When Ruskin Bond was celebrating Holi with his adopted family at home in Mussoorie in late March, he, like many others, thought the worst was over. Officially, covid-19 case numbers were dropping and together with the reopening of the economy, he felt a surge of hope. The forthcoming release of It’s A Wonderful Life: Roads To Happiness, based on his lockdown diary, kept him upbeat.
By April, however, he was back to a world dealing with an incessant flow of bad news. We spoke on the phone on a late April evening when Mussoorie, the hill station he has called home for six decades, was reporting a jump in cases. “The virus seems to be calling the shots,” he said, talking about how cases were rising steadily in the town and shopkeepers were shutting shops as a precautionary measure. “It’s amazing how it (the virus) can travel. Here we are with all our science and technology, being able to do all these vaccinations but it’s only so far we can get.”
He was, however, quick to tell me how important it is to find joy in the small things, especially during dark times. He also told me that at the “old age” of 86, he was becoming even more appreciative of the small things. “You have to live life to the fullest,” says Bond, who recently joined hands with Columbia Pacific Communities, a senior-living community operator, to encourage “positive ageing” through storytelling.
A prolific writer, he is, of course, working on a new book. “It’s a feel-good,” is all he is willing to say. In an interview to Lounge, he speaks about life during the lockdown, retirement, and loneliness. Edited excerpts:
Do writers ever retire?
I say writers don’t retire but actually sometimes they do retire. But they are not real writers, to be honest. I think writing is like reading; once you become a reader, you don’t stop reading. So, once you become a writer, the urge to work your thoughts and feelings into words is so natural…it never stops. You may not write for a publication but you probably will be writing a diary. It’s a solitary act that allows you to express yourself; it’s a way to live.
You have described yourself as a “lover of solitude”. Do you still enjoy it?
Solitude was something I looked for when I was younger. But now at my age it’s nice to have young people around me because it’s nice to be fussed over. If there’s a book at the end of this room and I want it, I don’t have to get up and get it. I just have to ask. A good thing about growing old is that you can take advantage of people, and they won’t shy away or complain. They will go out of their way sometimes to overdo it.
Does this dependency bother you?
I have never been dependent since I got out of school. I got a job straightaway. Today, I am not dependent in a way because I am still earning, and I am earning now more than I ever did. Physically, I might be dependent, but I am not a burden on anyone.
Solitude is something you enjoy because you have been looking for it; loneliness is something else. That’s something that’s imposed on you. You can be lonely even if you are surrounded by people. I remember my first day in boarding school when I was surrounded by hundreds of boys who didn’t even look at me. I just wanted to run away and go home again. Sometimes, you just find yourself in a situation where you are alone.
Coming back to your question, I used to feel lonely but not so much now. I have got my family around me, there’s always someone here. But even then, I often miss somebody from the past, a friend or someone who is no more. I know we can’t meet again. One of the advantages of old age is you have so many people to remember.
What do you do when you feel lonely?
I open my diary and I read or write something about them. Before you called, I was just remembering someone from boarding school and how we used to slip off and go to the pictures together. So I put it down in my diary. I have this advantage of being able to use my memories and experiences in a way which is maybe a bit, as a writer, comforting. You don’t make use of everything in a way that’s cynical.
Of course, with the advance of technology, so much has come into the home. You can connect with anyone, switch on the TV and see movies or do various things, which couldn’t have been possible 20 years ago. Still, loneliness is there. It becomes important then to have a certain interest or hobby; for me, it’s writing.
Recently, a photograph went viral on social media, showing your favourite book is the dictionary…
That was my nephew’s doing (laughs). I didn’t know it would go so crazy (on social media). It’s my favourite book more for exercise. It’s so heavy, right? It serves a dual purpose: looking for words and their meaning and for exercising my arms. I use it to do push-ups every day.
What’s your daily routine like?
Every morning after I wake up, I open my window for five to 10 minutes and do deep breathing. I sleep a tremendous amount. I work only for one hour. Then the rest of the day I read, sleep and eat. And yes, I walk. Earlier, I used to walk outside but with the pandemic, I walk within my house, and of course, daily push-ups. It helps me deal with the madness (referring to the pandemic) better.
What are your learnings from the pandemic?
Enjoy the moment. Seize the moment. As the sun comes up, look upon it as a new day…as a birthday…. Believe that it’s a special day and then try to make it special. That helps me. I thought of today as Friday (we spoke on a Tuesday), a day to have an extra egg. It’s the small things that keep us happy, really, no matter what our age is.