Thursday, 15 January 2015

A childhood in India in the days of the Raj

(A lady called Joyce, a friend of my father, gave me this account)

I was born near Madras, where my father was an official of the Imperial Bank of India. I was an only child, and there was no-one of my age living nearby, so when I once met another child I didn't know how to communicate or talk with her. We didn't mix socially with the Indians or Eurasians (mixed-race). Instead I had a pet goat, called Maggie.
     We lived in a large house belonging to the Bank, which had a garden (called a compound) and servants' quarters. There were five house servants and two gardeners I had an aya (nurse) and a Eurasian nanny, but my best friend was my father's peone (bearer), who was called Robert. He was very old, and was delegated to take me for walks. I remember that in the hot weather we went up to the hills for three weeks, and there for the first time I met children of my own age at the kindergarten.
   Our house was believed to be haunted. Even my father felt uneasy at times. There were poisonous snakes. Once we found a cobra on my mother's bed! She was in the bed at the time. My father called out "Don't move!", got his gun and shot it!

 I first came to England when I was 5, stayed for six months and then returned to India, where I nearly died of enteric fever. When I was 8 or 9 I was sent to school in England, at Hove in Sussex. I didn't see my parents again for three years; instead I was shuffled round between relatives and friends in the school holidays. That kind of arrangement was quite common. I loved England because I was in good health there, whereas I was always ill in India.
   The first school I went to in England was, I now realize, very strange. Because my parents' main priority was the state of my health, they liked its emphasis on life in the open air rather than on academic studies. After this I went to the Maynard School in Exeter, which was more traditional; and then three years later I was transferred to a day-school in Exmouth. By this time my father had retired from India, and my parents bought a house in Budleigh Salterton in Devon, where many other former Indian officials lived.

I left school at 16 and got married at 19, to an old family friend who was nine years older than me. He was a road engineer, and we spent our honeymoon in Germany, looking at Hitler's autobahns! Despite this, we had a very happy married life. We only visited India once, as tourists!.

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