Normally, I avoid ‘how to’ books like the plague. But this one comes from Ruskin Bond, and promises to be a departure from the usual preachy ones that populate this genre. How to Live Your Life, published on the author’s 88th birthday, is journal-like, filled with gentle reflections. It’s as if Bond is writing to a friend, and you, as a reader, are getting a glimpse of the inner workings of his mind and soul.
The author has always been a lifelong student of human nature. As he wrote in Tales of the Open Road, “Human beings and the worlds they make for themselves are as fascinating as the wonders of nature.” In this book it seems like he is studying himself—his habits, his memories—and that makes for a wonderful subject too.
One can relate to so many instances from this book, illustrated and designed by Shamika Chaves. For one, Bond writes about the joy of writing with pen on paper, and the way the violet ink from his gel pen flows on a page. “I love the words that by some fusion of thought and action appear on this sunlit paper,” he writes. In the digital age of homogenised fonts and the constant ‘tap-tapping’ of the keyboard, there is something rather comforting in reading about slowing down, and putting pen to paper. It takes one back to the time when the best pens were reserved for pouring one’s heart out in a journal or the joy when you could recognise a letter by a friend’s handwriting.
Given the book’s title, it is obvious that there shall be words of advice and worldly wisdom within. But Bond delivers them with his trademark wit and unaffected writing style. There are no lofty ideas of finding inner peace discussed here. Rather, he picks up small everyday things. And that has always been his strength—of making the invisible and ignored in our lives visible. Take breakfast, for one. He takes the reader back to the time in London, when as a 19-year-old, he would miss the morning meal as he had to catch the train to reach his workplace on time. The result was malnutrition, poor vision and a month in the Hampstead General Hospital. Since then he has never ever missed breakfast. “There is nothing worse than a fried egg gone cold,” he writes. Truer words have not been spoken.
These stories and the resulting advice might seem simplistic at times. However, at many points in the book, it may seem as if a particular chapter is speaking to you directly. My daughter, for one, found the chapter on talent very engaging. She read out aloud excerpts from it, especially the one in which Bond’s mother finds the idea of him wanting to become a writer rather silly. Rather, she felt he should have joined the army. “Parade and early morning PT were not for me. I could not even load my stepfather’s guns let alone fire them….And yet I was quite happy reading John Buchanan’s The Thirty Nine Steps, or Graham Greene’s This Gun is For Hire, or any thriller packed with murder and mayhem. I lived vicariously through the characters in books and stories. So why not write a few,” he writes.
I found the ‘Don’t Look Back’ section particularly touching. Adulthood is often riddled with regrets and ‘what-if’ scenarios. However, Bond writes about not letting these memories stand in the way, but to face them and put them aside. “I regret failing an exam. I regret being rude to one of my teachers. I regret letting down a friend. I regret breaking the classroom windows. In other words, I was a horrible boy. But I admit to all these failures, and I carry on trying to be a better person,” he writes.
Most ‘how-to’ books paint pictures of finding sunshine, joy-filled meadows, and more. However, this book talks about feeling comfortable with the dark as well. The night brings with it a different kind of magic, with fireflies, moths and stars. There is nothing lonely or scary about the dark. “Don’t be afraid of life. It’s out there, yours to do with as you wish. Take it. Cherish it,” signs off Bond.