Bond is celebrating his 90th with a new book. Its called How to Be Happy.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW