Ruskin Bond: How India’s master storyteller defies age and lives life to the fullest

In his latest book The Golden Years, Ruskin Bond reminds us that age is no barrier to a life well-lived

Ruskin Bond
Ruskin Bond turns 89 on May 19. Photo: Facebook

Ruskin Bond, who turns 89 today, is still on his way.  Far beyond the threshold of 60, a milestone that designates one as a senior citizen, he has embraced a life brimming with contentment and purpose. With a wealth of experiences etched upon his weathered face, and his countenance a roadmap of journeys undertaken and stories lived, Bond stands tall in his twilight years, an embodiment of the boundless wellspring of life’s exuberance.

Time, though notorious for its penchant to weigh heavily on mortal frames, seems to have forged in Bond an unwavering spirit that defies the very notion of ageing. In his latest book, The Golden Years: The Many Joys of Living a Good Long Life (HarperCollins India), he offers us a glimpse into his soul, ever curious and eager to explore the mysteries that lie beyond the confines of each passing day, and a life lived fully and joyously.

‘I still have stories to tell’

Early on in the book, Bond dismisses the notion that age should hinder creative expression. For him, the passage of time has only added richness to his writing palette — an accumulation of love, friendship, adventure, and the changes witnessed in a dynamic world. Unlike some writers who choose to retire or doubt their relevance in their later years, Bond revels in the sheer ecstasy of writing, and relishes the joy it bestows upon him.

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Bond wrote his first novel, The Room on the Roof (1956), when he was in his teens. In the decade that followed, he temporarily felt devoid of creativity. But as life carried on, so did his stories, rekindling the fire within him. Now, on the cusp of becoming a nonagenarian, he remains an ardent storyteller, retaining the zeal of his youth. “I still have stories to tell,” he writes.

The master storyteller dismisses the need for external validation and remains committed to his craft, unfazed by whether his words find a wide readership. His belief in the inherent beauty of self-expression fuels his creativity; the act of putting pen to paper becomes an intimate dialogue between him and his readers across generations.

A means to connect with the world

To Bond, the human mind reaches its peak of fertility in the later years—a time when experiences, memories, and reflections intertwine to form a fountainhead of inspiration. The concept of retirement and the fear associated with reaching a specific age hold little weight in his eyes. Rather than seeing it as an end, he views the advanced years as a time of maturity and reflection — an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the past and glean from the wisdom gained over a lifetime.

Retiring from the active bustle of the world was never a consideration for Bond, for the years have only heightened his appreciation for the existence he has carefully woven around himself in the idyllic sanctuary of Landour, the sleepy little town on the outskirts of Mussoorie in Uttarakhand. “Looking out from this perch on the hillside, I feel I am a part of the greater world; of India and the planet Earth, and the infinite worlds beyond, where all our doubles live, just as we do—with some hope and some love,” he wrote in his autobiography, Lone Fox Dancing (Speaking Tiger Books, 2017).

Through the windows of his refuge, he beholds a world bursting with kaleidoscopic wonder. The symphony of seasons unfolds before his eyes, painting the landscape with brushstrokes of resplendent colour. He drinks in the mesmerizing dance of leaves, the gentle caress of a zephyr, and the whispered secrets of the murmuring streams. Every vista, a canvas upon which nature’s artistic prowess is boldly displayed, becomes a cherished muse for his imagination; in his writing, he finds solace, and a means to connect with the world.

It is here that an eclectic array of souls, akin to characters plucked from the pages of his own stories and novels, saunter into his life, leaving indelible footprints. In their presence, he discovers the beauty of shared laughter, the wisdom of poignant conversations, and the timeless connection that bridges the chasms between kindred spirits. It is through these encounters, as fleeting as a gentle breeze, that Bond unveils the immutable power of human connections that can transform mere moments into eternal treasures.

Embracing the present, savouring each day

As a seasoned observer of life, Bond reminds us to make the most of the present moment, savouring each day as if it were our birthday. He encourages us to indulge in the simple pleasures that bring us joy, whether it’s relishing our favourite sweets, acquiring vibrant garments like a colourful T-shirt or a luxurious silk scarf, or adorning ourselves with a Panama hat.

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He underlines the significance of valuing our five senses, arguing that they are the gateway to experiencing the world in its full splendour. He also dwells on the importance of nurturing relationships that stand the test of time, and fostering kindness and compassion in our interactions with others. Then, there is the stress on the essence of self-preservation and the power of doing one good deed at a time.

As an advocate for the early morning hours, Bond extols the virtues of rising with the sun, discovering the sheer delight of walking and allowing nature to be our companion. He writes about the transformative power of books, viewing them as a means to escape the confines of reality. Bond cherishes libraries as sacred spaces, where solitude intertwines with knowledge.

‘Still on my way’

With profound insight, he acknowledges the dual nature of loneliness and solitude. While loneliness may be thrust upon us, solitude is something we seek, a sanctuary for self-reflection and introspection. He encourages us to treasure our memories, for they are the threads that connect us to our past. He shares his struggles with falling asleep at night, an affliction that underscores the restless depths of his mind.

In London, at the age of 19, Bond had watched a mesmerizing performance of the all-Black opera, Porgy and Bess. The resonant bass baritone of William Warfield had breathed life into the disabled hero, Porgy. The song, ‘I’m on my way,’ he writes, became an anthem that would reverberate throughout his life, spurring him onward and upward. With these words on his lips, he faces life’s crossroads head-on, unperturbed by the uncertainty that lies ahead.

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In The Golden Years, Bond invites us to embark on a pilgrimage of life, with his signature warmth and exquisite simplicity. He weaves his words with an effortless grace, urging us to accept the inexorable march of time with gratitude and wonder. Like a consummate guide through life’s labyrinth, he illuminates the path to counting the blessings of advancing years. To Bond, life without risk is an arid and monotonous affair. Taking risks is akin to breathing — a vital ingredient that infuses vivacity into his every endeavour. Even amidst the spectre of failure after he wrote his first novel, he refused to be deterred, for he knew that success, when born out of a string of setbacks, tastes sweeter.

As Bond gazes back upon his life, we witness the fruits of his labour, a vibrant garden blossoming with literary treasures. His writings, a melange of ‘meditations, contemplations, and cogitations’, invite us to traverse the landscapes of our own minds, to explore the profound and the mundane with equal zest. Bond’s urge to write knows no boundaries. Even as he sets his thoughts — in short chapters — adrift on these pages, his mind dances with the promise of a new story for children, a tale of a cat, a dog, and a donkey, etching itself on his imagination.

Time may be an ephemeral companion, but for Bond, every day is an opportunity to compose his destiny. Armed with a fresh pad and a new pen, he clears the decks of his desk, ready to embark on a new chapter. As I write this, he may as well be singing out in the hills: “I’m on my way.”