Updated: Nov 3
He wasn’t a difficult sight to come by. A gentle hello and exchange of pleasantries later, he would continue doing what he visibly enjoyed doing. Walking slowly, enjoying the wild flowers and butterflies, soaking the sounds of the lives on the trees.
Growing up in Mussoorie, Ruskin Bond, we locals knew, liked his space, doing things at his pace, going for long walks. Some days, you could spot him gazing out of his window, looking at the mountains and the forests on those mountains.
And that is how it has been with him. Limited social interaction, lots of reading and writing, contemplating, enjoying his own company and being home with his adopted family, which now has grown up great grandchildren.
But isn’t parts of that, something we were all forced to do, during Covid induced lockdowns. And didn’t we all, after the initial euphoria of not going to work and meetings, or simply being home, get exhausted with it?
Of course, we did.
We at The Mind Diaries, thought who best than the author loved across all ages to ask about learning to enjoy one’s own company, making routine special, dealing with not such happy days and cherishing the happy ones.
With a wicked sense of humour, several ghost tales up his sleeve, romance tales that still have the old-world charm, books that he reads and re-reads and endless stories rolling out of his pen even in his 80s, Ruskin Bond, the author and the man shows what it takes to be truly content and happy.
Photo Credit: Deepak Rawat
It’s all good
How does he do what he does?
“I have always been fairly cheerful by nature, I would say. As long as I have books around, a loving family to look after me, it’s all good. I don’t live like a lonely old man, you see.”
Covid was restricting in some ways, he adds. May be if he was younger, he would have been more restless. Being old probably made it easier.
“Accepting the world as it is, makes things easier,” he quips wisely.
In fact, Bond of late, has not just been writing the bitter sweet, simple tales but also been doling out advice.
His Little Book of Happiness is one among a series of books on leading a good life. He is currently writing a book on how to enjoy one’s golden years – the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, likes he says.
“I guess I have some things to share and I like to do that. I get a lot of feedback from young people responding to what they have read from me and it’s good.”
His book, A Wonderful Life, talks about lockdown blues, among other things.
“Yes, a part of the book does talk about it. You see I kept a journal and it helped me observe things in me and around closely.”
Years back when he had just won the Padma Bhushan and I was interviewing him for Brunch, Hindustan Times, I remember him chuckling “You are lucky you got me on a bright sunny day. You see I am happier on sunny days and sometimes grumpy and not so great when it rains and snows.”
How to deal with not-so-great days
Years later, I ask him for my interview for The Mind Diaries, on how he deals with not-so-great days?
“Well, when I was more mobile, I went for walks. Walking, to my mind is one of the best ways to change one’s mood. Now I am happy to be driven around for outings. I could go to Doon, Yamuna bridge or some place around.
“I read around two to three books a week. Books are a great way to be in another place.
“Also, a good meal can definitely bring cheer. I quite enjoy having a good meal when I am out. I enjoyed fish until I found a plastic button inside one and have been put off fish ever since. Now I mostly stick to vegetarian when eating out,” he laughs.
But being happy isn’t always that simple, is it?
There is a substantial growth in the number of mental health related issues. What should we attribute these to?
“See the world has always been in some sort of crisis. Right now, the pressures of making a living, economic situations, uncertainty of the future are factors troubling a lot of people and it is not a phenomenon restricted to a certain place or country.”
But the idea, he says, is to find help when one doesn’t feel right. “Mental and physical health are very important.”
One of the many things that mental health professionals never underplay is the need to have a schedule.
Over the years of having the privilege of being walking distance neighbour to Mr Bond and being a journalist, I have had innumerable interactions with him and one of things I find absolutely amazing is how he keeps a time table.
Stick to a schedule
In fact, once early in my career when I was taking advice from him on becoming an author, he emphasised on the need to sit and write each day, as a practice.
Having a time table, he maintains, is important to him.
“I have a time table when it comes to my work for sure. As I am getting older, yes, I might nap a little extra on a few days but I have a schedule for reading and writing and my meals.”
And how does one learn to enjoy one’s own company, something that a lot of us struggle with?
“I guess a lot has to do with one’s own nature. But yes, we need to have some sort of a social life, a dependable circle of friends and I guess learn to find happiness where we are, observe and appreciate the little things around us.”
A family friend for example, he shares, “an older lady came and stayed with us. She was miserable because she was missing her city life and the buzz. Living in the hills, for example, has been idealised. A lot of people have this image of living on their own in the hills. Some of them tried doing it during lockdown and after a few initial weeks realised, they were miserable. The idea is to find happiness within.”
A thought to remember for sure!
Photo Credit: Deepak Rawat
Ruskin’s five tips to stay happy
1. Relationships are important. Within the family, outside the family, with friends, with colleagues. They are the bed rock of life so invest in relationships. If those are right, life is usually happy.
I live with a loving family and all my needs are taken care of.
2. Always have work that you enjoy and always have something to do and keep yourself busy with.
For me that is reading and writing.
3. Good health is crucial. Mental and physical. In case of physical health, when we know we have a problem, we usually reach out to a doctor. In the case of mental health, one hesitates to reach out and seek help. So, family and friends need to take the lead and reach out to an expert.
My family is always around for support.
4. The room you live in or spend most time in, should have a window that looks out to something pleasant. It could be a beautiful plant, a tree, a park where you see people, children playing.
Mine look out to mountains and forest. Sometimes I look at them, sometimes I observe a little bird on my window sill, pathways on the mountains, chatter of children returning from school.
5. Walk, it always helps to physically move from the place you are in, the thoughts you are in.
That said don’t forget to have a sense of balance even in walking. I know of some people who start walking in the morning and walk through the day! Walk because it will help you observe smaller things around you.