ALSO READDaddy Dearest: Ruskin Bond's memories of his father (May 19 is Ruskin Bond's 83rd Birthday) Ruskin Bond turns 83, comes out with memoir on father Michael Douglas feels lucky his father is still alive Govt. won't spare any effort to secure Father Tom's release: Sushma Will spare no effort to secure Father Tom: Sushma Swaraj
Much-loved author Ruskin Bond says he's lucky to have a father who gave him nearly all his spare time, brought him books, took him for walks, shared his interests with him and held his hand in the dark. "Not many fathers are capable of tenderness towards their children. They are usually too busy 'earning a living for the family' - or that's the excuse!" he writes in his memoir "Looking for the Rainbow: My Years with Daddy". This is Bond's first-ever memoir for children in which he talks of his childhood days spent with his father and pays a tribute to him. "As I sit here, soaking up the mellow spring sunshine, the distant past looms up before me, and I remember things that I thought I had forgotten. Most of all I remember my father - 'Daddy', as I always called him," the 83-year-old Bond writes in the book, published by Penguin Random House. His parents had separated, and for two years Bond lived with his father. "Then I lost him. But they were two wonderful years, and in writing about them more than 70 years later, I find that they are still as vivid and alive with tender emotions as they were such a long time ago," he says. Recalling his days in the early 1940s in Delhi, Bond writes, "It was 1942, the middle of World War II, and my parents too had been at war with each other. They had, in fact, separated, and my mother was about to marry again. "My father was serving in the Royal Air Force, and was living on his own in an Air Force hutment in New Delhi, working in the Codes and Cyphers section at Air Headquarters. I was particularly close to my father, and I insisted on going to live with him rather than to a new and unknown home." His mother took him out of the hill school near her home in Dehradun and put him on the train to Delhi. "My father was on the station platform in Delhi, looking very smart in his RAF uniform. He hugged me, took me by the hand and led me to the station restaurant, where we had a healthy breakfast. Even a railway breakfast was better than the fare we had at school!" They were joined by Bond's uncle Fred, who was then the station superintendent at the Old Delhi station. "He had a bungalow nearby.
But my father's quarters, or hutments as they were called, were at the other end of Delhi, on Humayun Road, where the new capital of India had been created." Bond learnt the habit of knocking out and examining his shoes every morning from his father. "I did not realise the importance of doing this, until one day a centipede dropped out of one of my shoes. After that I was very careful to examine them. And it's a habit that is still with me." Bond also says his father had a liking for grand opera, and anyone passing their hutment would have been startled by the voices of Caruso and Gigli belting out the great arias from La Boheme or Madama Butterfly. "I enjoyed listening to these tenors and baritones, and the great Russian bass, Chaliapin," he writes. He also writes about the stamp-collecting hobby of his father. "My father would come home - usually by pony-driven tonga - at five or six in the evening, and after having tea together (lots of bread and jam for me), I would help him sort and arrange his postage stamps. "He was an avid stamp collector, with separate albums for different countries. And the stamps would be arranged and mounted in sets; if a set was incomplete he would go to great lengths to complete it, even ordering stamps from Stanley Gibbons, the big stamp dealer in London," the book says. Bond and his father then had to shift from their hutment which was prone to leaking and things became worse as soon as the monsoon broke. "My father rented two rooms in a bungalow on Atul Grove Lane, not far from Connaught Place, the commercial centre, and it was like moving from a shanty town to the environs of Buckingham Palace!" Atul Grove was a short lane leading off Curzon Road (new Kamala Nehru Marg). On one side of the lane was the telegraph department, fronted by a patch of lawn; on the other side, four or five bungalows. "An elderly couple in one of them gave us the tenancy of a portion of their house. My father and I shared the bedroom. The sitting room was almost entirely mine, crowded with a box full of books, the ever-present gramophone, a bagatelle board, dartboard, and so on. And there was a small dining room and kitchen," he recalls. Bond says a part-time cook would drop in during the day to prepare their meals, but his father always made the breakfast before leaving for office. "First thing in the morning he would whip up the cream, for he preferred to make his own butter; then a couple of toasts for me, with a half-boiled egg (which I preferred to a full-boiled egg); occasionally a sausage; lots of jam; and lots of tea with condensed milk, the supply of fresh milk being erratic," Bond says. Bond's father also asked him never to react, verbally or physically, to any abuse that he might encounter on the streets. "Walking about in the fierce Delhi sun had given me a roasted look, so that our landlord called me 'Tandoori Ruskin' and the street boys called out 'Lal Bandar!' (red monkey) whenever I passed them," he says. But then Bond remembered his father's advice and maintained silence even if any comment was made about his looks or demeanour. "And anyway, it's hardly an insult to be called a red monkey. There's a monkey god who is revered by all, and he's redder than you could ever hope to be!" he says.