‘A Good Philosophy’ is a reflective essay penned by Indian author Ruskin Bond at Ivy Cottage sometime after the 1990s. It was written on the author’s 75th birthday, which was grandly celebrated because Ruskin Bond is the most loved writer of India. He is especially well known as ‘the writer on the hill’ as he has lived most of his life in the hills of India, especially in places like Mussoorie, Dehra Dun, and Landour. Ruskin Bond has spent almost seven decades writing short stories, novels, essays, travel writings, sketches, magazine articles, memoirs, biographical sketches, etc. He is one of the most widely read authors in India and achieved a lot of fame for his love of nature and his subtle humor that endears him to both young and old. He has played a significant role in molding the younger readers of India born in the last decade of the twentieth century and the twenty-first century’s first decade. Naturally, Ruskin Bond can count many young people among his fans who look up to him as a mentor. It is not unnatural for a young girl, therefore, to ask the mantra of Bond’s life or his philosophy on life. Having written on a diversity of topics, probably no one would think that on such an everyday topic, Ruskin Bond would find it difficult to pinpoint a specific philosophy that has kept him going all these years. Bond does have a philosophy, and it is plain and straightforward optimism with a sensualist character to it defined by the fact that he loves to put pen to paper and is even happier if he gets appreciation, especially in the form of fans or a good publisher. A person’s work becoming their way of life and motive to live indicates that they are lucky and blessed.
Ruskin Bond is not a person who likes giving straightforward answers to questions posed to him. A young girl asked him one day about his philosophy of life. Bond takes that question up in the form of this essay, with a lot of subtle humor added to each part of his analysis of what it means to have a good philosophy in life. Bond is grateful that though he is seventy-five years of age, his physical and mental faculties are functioning well. Although, sometimes, by the dotty way he behaves or the peculiar and funny incidents that happen in his life, he doubts his sanity, which adds to the subtle and straightforward humor of the piece. Bond infuses hilarity to lighten the mood of this otherwise serious essay:
- He says he likes to sleep during the long talk of a school principal or a dignitary without seeming to sleep. He manages to do this by sleeping with his eyes half-closed making it doubtful whether he is asleep or awake. The idea that Bond does so today, even at age seventy-five, makes a comical anecdote to the essay.
- Indian news channel anchors have been bullying guests on their shows from the first decade of the twenty-first century. Bond was one such guest, along with other authors who were bullied in this manner. However, Bond was never in serious problems as other news channel guests. Still, he could see that this newsroom bullying could be very vindictive and counterproductive, which he indicates in his essay titled ‘A Good Philosophy.’ To think of innocent but witty Ruskin Bond being bullied by these news channel anchors makes us readers smile a bit.
- Then comes the topic of learning about philosophy from a vegetable vendor. Bond, preoccupied with his quest for an answer on philosophy, even goes to his vegetable vendor seeking his philosophy on life. The vendor at first thinks that Bond was abusing him with this new English word ‘philosophy’ until Bond clarifies that he was not abusing the vegetable vendor but sought to know what made him happy. The vendor thinks Bond is trying to fox him, and yells out his answer. The vendor says that he is happy whenever he gets a good customer. Bond agrees with him and says he, too, loves a good publisher in his life. The idea of a partially educated or complete illiterate vegetable vendor from Landour almost ready to physically beat up Bond for abusing him brings one to near hysterics.
These are a few humorous anecdotes mentioned in this essay to show that optimism, good humor, and love for one’s profession are critical to a perfect philosophy for life. While Indian writers like R.K. Narayan, Premchand, and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay take a direct and serious route to answer questions about philosophy, Bond uses images of humor and scenes from his life, past and present, to bring out his philosophy and the essence of what Bond is as a person – a person who does not take himself too seriously and who loves the simple pleasures of life. This is prominent in many of his writings, especially in memoirs like Lone Fox Dancing, The Beauty of All My Days, Notes from a Small Room, and The Lamp is Lit. Bond also does not want to sound verbose and tedious where topics like philosophy are concerned. So he writes simply that even his younger readers can comprehend the essence of who he is as a person and what his philosophy stands for.
Ruskin Bond mentions that he is a sensualist who takes delight in invigorating his senses with the beauties of nature and the life of solitary recollection that life has bestowed on him. Bond is not a moralist; neither is he someone who abstains from the pleasures of life. He is a man who has always known his imperfections and capabilities and has never tried to go overboard with himself or tried to do something which he will not be able to complete. As the essay suggests, to admit that one is imperfect is not a sign of humility alone but also a sign of wisdom that Bond has attained over the years. When he was young, Bond did focus a couple of times on women and girls. Still, later his writings blossomed and focused only on the beauty of nature, the writer’s life, life in a hill station, characters he met, and his life with his adopted family. He feasts on his senses: the warmth of sunshine, the fragrance of a potted geranium, the sound of birdsong, and the prospect of reading a good book.
Ruskin Bond is wary of godmen, saints, preachers, and teachers, the reason being that he, like R.K. Narayan, has never taken to the old fashioned strict orthodox method of education which is still existing in today’s schools or to schools of thought which presume that they have a solution to the everyday problems of life. Bond believes that they do not. He prefers to tolerate these institutions by sleeping with eyes half-shut at their various ceremonies and speeches. Bond does not seem to like readymade answers because they cannot be one hundred percent right. They do not consider the fact that human beings by nature are sensualists. As many senses are there to feast on in the world, those many philosophies will be available for study. Indeed, there are infinite ways of talking about what one would call ‘a good philosophy of life.’ Bond is sure that he is such a sensualist. His moods are changeable like the seasons, so such a pagan sensualist cannot have a fixed philosophy of life. From his writings of the 1950s to the 1990s, we observe that he has been a writer who has had all sorts of attachments to the most varied types of people he has come across, which again does not number him as a man with a fixed way of behaving. Therefore, more than anything else, Bond takes things as it comes, tackling one day at a time and regaling in the simple pleasures of life in the hills.
One last portion of this essay that we must dwell on is the most meaningful part of the text: the lines from Shakespeare penned in the nine-year-old Ruskin Bond’s notebook by his father. The lines are taken from William Shakespeare’s play ‘Hamlet’ from Act 1, Scene 3 and are said by Polonius. Bond senior wishes his son to be aware of his good and bad qualities and never be a fake. Ruskin Bond believes he has in his writing career lived up to the ideals of his father, who passed away from his life so tragically. If we were to ask then what part of this essay was closer to who Ruskin Bond is, then it would be these lines from his father taken from Shakespeare. Because Ruskin Bond loved his father more than anyone else in the world, more probably than even his writings. This yet again we come to know from his many memoirs and autobiographies. If you want to check out one such simpler memoir related to writing penned by Ruskin Bond, then you can read my review of his book How to be a Writer. The essay ends with the highlights of Ruskin Bond’s simple yet extraordinary life filled with things close to both nature and books.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this essay by Ruskin Bond titled ‘A Good Philosophy’. If you want to check out a memoir of a voracious reader and writer, then you can read my memoirs titled Scenes of a Reclusive Writer & Reader of Mumbai or The Reclusive Writer & Reader of Bandra. Ruskin Bond is my second all-time favorite writer, and I hope to read and review more essays penned by Ruskin Bond in the coming days.
If you are interested in more book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can visit my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books, you can visit my website fizapathanpublishing.us. Happy reading to you this week!
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