Teddy's Bear

Ankur Bora

The journey toward self -discovery is life’s greatest adventure. My grand adventure began when I first set foot on American soil, around twenty years ago. I was carrying among others, a gift presented to me by a relative. It was a travel book with a personal handwritten note by him “TEDDY’S BEAR”. I was thoroughly intrigued and puzzled by those jewel-like cursive letters; did he want me to discover some long-concealed hidden treasure?

In the next decade, throughout my holiday excursions across America the beautiful, I would stop, skim through museums or take a peek at national monuments and historic sites in search of Teddy’s bear. One day, while driving through Mississippi, I stopped at a mom-and-pop store; those are family operated stores throughout small-town America.. At the corner of the store, there was a large black-and-white photo of President Theodore Roosevelt in a bear hunting trip. Below the framed picture, there was a wooden table decorated with stuffed toys, a few yellowed and crumbling news clippings and a hand-written inscription in bold letters - TEDDY’S BEAR. The corners and the edges of the inscription bore the appearance of antiquity as if they were written in past centuries. My excitement was growing! The store owner, an amiable lady, who had gone out her way to find the stuff I was interested in, on my inquiry, began to narrate an incident unfolding the naming of a brand, a name recognized by anyone anywhere in the world.

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States whose singular contribution was conservation of Mother Nature. Protecting nation’s lands, forest and wildlife and preserving for future generations – those were some of the principles that guided his life and presidency. The legacy of Roosevelt’s conservation programs can be seen today, through numerous national parks, monuments and bird reservations all over the country. A Nobel laureate and one of the America's most beloved presidents, he was also popularly known as Teddy. During his presidency, Teddy would take vacations to go bear hunting in the mountains, returning with large trophies to show off his friends and families. It was early nineteen century and hunting especially the big game hunting was a favorite pastime. One particular trip, however, did not go well. The location was in Mississippi. In November of 1902 – Teddy arrived there along with a crew of horses, hunting dogs and journalists, all eager to watch the famed hunter in action. It was not a good day for him, he could not spot even a single bear anywhere. It appeared that Teddy’s hunting trip would be a failure! The desperate tour guide, somehow, managed to find an old black bear. He tied it to a tree and wanting to impress the President called him to shoot. When he arrived, Roosevelt found a bloodied, agitated bear – “No I cannot shoot, it would be unsportsmanlike” and thus Teddy refused! The act of compassion touched everyone and the journalists who accompanied the president wrote back to their respective publications, with that story. Another journalist, later, came out with a political cartoon, depicting Teddy holding a gun, turning his back , refusing to shot the cute baby bear. Before long, the news and the cartoon spread throughout the country. A New York family running a small handmade toy shop, when came across the newspaper cartoon, came out with a unique idea; could they name their stuffed toys after Teddy’s? They met the President at his office seeking his permission, which he readily agreed. Thus began the story of Teddy Bear, the most enduring stuff toy ever ,loved by everyone, everywhere in the world.

When the store owner completed the story, I was mesmerized – I just stood there in awe watching the framed picture of the President Theodore Roosevelt. The story also helped me to connect the dots of my own life.

In late forties , towards the end of World War II, The New York Herald Tribune, a leading newspaper of its era, in order to forge goodwill among counties of the world, began organizing an International Essay Competition. The theme of this unique worldwide event was "The World We Want." In 1951, a young boy, competing among hundreds of students, won at the national level and became the official delegate of India. His name is Rajen Bora. He was only seventeen years old when he was invited to the United States and to have an audience with President Harry S Truman. Historians rank Truman among the best Presidents of America. For young Rajen Bora, to be greeted by the President was truly remarkable. My maternal grandmother, once, offered me a unique window into that unprecedented event – “Rajen’s AAKHOR (handwritings) were labeled as BHAKHOR (pearl). There was a celebration and a parade when he returned from America!” As I began to explore archives, records and memoirs, I eventually discovered letter of correspondences by New York Herald. Rajen was chosen among 24 delegates to prepare the draft of the charter which was accepted by the President – “It was he who composed the letter for the group to present to President Truman when he met with them on March 15, 1952. The papers Rajendra wrote in preparation for the program were outstanding both in ideological content and on literary style.”

I have been living in US for the last twenty years and today I have a much greater understanding and deeper appreciation for the treasures of American history. Amazing stories and incredible individuals like that of Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman are what make us proud of humanity. And I couldn’t help but marvel at how a young man who once stood tall. Friends, he happened to my own maternal uncle [showing a memorial book of late Rajen Bora]. The more I stare at this story of my uncle standing beside the president, more proud I become. sameboatbrother

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© 2019 by Ankur Bora