Monday, August 26, 2013

The Words

There's something therapeutic about reading Ruskin Bond. Simple, unpretentious, down-to-earth writing, laced with subtle humour. This summer, I came across Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas, a collection of essays, stories, poems, and personal journal entries, dating back to the late fifties. A wonderful read, it reminded me of my childhood days in the Nilgiri Hills and the Doon Valley. I loved reading about interesting characters like Miss Bun (whom he once considered marrying), Sir Edmund Gibson ("I don't mind being dead, but I shall miss being alive!"), the old Tibetan lama slowly trudging along the stubborn mountain path, and a lone tea-shop owner scrambling for a livelihood in the Jaunpur range of the Garhwal Himalayas ("Hillman or plainsman, we have only our hopes to keep us going".)

Ruskin Bond clearly loves the mountains- there's warmth and tenderness in his writing when he describes the deodars and the oaks, the song of the whistle-thrush, and the music of hillside crickets and cicadas. I found his humility striking; we rarely come across people of his kind, who have accomplished so much, and yet are so unassuming! On pride, he has this to say- "Be proud. Be proud of what you are, and what you've done. But be proud within. Don't flaunt it, you will only offend. There's something obscene about a braggart". Truer words have never been written! Indeed, Bond is so modest, he states that even after 35 years, he's still trying as a writer.

He also writes about a boy he met late one night, on the deserted Tehri road, huddling in a recess, seeking some warmth against the bitter cold. As he is about to leave him, tempted by the prospect of a warm bed waiting for him at home, he is reminded of the wise words of an old sage:
If I am not for myself,
Who will be for me?
And if I am not for others,
What am I

And if not now, when?
And so, he takes the boy home, and offers him a place to stay for the night, the very least he could do to help somebody else. This humane element is what makes the book so special to me.

And yet, what struck me the most in this splendid book, was a little poem titled The Words. At the time I read it, I had just lost my grandfather. It's still hard to believe he's no longer with us! The first few days were the most difficult, but even today, we all feel his absence. As the entire family traveled to Tiruvilvamala, where we performed the final rites for my dearest Muthacha on the banks of the sacred Bharathapuzha, I thought it was all rather funny. We struggle every day for happiness, success, little joys, and triumphs; and yet in the final analysis, each one of us is reduced to a pot of ashes, a bag of memories. The profound truth of this poem hit me hard:

Observing Ananda weeping, Gautama said,
'O Ananda, do not weep. This body of ours
contains within itself the powers which renew
its strength for a time, but also the causes which
lead to its destruction. Is there anything put
together which shall not dissolve?'
Then, turning to his disciples, he said, 'When
I am passed away and am no longer with you,
do not think the Buddha has left you, and is not
still in your midst. You have my words, my
explanations, my laws...' And again, 'Beloved
disciples, if you love my memory, love one another.'
And after another pause, he said, 'Beloved,
that which causes life causes also decay
and death. Never forget this. I called you to tell you this.'
These were the last words of Gautama
Buddha, as he stretched himself out and died
under the great sal tree, at Kasinagara.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Words

There's something therapeutic about reading Ruskin Bond. Simple, unpretentious, down-to-earth writing, laced with subtle humour. This summer, I came across Rain in the Mountains: Notes from the Himalayas, a collection of essays, stories, poems, and personal journal entries, dating back to the late fifties. A wonderful read, it reminded me of my childhood days in the Nilgiri Hills and the Doon Valley. I loved reading about interesting characters like Miss Bun (whom he once considered marrying), Sir Edmund Gibson ("I don't mind being dead, but I shall miss being alive!"), the old Tibetan lama slowly trudging along the stubborn mountain path, and a lone tea-shop owner scrambling for a livelihood in the Jaunpur range of the Garhwal Himalayas ("Hillman or plainsman, we have only our hopes to keep us going".)

Ruskin Bond clearly loves the mountains- there's warmth and tenderness in his writing when he describes the deodars and the oaks, the song of the whistle-thrush, and the music of hillside crickets and cicadas. I found his humility striking; we rarely come across people of his kind, who have accomplished so much, and yet are so unassuming! On pride, he has this to say- "Be proud. Be proud of what you are, and what you've done. But be proud within. Don't flaunt it, you will only offend. There's something obscene about a braggart". Truer words have never been written! Indeed, Bond is so modest, he states that even after 35 years, he's still trying as a writer.

He also writes about a boy he met late one night, on the deserted Tehri road, huddling in a recess, seeking some warmth against the bitter cold. As he is about to leave him, tempted by the prospect of a warm bed waiting for him at home, he is reminded of the wise words of an old sage:
If I am not for myself,
Who will be for me?
And if I am not for others,
What am I

And if not now, when?
And so, he takes the boy home, and offers him a place to stay for the night, the very least he could do to help somebody else. This humane element is what makes the book so special to me.

And yet, what struck me the most in this splendid book, was a little poem titled The Words. At the time I read it, I had just lost my grandfather. It's still hard to believe he's no longer with us! The first few days were the most difficult, but even today, we all feel his absence. As the entire family traveled to Tiruvilvamala, where we performed the final rites for my dearest Muthacha on the banks of the sacred Bharathapuzha, I thought it was all rather funny. We struggle every day for happiness, success, little joys, and triumphs; and yet in the final analysis, each one of us is reduced to a pot of ashes, a bag of memories. The profound truth of this poem hit me hard:

Observing Ananda weeping, Gautama said,
'O Ananda, do not weep. This body of ours
contains within itself the powers which renew
its strength for a time, but also the causes which
lead to its destruction. Is there anything put
together which shall not dissolve?'
Then, turning to his disciples, he said, 'When
I am passed away and am no longer with you,
do not think the Buddha has left you, and is not
still in your midst. You have my words, my
explanations, my laws...' And again, 'Beloved
disciples, if you love my memory, love one another.'
And after another pause, he said, 'Beloved,
that which causes life causes also decay
and death. Never forget this. I called you to tell you this.'
These were the last words of Gautama
Buddha, as he stretched himself out and died
under the great sal tree, at Kasinagara.