At age eight, Ruskin escapes his jail-like boarding school in the hills and goes to live with his father in Delhi. His time in the capital is filled with books, visits to the cinema, music and walks and conversations with his father—a dream life for a curious and wildly imaginative boy, which turns tragic all too soon.
For years, Ruskin Bond has regaled and mesmerized readers with his tales. In Looking for the Rainbow, Bond travels to his own past, recalling his favourite adventures (and misadventures) with extraordinary charm, splotches of wit, a pinch of poignancy and not a trace of bitterness.
Here’s an exclusive excerpt from his new book.
Sometimes memory improves with age! It isn’t all forgetfulness and muddle. 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. What is it that we want from those we love? Tenderness, mainly. And that comes but rarely in a life full of stress and strife. 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! So 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. My parents had separated, and for two years I lived with my father. Then I lost him. But they were two wonderful years, and in writing about them more than seventy years later, I find that they are still as vivid and alive with tender emotions as they were such a long time ago. And how lucky I am to be able to remember it all. The doors of memory open, and they are standing there—my father, my friends, my good companions. And not forgetting the jamun trees, and guava jelly for breakfast.
An entire year without school! What more could an eight-year-old boy ask for? Not what his parents would ask for, certainly; but after serving a two-year sentence in a fun-less convent school in the hills, I was more than happy to take a long, enforced break from gloomy classrooms, smelly dormitories, an overcrowded playing field and a diet of cabbage soup and boiled meat.
That was the sort of school I’d escaped from— or rather, been plucked out of by my father in the middle of the summer term.
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.
My mother took me out of the hill school near her home in Dehradun and put me 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!