Ruskin to the rescue: Lessons on life and love, from Ruskin Bond’s new book
From his home in the mountains, the writer offers advice on heartbreak, ambition, writing. Think of How to Live Your Life as a letter addressed to young people everywhere.
Sometimes you need to do nothing at all. Life will still go on. Things will happen. “Like a crow came and flew away with my boiled egg recently,” says Ruskin Bond, the author, who has enthralled readers for many decades writing, all from his quiet life at Landour in Uttarakhand.
Bond, who turned 88 last month, was talking about his new book, How to Live Your Life, published by HarperCollins. He doesn’t remember how many books he’s written since his first novel, The Room on the Roof was published in 1956. Publishers, however have collated more than 500 short stories, essays, and novels across more than 100 titles.
This book, like much of Bond’s recent work, is aimed at younger readers. Chapters are crafted as letters of advice. “I get a lot of letters from young people asking about life and writing. It is not possible to answer all of them. So I decided to write a common response from all that I know and understand,” he says.
There are lots of tips for writers. One of them is to wake up early and write a little every day. “If I did not write 500 words every day, I would not have been able to write the number of books I have,” Bond says.
There is also advice about ambition, nature, love, and heartbreak subjects that seem timeless even as new generations find their own identities. “These days when I write, I declare that I am old fashioned. Somehow young readers seem to like that,” says the writer. “They read the words of an idiosyncratic character or a dinosaur from another age. I don’t try too hard to catch up.”
And however much things change, they also remain the same. There is still love and if there is love there is heartbreak. When your heart breaks, Bond asks you to do nothing at all.
One thing he doesn’t advise young people to do, and wishes he hadn’t either, is to write “Exams are rubbish” in more than one instance during tests (as he once did). “I got a zero and was also punished. I do not quite regret it but perhaps I could have just not sat for the exam,” he says.
Bond’s guide also offers precious peeks into his own life. “Even making the perfect omelette takes skill, commitment and even love,” he writes, talking about an unnamed resident of Mussoorie who makes omelettes at the town’s Mall Road and draws huge crowds. It’s a starting-off point to urge young readers to find what one is good at and strive at it. One may not know what one is good at right away; the idea is to keep trying until we find it.
As in his fiction, nature is part of the plot here as well. Bond comments on the way Landour is changing too, and what young people should hold on to. Forging a connection with nature, he writes in the new book, can help with the challenges young people face. “The more intimate you are with the natural world — the world that exists without actually having to worry about how to exist — the more we will come to terms with our own natures,” Bond writes.
One doesn’t need to pack up and move to a small town to find nature. Even growing and nurturing a plant offers invaluable lessons in protecting what we have, he says. “As I now live one day at a time, it is my message to young people to do what they can to save forests and wildlife and things that grow. Even the mountains are crumbling away from the result of all the constructions and road building. There are people who want to protect all this, but they are still in the minority.”
At 88, one thing that he has come to terms with is any regret over not taking up long projects. “I only write shorter pieces now. I don’t want to start a project that I may not finish,” he says.
But the writer of young people’s books says there are unexpected upsides to old age. For them, one of those is that he doesn’t have any diseases that would limit what he can eat. “So even though I am not much into celebrations and cakes, if some special friend comes over, I can still have some jalebi and tandoori chicken.”