It would not be incorrect to say that Ruskin Bond’s name is synonymous with nature writing. It would also be quite correct to state that he is one of India’s most prolific writers. A few years short of 90, our grand old writer still deeply senses the pulse of the modern reader. He offers gentle wisdom garnered from decades of observing nature and beauty in the lap of the Himalayas. With each new book, his words become more and more timeless. While the Birds Still Sing, A Life in Nature (Natraj Publishers, 2021) is a soul-soothing collection of short but sublime prose on nature.
There is a special sensitivity that one must have towards the natural world in order to absorb its timeless lessons. And there is a special skill that one must have as a writer, to translate these learnings into simple, stirring, almost poetic prose. Ruskin Bond combines these two gifts and offers the reader something timeless and intangible in this book. There are facts and trivia about nature, but above all, there is deep wisdom.
“Living on a hilltop, surrounded by mountains, it is encouraging to know that birds and trees and insects and wildflowers still outnumber people, in spite of exploding human populations. I am reminded that there are natural forces behind the grasp of man: sunlight and darkness, the urgency of the seasons, the miracle of the seed and egg, and the inevitability of time and decay. But, unlike man, nature is reborn everyday” he writes.
Each page leisurely but poignantly provides a little snippet on natural elements and the core of the natural world. Trees, insects, birds, natural forces, mountains and the entire gamut of related themes find their way somewhere between these pages. There are some stories and tales as well, some myths and legends interwoven into the prose. And yes, don’t miss the little haikus and poems written by him over the years. These also find expression the book. However, nature is the overarching theme. “When we walk close to nature, we come to a better understanding of life; for, it is from the natural world that we first emerged and to which we still belong,” he says.
A book is a sensory experience. A book on nature must be even more so. In While the Birds Still Sing, the master wordsmith evokes a kind of sensuality. You will feel the wind across your face, the sounds of waterfalls; you will hear the chirping of the birds; feel the renewal that each new morning brings with it; relish the beauty of the moon and feel the soft caress of the breeze; imbibe the strength of mountains; smell the fragrance of the soil, and the flowers. What one learns amongst other things from the book is to “Live close to nature and your spirit will not be easily broken, for you will learn something from patience and resilience”.
Prenita Dutt’s exquisite watercolour illustrations bring out the essence and the beauty of Bond’s carefully curated words. And then, they take on a life of their own. A myriad of colours, joyful expressions of nature and minute detailing make the reader pause and revel in the beauty of art.
And this experience of reading the words and experiencing them in the context of the artwork, will elevate the reader to another realm where a simple nature-inspired philosophy of living will gently come to you. Read it at one go, or cherish it in bits. Read it again and again. Read it alone, or read it with your favourite person. Read it in order, or just open to a random page and see what it has for you.
While the Birds Still Sing, A Life in Nature by Ruskin Bond is one of the best gifts you can give yourself, or anyone else! And if you feel it inspires you to write something or just to pen some thoughts down, don’t miss Words from the Hills, Bond’s delightful journal that has plenty of space for you to write, even as you savour his words and beautiful artwork. Ruskin Bond is quite right when he states, “It is the simple things in life that keep us from going crazy,”. Read this book and you will know why.