My dear young friends,

It’s no use asking me for advice. I seldom took any, and when I did, it was usually the wrong kind. Besides, young people usually resent being given advice by patronising elders and go out of their way to do the very opposite of what they have been advised to do.

You will learn from your mistakes. Or maybe you won’t. I keep making the same mistakes. I don’t learn from them. I see other people making mistakes and learning very little from them.

The human being was born to make mistakes. It was probably a mistake on the part of the Creator or on the part of evolution, whichever is your preference. The great philosophers, scientists and men of religion have all tried to justify our presence on this planet. And to what end? Conflict. Human conflict caused by the same territorial greed that is found in animals.

In many ways, the human is a superior sort of animal but only to a small degree. I look at my cat, Mimi, basking in the sun. She is elegant and beautiful to behold superior to a dog, definitely. She does not fawn over humans because she sees through them. She knows my weaknesses and that, as a human, I am supposed to have a conscience.

My eyesight is terribly poor now, and one sunny morning, book in hand, I sat down in my easy chair, only to rise immediately, for I had sat on Mimi! She shrieked in anguish, for I am no lightweight. I apologised humbly and took my book elsewhere, leaving her the sole occupant of the easy chair.

Now, the chair belongs to her. She occupies it by right and gives me a stern look if I approach. Other men might have acted differently picked her up and thrown her out of the window but she knows me well. She knows that I have a conscience, something that animals don’t possess. Mimi has no conscience. She will torture a mouse before putting it to death. Some humans are like that, too. Being more animal than human, they take pleasure in torturing their own kind. The distinction between humans and animals can be miniscule.

Mimi can’t make bombs. Some humans make bombs so that other humans can use them.

All that human intelligence going into the making of something that will one day finish off the human race. But are we worth preserving? One wouldn’t think so, judging by the way we do our best to annihilate each other…

I broke off there, partly because I was being summoned to breakfast and partly because I was getting into a depression and wanted to avoid it.

I am a cheerful and optimistic person by nature. Still, occasionally once or twice a year I get the feeling that everything I’ve done and written, all those hundreds of books and stories and notebooks full of words, are utterly useless, frivolous and doomed to obscurity. I tell myself I would have been better employed doing something else. But doing what? My choices are limited.

“I could sell boiled eggs,” I tell myself wryly, “like those unlettered but good folk from the nearby villages, selling boiled eggs to tourists on the Mall Road.”

Boiling an egg is something I can still do. One must give the customer a little salt and pepper to go with the egg and serve it on a piece of newspaper. But it’s getting cold on the Mall Road nowadays, and I doubt if I could stay up late with those hardy egg-sellers.

There’s a genius I know who makes wonderful omelettes, selling them from his tiny shop. He is a humble person who always greets me as I pass by. I wish my stories were as good as his omelettes. I wish I could make a decent omelette. I have tried to, from time to time, but they always turn out to be too thin or squishy.

101 Failed Omelettes could be a good title for my autobiography.

“Never despair. But if you do, then work on in despair.” I read that somewhere when I was a schoolboy and made a note of it. I’ve tried to live up to the sentiment through all these years of success and failure, alternating with the seasons, or so it seems. Something to do with the rhythms of life, I feel. For a time, everything goes well, and then things go awry, and one is left struggling against the current.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men,” wrote Shakespeare, “which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” But first, one must know which way the tide is running. Mr W Shakespeare did say a lot of good things.

Excerpted with permission from Hold On to Your Dreams: A Letter to Young Friends, Ruskin Bond, Penguin India.