Nature Can Be a Reward in Itself
The celebrated writer's simple philosophy towards life has stood him in good stead
What have I learnt after eighty years on planet earth? Quite frankly, very little. Dear reader, don't believe the elders and philosophers. Wisdom does not come with age. Maybe it is born in the cradle-but this too is conjecture. I only know that for the most part I have followed instinct rather than intelligence, and this has resulted in a modicum of happiness. You will find your own way to this reward, which is in the end the only reward worth having…
To have got to this point in life without the solace of religion says something for all the things that have brought me joy and a degree of contentment. Books, of course; I couldn't have survived without books and stories. And companionship-which is sometimes friendship, sometimes love and sometimes, if we are lucky, both. And a little light laughter, a sense of humour. And, above all, my relationship with the natural world-up here in the hills; in the dusty plains; in a treeless mohalla choked with concrete flats, where I once found a marigold growing out of a crack in a balcony. I removed the plaster from the base of the plant, and filled in a little earth which I watered every morning. The plant grew, and sometimes it produced a little orange flower, which I plucked and gave away before it died.
This much I can tell you: for all its hardships and complications, life is simple. And a nature that doesn't sue for happiness often receives it in large measure.
Was it accidental, or was it ordained, or was it in my nature to arrive unharmed at this final stage of life's journey? I love this life passionately, and I wish it could go on and on. But all good things must come to an end, and when the time comes to make my exit, I hope I can do so with good grace and humour.
But there is time yet, and many small moments to savour.
A small ginger cat arrives on my terrace every afternoon, to curl up in the sun and slumber peacefully for a couple of hours.
When he awakes, he gets on his feet with minimum effort, arches his back and walks away as he had come. The same spot every day, the same posture, the same pace. There may be better spots-sunnier, quieter, frequented by birds that can be hunted when the cat is rested and restored. But there is no guarantee, and the search will be never-ending, and there may rarely be time to sleep after all that searching and finding.
It occurs to me that perhaps the cat is a monk. By this I do not mean anything austere. I doubt anyone in single-minded pursuit of enlightenment ever finds it. A good monk would be a mild sort of fellow, a bit of a sensualist, capable of compassion for the world, but also for himself. He would know that it is all right not to climb every mountain.
A good monk would know that contentment is easier to attain than happiness, and that it is enough.
And what of happiness, then?
Happiness is a mysterious thing, to be found somewhere between too little and too much. But it is as elusive as a butterfly, and we must never pursue it. If we stay very still, it may come and settle on our hand. But only briefly. We must savour those moments, for they will not come our way very often…
Live close to nature and your spirit will not be easily broken, for you learn something of patience and resilience…
"Is nature your religion?" someone asked me recently. It would be presumptuous to say so. Nature doesn't promise you anything-an afterlife, rewards for good behaviour, protection from enemies, wealth, happiness, progeny, all the things humans desire and pray for…
Nature is a reward in itself. It is there to be appreciated, to be understood, to be lived and loved. And in its way it gives us everything-the bounty and goodness of the earth, the sea, the sky. Food, water, the air we breathe. All the things that we take for granted.
Born in Kasauli, HP, in 1934, Ruskin Bond has published several novels, short stories, essays, poems and antholo-gies. His numerous awards include a 2014 Padma Bhushan.