By now, everyone should know Paddington Bear from the movies. But nothing replaces the sheer charm of the distinguished young bear gentleman in the books written by Michael Bond and originally illustrated by Peggy Fortnum. It is from Paddington that I draw many philosophies, and with this bear in mind I now go ahead, perhaps as purposefully as Paddington himself, to write what I think is a big story in my small world.
In 2014, Huffington Post published my first article on Paddington Bear and just to be doubly sure (of what I can’t say, but it’s a Paddington policy to be doubly sure), I put the link on several Paddington sites.
Next, quite unaware of the excitement she would cause, came a mail from Karen Jankel, Michael Bond’s daughter: “Many thanks indeed for alerting us to your wonderful piece in the Huffington Post which in fact we had already picked up via our press alerts. We shared it with Michael Bond this morning who was delighted and said that it made his day! There are so many inaccurate articles written about Paddington that it was a pleasure to read something that sums up his character so perfectly.”
Paddington has taught me to be a firm bargain driver, so, even though keyed up, I pushed for more than just those three sentences (each more thrilling than the one before). Would it be possible to have a scanned copy of Michael Bond’s autograph on mail? Bond’s daughter went one better. What I received was a stiff envelope with two photographs and personalised inscriptions from the author himself. Rendered quite speechless after such an exchange, I settled down thinking that was that.
When Bond died in 2017, I doubt that my brief message could have surfaced amidst the waves of real and virtual condolences that flooded Britain. The magnificent homage at St Paul’s Cathedral as well as celebrities recounting their Paddington stories certainly made me realise where I ranked in the scheme of things. And yet...and yet...there was just something about Karen Jankel that made me feel better things could come. Last year, in 2019, they did, twice over.
I decided I would make my first trip to England and featured at the top of my list was a venue – Paddington Station. Could Karen meet me at the Paddington statue there or at the Paddington store, also on Platform No 1? I wanted to buy a copy of the last Paddington book that Bond wrote – a birthday present to myself as it were – and have Karen’s signature on it.
No, Karen apologised, she couldn’t meet me because she would be out of England at the time. But she left me an autographed copy of the book at the store. And so, after being escorted to the station by one indulgent student and greedily shopping for Paddington merchandise with another, I also had a treasured book to carry home and squeeze into my Paddington corner. Karen and I said our goodbyes on the phone and now I felt a meeting just had to be willed into action, no matter what it cost in terms of time or money or effort.
Karen Jankel is neither elusive nor opaque. She also knows what makes for a full Paddington experience beyond statues and signatures. On my next trip to England, Karen and I met over hot chocolate and buns at a small cafe on Portobello Road. Mulling over our “Elevenses” like Paddington and Mr Gruber, we spent an unhurried afternoon, one of the best times of my life. Two lovely books came along in the post after I returned to Mumbai, followed by emails as Karen and her husband holidayed in India, thankfully missing the horrors of the New Year by just a whisker.
Life is not only what happens when one is making other plans. You can plan as well as get the best things in life when you have a certain bear in mind.