Book Excerpt: The power of solitude

Solitude is what we seek, while loneliness is thrust on us; solitude has helped writers come up with some of the finest works of literature

Ruskin Bond. Photo credit: Ruskin Bond official Facebook Page

The greatest of writers often worked in solitude or isolation, either from choice or because there was no choice: Dostoevsky from a prison cell; Thoreau from the wilderness of Walden; Steveman from a remote island in the Pacific; Victor Hugo from his exile on the island of Guernsey (where I saw his study and desk, still carefully preserved); Emily Brontë and her sisters from a lonely parsonage on the Yorkshire moors; William Blake from a humble country cottage. Conrad wrote his first novel, Almayer’s Folly, while he was still at sea, captain of a tramp steamer. Kipling did not write his Jungle Books in India; he wrote them in the solitude of a hamlet in Vermont, USA. John Clare wrote some of his loveliest poems from a mental asylum.

There is a time for all things, even the writing of poetry, and it will happen when it must.

Solitude helps, but it isn’t easy to find. Sometimes we must work in the bedlam of the big city, like O. Henry or Damon Runyon or Ring Lardner in New York; or Maupassant or Balzac in Paris; or Dickens in London; or Graham Greene or Patrick Leigh Fermor in some remote corner of the world, among the unfamiliar. A superb storyteller, B. Traven, the author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, hid his true identity so well that till today no one is quite sure who he was. That’s the wonderful thing about great literature—it encompasses the globe, it encompasses all humanity. Little known works survive, bestsellers are forgotten. The charm of the unexpected, the magical wand of the fairy, leads us on.

I am just one small writer working from the top of a fairly big hill. I write because I can express myself better with the pen than with my faltering tongue. I write because I love words and what you can do with them. I write because I love this planet and all that’s beautiful upon it, and because I want to record my impressions of it. I write because I was born to write.

During the last two years, I have been confined more or less to my little patch, my desk, my window with its view of the winding roads and rolling hills. No writer should be without a window. No man or woman should be without a window. It is a requisite of both body and soul.

As a boy, I always wanted a window, even when we were moving from one house to another. From one I saw litchi trees; from another the little canal; from another a wild overgrown garden. Even in London I had my window looking out on plane trees or, at worst, an advertising hoarding. One bed-sitter gave me a view of a cemetery full of old, moss-covered graves, dusty reminders of our transitory presence on the planet. A window in Delhi gave me a view of a petrol pump, another place of transition. Every window presents a different view of the human comedy. At eighty-nine plus I am a connoisseur of windows.

It is not very large, my present window, but it takes in a wide perspective, a panorama of valley, hills, ascending mountains, winding roads, a footpath, a water pump, a little bazaar—and of course, clouds.

The cloud formations are always changing. Here come the monsoon clouds, dark and forbidding. A wind springs up and I must close the window or the rain will sweep into the room, washing out my words on this writing pad. It won’t matter. I will write them again. Next month the clouds will vanish and the blue skies will prevail. The sun will burst through my window and give new life to these ageing limbs. Fluffy white clouds will come and go. The hillsides will still be emerald green, the horse chestnuts falling, the last wildflowers blooming before winter sets in. The dark clouds will come again, bringing snow and sleet. The sky is forever changing.

Excerpted with permission from The Hill of Enchantment: The Story of My Life as a Writer by Ruskin Bond. @2024 Aleph

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