One of India’s most popular writer Ruskin Bond was born in 1934 in Dehradun, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Ruskin’s parents — both British — got divorced when he was four. After a few years of the divorce, his father put him in a boarding school in Shimla for he couldn’t keep the little boy with him.
Ruskin was only eleven when his father died of the plague in the second world war in Calcutta. After his father’s death, Ruskin continued studying in the same school in Shimla and lived intermittently in Dehradun with his grandmother and mother. When Ruskin was seventeen, he went to London to get a job there and work. His mother had insisted him to build a career there.
But neither did Ruskin like London nor did he enjoy his job. He wanted to become a writer since he was a little boy.
While living by himself and working in London, a 17-year-old Ruskin wrote the novel The Room on the Roof, story of an Anglo-Indian boy who runs away from his vicious guardians to live with his Indian friends. The book was published, and Ruskin began his journey as a writer. After living in London for four years, Ruskin returned to India.
The young writer went back to the mountains and rented a room in Dehradun. Then for years to follow, Ruskin kept shifting around Dehradun and kept writing, mostly from a room with a view.
After a few years, Ruskin went to Delhi to work but he didn’t like Delhi either. Even though he felt that making money was easier in Delhi than in the mountains, he returned to Mussoorie. He had made up his mind to never go to Delhi or any other big city again.
Ruskin continued writing about the Himalayas, children, nature, the people around him, his life as a young orphaned boy, and mountain living, amongst many other simple and joyful stories.
In his writing career of almost seventy years, Ruskin has written more than a hundred and twenty books, poem collections, essays, and novels. He has been awarded a Padma Shri, a Padma Bhushan, and a Sahitya Academy Award — the biggest honors a writer and an Indian can achieve.
Ruskin’s fans are of all ages and they still line up in Cambridge Book Depot in Mussoorie every Saturday to get his autograph.
Did Ruskin have an easy life making a living in the mountains by writing and freelancing? At times Ruskin felt that he wouldn’t be able to survive for the month, but then some pending payment from a publisher showed up in his mailbox, and before the cheque was even cashed, he would be on another story. Some might say that he could have had an easier life if he had kept that Delhi or London job.
But Ruskin is 85 now and he still writes on most days. He says he has stories to tell.
What is the secret to Ruskin’s simple and successful long writing career? Writing a fixed number of words every day? Writing a story every day? Waking up at 5 am and writing until 9 every morning? Does he sit at a desk and write? Does he send everyone away when he writes?
The answer to every above question is a “no.”
Ruskin Bond’s secret is that he enjoys writing. Writing is fun for him. He only writes what he likes. Now he writes from his home over a hill in the Landour district of Mussourie. But he has also written from the scruffy roadside. From under a stout cherry tree. From the banks of river streams running shallow in Garhwal villages. From the woods where a panther was at guard. From the berth of trains running faster than life.
When Mussoorie is cold in the winters, Ruskin writes from his bed in his uninsulated home while his adopted grandchildren tugs at his toes.
The only rule that Ruskin Bond has followed is that he has written at least one poem or a paragraph or a short story — anything that he enjoyed writing — every day.
While a lot of writers suggest writing from a closed room, Ruskin says that one should be able to write from anywhere and in any situation. From the kitchen, in the midst of a fight, from your bed, while your child cries, from under the red rosebush in the garden, everywhere.
But you must enjoy it.
When you read Ruskin’s stories or essays, you know that the writer is having fun along with you.
“When he stopped playing, everything was still, everything silent, except for the soft wind sighing in the wheat and the gurgle of water coming up from the well.” Writer’s words from his short story The Flute Player.
The author always says, “I write to bring a smile on your face.”
Ruskin himself smiles while writing. And that is his secret.
Take pleasure in what you do. Do what gives you pleasure.
Simple, and that is why unfathomable to most.
While I see a lot of life lessons on Elon Musk (I myself have written one), Benjamin Franklin(one by yours truly as well), Aristotle, Stephen King, Leonardo Da Vinci, Warren Buffet, Jerry Seinfeld, and other successful entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and polymaths, I have never seen an article on Ruskin Bond‘s productivity.
Not many people have written about Ruskin for he neither talks about productivity nor shares his big rules to success nor tweets about finishing his daily word count by 6 am while your alarm still has one hour to run. His simple rule is to enjoy what he does.
The advice to enjoy your work wouldn’t even sound like substantial advice to most people. But many successful people have often talked about having fun at the job.
Bill Gates once said, “Paul and I, we never thought that we would make much money out of the thing. We just loved writing software.”
And Stephen King’s words echo on the same lines, “I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.”
Mark Zuckerberg came up with Facebook while he was having fun with coding and building up a platform.
The founder of the database giant Oracle Ellison must be having fun when he picked up SQL out of curiosity and created the Oracle database.
Nick Woodman (GoPro), Michael Dell (Dell), Jerry Yang (Yahoo), Madam Curie, Grace Hopper (Programming), William Perkin (Synthetic dye), Thomas Adams (Chewing Gum), Albert Hofman (LSD) — all these people discovered and invented amazing things while having fun at work.
They were not keen on getting the task done as quickly as possible to achieve the best results, but they were hell-bent on getting the task done as best as possible, while allowing themselves to see things that often escape the eyes of people in hurry.
If you give yourself a moment, if you have fun with the task, you can see what others can’t see.
As Ruskin Bond said in his book The Eyes Are Not Here, “Well, it often happens that people with good eyesight fail to see what is right in front of them.”
When so many of our historical inventors have always enjoyed work, since when did we — the modern human — started associating success with the time we spend on our computers and how early we start?
Almost all of us, including me, believe in putting a large number of hours at our maximum focus to get closer to our goals. If the duration you work for and your sincerity were the only important things then everyone who works sincerely for ninety hours a week would have been either a Bill Gates, a Ruskin Bond, or a Madam Curie.
Something is missing then.
But believing that fun could be the missing ingredient is not instinctive because since our childhoods we are taught to work hard and focus to get anywhere close to success or to even make a living.
No one ever asks us to work or study for pleasure.
I was always amongst the top ten students in school. I studied hard for three years to get into the best engineering institute in India, the Indian Institute of Technology (the IITs). I didn’t study so hard in college. I had had fun with the simple science courses until I got into IIT, but then I was bored with the abstract engineering classes. I only enjoyed my elective literature courses.
Knowingly or unknowingly, I was riding the wave of fun and joy in education. When I stopped having fun, I stopped paying attention. Even when I tried to focus, I never seemed to get results because I never delved into the subjects wholeheartedly.
But only now can I connect the dots.
While growing up, everyone tells us that the work duration, our focus, and seriousness defines how well we do in life. We liked having fun. But as no one agreed that fun could lead us to becoming someone great or earn a living, we tried disassociating from fun to do something more serious.
The dream of becoming a musician when we grow old was dusted off while the dream of becoming a doctor was applauded.
It is this seriousness of adults that The Little Prince of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry finds mind boggling and questions that why are adults always pursuing the things of consequence and never is fun one of those priorities.
Sometimes we succeeded in focusing on things we found boring and sometimes we failed and could never rise above a 7-grade point average. Or we ended up hating the piano because our father told us to practice it every day for an hour even though we never liked playing the piano and always wanted the guitar. Even if we were good at cricket and could have been selected for the national team, becoming a chartered accountant seemed like a more serious job.
We left behind those activities that brought us joy let alone finding a career in them.
We started associating results with sincerity and seriousness so much that getting bored at work became normal. Monday is Melancholy. Friday is Frolick. If we aren’t stressed at the end of the day, we feel guilty of having enjoyed our work.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot about having fun. And the so-called success was still absconding.
Even if we choose a career of passion we can’t understand why we don’t seem to enjoy it anymore. We avoid the question “are you happy doing what you have always wanted to do?” and turn around to fumble through the apparent and immediate ways to success and popularity.
Even though I have chosen writing as a new passionate profession, there are days when I wasn’t having fun writing.
I was too adamant about being productive and was adding up the number of minutes I wrote for or didn’t and the number of words I wrote or didn’t, like a crazy Wallstreet trader whose number-crunching could kill or save the Lehman Brothers.
Yesterday I wrote a good story about an adult love affair between an old Muslim man and a middle-aged teacher in a few hours. Writing the story was not about being productive, it was about enjoying the story, and while I was on the fun ride, I ended up being productive.
When you enjoy your work, you don’t even realize when your work starts carrying you rather than the other way around. But I don’t remember this every day.
While starting a new day, I worry and get stuck in loops counting the number of hours I have worked in the past few days. My partner tells me that you are not balancing on a tight rope all the time. Trying not to fall. That is not what life is about.
I listen. I reflect.
It doesn’t matter if you started your day imperfectly or didn’t sleep well or didn’t work for more than eight hours or you were distracted by the argument with your partner.
Your work or the quality of it isn’t defined by how prepared you show up at work as long as you get to work and get in an enjoyable action mode.
I have never been a fast walker, or a conqueror of mountain peaks, but I can plod along for miles. And that’s what I’ve been doing all my life — plodding along, singing my song, telling my tales in my own unhurried way. I have lived life at my own gentle pace, and if as a result I have failed to get to the top of the mountain (or of anything else), it doesn’t matter, the long walk has brought its own sweet rewards; buttercups and butterflies along the way.
Says a successful writer who never chased success, productivity, or seriousness.
Success isn’t always a result of productivity. Productivity might be a way to success but it isn’t the only one. And this is true for not just writing but every field out there.
In fields, such as art, gardening, sculpturing, design, graphics, sketching, painting, making music, scriptwriting, success can only be measured by how well you do in the end even though you might have spent hours sketching one fine line. Enjoying your art is the only way you can finish faster and better.
Do you code? Working eight hours might not be as important as making the code reusable or developer-friendly. If you only focus on finishing the assignment, you won’t slow down and wouldn’t make the code as clean and fantastic as it can be. You would never write exceptional code and will stay an average coder.
For a businessman, it’s not important how many hours he spends in his factory or the rate at which he can go through his pending accounts, at least not always. A businessman needs to think out of the box. Else he would just get stuck with a small business checking mundane tasks off his list.
You can only perfect the code or think out of the box if the process gives you joy else you will sulk and move onto other tasks while the most important thing you had to do bears the brunt of your mood and a pending to-do list.
While ticking off pretentiously-urgent checklist items that don’t take us where we have to go, we lose the main path. It is like getting on the train when you should be on a ferry.
In the words of Ruskin, “The first condition of happiness is that a man must find joy in his work. Unless the work brings joy, the tedium of an aimless life can be soul-destroying.”
If you are not having fun, you have very low chances of making something exceptional. But you can only enjoy work if you do what you love to do.
If you don’t love your data analytics job, having fun at the job is hard. If you love painting and coding and solving problems, but only stress about making it to the finish line and don’t enjoy the process, then having fun is impossible.
Productivity matters, but if you have fun, you are open to possibilities. If you have fun, you take those extra moments to make your product or the painting unique. If you have fun, success is just a by-product of the process.
When a schoolboy asked Ruskin Bond if he was a serious writer, he said, “Well, I try to be serious, but cheerfulness keeps breaking in! Can a cheerful writer be taken seriously? I don’t know. But I was certainly serious about making writing the main occupation of my life.“
While you might feel that to live or to become someone, you need to be serious and do a rut job, you might just have to do the opposite for when you have fun at work, your success would be limitless because your efforts would be limitless.
Ruskin Bond never did anything he didn’t have fun doing. When he thought he had written enough for the day and was getting bored, he went for a walk to energize but not with the aim of gathering more stories to write. He only went for a walk and stories stuck to him like dandelions.
Those golden dandelions are waiting to get stuck to all of us. It is up to us to walk into the free wind.
Life is not a tight rope on which you have to walk perfectly. It is a ball of loose threads. Some day you pull one and another day you pull another and then you mix them up and then fix them up and then this goes on. But somewhere in between, some thread might dash in front of us like rainbows on a rainy day.
As Ruskin writes in one of his stories – The following spring, after much waiting, he was rewarded by the appearance of a solitary daffodil that looked like a railway passenger who had gotten off at the wrong station.
If you focus on fun, you might feel like that solitary daffodil, like a railway passenger who got down on the wrong station, but remember that being the only one doesn’t make you wrong. It could be the best thing to happen to you.
Enjoy as much as you can. Productivity will follow. Success might just be around the corner.
Do you think fun is essential to success?
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