It is almost customary for Ruskin Bond to surprise his readers with a subtle reference to his childhood. The readers on the other hand – having devoured most of his works – tend to assume they know all about the life and time of this timeless writer. But every time you think you know all there is to know about the writer, who has been writing for well over six decades now, there is some new bit of trivia that he surprises you with.
The elegance with which he does so is perhaps what keeps us intrigued. What do we already know about Bond’s early days? That he did not have a very happy childhood, that his parents were separated and that he was often lonely. But one splendid year from Bond’s life escaped the public eye and his new book ‘Looking For The Rainbow’ that releases on his 83rd birthday on May 19, lays bare the sheer joy that the then eight-year-old boy experienced living with his father.
In the foreword, Bond impresses upon the fact that sometimes memory improves with age and he now remembers things that he thought he had forgotten. “Most of all I remember my father – ‘Daddy’, as I always called him.”
Bond beautifully captures a child’s state of mind and reminds adults that kids are particularly looking for “tenderness” from those they love. In this context, he says that not many fathers succeed in providing this tender care to their children because “they are usually too busy earning a living for the family”. Bond, fortunately, was lucky to have Aubrey Bond as his father, who gave him nearly all his spare time, shared his interests and held his hand in the dark.
The ease with which Bond fits into the shoes of an eight-year-old and yet succeeds in maintaining the perennial charm associated with his vivid writing is commendable. The memoir’s narration is from the 83-year-old Bond’s perspective, but the imageries that he creates are as seen from the eyes of eight-year-old Rusty. He does not travel to and fro, rather it is a simple narration that starts in 1942 when he arrived in Delhi after leaving his school in Dehradun, and ends on a tragic note shortly after he joins a new school a year later.
In ‘Looking For The Rainbow’, readers are taken on an exciting ride down the memory lane and elaborately told about the one year that Bond spent with his father in Delhi, having escaped his “jail-like boarding school in the hills”. This period is full of books, visits to the cinema, music, walks and conversations with his father – a dream life for a curious and wildly imaginative boy. But all of this turns tragic too soon.
He arrived in Delhi in the middle of World War II, the period when his parents too “had been at war with each other”. His father was serving in the Royal Air Force and was living in an Air Force hutment on Humayun Road in New Delhi. It was during that summer that Bond saw his first snake, went for walks up and down the ramparts of Red Fort, stored drinking water in an earthen jug or sohrai, and was quite happy to be on his own while his father was away at work.When the father-son duo were together, they went for movies and spent time arranging his father’s stamp collection. But that was not all, his father always made him breakfast before leaving for work. A couple of toasts with a half-boiled egg, occasionally a sausage, lots of jam and lots of tea with condensed milk were what the “greedy little boy” preferred.
When Bond goes to a boarding school again, he makes good friends. And then one day, he receives the news of his father’s death. “‘Your dear father – God needed him for other things.’ I knew what was coming and I burst into tears. I had no one else in the world – just that one dear father – and he had been snatched away. We had been taught that God was a loving, merciful being, and here he was doing the cruellest possible thing to a little boy,” Bond recalls.
An extraordinary offering by India’s most-loved author, the book captures the little nuances – fantasies, expectations and often the void – that children face but their guardians don’t know about. The book has been beautifully illustrated by Mihir Joglekar.
Looking for the Rainbow: My Years with Daddy
By Ruskin Bond
Price: Rs 250
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