Ruskin Bond is synonymous with childhood- I remember reading his short stories in anthologies and text books. He writes for adults and children, an effortless writer whose first book The Room on the Roof, written when he was just seventeen and published when he was nineteen, won the John Llewellyn Rhys memorial Prize.
Landour Days was one of several unfortunate unread books languishing on my guilty book shelf.
I read somewhere that if you haven’t read a book that you should be reading yet, don’t worry—it is waiting for you. This book was timely.
It’s a journal spanning across the seasons, each one endearingly illustrated by Ajanta Guhathakurta. If you do read Landour Days once and in a hurry, you read it as a bunch of anecdotes. What happens to a writer who lives just as every writer would wish to live? In Mussourie, always observing nature from lonely hill tops and commenting on the constant stream of travelers who come there…
Bond writes not just about his writer friends and acquaintances, but specific birds, flowers and seasons in a way that an urban dweller could never replicate. Natalie Goldberg could not say enough about how important observation is in the writing process and Bond is eloquent about the warblers and barbets, dandelions and litchis and dog roses that punctuate his walks. He does write about loss- but he is very subtle about sadness, an agreeable way of dealing with what you cannot have or may have lost.
Besides the anecdotes, however, this slender book deals with the writer’s process. You realize this as you read the book a second time. Handwriting is where it all starts and I found this exciting as now even schools are doing away with the dreariness of teaching children how to do their cursive writing. It isn’t something to be ignored just yet:
“Dickens and Thackeray had clear flourishing handwriting. Somerset Maugham had an upright, legible hand; Tagore, a fine flourish. Churchill’s neat handwriting never wavered, even when he was under stress. I like the bold, clear, straightforward hand of Abraham Lincoln; it mirrors the man.”
Bond never assumes that he is an award winning writer(winner of the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Padma Shri, no less). He meanders through the many happenings of his life and subtly suggests that writing and reading are what he is made to do. The joy of reading captured him one monsoon and it was in the spooky atmosphere of his room filled with dripping water, scurrying rats and an occasional bat, that he read Wuthering Heights and Shakespeare’s Complete Works.
He never outrightly says Read my books! #amwriting, nor does he discuss every writer’s nightmare- the daily word count or lack of it. Instead he mentions how he wrote his first book The Room on the Roof, which made reading this entire book worth my while, and he also speaks in glowing terms about the Great Indian Railways that have given life to many of his stories:
“There is nothing like an Indian railway station anywhere else in the world. We are not a melting pot of races and religions, we are a mosaic of all these things. A mosaic that is best observed from the trains that pull the glittering pieces together.”
A gentle book, a refuge for any writer or traveler who has lost her way. In a word– refreshing!