And when all the wars are done, a butterfly will still be beautiful. -Ruskin Bond, Scenes From A Writer’s Life
Sorry, but this is not about James Bond.
Ruskin Bond is hailed as the most popular children’s author in India, though he writes for all ages: his works include novellas about the Partition of India, a woman with seven husbands, as well as a story about an alcoholic queen. He writes about happiness and sorrow, nature and people. There’s a lot of variety in his writings.
This post, however, is not about the life of Ruskin Bond or his achievements or the number of books he’s sold. This post is about the writer who has inspired and influenced me the most, and who I was lucky enough to meet today at the second edition of the Times Lit Fest.
I’d always heard of Ruskin Bond, but the first time I was introduced to his work was in class eighth, when we had one of his stories, The Blue Umbrella, in our English curriculum. I didn’t think much of the story, though I was rather interested in getting for myself a good-luck charm necklace like Bina, the protagonist.
The next time we met was in class nine, when I saw my classmate – the last one I’d expected to be interested in reading – holding a book. I asked if I could have a look, and when I saw that it was a book about the author’s journal entries, diary excerpts, essays and articles, I arranged to borrow it from her, and finished reading it within a week. The book was Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas, which I got signed from him today.
It is a good sound to read by-the rain outside, the quiet within- and, although tin roofs are given to springing unaccountable leaks, there is a feeling of being untouched by, and yet in touch with, the rain. -Ruskin Bond, Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas
I had become a fan. I immediately looked up his other works and made it a point to read all those I found interesting. Next year on my birthday, I gifted myself a copy of the book. The impact of the words this time, however, had been very different on me.
The first time I’d read it, it made me look at nature from a different perspective. Bond had the talent of noting the tiniest details – from the way a flower drops to the ground to the interest of a peculiar grasshopper perusing the title of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on his bookshelf. It was surprising to see there was so much that we missed in the rush of our busy routines, and to be slowed down through Bond’s words was an amazing experience. He made life in little towns look more charming and inviting than life in the metro cities. I would give anything to be there among the hills and the forests of Landour, where he lives.
And then the scent of wet earth rises as though it were giving something beautiful back to the clouds – a blend of all the fragrant things that grow in it.
Bond has written extensively about nature. It fascinates him more than anything else, and if he could have a wish fulfilled, he’d like to have a garden of his own with all kinds of flowers and trees. But his writing extends beyond nature – he has also written about small-town life in the hills, mostly derived from his own experiences of decades spent in Dehradun.
The second reading of the book taught me more than just appreciating the nature around me; it contained a few crucial lessons about writing and life.
The first lesson was to use the simplest words. Every other great author has told us to use short, easily comprehensible words instead of large, alien terms from the thesaurus. Bond seems to understand this advice most well, for you would come across an unknown word in his writing once in a blue moon, and only so when your vocabulary is limited. He uses the shortest, simplest words, yet conveys a lot of meaning and beauty through what he says. He’s got that unique talent of brevity and brilliance combined into one.
At dawn I said, ‘Day, you will not begin without me.’ I was up with the whistling-thrush at five. The cicadas were tuning up, the crickets were already in full cry, and the whistling thrush was calling most sweetly. As none of these songsters could be seen, it was as though the forest itself was singing.
The second was to steal from your own life. Most, if not all, of Bond’s stories are inspired by his life – he’s seen life before and after the Partition, he’s lived in the cities and in the small towns of the Himalayas; he’s loved movies and books and he’s loved nature, and he’s borrowed from all his experiences and interests to write his stories and essays. He has written about following a little stream in the forest straight to its origin and he’s written about a monk who always talked of going back to Tibet some day. He’s written about the tin roof of his cottage blowing off, an old peanut-seller, and about voting in Barlowganj. He’s never short of inspiration, and reading his essays and short stories, particularly those included in Rain in the Mountains, will give you a clear-cut idea of how to incorporate the little things of life in your writing. They can end up fueling the most beautiful of stories, as they have done for Bond (and in a couple of cases, me).
…people are stories. If you understand people you find stories. Then I love the natural world – nature, wildlife, animals, birds. I write a lot out of my own life too. And the older I have got the more there is to look back upon: people I have known, friends, incidents, adventures. You don’t run out of inspiration.
The third and the most important lesson of all, regardless of whether you write or not, is this: to live life and to love it. Bond does so. He loves nature, he loves the people he’s lived with, he loves the little ivy growing on his cottage wall and the giant oak right outside his window. It is all clearly visible in the words he writes, and you can see the passion reflecting in it. He regards the world around him with curiosity and interest, traits which many of us leave behind when we leave childhood.
Bond has made me be grateful for the beauty around me. He has taught me to notice the little pleasures of life – birdsong in the morning, the patter of rain against the window, a solitary flower poking its head from the freshly-fallen snow. Bond has made me appreciate these things, because no matter how many millions you have in store, you aren’t rich until you’ve lived off these little things. They’re what matters in the end.
Life hasn’t been a bed of roses. And yet, quite often, I’ve had roses out of season.