Go to
Indian-Tales home


comfortable, were constructed in the surrounds and these would be occupied by his standby shikaris [1] .

It was customary for the rajah to go to sleep and when, usually in the small hours of the morning, the tiger approached, one of the assistants would quietly awaken him. The rajah would take an approximate aim and, to try to ensure that nothing would cause him to miss, the searchlight would then be turned on. For a fraction of a second the tiger would be surprised in the glare. Bang! It was all over in a few thousandths of a second.

If, very rarely, the animal was only wounded, it was the duty of the shooter (shikari) to follow the beast into the jungle and finish it off. There was no room for allowing the possibility of a man-eater to be created. Man-eaters are usually only very old or wounded animals which are unable to hunt successfully for themselves. Strangely enough, even then the tiger is reluctant to attack a man who is looking him in the face.

My classmates and I experienced an occasion when this was demonstrated. It is not common to see a tiger by happenstance, yet one day we were out for a “jungle” walk and suddenly, along the trail in front of us, a tiger appeared from behind some bushes on the side of the track and just stood on the trail looking at us.

We froze, fearful, not knowing what to do. The big blighter just took another look and disappeared into the khud-side on the opposite side of the trail. We were shocked and trembling but continued on our walk and there were no further sightings of that tiger even though from time to time we would see one on the hill behind the school.

In Bengal, at about the same time as I was in Abu, there were many man-eater attacks on the local peasants who were working in the fields. It turned out that virtually every attack had been made from the rear of the victim. Somebody had the bright idea of equipping the workers with masks which they wore on the backs of their heads, facing backwards to make the tiger believe that the worker was looking directly at him. Apparently the attacks immediately dropped to virtually nothing.

On one occasion, in the evening and on the way back from the lower playing field after a games period, several of us saw a “kill” take place. Several cattle had already wandered onto the field when, suddenly, a tiger appeared. We must have been a good three hundred yards from the attack, but were clearly able to see the tiger take a couple of great bounds, leap onto a cow’s back, place his huge paws on the cow’s neck and with a twisting action simply broke it.

A cage-machaan was brought into use by one of the rajahs and that night he came back and claimed the tiger. A cage-machaan is simply that, a giant cage not unlike those which are used by shark photographers and into which, after it has been camouflaged with leafy branches of trees and twigs the hunter goes and conceals himself and waits for the tiger to re-appear to polish off his “din-dins”.

Particularly in the early part of the school year, we often saw pug-marks of a tiger on the top playing field right in front of the school. They were quite enormous and easily measured ten to twelve inches across. It was easy to see how a single slap from one of these magnificent animals could destroy the life of its prey.

Bikaner was our favourite hunter. When he had shot a tiger near the school he always brought his prize with him in the back of a pick-up truck and woke the school so he could show off his latest trophy. Some of the beasts measured, as it is the custom to do, from the nose to the tip of the tail, over twelve feet. The great thing was that the rajah would always ask for the next day off for the boys and then celebrate even further by providing ice cream for all of us.


After leaving the railhead at Abu Road, it is necessary to drive a flat and level three miles or so to the foot of the mountain range, taking in, as I have mentioned before, a view of “Dog Rock”, a massive rock outface to the left of the road which, as its name suggests, resembles a dog in the act of climbing, and then suddenly a climb into the hills. The view, as one climbs, is predominantly of huge rocky outfaces and hills, lots of trees - mango, flame of the forest, honeysuckle, badam [2] , wild lime, conifers of different types - and bushes - carranda, snake-fruit, different type of fern, cacti and so on, and date-palms, thousands and thousands of them which, dependent on the season, will give up their fruit most generously. It is almost impossible to miss the hordes of monkeys leaping from tree to tree, and literally hundreds of different species of birds which prefer the cooler regions in the hills to the plains.

Passing several Bhil villages on the way up, one eventually arrives at the Toll-gate, where motor vehicles are charged for entry to Abu town. Soon after the Toll-gate, there is a turning off to the left which, by way of “Bunny Bank”, a flat grassy area, and “Paddy’s Bridge”, a forty foot stream-crossing in a valley, leads, after a final steep climb, to St. Mary’s High School, isolated atop the hill.

Continuing from Toll-gate and towards the town of Abu, there is a turning to the right which leads to the Convent and then on via the Dilwara Temples and a climb off to the left, to Guru Shikar, the highest point in the range. It is only accessible by foot and topped of with a temple. Then, ignoring the pathway towards Guru Shikar, on to Achalgarh, which used to be a village of ten or twelve huts, but has now become a large tourist hang-out with shops and Indian-style restaurants.

If one ignores this turning to Dilwara, it is about a mile into the centre of the town. In the 40s the final bit of the road into the town had small fields of maize to the right and the steep side of a hill to the left, but today there are houses and hotels built on almost any level land which once existed.


St. Mary’s High School - 1941- 1946

This Gothic-arched, single storey building was to be my March to December home for the next six years. During 1941 it was developed so that a smallish centre-section was made into a two storey block and since then there have been many other buildings constructed, spoiling my mental picture of the place yet developing it sufficiently to bring in much-needed revenue for the continuance of educational activities and to house the students who currently number over three hundred. In 1941 there were only 85 or so boarders and literally four or five day-boys, nearly all of whom were princes from the local palaces. In 1946, my last year, we were a school of 102 boys and six day-boys.

Off to the left of the main block lies the Masters’ House and further up the hill was another small house for one or two masters who were not Brothers but lay teachers. To the right of the main block and down a few steps was the electrical-generator plant house combined with the engineer’s quarters.

On the same level as the school but slightly to the rear and to the left were the “bogs”. In the valley to the rear of the school lay the bakery and deeper in the valley, after 1942, “Roe’s Folly” which was an attempt at digging a water well. Brother Roe, the Principal of the school from 1942, had considered himself an expert at divining a source of water with a couple of sticks. The attempts at digging the well and blasting the rocks which the labourers kept on coming against again and again, went on until Roe left in 1944. Today it stands as a one hundred foot deep and twenty foot diametre relic of stupidity and a reminder to a stubborn and sulky old fool. — I would say that wouldn’t I ; I was the recipient, on at least two occasions, of “six-of the best”, from the “crap-bag”.

Behind the bogs and down the “khud [3] ” lay the servants’ quarters and the “dhobi ghat [4] ” From there a jagged and steep path led down to the lower playing field, a quarter of a mile distant, and thence to the “School Lake” which didn’t belong to us at all but which we had named and commandeered. The lake only filled up in the monsoon and was only good for swimming in for a couple of months after the monsoon had ended even though it still had plenty of water in it. Being still water it was very prone to harbouring malaria mosquitoes. As a result, most of the time we swam it was during the monsoon while it was pouring with rain and quite cold.


The first couple of days at school were spent settling in, learning the school routines and getting to know the other fellows. After that it was full speed ahead with activities. The time-table for activities left us with less than half an hour a day to ourselves. We’d get up at seven-thirty in the morning to a series of loud claps from the Brother in charge and fall, immediately, on to our knees for morning prayers. We spent half an hour getting washed in cold water, though some of the senior fellows who had started shaving were allowed to get a mug-full of hot water from the generator cooling tank, and then dressing for daily mass in the chapel.

Directly from there we would go to “chota hazri” (small breakfast) and finish that by eight thirty. There followed half an hour to make up the beds and do a bit of prep for the start of classes at nine. At eleven thirty we would break for “breakfast” and then at twelve we would fit in another half hour of prep before the afternoon classes. At three thirty we finished classes and went to tea for half an hour and then our only free half hour of the day, though we had to use part of this time to change into our sports kit.


Then we would play games — soccer in the rainy season and hockey or cricket the rest of the year — for one and a half hours. Back to school to wash and change our clothes for study.

We would have dinner and then go back to the classrooms for another hour of “night study”. Thence to the chapel to say the rosary — half an hour — and then half an hour queuing up to take a pee before returning to the dormitory. There we would fall on our knees again for night prayers and then retire to bed at around 10.30, totally “shagged”.

On Wednesdays and Sundays we had a library afternoon and instead of games we would go for a jungle-walk or else into the town. I started off in Standard IV and didn’t even think about the years I would have to be in the school until Senior Cambridge (Std.X) The routines and discipline were familiar to me from the other boarding schools I had been to.

Within a few days I became aware that we were being educated by, for the most part, a bunch of “Sadists”, who would brook neither nonsense nor any failure to study. They all looked like mature men and a few of them were, but the majority of them were relatively young blokes in their twenties. When, many years later, I re-visited the school and saw the then Principal and asked him how old he was, he surprised me by telling me that he was just twenty six.

“Crumbs !,” I said, “How old were you when you joined this band of “thugs?”

“They take us from about the age of 12”, he replied, “But I joined the seminary at the age of 11.”

All the Brothers carried around a leather strap, about a foot and a half long and, with several thin layers stitched together, about half an inch thick. The strap was concealed in the deep pockets of their habits and were regarded as day-to-day, in fact minute to minute, weapons of punishment. It was not uncommon to get a normal ration of ten whacks in a morning or afternoon session. In 1945, one of the boys in our class, Noel Whyte, was so thrashed in one morning session, collecting 42 lashes, that in the lunch break he “went over the wall” and ran away from school. The responsible Brother, Costello, had to spend the whole afternoon being driven up and down the road to Abu Road in an attempt to catch him and bring him back.

Noel successfully evaded capture by hiding in the jungle and behind rocks until, crossing the open stretch at the bottom of the hills and the start of the plains, he had to break cover and was caught. He was brought back to the school and expelled. I met him in London in a night club twenty six years later. He was a successful cartoonist with the “Daily Mirror”. Expulsion, fortunately, hadn’t affected his chances in life.

The “heavy punishment stuff” was a malacca cane which was usually only administered by the Principal though I had seen the vice-principal use it on occasions. The non-brotherhood masters, the language, science and music masters, never carried any tools of punishment and I don’t think they approved of the Brothers teaching style which was based on the principle — “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.

We had a couple of youngish lady-teachers for the small boys. They never handed out physical punishment and were rather plain-Jane types, but as the years rolled on and ‘the juices began to flow’ the then current lady teachers began to look more and more delectable. Though, even at 16, we were thoroughly innocent virgins and would not have known what to do with a “piece” if it was placed on a plate in front of us. Aside from the servants, the rest of the staff were in religious Orders ; a couple of nuns for the sick-bay and the junior dormitory, and the school priest.

Class sizes were small, usually about nine or ten pupils and, if like me, you stayed the course to the end, you had really become well-acquainted with your peers. Our lessons consisted of the then usual subjects ; physics, chemistry, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, English composition, English literature, Latin, Hindi, history, geography and, naturally, catechism and bible studies. I gave up geography in favour of a self-study course (none of the masters were experts on the subject and, in any case, they took the geography class at the same time as I studied my subject), in hygiene and physiology because I had wanted to be a doctor. There was little opportunity to vary one’s subjects except as I did, and then one had to study alone, unless it was French or some other European language, when it was possible to study with one of the priests in the town. But, being wartime, nobody even suggested learning German or Italian!

One other thing I must mention, particularly for younger readers, was that in those days a Cambridge examination was a “whole” exam — you could not take just one or two subjects and qualify for a pass in that subject. You had to take a minimum six-subject exam — one of which had to be English — and which you had to pass, within a period of a week, sometimes ten days, depending on the examination venue’s timetable. If you only passed in five subjects, even with fantastically high marks, you had failed and had to re-sit the next year, not before. If you had taken and passed ten subjects with excellent marks but failed to pass in English, it was the same — you had failed the whole exam and had to re-sit the lot the next year, not before. You will realise that there was a lot of studying done to achieve a pass.

It was only a few days of starting school before I fouled up my first Latin declension “nauta” with our form master, Brother “Punchinello” Barry. I qualified for two whacks with the strap — and, bloody hell! It hurt. But the strap soon became routine and gradually our hands became tougher and we could stand the whacks somewhat better. When the monsoons arrived, the weather was colder, and we used to sit on our hands to keep them warm just in case we copped a beating.

Describing the beatings as “whacks” might sound as though they were mere taps. Let me assure you that they were full-blooded attack swings, aimed from above the shoulder of the deliverer. In fact, the Brothers were so outrageous and blinded with fury in their venom that they often missed the target and got you across the wrist.

Some of the boys would try to move their hands with the force — like catching a cricket-ball — so that the intensity of the blow would be somewhat less painful. But it was to no avail ; if a Brother suspected that that was what you were attempting to do, you just qualified for another whack. If you flinched and drew your hand away, you would either cop the stroke on the finger-tips – very painful and usually qualifying you for another delivery by the “donor” – or the Brother would miss completely and whack his own leg. That really enraged the sod and you’d better start saying your prayers!!

In our first year we had two really nice guys in our class, Nelson “Nellu” Grant, and “Congo” O’Neill. I never knew Congo’s first name, we only ever addressed him as Congo. Both the lads were excellent sportsmen, especially Congo, who was an absolute giant of a fellow but who had this dainty little way of walking on his toes with a bounce in his step. It was quite an incongruous sight. On the cricket pitch he would swing out and score six after six or cutely sweep cross-bat to leg for four. He could easily kick a football three quarters of the way up the pitch and when he played hockey, stand clear, because not only could he dribble like a magician, he came down the field like a train and if he collided with you I always used to think it would be Requiescat in Pace time.

Nellu was also terrific at all sports and could run like a typhoon. However, neither of the two lads were any good at study and the Brothers seemed to take such enjoyment in thrashing them when, as was usually the case, they fouled up their answers.

A really horrid wile of Brother Barry was that if he caught you eating a sweet in class, for example, he would make you hand over any others which you had and he would “capture” them, as he put it, and devour the lot himself. If it happened to be your last or only sweet and he was therefore unable to capture the rest, the rotter would give you a “taste” of his “sweetie” (the bloody strap again!) instead.

One day we had a brainwave. Clinton “Clint” Hutchins, the genius of the class, produced a wrapped bar of chocolate laxative called “Brooklax”. The rest of us had never heard of the stuff before, probably because it was an American product, and surely “Punchie” had never heard of it either. Anyway, “Clint” assured us that one square of the bar was enough to ‘give an elephant the runs’ and the bar had about six or eight pieces in it. Clint broke one piece away to make it look as though it was eaten and then instructed “Nellu” to keep the rest in his desk and make out that he was chewing something. Like a fish, “Punchi” fell for the trick and took the bait hook, line and sinker. He asked what “Nellu” was eating, captured the rest of the bar, and consumed it within the course of the 45-minute lesson.

That evening, “Punchie” took us for hockey practice on the lower playing field, removed his habit which was like a long overall that hung down to the shins and, with his white trousers tucked into his socks, proceeded to play hockey with us. I have to admit that he was quite an adroit player, but at some time during the evening he must have tried to fart or else over-exerted himself and felt the moist crap in his pants.

A small brown stain appeared on his white trouser seat. Later in the game the stain grew larger, wetter and obviously more and more uncomfortable. “Punchie” called off the rest of the game, an unheard of decision, and told us that we were to get back to the school “as soon as possible, boys”. But we stooged around on the way back to the school and he had to follow on behind to try to prevent us from getting behind him and seeing the ever growing stained mess on the seat of his trousers.

After much dawdling about and finding any excuse to get behind him and view the “damage”, we finally we got back to the school while he rushed off, no doubt to have a big liquid crap. We had tamed his greed and I think he suspected what had happened, but he never said anything to us. The other thing he never again did was to capture and eat our sweets!


<< Previous Page

[1] Usually shooting hunters. Expert riflemen.

[2] Indian plum.

[3] A pit, ravine, hollow.

[4] A washerman’s place of work near a stream, river or other water supply.


Sitemap Generator