A Book of Simple Living
2015, pp 153, Rs 350
As the title indicates, the book is all about finding the simple pleasures of life and relishing them spontaneously.
In his introduction, the author ruminates on what he has learnt in his 80 years on this earth, and in his truly modest way, adds, “Quite frankly, very little.” He continues by saying that more than intelligence, it is instinct that has brought him “a modicum of happiness”. He also admits that it is not solace in religion but books, companionship, laughter, humour and, most of all, a strong connection with the natural world that have contributed to his joy. Any reader who goes through this book can only agree that Ruskin Bond has indeed discovered the recipe for a happy life.
Bond’s keen eye for detail is visible throughout the book. In an early chapter, the author is part-philosopher when on studying the movements of a small ginger cat, he speculates on whether it is a monk. He brings the subject to a close by the candid observation that a good monk will know that contentment is sufficient.
Happiness is best explained in his own words to be, “elusive as a butterfly,” which should never be pursued but if one stays still, “it may come and settle on our hand.” He also makes haste to add that this will be a brief encounter and “we must savour those moments, for they will not come our way very often.”
Flora and fauna come alive in mysterious ways in this magical book. Sometimes Bond uses verse to convey meaning, as when he speaks of spotting a lone fox dancing in the moonlight and ends it with:
“Sometimes, when words ring true,
I’m like a lone fox dancing
In the morning dew.”
When questioned if Nature is his religion, the author clearly states that it would be presumptuous to assume so, since Nature does not promise an afterlife, or boons in this one. His pithy observation is that Nature “is there to be appreciated, to be understood, to be lived, and loved.” Bond also speaks about how Nature can turn against man, in case its generosity is misused. This is a human perception, which is also the language of those who warn against climate change but makes me wonder if this is not an unfair personification of Nature as a revengeful force.
The theme of contentment recurs now and again in this book. Bond speaks of how he has lived in a small room for a greater part of his life and drawn comfort from commonplace everyday objects like a paperweight, a laughing Buddha, an old address book etc.
In places, Bond provides insights into his childhood and family history. The author also dwells at some length on his adopted family, comprising Prem Singh and his wife and children.
Book of Simple Living is a wake-up call for all those who run a frenetic pace. It seems to reiterate the message of the poem, Leisure by William Henry Davies that starts with “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare,” continues as, “No time to see in broad daylight, streams full of stars, like skies at night”, and ends with “A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.”