Largely revered and admired as a pioneer of English language literature in India, the octogenarian Ruskin Bond is undoubtedly one of the most iconic personalities in the country. Even today his monthly column in Times of India is something I religiously look forward to. Despite being born in England, Bond’s contribution to Indian literature has been immense. From indulging in romantic subplots in the early days of his career to writing about nature and wildlife to narrating stories for and about children once he moved to his enchanted home in the hills of Mussoorie - Ruskin Bond’s six-decade long writing career has been full of interesting ups and downs. Like the time he almost got sent to jail for his work “The Sensualist” that had been published in a magazine called Debonair.
This was way back in the 70s, during the Emergency, when all of Indian media was on its toes and censorship had become a part and parcel of daily life. His novella “The Sensualist” appeared in Debonair, a monthly men’s magazine and sparked quite the unrest in the country - enough to issue a non-bailable warrant against the author which was physically sent (as was done in those days) to Bond’s house in Mussoorie. “A constable from Bombay brought the warrant up to Mussoorie. He was a very nice man and I took him to the pictures,” said Ruskin Bond at a recent event.
“The Sensualist” was indeed very different from Bond’s other writing like A Room On The Roof and The Blue Umbrella but it wasn’t exactly x-rated content. As Bond himself explains in his autobiography that released last year, “It was a mildly erotic story about a recluse who reminisces about his misspent youth; but it was no Lady Chatterley’s Lover”. Yet, the entire case turned out to be a long drawn-out affair that went on for two years.
According to the writer, the reason behind the warrant wasn’t just the story. He believed that it was also the fact that despite the restrictions imposed on media during the Emergency, Bond continued to edit the Imprint magazine. Naturally, that would invite backlash in one way or the other. “But I was a cautious man...I used to just write editorials on trees, wild flowers and the environment in general...So we managed to survive that period,” said Bond.
However, all’s well that ends well. It wasn’t an easy fight of course but after showing up in Bombay Court, Bond was respectfully acquitted. In fact, renowned literary personalities like Mulk Raj Anand, Vijay Tendulkar, and Nissim Ezekiel came to court and defended the “literary merit” of the novella. Summing it all up in retrospect Bond said, “It wasn’t much fun at all, but in the end, I got an Honourable acquittal and the judge said he enjoyed the story too.”
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