Source : Times of India
Ruskin Bond , an Indian author of British descent, once won the Sahitya Akademi Award for a novel in English. He talks about how he has seen independent India evolve.
Were you touched by Gandhi or the freedom struggle?
I was touched very little. I lived an insulated life at a boarding school in Shimla. But what made an impact on me was the Partition. Almost overnight, all the boys whose homes were in parts that became Pakistan had to be put in army trucks and sent across the border. They got there safely, but their servants were killed while trying to reach the other side. When I came home to Dehradun that winter, our house was near a police station. So, I saw and heard a lot about the carnage.
But amid all the carnage and mayhem were stories of communities and people helping one another. While all this was on, I went to see a film at a Dehradun theatre that winter called Blossoms in the Dust. About 10 minutes into the movie, they stopped the show and the manager said, “Sorry, we just got news that Mahatma Gandhi has been shot. You will get your money back.” I could never finish that movie again. After a few months, things settled down and all became normal.
How did the newly independent India treat you, an English boy?
Very well. The Nehru years were rather very peaceful years. A lot happened in those years: dams were built, five-year plans were made, Chandigarh was built in front of my eyes. Those were the years I grew up in. I went abroad for three or four years, always wanting to come back. I had an emotional attachment to India, to the soil, to the people. My father was buried here. I had to come back. And England for me was a very strange place. Then my first novel got accepted and I got 50 pounds as advance. Those days that was the standard amount. VS Naipaul got as much too. A ship ticket to India cost 40 pounds and I got one to come back in 1956. I never left India again. My mother wanted me to join the Indian army, as the army was seen as a decent and respectable career to have. I shocked my mother by telling her that I wanted to be a writer.
How did you feel about the Nehru years?
Under Nehru, it was easier to just ease into India. To make a home here. Nehru had a remarkable mind and he could
understand the mind of an Englishman very well. Things changed after Nehru, though. Under Indira Gandhi, things became more difficult, especially after Operation Blue Star and the Khalistan movement in that you could no longer live in India without a visa if you were a British subject or from a Commonwealth country. Rules were changed overnight and that affected a lot of people.
You wrote a piece called Why I am an Indian in the 1980s. Why did you write it? Would you write it any differently today?
I don’t know what induced me to write it over 30 years ago. But something occurred to me at that moment that I sat down to write it. I might just add to it at some point or not change it at all.
There’s a part in that piece where you mention Amir Timur. Also, your novel A Flight of Pigeons was made into a movie called Junoon where the central character Javed Khan, an aristocratic Muslim, comes out a hero at the end. How easy or difficult do you think it would be for you to write about them in today’s Hindutva environment?
It may be problematic to write all of that today, but it was not problematic back then. I was looking for a historical character and Timur came to my mind. I didn’t have to think much about it. Of course, I am not a writer who would jump into a controversy. But in the 1950s when I was growing up and started writing, I always accepted things as they were in the country. But I never lost an opportunity to stress the fact that I am an Indian not just by birth but also by choice. I have seen and accepted the changes that have happened in India before and after Independence. I haven’t thought much about saying or not saying something. I have not changed a great deal in my thinking or my attitude. I basically write about people. Interesting people not necessarily political. I have been apolitical all my life.
Is there something about India that makes you feel uncomfortable today?
I’ve noticed people in India have developed a habit of hugging around people. I don’t understand it now. I wanted to be hugged when I was young. Now if someone wants to hug me, I feel only claustrophobic.