During the Great War, granddad and his older brother Arthur fought against the Turks on the Mesopotamian front (now Iraq). I don’t know a great deal more about Arthur, he did not marry and died in 1927, leaving granddad to take over the family business. There were also two sisters, Elizabeth and Ethel.
Elizabeth was an academic, she translated ancient Sanskrit, wrote books and was a senior member of the Jainism hierarchy. Elizabeth married but left her husband on their wedding night and travelled around Europe including pre-war Nazi Germany. She was a private secretary to a Maharaja who gifted a children’s bone china tea set to my mother for her birthday. She died in her bath and was cremated before any family members could reach her. There were fears that she may only have been meditating and had been burnt alive. In her will, she donated funds to establish a bird sanctuary.
Ethel was the youngest and was just as eccentric. She married, but her husband left her taking their two sons with him and emigrated to Australia. Ethel was a graphic artist and had worked for the Times of India. For a while she had a famous Indian dancer as a lover and continued to live in South India until her eighties.
My grandmother had died just before I was born. She had been separated from granddad for some years. Granddad had a new mistress of the house; it was not the best time to call.
My mother and I arrived to find there were too many sisters, literally two sisters confined to the guest house. Finding her return was not so welcoming, mum found alternative accommodation.
She hired an ayah from Nepal; mum seemed to have got two for the price of one as the ayah’s Gurkha husband was part of the package. All in all, I was well looked after.
On one occasion, she returned to find me being fed flying ants cooked in ghee; I was thoroughly enjoying it.
Another time, my mum was invited by friends to go to the races and this would involve staying overnight. The Gurkha, who was not much bigger than me, put his hand on his kukri (knife) and pledged to defend me to the death. With that, my mum felt reassured of my safe keeping, and off she went to the races.
While I was in India, I was fed buffalo milk. The buffalo was brought round and milked, that is what I call a doorstep delivery. One of my grandfather’s stories was while watching the milkman, the buffalo started to pee; the milkman wanting to make a few extra rupees moved the bucket to collect the urine. When he brought the bucket to the door, my granddad insisted the milkman drink his product.
One day, my mum and I went to a photographer’s studio in Bangalore to have our picture taken. After my mother had collected the prints, a full-size blow-up of my mother and I was placed in the window. Some 20 years later, on a return visit to Bangalore, that very same picture was still in the shop window.
After six months in India, it was time to leave. Mum sold her engagement ring to help buy tickets to England. Granddad saw us off from Bangalore airport and arranged for one of his business agents in Bombay to look after us.