Ruskin Bond’s memory only gets better with age which is evident in his new book, Looking for the Rainbow: My Years with Daddy
Ruskin Bond would have liked to have slept right through his birthday yesterday, but instead his plans included heading down to Cambridge Book Depot in Mussoorie to sign books, talking to his readers, and having dinner with his publishers from Puffin.
This 83rd birthday has been special for the writer on the hill because it marked the launch of his new book, Looking for the Rainbow: My Years with Daddy (Puffin India). The book is a memoir about the precious couple of years that Bond spent with his father at the age of eight. This was in 1942, when his father was serving in the Royal Air Force and lived in New Delhi. “I wrote it all in two to three days,” says the writer, over a phone call from his Landour home. “I have paid a tribute to him in the form of a special book. I started writing and everything came back to me in great visual detail.” Bond said that this is a story that’s been with him his whole life, and while his father finds mention in his previous stories, he felt the need to write about him in detail. “I am glad it is out now!” says Bond.
In his Foreword, or what he’d rather call Backward, Bond writes, “…I was lucky to have a father who gave me nearly all his spare time, who brought me books, took me for walks, shared his interests with me and held my hand in the dark. When we are small we need someone to hold our hand in the dark.” He goes on to explain that his parents had separated and for two wonderful years, he got to live with his father.
It’s a story plump with joy, tenderness, and sadness. In many ways, this is a precursor to his books, a window into some of his formative years that shaped in his writing. It’s here where Bond begins to understand inequality and the social chasm in Delhi. Bond said that he tried to convey what Delhi was like, back in 1940s. “I wanted to capture that something of New Delhi at it was,” says the author. “Just before Independence,” he said. He describes Humayun Road as, “simply a lane running through a scrub forest” and visiting Connaught Place with its cinemas, bookshops, record stores and restaurants. “I have a good memory for the past,” Bond says with a chuckle. “People say you forget things as you get older, I find that you remember more. I can remember how on a hot day the water carrier would splash water on the khus-khus curtain.” In the book, he adds that it had a “delicious cooling effect” in Delhi’s hot summer.
Bond writes that he was quite happy to be on his own while his father was away at work. “I had a dartboard, a train set, lots of books and comics, and an old gramophone with a box of 78 rpm records.” A far cry from the consumerism besieging children of that age today. “At that time,” he says, “you really didn’t get a chance to mix much with kids, unless you’re in school. And I was out for a long period. So, I relied on my own resources. Unfortunately, being the sort of a boy who took to reading, I could amuse myself in many ways. I can’t remember that I was particularly bored.”
In his own company
Young Bond found himself often alone, at one time when his father was seriously ill, he writes, “On my own all day, on my own all night.” But he doesn’t seem to mind. “Solitude, I can appreciate, without going over the edge or becoming a recluse,” says Bond. “I value relationships and I like to be occasionally on my own. I am in a way, a loner, who can also be with other people. For a writer [being a loner] that is necessary as well.” In some ways, this trait has only whetted his observations that make his writing so liminal.
Given that it’s Bond, of course, there are many descriptions of glorious food. Whether it’s a railway breakfast he tucks into after his father picks him up from the station platform in Delhi or young Bond treating himself to a milkshake at the Milk Bar on Outer Circle in Connaught Place or tucking into patties and pastries from Wenger’s. Breakfasts were special, with his father whipping up cream to make fresh butter for their morning toast coupled with a half-boiled egg, sausage, and “lots of jam’ and lots of tea with condensed milk”.
Bond writes affectionately about his father, but when it comes to describing himself, he’s less indulgent. Once he writes in jest, “Yes, I was a greedy little boy”, at another he calls himself stubborn. “It’s important for a writer not to write subjectively, one should try and look at oneself with a certain distance,” explains Bond. “If you write too much about yourself, it becomes rather dull. Other persons are more interesting.”
Looking for the Rainbow: My Years with Daddy is priced at ₹200