Sometimes even a prosaic job stirs up a string of memories from the long forgotten past. I was turning out a cupboard when out tumbled a packet containing Enid Blyton’s birth centenary stamps and some photographs gifted to me by her elder daughter Gillian Baverstock. The packet also contained a postcard written by her when I was in school.
Enid Blyton was a prime favourite during my schooldays. She held a special place in my heart because it was one of her stories that got me hooked to books and reading for life. I was around eight years old at the time. When in high school our English teacher asked me to dramatise a story that we could act.
I dramatised one of Enid Blyton’s stories, Mr Dear-me’s Handkerchief. The audience loved it. I thought I’d write to Enid Blyton about it and also how much we liked her books. It was her daughter Gillian who replied on her behalf. I thanked her and kept the card carefully.
Enid at 100
Much later, during her centenary year (1997) I received an invitation from the National Centre for Children’s Literature, London, to speak on children’s literature in India. As I knew no one in London then, I contacted the Nehru Centre to help me find accommodation in the YMCA. The Director – Dr Choudhury – asked me if I could organise a programme on Enid Blyton at the Nehru Centre during my stay as it was the year of her birth centenary. I agreed and thought it would be nice if her daughter could be the chief guest.
So I wrote to Gillian once again (who was married and lived in Yorkshire then) and put forward my request. She replied at once and said that she would try but she wanted to meet me first. She came down from Yorkshire (which she did whenever she had some work in London) and asked me to meet her for tea at her club.
That was a memorable occasion for me and I was really thrilled. I also carried the postcard she had written to me years ago. Obviously she did not remember me as she wrote to hundreds of children on her mother’s behalf, but she did remember writing to some children from India and seemed amazed that her letter was still with me.
Perhaps Gillian was a bit apprehensive at first wondering if my visit was based on some ulterior motive. But it did not take her long to realise that I wanted to meet her for her own sake, just because she was the daughter of my favourite author and I was interested in her and not because I was after some favour. We had a long talk and she happily agreed to be the chief guest.
The programme was a grand success. She spoke of her mother and her books anticipating what would interest us most. The hall was packed to capacity. I had tried to include as speakers different people connected with her writing – representing publisher, illustrator, teachers and readers and of course, the director, NCRCL. Everyone spoke well, even those who did not approve of Enid Blyton!
I wrote to Gillian when I went back and that is how we became friends, because she always kept in touch and made it a point to contact me whenever she came to Delhi. She usually came with a group of school friends – those who had been her classmates plus the husbands of the married ones. I thought it was just wonderful to be in close touch after so many years. They usually put up at the Claridge’s and always called me for dinner. So I got to meet her friends as well.
When I went to dine with them the first time something really funny happened. When I asked Gillian if they were comfortable she replied, “Yes, very, except for the ice-cold breeze in the room although the windows are shut.” It was the month of December. When I spoke to the attendant I discovered that he had switched on the AC full blast thinking that people from London would find it cosy and familiar!
Gillian loved the Gallery of Modern Art, and we both spent many mornings there and I usually brought her home for lunch. She was one of the most unassuming people I had ever come across and never spoke ill of anyone. I had mentioned that Enid Blyton’s House at the Corner was my prime favourite. She was heartbroken when her son died in a motor crash some months later.