THOSE who advertise rooms or flats to let often describe them as "room with bath" or "room with tea and coffee-making facilities." A more attractive proposition would be "room with window," for without a view a room is hardly a living place - merely a place of transit.
As an itinerant young writer, I lived in many single-room apartments, or "bed-sitters" as they were called, and I have to admit that the quality of my life was certainly enhanced if any window looked out on something a little more inspiring than a factory wall or someone's backyard.
We cherish a romantic image of a starving young poet living in a garret and writing odes to skylarks, but, believe me, garrets don't help. For six months in London I lived in a small attic room that had no view at all, except for the roofs of other houses - an endless vista of gray tiles and blackened chimneys, without so much as a proverbial cat to relieve the monotony. I did not write a single ode, for no self-respecting nightingale or lark ever found its way up there.
My next room, somewhere near Clapham Junction, had a "view of the railway," but you couldn't actually see the railway lines because of the rows of washing that were hung out to dry behind the building.
It was a working-class area, and there were no laundries around the corner. But if you couldn't see the railway, you could certainly hear it. Every time a train thundered past, the building shuddered, and ornaments, crockery, and dishes rattled and rocked as though an earthquake were in progress. It was impossible to hang a picture on the wall; the nail (and with it the picture) fell out after a couple of days. But it reminded me a bit of my Uncle Fred's railway quarters just near Delhi's main railway st ation, and I managed to write a couple of train stories while living in this particular room.
Train windows, naturally, have no equal when it comes to views, especially in India, where there's an ever-changing panorama of mountain, forest, desert, village, town, and city - along with the colorful crowds at every railway station.
But good, personal windows - windows to live with - these were to prove elusive for several years. Even after returning to India, I had some difficulty finding the ideal window.
Moving briefly to a small town in northern India, I was directed to the Park View lodging house. There did happen to be a park in the vicinity, but no view of it could be had from my room or, indeed, from any room in the house. But I found, to my surprise, that the bathroom window actually looked out on the park. It provided a fine view! However, there is a limit to the length of time one can spend in the bath, gazing out at palm fronds waving in the distance. So I moved on again.
After a couple of claustrophobic years in New Delhi, I escaped to the hills, fully expecting that I would immediately find rooms or a cottage with windows facing the eternal snows. But it was not to be!
To see the snows I had to walk four miles from my lodgings to the highest point in the hill station. My window looked out on a high stone rampart, built to prevent the steep hillside from collapsing. True, a number of wild things grew in the wall - bunches of red sorrel, dandelions, tough weeds of various kinds, and, at the base, a large clump of nettles. Now I am sure there are people who can grow ecstatic over nettles, but I am not one of them. I find that nettles sting me at the first opportunity. So I gave my nettles a wide berth.
And then, at last, persistence was rewarded. I found my present abode, a windswept, rather shaky old house on the edge of a spur. My bedroom window opened on to blue skies, mountains striding away into the far distance, winding rivers in the valley below, and, just to bring me down to earth, the local television tower. Like the Red Shadow in "The Desert Song," I could stand at my window and sing "Blue heaven, and you and I," even if the only listener was a startled policeman.
The window was so positioned that I could lie on my bed and look at the sky, or sit at my desk and look at the hills, or stand at the window and look at the road below.
Which is the best of these views?
Some would say the hills, but the hills never change. Some would say the road, because the road is full of change and movement - tinkers, tailors, tourists, salesmen, cars, trucks and motorcycles, mules, ponies, and even, on one occasion, an elephant. The elephant had no business being up here, but I suppose if Hannibal could take them over the Alps, an attempt could also be made on the Himalayan passes. (It returned to the plains the next day.)
THE road is never dull, but, given a choice, I'd opt for the sky. The sky is never the same. Even when it's cloudless, the sky colors are different. The morning sky, the daytime sky, the evening sky, the moonlit sky, the starry sky, these are all different skies. And there are almost always birds in the sky - eagles flying high, mountain swifts doing acrobatics, cheeky myna birds meeting under the eaves of the roof, sparrows flitting in and out of the room at will. Sometimes a butterfly floats in on the breeze. And on summer nights, great moths enter at the open window, dazzled by my reading light. I have to catch them and put them out again, lest they injure themselves.
When the monsoon rains arrive, the window has to be closed, otherwise cloud and mist fill the room, and that isn't good for my books. But the sky is even more fascinating at this time of the year.
From my desk I can, at this very moment, see the clouds advancing across the valley, rolling over the hills, ascending the next range. Raindrops patter against the window panes, closed until the rain stops.
And when the shower passes and the clouds open up, the heavens are a deeper, darker blue. Truly magic casements these. ... For every time I see the sky I am aware of belonging to the universe rather than to just one corner of the earth.