Reading books: a Bear for Felicia by Jerry Pinto

My name is Thurston Gustavus Buckridge III. I wish you would not laugh like that. It may be an odd name but you must remember that odd means different things to different people.

I started reading ‘a Bear for Felicia’ under a tree. I have read two books by Jerry Pinto (Em and the Big Hoom, Cobalt Blue), both extremely memorable books,so when I saw this at AA Husain & Co, it quickly made its way to the pile of books I had gathered. (

Staying in a small, tree-ed, beautiful campus for a few days while on work, I found motivation and time for my morning walks. It wasn’t a big campus, so I took several rounds of it, climbed the staircase, walked in zigzags to feel like having exercised.

At the end of which I made some black coffee and sat on a bench in the garden, surrounded by several trees, the most prominent being Amaltas with its bright yellow flowers in full bloom ( I always thought laburnum, amaltas and Cassia fistula are names of the same tree, but looks like they are from different families, am still confused)  and trees laden with yet to ripe mangoes.

Amaltas/ Cassia fistula
Amaltas/ Cassia fistula

It was a lovely place to watch the birds, so many of them, hopping, walking, flying and whizzing by.This tall leafless tree next to the bench housed so many birds, they would sit for a while and then go to another tree. It felt like a happy campus to be.

three birds on this tree

(all italics are excerpts from the book)

….and anyway, you should remember that most bears don’t get to choose their names. Their friends give them names. In the same way that your parents named you….

This in the second page of the story, so interesting, I straightened up!

As you may have guessed by now, it’s a story of a teddy bear, and is marked 10+ age group. Though I won’t limit it to that age group. And, no, am not telling you my age, but am thoroughly enjoying this book.

How as kids we wondered if our toys are talking! Or if they could talk! This is a conversation in a charity toy shop, the story of a wedding dress that was never worn. All the toys who ended up in the charity store, had a story to tell.

…and everyone told her that God must have had a reason for taking him away. The tiny cherub perched on her tiara told us that she had told her mother: ‘I want to understand God’s ways, Mother.’ Each time the cherub told us this, a tear would drop from his face and become a sequin on the dress beneath. The dress was filled with sequins since he told us this quite often.

There were many more sad stories in that shop, many sad stories of the war and of the bombs.

It was one of the few times when someone poor has benefitted from war. (the context being a charity store in England in 1940 does not want to keep a teddy bear made in Germany J and gives it away for free).

I realized that I was being sent away because of where I had been born. It was so silly. How can anyone be blamed for how they are born or where they are born or what colour they are born? A bear’s skin is not his fault, the place of his birth is not his fault. He does not choose them for himself. It’s stupid to hate anyone for these reasons. I can understand it if you hate someone for being mean or for being a gossip.

Dogs have a special vocabulary for smells, which few other species can understand. I am thinking of you Toffee, how you remember us even when we do not see you for months.

Toffee, our dear friend in Bangalore
Toffee, our dear friend in Bangalore

Absolutely incomprehensible names, a feast of imagination!

Amaranita Sarsaparilla Gloriosus (a doll)

Gardenia Silverna Pontistoon (a teddy bear)

Hopabout Reapsworth Roo (a kangaroo)

Abansionanda Shriohik Paliaketh (a boy doll)

Urbanie Jenovefa Balaclava ( the villain lady)

There is a relationship chart drawn out in the book to tell you about a bear which has been in the family for three generations. Quite an inheritance!

Joe is a soldier doll; he lives in another world within our world, a place of fear and fire and sudden danger.

…as if being together and unhappy is better than being happy separately.

Hmmm, made me think, as a child, may be yes, as an adult, I think the other way is better, if it comes to that.

An important lesson I learnt was that people are not logical at all. Wars, for instance, don’t make sense at all. There is enough land for everyone but no one ever seems to have enough. There is enough food for everyone but there are children who die of hunger.

But I should not judge… that’s another thing I learnt. You don’t know what the other person feels, thinks…you only know what you are seeing right now and you’re making up your mind on that basis.

It is only when you are much much older that you realize you can have great many friends but there will only be a few to whom you will be someone special. These friends become like another family for you.  

I am told it is very different now. No one makes things to last.

It’s called a sweatshop labour and it makes children into machines.

What a pity that she spoilt it all by being a snob. Beautiful people often do that. They become ugly inside since they only pay attention to the outside. You can’t blame them. The world only pays attention to their outside too.

I breathed all the old smells, the dark red smell of the courtyard in the centre of the building, the tang of dusty curtains, the wetness of hamam soap, and the snow hibiscus outside the window. ….And smell is home.

Indeed, smell is home.

What’s a CV? Well, it’s a kind of report card of everything you’ve been doing in your work life. The difference is that you have to write it yourself. But you can’t tell any lies or you will get found out.

I could not help but smile to that.

In a scene of a fights, between a daughter who is separated and living with her mother, …there are times when you become someone else. A simple remark will spark off a battle and sometimes a hundred insults pass without a murmur. …when people fight they lose all sense of proportion. They bring up old grouses. They remind you of things you did and said when this happened and when that happened.

But all of us seem to have elephantine memories for hurts and when we get angry, we remember every last nasty word that has ever been said about us. These memories live longer and often grow into ugly monsters if you do not deal with them quickly. This means if someone says something nasty to you, show that someone you are angry. If someone makes a joke that you don’t like, don’t smile and pretend that you find it funny. Just say that you don’t like it. It goes away quicker. You don’t feel like saying rude things to that person three days later for something else entirely.

That is a fine story. It has a happy ending. But there is a difference between stories and real life. In a story, you can always cheat a little and make sure it’s a happy ending. But you can’t do that in real life.

She didn’t look like a bad person but then I have found that bad people rarely go about looking like bad people. They look like anyone else. This is what makes them successful. If a bad person looked like a bad person, everyone would be careful and the bad person wouldn’t get to do the bad things that she or he wants to do.

To be a friend and not an owner, a child needs imagination.

When you don’t understand something, leave it for a while, a couple of hours may be even a night, and then try it again. You’ll find that the answer will spring into your mind.

I felt raw, as if I had no skin, nothing to protect me from being hurt.

But I could understand, even if I found it difficult to forgive.

I had also longed for a doll as a child. A doll with blonde hair and eyes that would close when she sleeps. So Ma requested an Uncle who was travelling to Calcutta to get me one. He also had a daughter, so he got two of the same kind, only their clothes were reverse. Mine wore blue pants with white polka dot with a red shirt with white polka dots. And hers wore the opposite combination of the same pant and shirt. For me it was the only doll, she had many. I had such fantastic time playing with it, making it wear a saree, putting a bindi on her forehead, we also had a doll wedding, but I can’t recall whose doll married whose. Ma still has the doll, one of its eyes does not close any more though.

While I was reading this, sitting on the bench, a dog came near. I had seen her before during my walks, sitting on the steps of the residential apartment block and would bark if she thinks am getting closer. But surprisingly, she came and stood very close. I petted, scratched her neck. She pawed my knees asking for more. It was so incredibly beautiful, a tree full of birds, a lovely book, and a dog by you. So when I wanted to get back to the book (the suspense has just begun) , I told her, “go for a walk”, she left hesitantly.


Later when I enquired, her name is Brownie. Unfortunately, her master died when he was away travelling few weeks back, so the family had rushed. It would be a while before they are back, trying to piece their lives, and Brownie was lonely and may be, not fed very regularly.

I felt so bad asking her to go away. There is nothing like enough of being nice, its infinite.

A friend should know who you are and what matters to you.    

One thought on “Reading books: a Bear for Felicia by Jerry Pinto

  1. Dear Anu,
    Thanks for this beautiful piece. The way you narrate and annotate the contents of the book and connect the narration to the time and space around you, to the trees and the flowers and the dogs…the reality around you, is so refreshing; and makes it worth the read.
    Anyway you have convinced me beyond doubt that ‘A bear for Felicia’ is a wonderful book. Deep thoughts and observations narrated in amazingly simple, child-like language.
    You have become our resident book / literary critic! I do not know when I would read any of these books, but after reading your pieces I just keep adding these books to my wish list…….
    Thanks again for introducing me to all these wonderful books…


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