QUITTING INDIA- Short stories from the British Raj

Painting By: Mollie Brow

QUITTING INDIA  Short Stories from the British Raj

JEB Web Publications, Ottawa, Canada  2003

by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca)

  8 DIWALI 24 OBE 
  • For a full book of autobiography see AUTOBIO 2000


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    I was born in Karachi, had a year at a school for rajahs in Lahore, served in the Maharatta Light Infantry, taught comparative religion in Hindi, got married and had four children born in India, traveled third class to universities all over the country, took a bus up the Khyber Pass, and distributed aid among starving refugees near Calcutta. I quit India seven times, but each time found myself unexpectedly back.

    Now many years later I realize I never really left. So I dug these personal experiences from my heart, and wrote them as true as I can remember.

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    Usually known as Chiefs’ College, Aitcheson College in Lahore used to be the boarding school of choice for the sons of the Rajahs, Maharajahs, Nawabs and other dignitaries of British India. When England was about to be invaded in 1940 my parents sent for me to join them in Karachi. The Principal, Mr. Barrie, was persuaded to open a house for British boys under the care of Miss Swete. She must have had a terrible time with us. My best friend was Abbasi, the son of the Nawab of Bahawalpur I remember being very impressed that he had a gun. And when I asked him if he could kill a bird with it, he immediately shot down a huge vulture from one of the trees of the college.

    The only compulsory class was riding. This was needed for the sons of rajahs and maharajahs to learn to play polo, and engage in pigsticking, which was the very dangerous sport of killing a wild boar with a lance. The preparation for this was tent pegging, which required galloping at full sped with your lance at the ready, and picking off a tent peg as you went by. I am glad I never got to do this or I would certainly have killed the horse. I began my training with a retired Indian Cavalry Rissaldar Major. He stood in the middle of the riding school enclosure and barked out orders as we trotted around. The ex-army horses knew all the words of command, "trot, canter, left wheel, halt, etc." and as they obeyed instantly we would fall off on one side or the other.

    Having already taken my School Certificate in England, I found myself among the senior boys of the school who were all several years older. When they did not feel like attending a class they would send their servant to order the Doctor to give them a "chit" to excuse them. I spent too much time with the Rajah of Mandi and his friends drinking beer in the Shalimar gardens. So, after a year the Principal recommended to my parents that I be withdrawn from the school, which was a polite way of saying I was expelled.

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    Part of our training was a 25 mile march across an unknown area of central India. We were dropped off in pairs late afternoon with a compass and a map. "This is where you are, and that is the camp you have to walk back to. Sleep where you can, watch out for snakes, and there will be a meal ready for you tomorrow evening."

    When I checked the map, I could see our camp was exactly due north from the place where the other officer and I had been dropped off. We walked a couple of hours and when darkness fell we thought we were in for a very unpleasant night. But we managed to hail a fellow with his bailgaari (bullock cart). "We will pay you twenty rupees if you will drive us all night." He asked where we wanted to go, and we gave the name of a village near the camp. He said he did not know where that was, so we said we would guide him. How did we know the way to a village he had never heard of? But we sat down on the straw in his cart, and he prodded the bullock. Each time we came to a fork in the tracks he asked us which way to go and we pointed in the direction that seemed closer to due north on the compass.

    We were able to take turns giving him directions, and the other slept peacefully. Happily it was a beautiful night, the stars came out, and we could see the Great Bear (Dipper) pointing clearly to the Pole star. Whenever there was a choice to make we looked at the North Star and said "That is the way." By two in the morning the bullock driver was out of his territory, and he refused to go on. "That means you don’t get paid." And he could see the Sahibs had no intention of releasing him. So the bullock plodded on at two and a half miles an hour till early morning when the cart went up to its axles in mud. We tried to help the driver get it out, but there was no way to move it. So we paid him the agreed amount and added five rupees for him to get the nearest villagers to free his cart. How would he know the way back? The Sahibs had their answer "If we can find the way here, you can find the way back."

    By then the sun had risen, and we could see a familiar hill in the distance above the camp, and we arrived back in time for breakfast. "How did you do the 25 miles so quickly?" We explained that we had kept moving all night through thick and thin. But as I think back to this incident, I wonder how the bailgaari driver told his village about these crazy Sahibs who wanted to go to a village he had never heard of, but they seemed to know exactly which way to turn.

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     After the evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk my parents arranged for me to join them in Karachi (now the main port of Pakistan) where my father worked as an engineer. I was called up a week after my eighteenth birthday, and I was sent to serve in the battalion of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment that was stationed there. They were a rough lot, and I could hardly understand their north country accents. But they were kind to this young man who had been sent to join them. They showed me how our bedding had to folded exactly for daily inspection. My rifle had to be cleaned so the officer could look down the barrel and find it spotless. Boots had to be polished, and even the insteps had to be shiny black.

    The food was almost uneatable. I was told that it was prepared by a marine architect, who could be designing the cruisers and destroyers that Britain desperately needed right then for the battle of the Atlantic. But somehow the army in its wisdom decided he had better be a cook. Happily the Chaewala (tea man) had a stall in the barracks and we could supplement with buns and snacks.

    Every Thursday we had to strip our iron beds, and four men at a time had to throw them up high in the air so that they fell with a deafening sound on the concrete floor of the long dormitory. As the bedbugs came running out we had to stamp on them. . This kept us more or less safe from being bitten till the next week. The men even invited me to the regimental brothel parade. Apparently you lined up for three minutes each. They could see I was embarrassed, and they graciously accepted it when I declined. When I got a day off I disappeared and never told them I was going to be at my home with the Chief Engineer of Karachi harbor. They all guessed I was lucky enough to have a girl friend in the city, and did not need the services of the ladies that the army provided. When I came back to the barracks they winked and asked "Did you have a good time with her?"

    I was relieved and half sorry to leave them when I was ordered to go for Officers’ Training in Bangalore. Obviously the Indian Army was in desperate need of replacements for the fellows who were getting picked off by hidden Japanese snipers in the jungles of Burma. Traditionally British officers wore a well-pressed bush-shirt with pips on their shoulders, a shiny Sam Brown belt, and they carried a pistol instead of a gun. So were shocked to hear that they now had to put boot polish on their faces, they were dressing like their Indian soldiers, and they carried a 303 rifle like their men. It seemed as if the honor of the British Raj was at stake.

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    He seemed a deeply sincere inquirer. Again and again he had come to see me with good questions about the Bible which he had read carefully. He was a highly educated man who had a Master’s degree and a law degree from Allahabad University, and he practiced as a lawyer in the city. Finally he said, "Mr. Brow, I want to be baptized. Why are you putting me off for so long?" I explained that I did not think he had really grasped what the Christian faith was about. I showed him the story of a lawyer, a great Rabbi named Nicodemus in the third chapter of the Gospel of John’s Gospel. Jesus explained about the spiritual experience that this learned man really needed. "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from and where it goes. So it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." Did Bulakhi understand what Jesus meant by being born again? Did he sense the wind of the Spirit moving in his life.

    He seemed exasperated and told me his story. "When I was a boy my parents got me married to a girl who has pock-marks all over her face from small-pox. She is ugly, and can’t even read and write. There is nothing we can discuss together. I want to be born again into a new community, start life again, and find an educated Christian girl to love and enjoy the rest of my life."

    I said, "Bulakhi, the first principle of the Christian faith is that you learn to experience the love of God. And the second is that you learn to love, even your enemies. And that includes your wife. The Holy Spirit that Jesus talked about is ready to guide you and help you. And he could transform your wife in miraculous ways and give you both a beautiful and happy marriage."

    There was a pained look all over his face, and he went away, never to come back and see me again.

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    During the glory days of the British Raj the Viceroy in Delhi was responsible for ruling the vast area of the countries which are now named Pakistan, India, Bangla Desh, Burma (Myanmar), and Ceylon (Srilanka). Burma was a Province of British India in the heyday of the Empire (1886-1937). It became a British Crown Colony (1937), and the British were driven out by the Japanese invasion (1942-45).

    In each district there was a British District Commissioner. At their best these representatives of the Empire learned the local language, and every day people came to them with complaints and requests. They had strict orders never to interfere with the religious practices and social customs of the people. All that mattered was that the country should be peacefully ordered so that businessmen could make the money that was taxed and sent back to England. That now seems to be a gross example of colonial greed and exploitation. But ordinary people found that their District Commissioner could usually solve problems as they arose. And life was peaceful since he had absolute power in the area as administrator, judge, head of the Police, and gave orders to the military units in the area.

    There is an urban legend that a District Commissioner returned to his district in Burma after the Japanese occupation. He was astonished to see village women now walking in front of their husbands. The men had always walked in front, and the women followed respectfully behind with the load of groceries on their head. The returned British Officer knew the local language, and he asked how there had been such rapid social change under the Japanese with the women now taking the lead and the men walking meekly behind them. Nobody would answer him. But finally an old man said that after the war there were many unexploded mines on the paths around their villages.

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    My interview with General Hind for Officer’s Training was quick and easy. He belonged to the same clubs as my father in Karachi. "Ah, so you are David Brow’s son. Do you play any games?" I explained that I played tennis at the Gymkhana Club, rowed at the Boat Club, and raced a fourteen foot International dinghy at the Yacht Club. He turned to the Captain in charge of recruiting, and said "Well, you can see young Brow is just the kind of fellow we want for the Indian Army. Send him for the next course in Bangalore."

    Most of us who began at the Officer’s Training School were the eighteen year-old sons of British engineers, police officers, members of the Indian Civil Service, and other Sahibs in India. Others were tea planters and businessmen from Calcutta and Bombay who had volunteered for war service. A few were graduates of Indian universities who had learned to wear a western suit and speak English with Oxbridge accents.

    For our weekly night out a favorite restaurant in Bangalore served delicious chicken dishes. But when the kitchen was raided by the police, instead of chicken, they found fifteen or twenty large kite hawks plucked and hanging for the next meal. The restaurant was closed down, and we never found any other establishment that could trick us into enjoying their delicious chicken. We all knew that back home in London cats were collected to serve as rabbit. But of course the real thing that counted was not the name but the taste of what was served.

    Part of the course was a twenty mile march wearing full battle equipment and carrying a ten pound 303 rifle.  I must have lain down for a rest, and been bitten by some noxious insect. By the time we arrived back my face had swollen up so I could hardly breathe, and I had to be rushed to the army hospital.  Next morning I noticed one of the nurses came in and carefully cleaned and polished about a foot of the wainscoting that went around my private room. I could not see the logic of this strange performance. But then at exactly 11 am the British matron came on her daily inspection rounds. As she said "Good Morning, Mr. Brow. How are you?" I noticed that she absent-mindedly passed the fingers of her left hand over the one foot of wainscoting that the nurse had polished. Then she checked her fingers for dust, and moved on with her retinue totally satisfied that her domain was fully up to the standards of hygiene required for the British Empire. Happily those two days were my only time in hospital in five years serving the Raj in India.

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     I was assigned to work with Captain Larry Larmont who was in charge of Company D at the Mahratta Light Infantry Regimental Training Center in Belgaum. Every other month we took in a platoon of thirty raw recruits mainly from the villages south of Poona (now called Pune). Most of them were illiterate, but we picked out the best of them to become Naiks (corporals). Nine months later the platoon had to be ready to join one of our Mahratta battalions and go into battle against the Japanese in Burma or Rommel’s German army in North Africa.

    The men all spoke Mahrati, but we had to teach them a minimum of Roman Urdu (the Indian army language written in Roman characters) to read maps and army orders. When India gained its independence I assumed the government would retain the Roman script. Instead, Hindi was made the official language and it was written in complicated Sanskrit characters. Each of the other main languages continued to be written in their equally archaic scripts. As a result of this the only way people of the different regions of India can communicate with each other is in English. How can you program a computer to read and print seven different languages at once?

    Captain Larmont was a very capable hard driving officer who expected me, as well as the Subedar and Jemadars (Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers), and the Havildars (sergeants) to keep up with him. He was a red headed Irishman and could be impetuous.

    A final part of the training was taking a platoon out into the jungle for a two day exercise. The men had to dig slit trenches, post sentries, put up tents for the officers, and fire at the paper targets set up around us. On our way back Larry Larmont suddenly decided to march us through a water tank (reservoir dug outside a village to preserve the monsoon rain water for the animals). He and I went through first with water up to our chests, and the men followed with their rifles and ammunition carried above their heads. Suddenly there was a cry. "Havildar Bandu Salunke has gone down." Larry and I rushed back into the water fully dressed and began diving for him. I soon got tired and went back on land to take off my boots and equipment. When I dived again I was able to grab a foot, and we pulled Bandu out. He seemed dead from drowning, but we turned him upside down and let the water drain out. Then we pumped away at artificial respiration. It seemed an age, but just as the ambulance arrived Bandu Salunke coughed and began breathing again. He must have been under water ten or fifteen minutes, and got pneumonia, but he recovered in hospital, and came back to work two months later.

    If Bandu had died, Captain Larry Larmont would have been court martialled, and I would have lost a totally loyal Indian sergeant and friend.

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     As we settled for the night we could see the hundreds of the annual Diwali festival lights in the villages around us. Mollie and I were camped in one tent, and there was a group of students bedded down in another. In the middle of the night I woke up to the sound of our tent being broken into. When I lit a kerosene batti (lamp) I saw that my briefcase and a metal trunk with Mollie’s saris had gone. I woke up the students, and set off with them in pursuit of the robbers. I was able to retrieve the briefcase with my precious papers scattered all over the ground. We also found the metal box emptied of its contents. But the thieves had long gone.

    Next morning Mollie had to stay in her bedding roll on the floor because she did not have a single sari to wear. So I went off to the nearest bazaar to buy her a new one. When I told my story the shopkeeper and a crowd of onlookers laughed uproariously and said "Oh, did not the Sahib know that thieves have to rob something the night of Diwali? If they can’t get anything else, they will have to cut some crops from a field. But if they fail to steal anything this night, they will have very bad luck in the coming year. We have been up all night with our lathis (long thick sticks) ready to fight off any thieves who tried to rob us."

    When I got back to the tent, Mollie was able to get dressed for breakfast, and the students were ashamed that they had not remembered to warn us of this essential part of Hindu thief religion.

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     The night before the wedding Mollie’s dress arrived. Since the time when she was measured for it Mollie had lost so much weight the dress had to be taken apart and remade that night. The next day we were married under a shamiana (tent with open sides) because at that time there was no church building within 200 miles the Duncan Memorial Hospital, where Mollie worked as a nurse.

    Raxaul was the railhead on the border of Nepal, and our friends arranged for us to go to the train station on an elephant. The animal was kneeling on the ground, and I climbed up into the howdah on its back. But as Mollie tried to follow me, the elephant decided it was time to get up and move on. She was left dangling, and had to drop back on the ground. The driver was sitting high up on the elephant’s neck and he used a thick wooden stick to beat the animal fiercely on the head to force it to kneel down again. This time Mollie was able to join me in the howdah. and we have slides to record this. Our son Peter was able to get the old 8 mm film copied, and it is still a favorite for family occasions.

    As we traveled away in the train compartment Mollie looked at me and thought "I don’t know this man." Which was true since we were engaged our first date, and she had to leave the next day for her work as a nurse in Bihar. How a girl gets engaged her first date is another story, and a very familiar one in India.

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    While we were at Aitcheson College in Lahore, Robin Lochner was my best friend. He taught me the art of mediaeval falconry with its French names and ancient rituals. This sport was also practiced by the Rajahs and Maharajahs of India. We tied a bird under a net below a tree where a Merlin used to perch, and when we finally caught it we trained the falcon to catch sparrows. But Merlins were the small falcons that ladies carried on horseback, and my friend insisted we had to have a peregrine falcon fit for a king.

    Finally we paid an Indian falconer to produce one. It was huge, and its talons would crunch your hand if you did not wear a thick glove. It had to be kept hooded in total darkness till it got used to feeding from our gloved hand. Then we took off the hood, and slowly increased the distance from the perch as the bird would hop and then fly to our glove for its food. Finally we unleashed it, and when it flew away and perched up in a tree we held up our gloved hand and he would come down to it, and be rewarded. The next step was to feed it from a lure with partridge feathers. Then this was attached to a long rope which allowed us to circle the lure around us, and our Peregrine would come down to hit it with its talons and enjoy the meat on it.

    The triumphant day came when we walked through a field with the Peregrine circling above us. When a partridge took off the bird swooped down, hit it with its talons, and sat on it waiting for us to come. We would reward it with a small piece of the brain, and then walk on till another partridge took off. Robin and I were both removed (expelled) from the College for wasting our time and drinking beer with the sons of the Rajahs and Maharajahs who did little work apart from learning to play polo. Robin Lochner became an Indian Army Officer at the same time as I did, and he was killed in Burma.

    I never had the time, or the patience, or even the inclination to train up a peregrine falcon and engage in the sport. But when I met an Indian falconer I could at least pretend I was an authority on the topic by carefully asking the right questions. Any good falconer will do the rest, and talk with great feeling and enthusiasm about the sport of kings.

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    After attending a course at the Small Arms School in Saugor (Sagar) in central India I was called back to be an instructor. I loved demonstrating how quickly you could take a Bren Gun apart, clean out the mud, and get it firing again. Teaching grenade throwing was not so pleasant. I had to be in a narrow trench with a trembling soldier, watch him put a finger from his left hand in the safety ring as I said "ready to throw." When I said "Pull" he had to grab the grenade in his right hand, and stretch out his arm. That pulled out the safety pin, and he had to hold the lever firmly down till I gave the order to throw. If he dropped the grenade with the pin out, the lever flew off and the grenade would go off in five seconds. But I knew I had four seconds to pick up the grenade, throw it out of the concrete trench, and force the terrified soldier’s head down before the explosion.

    A week after I had begun doing this one of the other instructors told me that I had been brought in to replace a Sikh officer. He was with a corporal who dropped the grenade and fell on top of it in the trench. The instructor tried to pull him off, but the grenade went off and killed the man. The Sikh instructor had pieces of grenade in his arms and legs and his turban was shredded, but he lived. Knowing this did not increase my confidence. Quite often a grenade did not explode, and I had to crawl out, lay a charge of dynamite carefully next to it, light the fuse and jump back into the throwing trench before it went off.

    The men noticed that whenever I had a narrow escape I would walk across to a nearby tree and touch it before getting into the trench to continue training the next soldier. They were mystified by this, and I tried to explain that I was an atheist, but I believed in touching wood for luck to avoid getting killed. They had no such practice in their Hindu or Muslim religion, and I imagine they concluded that the Sahib had faith in the great God Luck. After five years in the army, my first week at university I found myself praying to Jesus as Lord of my life. I soon realized that touching wood was a superstition, like throwing salt over one’s shoulder and thirteen being an unlucky number, that I did not need any more.

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     India became independent in 1947. Eleven years later Mollie and I were on the boat train traveling from London with our daughter Rachel and young son Peter on the way to see my family in Belgium. The couple opposite us were speaking Hindustani (a mixture of Urdu the language of Pakistan and Hindi the language of India), which we both understood. But they could never have guessed that we knew their language from our children’s chatter. Before we could engage the man and his wife in conversation we heard them talking about India and all the wickedness of the British in that country.

    What should we do? It was not that we disagreed with their evaluation of typical British aloofness and their treatment of Indians as an inferior race. Much of what they said was dead right. The man commented "Most of those British Sahibs never learned our language. And when they did speak some words of command, the accent was terrible." He said his father was a civil engineer working for the Karachi Port Trust, and no Indian could ever be welcomed to British homes or have a drink with them in their clubs. I realized that the man’s father must have worked under my Father, who was the Chief Engineer of the harbor in Karachi. But how could I reveal this?

    This went on for an hour all the way to Dover station where we had to board the cross-channel boat to Ostend. Soon their talk about the two of us sitting opposite them turned to sneers and obscenities. We should have said "Please excuse us. We understand every word you say, and we want you to know that we love India and the Hindi language." But every minute it became harder to reveal that we understood their conversation.

    By the end of the journey I should have had the grace to say nothing. But as the train pulled in to Dover, Mollie and I bowed to them with our hands together in the Indian greeting. And I will never forget the look of total embarrassment on their faces when I said to them in Hindi. "We are very sorry that some of the British behaved so abominably. But it is too late to change that now. And India seems to be doing very well without us."

    Walking the decks on the cross channel steamship we carefully avoided meeting each other.

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    After my first term teaching in Allahabad I was asked to relieve Bill Duncumb, the business manager of Kachhwa hospital, so he could go away for a holiday. The hospital was just south of the main road to Benares (now named Varanasi). As I traveled there by bus I could see trees planted all the way on both sides of the road, and each of these trees was loaded with hundreds of ripening mangoes. I asked, "Who owns all these valuable mangoes?" Another passenger on the bus said that the villagers each know who has the right to harvest each tree.

    From the main road I had to travel by ekka (a horse-drawn platform without seats perched high on two wheels). Kachhwa hospital was presided over by Dr. Neville Everard. He was famous as a brilliant surgeon, gynecologist, and expert in tropical medicine. And patients came to him from a hundred miles away. The poorer patients were all treated free, but the rich had to pay for the services of the hospital. I wondered how Dr. Everard could assess whether or not they should pay? "That’s easy. I ask them one or two questions, and if they are wearing shoes I know they can afford an operation. But don’t announce this, or they will all come barefoot for treatment."

    The most impressive cures were from cholera. A terribly sick person would be dead from dehydration within a hour or two. But if the Indian nurses could get a saline drip into their vein, the patient would be sitting up and ready to go home the next day.

    I used to eat the evening meal in the mission bungalow with two or three of the foreign staff. Every meal they would discuss what seemed to me to be a totally insoluble crisis. I would worry about it that night, and work all next day to see if I could solve the problem. But by the next meal the previous discussion was forgotten, and a new situation had arisen. After a few days I stopped worrying about the latest crisis, and just got on with my work.

    A few years later our son Peter was born there. Dr. Everard gave the anesthetic and Dr. Joyce Robinson did the delivery. When we stayed at Edgehill in Landour, Mussoorie (6000 feet up above the unbearable heat of the plains) Dr. Everard always brought up a pillow-case full of letters from grateful patients. He never had time to answer these in Kachhwa Hospital, but he spent his holiday writing to each one individually.

    Within a few years the Emmanuel Hospital Association of several hospitals in North India was established, and a board of Indian Christians was put in charge. As far as I know Kachhwa hospital is still serving the needs of people all over that area, but I doubt if they can continue Dr. Everard’s method of assessing who could afford to pay.

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     Compared with Allahabad, Benares (now called Varanasi) seemed to be an oppressive city. Western visitors were impressed by the stupa (large pillar) and magnificent temple with its huge gold-covered statue of Gautama Buddha (c.563-483 BC). That is where he experienced the enlightenment in the deer park that still influences millions of people in Buddhist countries. "If you can lose the very last of your desires, you will escape the terrible round of reincarnations." But all our visitors were horrified by the popular Hinduism of the city which is centered on the 1,500 temples around the burning ghats and funeral pyres by the waterfront of the sacred Ganga (Ganges). That is where devout Hindus hoped to be cremated, and their ashes scattered on the sacred river in the hope of a better reincarnation.

    Shiva is the god of creation and destruction, good and evil. He is worshiped by ascetic holy men (yogis) all over India. As the god of procreation his temples center on a lingam (phallus-shaped pillar). But in the area around Varanasi it was not Shiva, but his consort Kali who was feared as a vengeful blood-thirsty goddess. She was portrayed with a necklace of human skulls around her neck, and she demanded that first-born children be sacrificed to satisfy her lust. Anyone who crossed her was in mortal danger.

    There is a story of a preacher who visited Benares and saw a woman wailing and carrying her baby down to the river. When he asked her what she was doing, she said she had to give her child for the Ganga crocodiles to devour. If she did not make this sacrifice, Kali would certainly kill her husband and any other children that were born in the family. The preacher explained that the Creator God was more loving than any human father or mother. Would any human parents want their child to be eaten by crocodiles? He managed to persuade her that Kali was evil and totally unloving. And the woman was grateful that she could go home rejoicing with her baby.

    That may be an urban legend, and followers of the higher Advaita Hinduism would be as horrified as we are. But we can imagine that a woman who had not made this sacrifice would be tempted to fear she was wrong. Any time sickness or a terrible accident might befall her family. The point is that followers of any religion can turn their heart to a loving God, but not all forms of religion will point them in the right direction.

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    I was glad when I got the order "You are posted to run the jungle camp." I had twenty men to put up targets, and make sure no one came in to the firing ranges. Some villagers came in at other times and tried to break open the mortar bombs to retrieve the metal. When someone got killed I had to hold a court of inquiry to prove that the army was not responsible.

    I loved watching the wild peacocks, and at first I refused to shoot them. But my cook said they were delicious, and he got the Havildar (sergeant) to get one for me. The curry was delicious, and that got me hooked. I never shot them feeding on the ground, but somehow bringing one down in flight seemed the sporting thing to do.

    One day I found pug marks going down to the river a few feet from my tent. "Sahib, you will have to kill the panther. It is very dangerous." So they built me a machan (platform) in a nearby tree, and I agreed to buy a goat. As darkness fell I could hear the animal bleating pitifully. Obviously it could smell the panther approaching. And I had my 303 army rifle pointed ready to kill the killer.

    Soon the goat was lost in the pitch darkness, but I could still hear it crying. Then suddenly there was an eerie silence, and I imagined the panther had come in for the kill. When I turned on my flashlight, I could see the goat was dead. Obviously the panther would come back to eat its prey. What could I do? Eventually I got down from the tree, yelled into the night to scare it away, and ran for my tent.

    In the morning the dead goat was still there, and the men said I must have been sold a sick goat and it had died on me. I could see them smirking. To retrieve my izzat (honor) I got the men to organize beaters to flush out the panther from the jungle. As I waited for it, a big animal rushed at me, and I shot it dead. It turned out to be a hyena, the ugliest and meanest animal in the jungle, and the men smirked again.

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     Joe Black and I shared an apartment at the Allahabad Bible Seminary, and we took on a servant to cook for us. When he asked us what we wanted to eat, we told him exactly what to serve at breakfast, lunch, and a currry and chapattis for dinner. "But don’t the Sahibs want some variety?" We said we did not want to be bothered with that, and we had exactly the same menu every meal for the next few months.

    Mollie and I were married just before Christmas 1953, and we had our honeymoon in Kalimpong which was in the foothills of the Himalayas in Eastern India below Darjeeling. When we arrived back in Allahabad, Joe Black had to move out of the apartment, and the first thing Mollie did was to dismiss the cook. She did not need someone to serve meals for us. But she soon discovered that buying food in the market was not as easy as she had imagined. Bargaining, especially with a foreign woman, was an interminable and humiliating game. The rice had to be picked through grain by grain to remove tiny rocks which could break a tooth if undetected. The only way milk could be delivered clean was to have a man bring a buffalo, and do the milking right into our container.

    So she decided to hire a young man who would go and do the shopping. His mother had taught him to make him a hot curry, which tasted especially good in the very hot weather. Step by step Mollie taught him a range of western dishes for our English and American guests. When our children, Rachel and Peter were born, Mannu would watch over them as they played in the garden. When he got married and had children he felt free to call on us for help. And by the time we left India in 1953 I was able to type out for him a recommendation which easily got him cooking jobs with other families.

    After graduating from Trinity College, Toronto, our son Peter ran his own swimming pool business till he had saved enough to go round the world and visit his roots in India. When he arrived in Allahabad our cook Mannu immediately came to see him. And to Peter’s astonishment Mannu proudly produced the crumpled recommendation we had given him fifteen long years before. Would the Sahib need a cook? As Peter discovered, Mannu was very much part of his Indian roots.

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    Across the harbor from the city of Karachi (now the main port of Pakistan) was the island of Manora. That was the site of the Yacht Club. My parents belonged to four clubs frequented by the British who worked in the city. The Sindh Club was more like a London club where men only went to read the papers and discuss the dangers to British rule from that scoundrel Gandhi over a whisky and soda or gin and tonic. The Gymkhana Club was where you played tennis and joined in other social activities with the ladies. I rowed and swam at the Boat Club. My parents and I each sailed a fourteen foot dinghy with a dozen other boats that raced every week from the Yacht Club.

    Before India became independent in 1947 no Indians or Anglo-Indians could be members of these clubs. As Chief Engineer of the Port of Karachi my father had several very competent engineers working with him, but he could never invite one of them to have a drink with him at any of these clubs. To join you had to be recommended and elected to membership. Election was by dropping either a white or black ball in a box. If you did not observe the social niceties, you were "black-balled" and taken off the membership list. Adultery or getting drunk was not a sin, but falling in love with an Indian or Anglo-Indian woman merited immediate exclusion. People would not even talk to you for this crime against the British empire.

    But when I was removed (a polite term from being expelled) from Aitcheson College my father decided to equip me for earning a living in the real world in his engineering workshop on Manora Island. I was apprenticed to one of my father’s Indian employees, and I wonder what he thought about having to train the sixteen year-old son of the Chief Engineer. It never struck me as strange that I could go yacht racing with my parents on Saturdays and then be apprenticed Monday to Friday to use a lathe and milling machine in the workshop next door.

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    A mela is a village fair, and this one was way out in the country from Allahabad. I was standing up surrounded by hundreds of villagers listening to this foreigner talking about God. One of them came up and said, "your God the Father is God?" And I said yes. "Your Jesus is God?" and when I said yes, he held up a second finger as he looked around at the crowd. "And your Holy Spirit is God?" Again I said yes. Then triumphantly he held up three fingers in turn. "One plus one, plus one, plus one is three. So you believe in three gods. That is polytheism." I answered "Ah, but with God you don’t add, you multiply, and one times one, times one is still one. The crowd looked mystified, and they had to admit I had won a debating point, but I don’t think it threw much light on the question of what God might really be like.

    Another fellow pushed through the crowd and grabbed me by my bush shirt. "You are an American." I said I wasn’t, and finally persuaded him I was British. "Oh, so you are one of those people who pillaged our country till we threw you out and gained our independence in 1947. Why don’t you give back the loot you took away from our country?" I smiled at him, unbuttoned my bush shirt, and humbly offered it to him Indian style on my two upturned hands with my head bowed. The crowd burst into laughter, and the poor fellow retreated hastily.

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    As a newly commissioned officer in the Indian Army I was assigned to the Mahratta Light Infantry Regimental Center in Belgaum. After traveling overnight I arrived in time for breakfast. When I walked into the mess there were a dozen officers sitting in the sofas hidden behind their papers. Most of them ignored me, but one or two looked at me briefly before going back to their reading. I imagined them saying. "Who is this young squirt that the cat has brought in?" Happily one of the mess servants sat me down at the long table. Each officer had his own servant standing behind him dressed in white with a big pugri (turban). Nobody said a word at breakfast. If you wanted some salt, you would not dare ask your neighbor, but you signaled to your servant and he brought it. Eventually some of these officers became my friends and I soon learned how to give the same treatment to others as they arrived to join us.

    Mess night was a great way to humiliate the newcomers. Somebody filled a basin with water and held it up against the ceiling with a broom handle. Then the broom handle was handed to the unfortunate victim, and he was left holding it in his hand. If he let go, the water was spilled all over the floor. Another victim had a funnel put under his belt, and a coin on his forehead, and he was applauded if he could drop it in. But the next time he had his head tilted back, someone would pour a pitcher of water into the funnel, and the poor fellow had to go through the evening with his mess jacket soaked all down his trouser leg.

    Most of the new officers were sent off to join one of the Mahratta Light Infantry battalions at the front in Burma or North Africa.. The Indian Army was expanding at a huge rate. The five battalions of our regiment kept subdividing into nearly twenty by the end of the war. And the casualties were horrendous. An officer leading a company of men through thick jungle in Burma was easy to pick off. But I survived because I was assigned to training the new recruits.

    Colonel Strong had us well organized to take young men in from the villages, and have them ready to go into battle within nine months with all the latest modern weapons. There was no time to waste with all the dignitaries who came to visit this incredibly efficient training center. So he would announce Scheme A or Scheme B say for Tuesday at 10 a.m. Every minute of the route was planned, and I knew I had to have men firing on the short range at 10.15, and other picked individuals doing bayonet practice at 10.21. As soon as the visitor had gone by we had the men back training as usual. As a result only half a hour was lost for each visitor.

    There was an obstacle course that included a wall that had to be scaled by some of the men climbing over others and then pulling up those behind them. When a visiting general would ask "Colonel, I suppose you go over this obstacle course with the men?" Colonel Strong would answer "Yes, I try to do it every day, but I do excuse myself from climbing that wall." We smiled knowing that this was part of his very impressive "bullshit." And after all we were by far the best Regimental Training Center in India.

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    She was a very sensible reliable girl, who would never lie or exaggerate. One day I told her a story my mother had told me. When we lived in Karachi a mangy emaciated pie-dog used to come and see if he could get scraps to eat. When this bothered my mother she put out poisoned food, and the pie-dog must have eaten it and died. Two days later she had a terrible dream. The pie-dog came to her and said "Why did you poison me when I asked for food?" I asked my girl friend if she believed that?

    We discussed the English ghost stories of people who kept reappearing when they had been unjustly treated. Henry the eighth (1491-1547) had his second wife Anne Boleyn (1501-36) executed for unfaithfulness. And she was said to appear "with her head tucked underneath her arm." Then my girl friend she told me her own story.

    One day she had a very vivid dream. She was in an old colonial bungalow, and she saw a murder take place right in front of her. She noticed exactly the old fashioned atchkan (formal black coat to the knees) the murderer wore, the dagger he used, and how he left the body. Later that week she was at a dinner party in the home of the British Police Superintendent in the area. She told him about the vivid dream she had seen. He said he remembered reading about that case in the police files, and he would look it up. The next day he called her in to the police office, and made her describe exactly every detail of the murder she had seen in the dream. He turned pale, and said "That happened eighty years ago, and I can see here in the files that the wrong man was hung for that crime."

    When I asked her for an explanation, she said that she was born in a caul (the sack that surrounds a baby in the womb). And she claimed that many such people later discover they are psychic, as she was. Often she saw things that others never knew about. I was an atheist, and her account did not fit into my scientific world-view. But I could not believe that she was lying. Perhaps that was the first doubt that eventually undermined my materialism, and I came to faith in God as Creator after leaving the army three years later.

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    In Hindi the word naga means naked. It was used to describe the holy men who would appear stark naked at the annual Magh Mela that gathered a million people to bathe at the sangham (the confluence of the river Jamna with the holy river Ganges) in Allahabad. The word was also used as the name for the wild head-hunting tribes in the hills beyond the eastern border of Assam. The British had never been able to tame them, and they were left alone. But at the turn of century (about 1900 AD) some American Baptist missionaries translated the Bible into the Ao Naga language using the Roman script, and taught these head hunters to read. They also taught them to tithe their income and write music for their hymns in tonic solfa (using do re mi la te do instead of our five lines of complicated musical notation).

    When the British discovered what was happening the missionaries were thrown out for disturbing the peace on the eastern border. But the Ao Nagas continued to run their own churches, and by tithing their crops they quickly had a huge surplus to send out their own missionaries to other hill tribes. They were also able to build schools and educate their people. In one generation of rapid progress they moved out of head hunting right into the modern world.

    When Mollie and I set up home in Allahabad we met some of the grandchildren of the first Ao Naga converts who had come to do their M.A. (Master of Arts) studies at Allahabad University. One of them was Chiten Jameer who later became the Education Minister of Nagaland. Another was Chuba Jameer whose father had been a headhunter, and we have a picture of Chuba holding our daughter Rachel in his arms. This group of Naga students would come to our home and cook up big pieces of pork and throw in more green peppers than we could manage. When we sang a new song to them, they would immediately write it down in tonic solfa, and sing it right back to us in beautiful four part harmony. They explained that in their tribe children learned to read and write music before they learned to read school books..

    I was never allowed to visit their tribal area. But we managed to have a student conference in Shillong, the capital of Assam. To our astonishment the invitation was taken out among the tribes which were right then fighting a fierce war against the Indian Army that was trying to control them. As the conference began we discovered that several young men had left their uniforms and guns behind the "enemy" lines, and slipped into the area under Indian control to attend the conference. "What will you do after the conference?" They said they would go back across the lines, put on their uniforms, pick up their guns, and continue the fight to keep the Indian Army out of their territory. We just hoped the authorities would not hear about us being involved in such an explosive situation.

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    In India the British called an exhibition of dancing by professional dancing girls a Nautch. But in Hindi naachna is the ordinary word for dancing of any kind. There was a proverb naatch na jaane, aangan terha which means that those who can’t dance will complain that the dance floor is not level. But both Hindus and Muslims thought that the British practice of men and women dancing together was grossly immoral. How could a woman dance with a man who was not her husband? You did not even dance with your married partner. But men hiring a group of dancing girls to entertain them had always been acceptable. Admittedly such women were viewed on the same level as prostitutes.

    I learned these distinctions the hard way when I was in charge of the jungle warfare camp near Saugor (now Sagar) in central India. Soldiers in Burma had been an easy prey for snipers waiting for them in the trees. So we had a course laid out in thick jungle with twenty Japanese faces and helmets painted on cardboard carefully hidden along the route. The men in training walked through one by one, and they were to put a burst of sten gun fire through any face that they saw. Usually the first time they did not see a single one of the faces. I told them that in battle they would all be dead. The course was changed every day, and by the end of the two week course (like bird watchers) their eyes had been trained to see the faces hidden in the foliage. And they would get most of them. With this skill they went back to their units and trained others hopefully to kill the enemy before they were killed.

    To make this training possible about twenty men were kept very busy setting up the targets and replacing them as they were hit. After a few weeks of this hard work a delegation came to see me, and they said they needed some entertainment, Could they bring in some naach girls to perform in our camp? Did not the Sahib go to dances in Sagar? I could hardly refuse. Could the Sahib help out with the expenses? And when the great event came I was of course expected to be there for the evening.

    Half a dozen women arrived with kol around their eyes, make-up on their cheeks, and wearing brightly colored saris. There were drummers and other instruments. And I had to sit in the place of honor in the front row of a circle around them. After each increasingly suggestive dance the girls would come round and feel inside the men’s shirts and pant pockets for the coins they expected to be hidden there. I broke into a cold sweat as I knew it would soon be my turn. The girls had never danced for a Sahib before, and they were shy at first. But when one of them had come to collect from me, the others all came. Even though I quickly ran out of money, they came to feel me all over just for the fun of it. There was no way I could escape with dignity, and the men all thought it was a great success. It was not easy being British in India.

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    The word Nilgai meant a "blue bull" in Hindi. It was a large animal that looked like a cross between a deer and a horse. Because it was viewed as part of the sacred cow family nobody dared shoot one on pain of being lynched. The result was that the blue bulls had multiplied, and when a herd of them came into a field they quickly devoured the crops of the unfortunate villagers. They were hated but no one could do anything about it.

    During the 1939-45 war the food situation became desperate. But a British official in Delhi came up with a brilliant solution to solve the problem. The government announced that scientific research had proved that the voracious animals were not Nilgais (blue bulls) but rather Nilghoras (blue horses). As soon as this change of name was announced, anyone was free to kill as many of the animals as they pleased. And the food supply increased dramatically.

    We had a similar change of name in the Mahratta Light Infantry. The men of our regiment were strict Hindus and would never eat beef in India. But when they fought against the Germans in Italy they ate it with great relish. If they were asked how they could go against the rules of their religion they said "Cows are only beef in India. There are not beef in Italy."

    As long as food had to be imported to feed the growing population of India it was calculated that one third of the grain was eaten by rats on the docks of Bombay and Calcutta. Strict vegetarians objected to the killing of rats, and the Jains even refused to kill a mosquito or bedbug. It was said that a rich Jain family would make a servant sleep on a visitor’s bed for several hours so that the bedbugs would be sated and leave their honored guest to sleep in peace. Mosquitos could be kept off by mosquito nets.


    Later as a result of the green revolution (with improved seed and the use of fertilizers and tractors) India was able to double and redouble the food supply, and even began exporting grain to other countries. But Hindus still do not eat beef in India, and Muslims all over the world are strict about not eating pork Orthodox Jews keep the kosher laws of the Old Testament as they are set out in Leviticus chapter 11. As result of these ancient food laws people of other religions avoid eating with Christians who impiously feel free to eat any kind of food that they enjoy.

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    One of the reasons for the success of the British empire was the elaborate system of awarding honors for services rendered. You were awarded a Victoria Cross, DSO (Distinguished Order), or MC (Military Cross) for outstanding bravery in battle. To recognize other forms of public service you could be made a Baronet or a Lord, given a knighthood, and the Order of the Garter was very highly prized. For lesser services you were made a Member of the British Empire (MBE), and a step above that was the OBE (Order of the British Empire). There were also ribbons and medals for serving in various campaigns. Apart from a bit of record keeping in the War Office, the system cost very little. I am not sure if the idea of such rewards ever motivated me or my father, but it probably promoted loyalty to the Empire.

    My father fought against the Turks in the carnage at Gallipoli, and then served as an officer in the Royal Engineers in the 1914-18 horrendous trench warfare in France. He was awarded the Military Cross, and also wore two little brass insignia as a sign that he was twice mentioned in dispatches for bravery in battle. He went on to be Chief Engineer and then Chairman of the Karachi Port Trust where he supervised the building of the West Wharf. This made it possible for Karachi to be used as the port nearest the Suez Canal to bring in supplies for the war against the Japanese in Burma. My father was given the OBE for this work, and I was very proud of him. Imagine the let down when Madame Andre was also given an OBE two years later for her great contribution to the war effort in Bombay. She ran the cleanest and safest brothel for British officers in the empire.

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     Saugor (Sagar) was the Small Arms Training Center where Indian Army soldiers and officers came to be trained in the latest modern weapons for the war against the Japanese in Burma. In addition to teaching the Bren gun, killing sentries silently in the night, firing three inch mortars, and grenade throwing, I was assigned to teach the Piat. I felt greatly honored to be given this important responsibility. The Piat was an anti-tank weapon for infantry soldiers to use, and it was still top-secret. It had to be kept covered, and we fenced off a large area, so that no enemy spies could come anywhere near as it was demonstrated. I took great pride in showing how it could knock a hole through a thick steel plate set up sixty yards away. Then one day in the Officer’s Mess I found the English Picture Post magazine that featured the Piat and exactly how it worked.

    The Commandant drank a bottle of Scotch every evening, but he could come to the firing range the next morning and hit the target right in the bull’s eye better than any of us. So the instructors held him in great awe. I managed to pluck up courage and asked for an interview. When I went in and saluted, he said "What’s bothering you, Captain Brow?" I gave him the copy of the Picture Post, and showed him the detailed drawings and specifications of the weapon which I had to keep totally secret. Would I be allowed to relax the rules? "Absolutely not. You know perfectly well that Army orders have to be obeyed exactly until they are cancelled." He tore up the offending magazine and burned it in the fireplace. I saluted and went back to my Piat secrecy routine to the great amusement of the other instructors.

    Orders had to come by sea from the War Office in London, through the top brass in the Indian Army headquarters, and then down through several levels of command till we were eventually informed that the Piat was no longer a top secret weapon.

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    Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) became a civil rights lawyer in South Africa. He returned to India (1915) and engaged in a thirty year struggle to free his country from British rule. He developed ahimsa (non-violence) as a method which he called satyagraha (holding of the truth). Beginning with the Salt March (1930), he persuaded more and more Indian men, women and children, to join him in civil disobedience against overwhelming British military power. Faced with thousands of gentle unarmed men and women sitting on a railroad track, army officers felt unable to mow them down. Gandhi began a massive "Quit India" campaign in 1942. Steadily the riots became better organized and they easily turned violent. Obviously the British Raj (rule over India) was threatened. In 1946 , my regiment was ordered to have a company of men ready to be deployed against any unruly crowd in the area.

    I was ordered to organize the training of a platoon to do this. We took position across a street where we imagined a crowd was advancing. There was a photographer who took pictures of the leaders, and of any rocks being thrown at us. The wireless operator had to get in touch with headquarters and warn them we were under attack. Another man had a megaphone, and he had to warn the crowd that if they did not move back we would shoot. When I said "Prepare to fire" the front row of jawans (young soldiers) knelt down and a second row stood behind them with their guns pointed at the crowd. Others were ready to stop an outflanking movement. The first volley had to be shot just above the heads of the crowd. The second volley aimed at their feet. A sharp shooter was ready to pick off the leaders. The photographer had to catch every movement, and a Havildar (sergeant) wrote furiously to have a report ready for the court of inquiry that would follow.

    Even a practice was very tense, and I am glad I never had to give the order to fire. All of us British officers were longing to leave India and get home. It was time to quit India, and we had no stomach for this kind of fighting. I personally felt that if I were an Indian I would want to get the foreigners out and run my own country. So I was relieved when I got the order to proceed to the transit camp in Deolali and catch the first troop ship that could take us back through the Suez Canal to England. When I was demobilized I was given a civvy suit of clothes, a gratuity, and the government promised to pay for my university education.

    When I crossed the channel to visit my grandparents in Brussels I threw the army revolver I had worn for five years overboard. And by the time I began studying economics at Trinity College, Cambridge, India had become an independent country (August 15, 1947). Gandhi was assassinated the next year for his championing of the rights of the Harijans (untouchables) against the caste system that favored the Brahmin priestly class. He is usually called Mahatma (Great Soul) for his work as the architect of India's independence.

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    The seminary in Allahabad used to meet in a chapel that was donated in Victorian times by Lady Muir for the British who lived in the area. When the British moved out in 1947 it was retrieved to be used as a seminary for the training of Indian ministers. I was assigned to teach courses in comparative religion. I was also called upon to deal with the situation when the power failed. The fuses were the old fashioned kind that had fuse wire connected between two terminals. When a circuit was overloaded the wire would melt. I discovered that the Registrar, Beatrice Van Vranken, had gone in to the fuse box and doubled the fuse wire that served her apartment. Others found this a useful way to increase the appliances in their home. The result was that the main seminary fuse would blow again and again. Fans would stop, and the heat was quickly unbearable. Nobody seemed to understand that winding fuse wire round the fuse terminals was dangerous, and I was viewed as unreasonable and tyrannical when I had a lock put on the fuse box.

    Another tiresome problem was the constant flow of well educated English speaking Indian men who arrived at our apartment each with a heart-rending story of terrible need in his family. At first we felt we had to help them. But then we discovered that they were also fleecing the other foreign homes in the compound. So we had a meeting to deal with the situation, and I suggested we make these men work for two hours in the vegetable garden before giving them what they needed. To our astonishment we never had even one educated pan handler willing to do manual work. After the first two had disdainfully turned up their noses at this demeaning demand, the message went around and the flow of such visitors ended abruptly.

    Then there was the problem of the two white rabbits we bought for our children to play with. Since our apartment was upstairs we left the rabbits to roam around the compound, and they did a good job of cropping the grass. The problem was that they had a strange habit of coming in to the chapel precisely when a service was beginning. At first no one minded because they sat quietly, and we found this rather charming. But then they took a liking to the Seminary Dean, Harry Mirchu Lall. He did not reciprocate their affection. One day when they came playing around his feet as he was preaching, he said "get these animals out of here."

    The Registrar said that she would dispose of them. But one of the students from South India said "You can’t get rid of those two rabbits. You can tell by the way that they come in to the chapel so devoutly to pray that they must be holy incarnations." Nobody ever found out what the Registrar did with the rabbits, but the general opinion was that she cooked them and enjoyed the rabbit stew. Explaining their disappearance to the children was more difficult. But I had a lively discussion of the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation with the students in the next class. "Who would want to come back as a white rabbit?"

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    When British India was partitioned in 1947 districts with a majority of Muslims were assigned to Pakistan. An exception was Kashmir which had a Hindu Rajah. That area is still the site of continuing shooting over the border, and it has resulted in several wars. But the Muslim districts the other side of India became the eastern part of divided Pakistan. They were not only divided geographically but their language was Bengali as opposed to the Urdu spoken in West Pakistan. In the civil war that eventually resulted in Bangla Desh becoming a separate country (1971) there was a terrible chaos and famine. Refugees poured into India and we saw horrendous pictures on television of thousands of families dying of starvation. When money poured in to World Vision in Canada to meet this need, I was asked at short notice to go and distribute it.

    Instead of adding the donated money to the massive aid coming in through Oxfam and the Red Cross, I had planned to have some small projects to help out people who were doing a good job in the situation. Coming in early in the morning from the airport I met a Danish doctor and his wife at the Calcutta bus station. They had come down from an area two hours to the north where the refugees were dying of cholera. "What are you doing here?" They desperately needed bottles of saline, which would provide an instant cure to people who would otherwise be dead in a few hours. I opened my wallet and immediately gave the Doctor the cash to buy as many bottles of saline as they could take back with them on a bus. "Isn’t there anything else you need?" He and his wife explained in Danish English that they had seen an old jeep for sale near the bus terminal. It could transport the precious bottles to their hospital, and then take them into the camps where people were dying. How much would it cost? It seemed a trivial amount, and I went with them to a bank to cash some travelers’ checks. That afternoon I saw them going back in the jeep loaded with the supplies, and they said dozens of people would be saved from cholera by the next morning. I am not a sentimental person, but it did feel good to see the couple overwhelmed by this provision from a Canadian who had come in from the sky that very morning.

    I stayed at the Great Eastern Hotel in Calcutta. With its huge staircase and empty lounges it was a very run down reminder of the glory of the British Raj. I was waited on by servants in spotless white uniforms and neatly wound pagris on their heads. They longed for the return of better days. I was soon visited at the hotel by leaders of the group of Calcutta University students I had worked with ten years before. "If you had the money, what would you do to help the refugees in the camps?" They said they would go and discuss this as a group and pray that God would guide them. Two days later they said they wanted to go into the refugee camps and see how many students they could find from Bangla Desh. They would take them by bus for medical and dental treatment, and provide text books in Bengali and writings materials so they could continue their studies. The project cost very little, but it proved incredibly successful.

    Not so easy were my own visits to the camps. I often talked with Major Eva den Hartog of the Dutch Salvation Army. "I have to go back exhausted to sleep at the hostel in the city, and when I come back tomorrow several of these mothers and children will be dead." I could see she was getting burned out and not eating properly, so I persuaded her to have dinner with me at a nice restaurant. She told me she had previously worked in a civil war area of the Congo. "There people came in with bad machete wounds. But if they survived the first night you could see them getting better. Here most of them would die of malnourishment." I did my best to help her, but it was just a drop in a bucket. When I flew back to Canada I wondered how soon she would herself have a breakdown. I regret I got busy and never took the time to find out.

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    The Moghul empire (1526-1707) was at its height in the reign of Shajahan (1627-58), who built the Taj Mahal (c.1623-43) in memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal (see the frontispiece of this book). The empire began to weaken under Shajahan’s son Aurangzeb (1658-1707). This gave Shivaji (1627-80) the opportunity to weld the Marathi speaking people into a formidable fighting force, and he established the Maratha empire (1674). His successors led a confederacy of states which controlled a large part of India, and nearly took Delhi before they were defeated at the battle of Panipat (1761). But the Marathas (Mahrattas) continued to oppose the invading British till the Indian Mutiny (1857) when India came under the control of Queen Victoria (reigned 1837-1901) who named herself Empress of India.

    British policy was to organize the Indian Army with regiments made up of what they considered the best fighting races. The pick of the officers trained at Sandhurst (the British Military College in England) usually chose to serve with the famous cavalry regiments like the Bengal Lancers, Skinner’s Horse, and Hodson’s Horse. Their officers refused to give up their horses until they were sent to fight in North Africa against Rommel’s tank corps. There learning to drive a tank instead of a horse into battle had to be done very quickly.

    There were several regiment of Gurkhas from Nepal. They terrified the enemy by going out on night patrols and silently cutting off the heads of sentries with one swipe of their kukris (wide curved sword). I was posted to the Mahratta Light Infantry. They were famous for bayonet fighting. At the Regimental Training Center in Belgaum I had to challenge the recruits with a stick that was padded at one end and had a six inch ring at the other end. They had to push the stick aside with their rifle, and put their bayonet through the ring. Then they had to run towards one of the sack covered straw dummies, shout the Mahratta war cry, put the bayonet in to the hilt, and turn it to pull it out.

    Seeing a whole platoon advance with their bayonets drawn just before dawn broke, and then to hear them shout out the war cry Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj ki jai (praise to the mighty king Shivaji) was an awesome experience even in training. As they fought their way up into Italy two or three of our men were awarded the Victoria Cross (the highest medal for bravery in the British empire). An officer feared for one of his Mahrattas who had jumped into an enemy trench, but he saw him pitch out the terrified occupants one by one on his bayonet.

    By the time the war ended more and more Indian officers were being being commissioned into our regiment. After independence (1947) they were assigned to Pakistan if they were Muslims or to India if they were Hindus. And I knew several of the generals on both sides when they began fighting each other over Kashmir. My friend Benoy Biswas, who had been a cavalry Major on the Pakistani side before he came to Canada, said that from time to time, when there was a lull in the fighting, the opposing officers would invite each other over for a cup of chai (tea) to talk about the old traditions of the Indian Army under the British.

    Though I was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and now live in Canada, I am glad that the Mahratta Light Infantry is still one of the best regiments in the Indian Army. And the Marathi language is preserved in the prosperous State of Maharashtra. We taught our Mahrattas to write in Roman characters, but India’s progress is still hindered by having seven languages in addition to Hindi, each written with a different complicated script. The result is that the only common language of communication for Indian Army officers from different areas is English. It was not as easy to put the British Raj behind them as the politicians imagined.

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    When I was at school at Aitcheson College in Lahore there were very few taxis, and most people traveled all over the city and to the surrounding villages in the horse-drawn tongas. You were seated facing backwards behind the driver, high above the axle between the two big wheels. I had always enjoyed these tonga trips, and loved the sound of the horse trotting as I traveled to the British club where I used to play tennis with the children of other Sahibs.

    Then I heard the story of the driver with goat’s hooves instead of hands. If he was not paid enough, he would put a curse on the passenger, and inevitable tragedy would strike the victim. One of these who had been cursed was foolish enough to hail a tonga without checking the hands of the driver. When the unfortunate (or was it guilty?) passenger was going to pay for the trip, he looked back and saw a goat’s foot stretched out for the money. He was so terrified that he fell out of the tonga and was found dead on the road.

    Obviously I did not believe this urban legend. But especially at night the thought of having to take a tonga and bargain for the price made me decide I would rather walk. And if I did have to ride in a tonga I found myself checking the driver’s hands.

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    In the Ganges basin around Allahabad there was irrigation from the Jumna and Ganges rivers. But in the villages further away the water level was about fifteen feet below ground level. It had to be drawn up by a series of small buckets that went down into a well, and came up over a large wheel. As the buckets tipped over one by one the water was channeled to the fields around. The water wheel was turned by a system of gears connected to an ox that circled around all day. The ox was rewarded with hay, and whacked occasionally to encourage it to keep going. Bulls, cows, and oxen were sacred to Hindus, so the animal was in no danger of being killed and eaten. But when the ox finally collapsed and died the chamaars (a very low caste of leather workers) got the skin, and the vultures, jackals, and pie dogs got the rest.

    Then we heard that a group of experts from the west had persuaded the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) that India needed tube wells. He ordered the pilot project tested in the constituency from which he was elected. This was just across the river from where we lived. As we went round the villages we could see huge billboards announcing "Tube Well number 6 will deliver so many thousand gallons of water per day." A network of concrete channels was built to take the water to the fields in all directions, and the experts and dignitaries arrived for the opening ceremony when the pumps were turned on. The flow of water was indeed impressive, and experts were able to fly home and to report this huge success.

    A few months later we asked the villagers how things were going for them with the new tube wells? Instead of joy, there was anger and bitterness. "The level of water in our wells is now too low for the water wheels which we used to run ourselves for nothing. And now we have to fill forms and bribe the officials to give us water from the tube wells. We got the British out in 1947, and we don’t need other stupid foreigners to come and interfere with our water.

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    For a full book of autobiography see AUTOBIO 2000

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