The Most Precious Of Memories

A young reader finds solace in the works of a famous author, and in his tender reply to her grateful missive

Radhika Oltikar Updated: May 9, 2020 00:26:11 IST
2020-05-09T00:00:00+05:30
2020-05-09T00:26:11+05:30
The Most Precious Of Memories Photo: Shutterstock

I first discovered Ruskin Bond on a hot afternoon in Agartala. My mother, sister and I were spending the summer with my father, an army officer, who was stationed there.

There wasn’t much to do for a young teen in the army cantonment, so I spent most of my days at the library, which housed an eclectic—if modest—collection of books. I casually picked up Bond’s Delhi Is Not Far on one such day and was immediately drawn into his gentle, unassuming, non-judgmental world.

Since that day, I’ve searched for and devoured every one of Ruskin Bond’s works. I think my affinity stemmed from the fact that I identified on some level with him. Like me, he was shy and dreamy and enjoyed the company of the written word above that of people.

A particularly poignant leitmotif that runs through Ruskin Bond’s work is his relationship with his father. The two were extremely close, more so perhaps because they were each other’s sole emotional support systems. Bond’s parents divorced when he was little, and so it was just him and his father, and the latter comes across as a sensitive, gentle man who adored his son.

Bond’s father died suddenly of malaria at 46, when Bond was just 10—a cruel blow for the young boy. It’s remarkable how Bond writes about his father’s untimely death with a quiet dignity: It is deeply touching but never maudlin.

Moved as I was by Bond’s memories of his father, little did I know that I would soon be experiencing his pain first-hand. When I was 21, my father too suddenly passed away after a brief illness. Looking back at the time immediately after my father’s passing, all I remember is a feeling of utter disbelief, of thinking, This is temporary. Soon it’ll be over and he’ll be back.

Only it didn’t. He didn’t return. Slowly, the permanence of my loss started sinking in. Never one to talk openly about my feelings, I retreated even further into my shell. I sought refuge in my beloved books, and no other author gave me as much succour and relief as did my beloved Ruskin Bond.

I read and re-read Bond’s memories of his father, of his feelings post his demise. One day, on a whim, I decided to write to him. I felt he was one of the very few people who really understood what I was going through, and I wanted to reach out to him. So I penned a brief letter expressing my gratitude to him for seeing me through by far the most difficult time in my life and sent it off simply addressed to 'Ruskin Bond, Mussoorie'.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, a few weeks later, a letter arrived from him, addressed to me! It said:

Dear Radhika,

Thank you for your letter. I can well imagine what a difficult time you have undergone and am glad my writing has afforded you some measure of solace. Take heart in knowing that you will always have your father’s memories—something that neither time nor space can take away from you.

I wish I could write to you at greater length but time presses and unfinished tasks loom large.

Take care and all my best wishes,

Ruskin Bond,

Ivy Cottage,

Landour

This year marks my father’s 25th death anniversary. I no longer have the letter with me, having carelessly lost it during one of my many relocations. However, the words written therein are forever imprinted on my heart. They are infinitely special to me not only because they were written to me by my very favourite author, but also because they bear testimony to his extraordinary sensitivity and kindness. He undoubtedly receives a ton of fan mail every day, and didn’t have to write back to a forlorn, lost young girl who didn’t even know his address. But he did, and in doing so, made an immeasurably precious, enduring memory for her—one that would last her a lifetime.

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