Walden by Henry David Thoreau My rating: 3 of 5 stars


“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”


Well, I love it and hate it. But, probably I love it more. The book is so pluralistic, yet singular in the underlying idea. There are tones and undertones and overtones, yet it is the simplest thing I have ever come across.

This is one of those unwonted books that I have struggled to sit through. But, this is also a book that keeps me haunting back and forth days after finishing it. It actually makes me cogitate and think about things I had given up thinking long ago.

This book is not timeless, at least in my opinion, like the other books in this genre are. I remember myself getting so worked up with some of the ideas Thoreau planted in my brain and I could not see it materialize in the present era. May be it is just me, and technically his ideas are not impossible to execute altogether. But, I don’t find it pragmatic or rather beneficial to anybody today. “How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.”

I will break it down to you.

First of all, the idea; I know it takes an insurmountable amount of grit and bizarre conviction to leave the world behind and lead a life in the solitary like a hermit. But, when you do leave the world behind, you leave everything else behind, the worries, the society, the people and the family. I am nothing less than overly impressed by his initiative of building up his life from the scratch in a land of nothingness with minimal capital. But, could you do it the same way with a family? It’s not just about this book. I am fundamentally not a fan of the ideas that are circulated while conceived in solitary ventures.

There are two reasons for it. First of all, these ideas often question, sometimes lambaste the things men do, scorn their ignorance in their primitive approach of life and suggest them otherwise. I feel, the revelations of a solitary man are flawed when we try to incorporate them into a family man. I have come across innumerable people who have worked wonders in the solitary, but only a handful who had had an epiphany of that nature in the real world. Most of the laws we made in the history of mankind are for ideal scenarios. Each one of them are imperfect in the sense that they all need tinkering and tuning to govern the actual scenario. It is still achievable with physical laws and mathematical theorems by introducing adjustment constants. It is, however, impossible to bind all men with the same laws as this world is anything but ideal. In short, I appreciate what Thoreau has done. But, I would have been blown away if he had achieved what he has with a family and children in the picture. I would be more interested to find out how he worked out the education of the children and well-being of the family in the same economical manner and maintained a journal of that kind of success. I say that because I really believe men were not designed to live solitary lives. We are social animals. Why not think of a community or a family that goes out to prove the point. It would be a fiercely satisfying thing to behold such a group of people of all shapes, sizes and colour who could think, debate, collaborate and be enlightened together. Think about a family in which the children, with their fresh energy and the old with their vital wisdom talk about Economy, Reading, Sounds, Solitude, Visitors, the Bean-field, the Village, the Ponds, Baker farm, Higher laws, Brute neighbours, House-warming, Winter Animals, the Pond in Winter, Spring and then conclude together. It does not have to be in the heart of the forest, it could be by the fireplace in our homes too. Bottom line is, I do not see man living by himself in the forests doing any progressive good.

Not that Thoreau advocated or lured anyone to follow his footsteps; not that it is what I took away from the book, not that I think the crux of the book is to flee to the forests and become a hermit. However, when someone, somewhere at some point of time, achieves something so radical and shares his experience and thoughts, you do look at your own life and make comparisons. Similarly, I had to think, could I leave everything behind and start afresh in the lap of nature somewhere? Could everyone do it? What would happen to the world then? Could we still experiment, make discoveries and build rockets? I do not know. We have come such a long way, I do not see that happening. It is not pessimism either. Actually, I do not want all that he stood for. Some of the things touched something inside my heart and made me yearn for it. But, I would still not take it if it came with everything else.

That being said, secondly, I do not believe every man was designed to farm, rear cattle, build his own house, hunt and fix his own windows. Have men done it before? Yes. That is who we originally were. Is it possible now? No. If it were possible, the entire evolution orb would crinkle down to crumbs. I do believe that one man is good at masonry and another at healing someone. A person who derives his satisfaction from building homes may not feel the same exhilaration at the sight of a stitched belly. I believe that being a part of this accomplished religion called humanity, one does not have to wear all the hats at all times. I believe the only reason we have come this far is because most of us believe in this religion. We must have that kind of satisfaction when a fellow brethren builds a home for us and may be grow crops to feed him and derive the same satisfaction by doing that for him. I do not believe that every man should know everything and do it all for himself. I think it’s good we are not so accomplished (not that we can’t be, but that most of us aren’t.), I mean I literally met my best friend because I did not know how to draw a digestive system and she helped me do it. Again, I do not imply that the author has ever had a selfish bone in his body; all he ever did was give. But, like everything else, if every human does that, the collective individualism will kill humanity. I am rather afraid of knowing everything. Neither is it progressive. Imagine a world where we all build our own houses, farm, fish, hunt and cook. How close will we be to the Nature, but how far from each other! I do not want to go to that extreme. Also, if everyone is always occupied with the present, who will build spaceships and technologies. Living in the present is actually the right thing to do. But, again, what if everyone starts doing that? Who will look out for the next generation?

I feel, the world now, imperfect as it is in every way, works mysteriously. We don’t need it to be perfect for us. The day it becomes perfect, it will stagnate. Mundane is what keeps us going. Perfection if you see it, is a full stop.

Henry has also talked immensely about sculpting the soul and beautifying it. And the message is not lost on me. But then again, why do we have to compare it to Arts? I mean, I am big on Arts. I do not find it superficial. I find it to be one of the most beautiful ways of communication and expression. I do not see it to be a need for beautifying your house versus beautifying your soul. I see where he is coming from. I know he means for us to emancipate our souls before we start investing on ornaments and baubles. He wishes every one could just invest as much time and energy on their conscience. I am no believer in extremes either. But then, I do sketch when I am sad and I do dance my heart out when I’m happy. It’s not a time wasted, but rather utilized in expression. I do beautify my soul while I write or paint or sketch because while I’m at it, I am brutally honest to myself. I probe deeper into my existence and come closer to my subconscious. It is not a blasphemy I suppose.

I know I am sounding rather harsh and strong in opinions. I could go on and on about Walden. And, that is the best part about this book. It is a food for thought. Thoreau has given us such a premise, no matter how far you taken it or how deep you delve in, you will land somewhere comfortable. I believe that’s what he wanted when he wrote the journal. He has insisted throughout the book that this is his journey and he would want everyone to make their own on their own terms. “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

I think this is my journey, or rather a glimpse of it, because I love to write and I could go on analyzing every word till eternity! I agree to a lot of things he has talked about in book. It is pure genius. It is just the approach I tend to differ with at certain points. In the end, I am glad Thoreau gave us all our ‘Waldens’ through this book. We might not have a pond that deep, but definitely a book that surpasses all dimensions.

“I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life”

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