“Fans Feel I Need Fattening Up!” Ruskin Bond on Love For Xmas Cake

In a chat with Jaskiran Chopra, Ruskin Bond talks of his love for Christmas and gets nostalgic about old Xmas days.

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Life
5 min read
<p>Bond, in a conversation with the author, talks about his old Christmases.</p>
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(This article was originally published on 22 December 2017 and has been republished from The Quint's archives.)

With the Christmas tree having been brought in by his great-grandchildren (remember that he has a large adopted family!), plum cake ordered in enormous quantities and presents bought for each other, Ruskin Bond’s home – Ivy Cottage – in Landour, Mussoorie is all ready for Christmas festivities.

When I met him this morning, he shared with me what a soft corner he has for Christmas cake.

It’s the best thing about Christmas and although I cannot afford to eat too much cake, I still do land up having quite a bit every year during this season!
Ruskin Bond

He laughs as he says this in a conspiratorial tone. I know that he has a sweet tooth which he is always trying to struggle against.

<p>Bond in a relaxed mood, in his study, as I meet him.</p>

Bond in a relaxed mood, in his study, as I meet him.

(Photo Courtesy: Jaskiran Chopra)

Too caught up to read? Listen to the story:

How Doon Changed for Bond Over the Years...

He gets nostalgic as we talk about Christmas times of the Doon valley. Bond spent many a wonderful Christmas with his grandparents in the Doon valley as a child in the 1940s. Dehradun, he remembers, was a recreation centre for American and British troops in those war years.

During Christmas and New Year, the liveliness was at its peak and there were live bands with a lot of dancing and partying around. There was the famous “Casino” owned by the popular magician Gogia Pasha. They had great parties during Christmas and New Year. And Pasha’s magic show was part of the entertainment. I remember attending these shows.
<p>An old photograph of Ruskin Bond in his home in the hills.</p>

An old photograph of Ruskin Bond in his home in the hills.

(Photo Courtesy: Jaskiran Chopra)

Bond spent his winter vacations with Ellen Clerke, his maternal grandmother who had a lovely house on Old Survey Road. His grandfather, an Anglo-Indian, had settled down in the Doon valley after retiring from the Railways.

There were a whole lot of Anglo-Indian families in the town at the time. The celebrations at home were rather simple but joyful. I never forgot to put up a stocking on Christmas Eve. I used to throw about hints regarding the things I wanted. Invariably, one of the uncles or aunts would fill up my stocking with those very things!

Bond can also clearly recall the children’s parties where an adult would come dressed as Santa and play with the kids and entertain them.

“The White House Hotel in Dehradun had a dance hall which got burnt down later. It had a good flooring, which one can see even today,” says Bond, adding that this was a popular hall for Christmas and New Year dances.

When I went to England in the early fifties and returned in 1956, I found that the Christmas festivities in Doon had lost their earlier charm. A lot more was happening in Delhi. But now once again, many events are being organised in Doon.
<p>The bustling Mussoorie market close to where Bond lives.</p>

The bustling Mussoorie market close to where Bond lives.

(Photo Courtesy: Jaskiran Chopra)

Christmas parties at Grandmother Clerke’s home were a particular source of joy for a young Bond, as he reminisces the food he’s gorge on

Kofta curry, mutton chops, roast lamb, plum pudding and the sweet chutneys made by Granny for Christmas...we relished them greatly! Pulao, cooked with cloves, was one of my favourites. The family got together and rejoiced every year. All uncles and aunts and cousins gathered at the Old Survey Road home. Those were the days!

Today, he celebrates with his large family that includes grandchildren and great grandchildren – all of whom prepare his favourite dishes.

Two of my great-grandchildren study in Bhubaneswar while two are here – at school in Mussoorie. These are the younger ones, Aatish and Vaisnavi. They have brought in the tree!
<p>Bond with a couple of his fans in Ivy Cottage.</p>

Bond with a couple of his fans in Ivy Cottage.

(Photo Courtesy: Jaskiran Chopra)

Of Christmas at Home

For Bond, Christmas is celebrated best at home.

When he settled down in Mussoorie in 1963, however, the hill station wore a deserted look during winters.

I would sometimes move down to Doon during these times. If I stayed back, I would walk along the Mall Road here which was absolutely deserted. It was only in the 1980s that locals of the hill town began spending their winters here and tourists began visiting us in winter.

A lot has changed since he arrived as a 29-year-old young man to settle down in the hills which he loved greatly. Shops no longer close down for the winter along with the schools. Earlier, as soon as the schools closed for the three-month winter vacation, Mussoorie would turn into a ghost town.

The Savoy Hotel used to close in October and re-open only in April. In the 1970s, Savoy started the practice of opening in winter.
<p>“In the 1970s, Savoy started the practice of opening in winter,” reminisces Ruskin Bond.</p>

“In the 1970s, Savoy started the practice of opening in winter,” reminisces Ruskin Bond.

(Photo Courtesy: Ganesh Saili)

Christmas celebrations on a large scale began in the 1980s in Mussoorie and increased in the 1990s. A winter carnival is being held this year from December 25 to 30, for which Bond is the brand ambassador.

I am in town for Xmas and the new year, after which I will be moving out. There are many literature festivals at the time and the World Book Fair’s also coming up.

As I leave, he tells me that Christmas cakes, as usual, will be arriving from many readers (fans). “They all think I need some fattening up!” he says with a bright smile.

(Dr Jaskiran Chopra is a senior journalist and author based in Dehra Dun. She also teaches university students.)

(This article was originally published on 22 December 2017 and has been republished from The Quint's archives.)

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