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Bonding with Ruskin

Author: admin

She is a woman of many parts: journalist, author and academic. For Dehradun-based Jaskiran Chopra, the transition from one role to another has been seamless. Though she teaches English literature at Doon University, Chopra’s debut work Jashn-e-Tanhai—a bouquet of 85 ghazals and nazm—was in Urdu, and was released to critical acclaim in 2004. Her poems speak of love and yearning. Autumn Raga and Memories of Another Day, which followed, were set in Dehradun and marked by nostalgia for its sylvan surroundings. Her latest, Fiction and Film—Ruskin Bond’s Romantic Imagination, is a fascinating narrative of the life and work of the iconic writer. Through her book, Chopra breaks the myth that Bond is essentially a children’s writer. Her work also brings into focus the Romantic tradition inherited from the West. In fact, the book highlights the core of romance that lies at the heart of Bond’s imagination. In an exclusive interview with Raj Kanwar, Chopra unfolds the different aspects of Bond’s persona. Excerpts:

How and when did you start writing?

I belong to a family of writers. Ever since I can remember, I saw my parents writing stories, novels and poetry. My father Mahinder Singh Sarna was a well-known Punjabi writer whose works have been translated into Hindi and English. My mother Surjit Sarna has also written a lot of poetry. My father received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his writing and my mother for translation. My brother Navtej, who is currently India’s ambassador in Washington, and I were greatly inspired by our parents and began writing while we were still in school. I began with poetry and went on to write prose. My brother has written several acclaimed books, the latest being Second Thoughts: On Books, Authors and the Writerly Life. The environment at home encouraged me greatly. Literature has always been my first love. I write poetry almost every day.

Where do you place Bond’s work vis-à-vis other contemporary Indian writers in English?

He is absolutely different from the rest. He is a subjective writer; most of his work is about his own life and surroundings. He is a writer whose emotional and physical space is the same. He loves writing about the times gone by, people who have passed away, and places that have now lost their charm. Nostalgia is a strong theme in his works, unlike other writers of his day and age. Also, his passionate description of nature makes him unique. He is actually a poet at heart; his vision of the world is very poetic. There are many writers who have lived in these lovely surroundings and yet never written about it. Ruskin is truly one of a kind! He puts his own life in his writings like no one else can or does.

Bond has not had mainstream recognition despite his universal appeal and popularity. Why is it so?

He has been writing for around seven decades now. His first book was written when he was a teenager. His presence on the literary scene began to be acknowledged on a wider scale only in the 1990s. However, there is a tendency to view him as a children’s author due to his interest in themes of innocence and childhood. He is not considered a serious author who should be studied by students of English literature in colleges and universities. The depth and variety of his writing have been overlooked. Not many realise the pain that has gone into his writings. He makes his stories look very simple, but then they are so only on the surface. Bond has said many times that this simplicity is deceptive.

How would you define Romanticism in literature?

Romanticism is the name given to a movement in literature that began in the 18th century. It originated in Europe and was at its peak from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism emphasised the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental.

Is loneliness a part of Bond’s persona?

He had a very lonely childhood and adolescence. He was almost on his own after his father’s death when he was just 10. However, he has always tried to fill his solitude with creativity, giving us one book after another. Despite his large adopted family, I feel that he is still a loner at heart and possessive about his solitude as he was as a young boy.

You mention his “eco-critical approach”. Can you elaborate on that?

Eco-criticism links literature to the environment and nature. Being so close to nature in life in general and in his writing, Bond lent himself to an eco-critical approach easily.

When did you read him first?

I first read Bond when I was in seventh grade. It was his first book, The Room on the Roof. After that, I would constantly search for books by him in the school library and bookshops in Dehradun. Ever since I read his Love is a Sad Song, I have been a major fan of Bond’s writing. As a journalist, I have had the chance to review many of his books.

What impelled you to take up Bond’s ‘romantic imagination’ as the subject for your dissertation—the basis for your new book?

There has not been much research about this important dimension of his writing. Being a romantic myself, I could appreciate this poetic aspect. Ruskin’s work is nothing if not an expression of his romantic imagination.

Tell us about your teaching experience.

I began teaching at the university as a faculty for mass communication. For several years, I taught subjects such as advertising, public relations and cinema. Recently, I have begun teaching English literature. Sharing one’s experience and knowledge with university students is indeed enriching. It makes me learn and unlearn many things. I enjoy teaching immensely. It is an interactive process and helps me evolve constantly.

What are your hobbies?

Besides writing and reading, I am passionately fond of music. Hindustani classical music—about which I wrote in Autumn Raga—ghazals and songs from old Hindi films are what I love to listen to. Going up to the hills is another favourite activity. Also, I love to catch up on old Hindi films on TV, especially from the 1960s, the golden era of Hindi cinema.

Photo: Amit Sharma
Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
February 2018