What you first notice now are the mistakes: Shiva running his fingers down the squirrel’s back to make the black lines, Rama and Sita the two lovers celebrated by tinselled dolls in the temple. But those would be the case in a memoir penned by the daughters of one of the ‘heaven-born’. Jon and Rumer Godden spent seven childhood years in Narayanganj in Dhaka, then in East Bengal. For them it was a reprieve from the gloomy England ruled over by their rigid maiden aunts, where they had been sent for schooling. It was 1914, the world was at war and Narayanganj was thought to be safe. This memoir revels in tiny details as the authors evoke a world gone by.
For them India was a ‘large warm embrace’, one in which they never felt they were foreigners. Their father Fa was in charge of a steamship company. Jon and Rumer were six and seven and they found in front of them a colourful world of freedom manned by a host of domestics. They and their sisters were managed by the exotic Nana, then by Hannah and they had the run of the huge courtyard and garden and had ponies to ride on. Sometimes they travelled in their father’s steamers up and down the great rivers, enjoying the long, slow river days—the source of Rumer’s later The River, which was filmed by Renoir—looking out at tranquil Bengal villages or the wild green jungles.