To the end of our days
The eminent author shares a story that he has written exclusively for The Tribune, with which he has had a bond ever since the newspaper was published from Ambala
Ruskin Bond

Six, or seven that's the age at which our essential tastes, even our obsessions begin to be stamped on us by outside impressions. They are never eradicated, even when we think we have forgotten them. To my dying day I shall have a special fondness for the cosmos flower because I remember walking through a forest of them or what seemed like a forest when I was five or six. White, light purple, magenta, those fresh-faced flowers nodded to me as I played on the lawns of the Jamnagar palace grounds; and today more than seventy years later, whenever I see the cosmos in flower, I go among them, for they are eternal even if I am not. And to this day I like the sound of a cock crowing at break of day, because this was one of the first sounds that impinged on my brain when I was a child. A cock crowing at dawn. Harbinger of light, of optimism. "Great day! Great day!" it seems to say. And it will not be denied.

Little things stay with us, remain with us over the years. The sound of a broom, the small hand-broom, sweeping the steps or verandah takes me back to that distant but vivid childhood, and the thin dark woman who swept the bungalow's rooms and verandah. I loved watching her at work. It seemed like a game to me and sometimes I would take the jharoo from her and sweep so vigorously that the dust rose and settled on the furniture. "Mem-sahib will be angry," she'd say, and take the broom away from me. But she'd let me borrow it from time to time, when my parents weren't around! The broom-motif has remained with me, and the other day, seeing that my steps were covered with dead leaves, I picked up the small jharoo lying outside my door and began clearing away the leaves. A local shopkeeper on his way to the bazaar saw me sweeping away and called out: "Sir, what are you doing? That's not your job. Give the jharoo to the sweeper!" Absorbed in my childhood hobby, all I could say was, "Yes, mem-sahib," while sending up a flurry of dead leaves. He continued on his way, muttering something about the poor old writer having lost his balance at last. Not all our early impressions are of a pleasant nature, but they linger with us just the same. Like the frequent quarrels that took place between my parents, frequently in my presence. I hated these quarrels and I was quite helpless to stop them. Eventually they led to my parents' separation. And all my life I have felt profoundly disturbed if I see or overhear a husband and wife quarrelling bitterly. I look around to see if a child is present. And then realise that I am that child. Fortunately the most lasting impressions are the harmonious ones. Why do I still prefer homemade butter to factory-made butter? Because, when I was five or six, I would watch my father vigorously beating up a bowl of cream and then spreading a generous amount of creamy white butter on my toast. Now Beena, who looks after the household, knows why I am always demanding creamy white homemade butter for breakfast.

And you, dear reader, will have, similar impressions to carry with you all your days. That first day at school, maybe an agonising parting from your parents. The face of a loved one lost. A pullover knitted by your granny. A favourite toy. A doll, perhaps. A book of rhymes, tattered and torn. Someone who gave you a flower, a kiss on the forehead. To the end of your days you will carry that kiss with you. And may it protect you from all harm.