Book Review: Words from my Window by Ruskin Bond

Book Review: Words from my Window by Ruskin Bond
Photo Credit: Penguin Random House

The literature legend recalls a lifetime of delightful observations in his newest memoir, with art by Dan Williams

Nayanika Mukherjee
August 19 , 2019
04 Min Read

Somehow, everyone has a story around Ruskin Bond. One friend’s English teacher was good friends with the writer, who’d casually drop in between classes for a chat. Another witnessed Bond at a book launch party in Mussoorie, and was faced with the difficult decision of either chatting it up with him, or Yann Martel (Life of Pi). For myself, and countless others who lived away from north India, we encountered Bond through his many novels and memoirs, his infectious joy unconsciously creeping into our writing—and it’s heartening to see that the man has lost none of this warmth. 

The writer released his latest memoir, Words from my Window: A Journal, at the Shriram Millennium School in Noida last month, amid a playful exchange with students about his life and writing philosophy. Over 1200 students from various schools across the NCR sat huddled in an auditorium, flanked by teachers and journalists. For most of these young attendees, this was their first brush with the magic of the hills; for many adults, an enthusiastic return towards a boyhood hero. I’d never met the man, but my eight-year-old mind had always fashioned a wistful picture while reading his stories—about an escape from Java, his grandfather’s garden, of a roadside haunting in Shimla. In all these fancies, Bond’s spirit as a writer overflowed with kindness and wonder. To finally see him at 85, passing on his profound respect for nature with an untarnished sense of optimism, seemed remarkable. “We can’t go to the moon,” he grinned, when a boy asked him about a greying world, and of how Bond’s work might end up as a reminder of a bygone era. “There’s no food to eat, or wildflowers to smell. It’s important we look after what we have, yes?”

When asked about tenacity and inspiration, Bond felt that a natural could write anywhere, as long as they had the right outlook—in his case, this was partly literal, in the form of all the windows he’d had the good fortune of peering out of throughout his life; those small apertures that allowed the sights of Landour, Dehradun, London, and New Delhi to filter in. Words from my Window is a buoyant and romantic tracing of Bond’s travels and influences, compiling vignettes of a life slowly lived and savoured via these casements, and a conscious embracing of solitude.

Dan Williams’ watercolours fluidly tie together these snippets from across decades. “This book is as much his as it is mine,'' Bond declares in the foreword, noting how Williams (who also illustrated Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer, and has twenty five years of artistry under his belt) spent hours on the hillside with his sketchpad. Indeed, Bond’s anecdotes may have seemed irregular, or even odd, to newer readers, if the artwork wasn’t there for company. The visual flow of the book is a curiosity—other than the drawings of Bond’s stories, there’s small, dreamy accents of forest denizens, wildflowers, monochromatic watercolour pages sans texts (perhaps interludes), and abstract brushstrokes decorating select pages. If you like dog-earing pages while reading, do reconsider. 

Readers may enjoy some of the book's illustrations online, on Dan Williams' official website

While I’m not keen on endowing memoirs with definitive statements, this book is an emotional collector’s item for longtime readers. It’s similar in size and feel to the hardcover edition of Bond’s Maharani (2012), and those who dabble in the visual arts may want to include it in their home library to learn a thing or two about Williams’ representation of a life he’d never lived. The ‘journal’ part of Words from my Window is perhaps the most interesting element. Postcard-style lines show up across pages, with a larger writing (or drawing?) section at the end. I imagine it’s Bond and Williams’ way of nudging young readers to jot down prose and poetry, of sketching out the everyday, to create their own patchwork of familiarity. As a 21-year-old in Delhi, my current view is of dust-caked trees hidden by dustier blinds. And yet, excitement bubbles.

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