On his 84th birthday, the much loved author shares his latest thoughts.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
There is nothing special about living into one's eighties. Many people do it.
I can't say that I am any better, or any wiser, for having passed this landmark.
But I must say I am a little surprised, because I do not came from a long-lived family (both parents and two grandparents having died quiet young); nor have I bothered to take care of myself, health-wise.
And I hate all forms of physical exercise!
No jogging for me.
No climbing mountain peaks.
No dumbbells or bullworkers or those machines that make you run in one place.
I hate running. I will run only when chased by a madman or a mad bull.
At school, I came last in the marathon, having stopped along the way to partake of refreshments made available by enterprising vendors of roasted peanuts or bhuttas.
Yoga? No, I am not a yoga enthusiast.
I do admire people who can tie themselves into knots, but I am a peculiarly unknotty person, liable to be stuck in one position for hours if I try too ambitious an asana (Is that the right word?).
Some years ago I tried looping my right leg over my left shoulder, only to end up calling for help.
As 10-year-old Gautam disentangled me, he said: "You looked like a semicolon, Dada. You should stick to writing."
Stick to writing! Good advice from a preteen. And I am frequently taking advice from children.
Such as: "Don't cut your hair too short, Dada, girls like it long."
These little tips go a long way in helping me to win friends and influence people.
But why am I writing this essay? Because only the other day, at our local bookshop, a young man came up to me and said: "Sir, tell me -- what is the secret to happiness?"
It was hardly the time for homespun philosophy, as a pretty young thing was trying to take a selfie of the two of us, so all I could say was: "Signing books for young readers. It would make any writer happy."
"But I am not a writer," he said, "I am a psychiatrist."
"Well then, make your patients happy," was all I could say
Which reminds me -- when I was a young man and thought I knew the answers to everything, I wrote a piece called 'Thoughts on Reaching Thirty'.
It was published in The Illustrated Weekly Of India, a great magazine now long extinct.
And what were my thoughts at 30? They couldn't have been very profound, because I can't remember even one of them! And yet, at that enquiring age, I was under the influence of Spritualism, Theosophy, Taoism, Christian Science and the teachings of Gurdjieff!
I suppose the sum of all these things had some effect on me, because the landmark ages of 40, 50, 60 and 70 passed without any age to put down my great thoughts -- if, indeed, there were any.
Meditation? This was once recommended to me by a gentleman in Rishikesh who had been meditating beside the Ganga for several years. (He had a settled income, which meant he did not have to work for a living.)
Well, I do try a little meditation from time to time. The trouble is, after a few minutes I fall asleep.
You see, I have this wonderful ability to fall asleep at any given moment, and it is probably the secret of my happiness.
I can sleep by night, I can sleep by day.
I can sleep in the sun, I can sleep in the shade.
I can sleep in my bed, I can sleep on the back of an elephant. (I have yet to try a camel).
Perhaps I am meditating in the wrong place.
My little room, with the morning sun on my desk, is really meant for writing -- or sleeping. In between naps I write stories or little essays like this one.
If I am to meditate successfully, I should be down in Rishikesh like my friend on the banks of the Ganga
When I was a boy, I would occasionally visit Haridwar, sometimes in the company of my lost friend Kishen.
In my first novel, The Room On The Roof, I have described how we crossed the Ganga in a small boat accompanied by a number of pilgrims all chanting: "Ganga-mai ki jai (Hail Mother Ganga)!"
It was a moving experience, both in my story and in reality.
Whenever I visited Haridwar, I would sing out "Ganga-mai ki jai!" with whoever was with me.
I am not a religious person, but I have always been moved by the devotion of others.
Every evening, after Beena (my granddaughter) has done her puja, she brings me prasad, and I accept it humbly and gratefully because it is the symbol of her goodness and devotion.
To light a candle is better than to curse the darkness.
And so here I am, in my eighties, trying to gather my thoughts and to see if I have any great thoughts. But none come to me. You must do your own thinking, dear reader.
Excerpted from Stumbling Through Life by Ruskin Bond, with kind permission from the publishers, Rupa.