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-By Rehan Sheikh

"I have a good visual memory, especially of my childhood. In fact, I’m continuously surprising myself by what I can remember about my early childhood in Jamnagar: the rich yellow of Polson’s Butter; colorful tins of J.B. Mangharam’sbiscuits, with cherubs and scenes from Indian mythology painted on them; drives in our maroon and black Hillman convertible; and postage stamps from the Soloman Islands—smoking volcanoes and cockatoos with big showy crests."

~ Ruskin Bond, Lone Fox Dancing

The Jamnagar writer—yes, he is, indeed. With most of his boyhood spent in Jamnagar, the place has appeared in his stories and poems over and over again. Many of his evergreen stories are set in Jamnagar, just like The Room of Many Colors, which is set in a Jamnagar palace. It was the place of ‘first loves’ for Ruskin Bond—the storyteller khansama, theold gramophone, and the tasty kofta curries. The days spent with his father there were the best days, as Bond considers them to be.

Little Bond in Jamnagar

One of the best possessions Bond has ever owne 'd is the ‘black, square-like wonder’ gramophone from Jamnagar. Unlike today’s radio, where one has to simply press the start button to play a song, the gramophone did not let you sit back andrelax. "You were kept busy all the time", writes Bond. One had to set the records, change the needles, and constantly wind up the machine to ensure an uninterrupted song. Though it was a hard and tiring job, little Bond was quite fond of the whole process. His favorites included arias from La Boheme, Madame Butterfly, Tosca, and popular tenors like Nelson Eddy and Enrico Caruso. Even though he could not understand the lyrics of the songs, he says he was good with just the melody and tune: "I did not understand what he was singing, but I liked the sound of those words and tried to sing along, much to my father’s delight".

And then we have Osman, whom Ruskin Bond considers to be the best cook and the best storyteller in the world. Osman was a former cook at Jim Corbett’s house, and Bond credits him for his delicious delicacies such as guava jam or fish cutlets. Mutton Kofta Curry was Bond’s favorite dish by Osman, and Bond says that Osman made the best kofta curries. When Ruskin’s aya would be outside, probably taking an afternoon siesta or chit-chatting with Bond’s sister’s nanny, hewould often run to Osman to listen to stories in the kitchen as dinner preparations were made. Ruskin kept enjoying his st ories and curries, until one day Osman ran away with the aya.

Then there was cricket. The Bonds were often called for cricket matches, and Bond recollects memories from the cricket grounds of Jamnagar, the home of cricket. However, his impetus to accompany his parents there was for something else: "I don’t remember much of the cricket—I was too small to appreciate a batsman’s technique or a bowler’s guile—but I do remember the refreshments, offered freely at the cricket matches, and the birthday parties organized for the children of the royal family, to which all those working for the Jam Sahib would be invited"

Bond’s father had opened a school for the royal children of Jamnagar, and so little Ruskin would take this opportunity to devour the ‘gulab jamuns, jalebis, rasgullas, and laddoos’. Ruskin Bond is a foodie, of that we are certain. At his house in Landaur, one can find numerous jars of achar lined up on the table. The aya at Jamnagar had found ‘Laddoo’ as the best-suited nickname for little Ruskin.

The best moments in Bond's life are the days spent with his father. He remembers having ‘tub baths’ with his father, which had become a ‘tradition’ of a sort. "My own baths took place in a large tin tub. I lied, splashing around and flooding the bathroom. These tub baths with my father became something of a tradition and continued for several years until he was taken from me".

During the baths with his father, Bond remembers him singing shanties like We’re bound for the Rio Grande, Five Down Below, and Shenandoah. Along with his father, Ruskin would troll down the seashore of Jamnagar, from where little Bond collected a small crab on one occasion. He also remembers having sailed in an Aran dhow once while in Jamnagar with his father.

"My biggest worry was the monthly haircut." I hated it. When the barber appeared on the veranda steps, I would run for cover, and Ayah would have to chase me around the house until I was trapped by me mother…", he says. On one occasion, his mother became so annoyed that she surrendered and let Little Bond go half-way through his haircut. He was indeed a little weary of them, and Bond’s tantrums often made the barber nervous, as he writes.

But he never compromised on tidiness in the house. He would snatch away the broom from the aya and begin sweeping the entire house, from the stairs to the veranda. "I borrowed her broom and swept the steps and the veranda whenever they grew muddy or covered with fallen leaves. It gave me a passion for tidiness. I don’t sweep verandas any more (just in case you want to hire me for the job), but I like a neat house and my books and papers in the right place. Like Hercule Poirot, if a picture on the wall isn’t hanging properly, I’ll straighten it"

But how did the Bonds end up in Jamnagar? After a month or two, Bond, along with his parents, left for Dehra ‘to spend some time’ with his maternal grandparents. Meanwhile, Bond’s father got a call for employment at the palace of Jamnagar's ruler, and he left for the teaching job just a few weeks later. His father was a traveling teacher, who, instead of teaching at a school, traveled across the country to teach in Indian states. "He had taught young princes in Bharatpur and Alwar, and at the time of my birth he had moved to the Kathiawar states, doing stints in Jatpur and Pithodia before starting a small palace school in Jamnagar, where we were to live till 1941", he recollects. Little Bond and his mother stayed back in Dehra until they too joined him there after a month.

Ruskin Bond learned most of his lessons at the Jamnagar palace, where his father taught the young princes. He vividly remembers the palace: "The old palace had a turret going up two or three floors, and at the top was a small glassed-in room, each pane of glass a different color." This was my favorite place. I loved looking through those colored panes, at the lake or the main palace or the gardens, tinted pink, blue, green, purple, or orange".

Many years later, we can still find the old Jamnagar in his stories. Though Jamnagar has transformed into a big city now, we can still rejoice in Bond’s Jamnagar each time we come across his stories.

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