Go to
Indian-Tales home


But when you’ve got it, you’ve got it and it must be treated or you will eventually die like a shivering wreck. With treatment — in those days it was quinine — you then had to go to bed and try to get warm which happened anyway. The ague would be followed by the second stage, a raging fever where your temperature could easily go to 105F and more, and dazed confusion. (If you were lucky, and with medical help available, you would usually get a shot of quinine in the buttocks at that time to break the fever and prevent your temperature going high enough to kill you.)

A couple of hours or so of the fever and then, stage three, you start sweating as though you are in a sauna after throwing water on the hot stones. That lasts for another couple of hours and then, stage four, blissful peace comes over you and despite being somewhat confused, you will eventually begin to think straight again. Unless you have had the foolish idea of getting out of your thoroughly soaked bed — in which case you fall flat on your ass because of dehydration (it is quite common to loose up to 10% of your body weight in perspiration in a single session).

On one occasion, when I had malaria, I’ve had all “57” varieties over the years, I was coming out of the fever and saw this most beautiful angel standing next to me and wiping the sweat off my brow. “My God,” I thought “It’s my Guardian Angel. I must have died and now be in Heaven.” But it was the mother of one of the other boys in hospital with malaria.

With the availability of modern drugs and the widespread prophylactic use of anti-malaria tablets, I religiously insist on taking them when I go into a malaria-affected region of the world ; the scourge of malaria is quite controllable. Most other common infections are as nothing compared with malaria, and being alert to them, one can be wary not to eat, drink or otherwise come into contact with anything which might be contaminated and cause these illnesses.

It is almost unimaginable that having just had a bout of malaria and need to be treated with quinine for about two weeks after it, that we would not take the medicine. Yet one of the chaps said that it was so bad that he would not swallow his down. I used to take mine even though it made my ears whine with a high-pitched and annoying whine. My teeth would be almost permanently on edge, and the taste would linger on in my mouth from one dose to the next.

Frank Diaz, one of the lads, reckoned that if you poured the dose into a glass of water the ward-sister would never know. The trouble was that it made the water a very light, but quite noticeable, blue colour. Frank had the bright idea that he would put the quinine into the water and then put a piece of blue paper torn from the cover of the “Illustrated Weekly of India” into it to make it look as though the colour had run. But the colours were wrong ; the colour of the quinine was very bright and sparkling and the IWI colour was like ink.

We decided to sling the dose out of the glass onto the floor under the bed. The blasted thing turned white.

The French-speaking sister knew what we were up to and would ask if we had taken our dose and we’d say, “yes”.

“All right then boys, I can still see a “leetle” (we used to say, “lethal”) drop left in zer bottom. Please swallow zat up too.”

Of course, even running one drop on your tongue was as bad in its effect as if you had taken the whole blasted dose. No getting out of it; we started taking the stuff and stopped complaining.

There are lots of other tropical diseases which can be a source of great distress — dengue, sand-fly fever, dysentery, black-water fever, typhoid, small-pox and yellow fever, to name but a few. But, in general, if you take care about where you go and what you consume,— remember to drink bottled water and open the seal yourself — you only need to be sure and unfailingly take your malaria medication to avoid most sicknesses.


1943 was also the year when I first began to “feel the juices stirring”. We were in Old Delhi at the time and I had met and got friendly with “Geoff” Harvey, a lad from the St. Joseph’s College, Naini Tal branch of the Christian Brothers’ Schools and a son of another soldier stationed in the town. Geoff was a real tough guy, and a champion boxer, with a pretty sister. Geoff and I used to go out on our bikes nearly every day and one day caught sight of a couple of really “sassy” girls, the DeFlondore sisters, who used to go to some convent in Mussoorie. They too were on holiday and we started to date them.

Unfortunately, the hols were nearly over. I think we only had about two or three days to get to know them before they were due to go back to school. Anyway Geoff and I were due back to our respective schools some days later and so, when the girls said that they would be going to the train-station by themselves and departing late at night, we decided to see them off.

The train was at least two hours late in departing and Geoff and I hung around “snogging” these two beauties. Mine was Daphne and his was Babette, and I am sure we swore ever-lasting love. We enjoyed the delay more and more until, at last, the train began to move off. We leapt out of the carriage, blew one more kiss to each of them and promised to write while at school.

With throbbing bulges in our pants, we got on our bikes and started for our respective homes. Geoff’s was nearer to the station and he peeled off, leaving me to continue alone along the Mall deep into Old Delhi.

At that time the anti-British movement, “British Quit India”, was in full swing and one was always likely to be beaten up by a bunch of Indian thugs. On the way to Mass on my bicycle on Christmas Day, 1943, I had seen thousands of handbills saying “British Quit India” littered about and thought about what Harold, the lad at the Karachi hotel, had said before the war. It looked as though it was all coming true. Mainly because of this (there were frequent riots in the town), but also because it really was getting late, Mum was in a terrible state of worry at home. Dad was out of town on a military tour of duty and the only person Mum could turn to was Dad’s friend and second-in-command, Major Cauldwell.

Mum sent the bearer around to fetch Maj. Cauldwell (there were very few private telephones in those days and we weren’t lucky enough to have one) and he came around to the house in a staff car. Telling Mum not to worry unduly, he set off up the Mall, well-lit but at this time of the night, void of anyone. It was the only route he could logically take as the other direction led into the jungle. Within a mile or so he met me cycling back. He stopped the car and called out for me to put the bike in the back and he then drove me home.

“Where have you been? Your mother is almost out of her mind with the worry of you being out so late and, all the ‘troubles’ ”, he almost shouted.

“Down at the station with Geoff Harvey. We were seeing some girls off to school.”

He chuckled to himself, probably remembering his own youthful escapades; he was reckoned to be a bit of a lad with the girls. Because of that Mum didn’t much care for him and suspected him of encouraging Dad to be a naughty boy.

“Don’t, for God’s sake, tell your mother you were out with girls.” he warned, “Just say you were with your friend Geoff.”

When we got to the house, Mum was standing outside in her dressing gown, with a handkerchief in one hand and with a bottle of smelling-salts in the other. She regularly lifted the bottle to her nose and sniffed at it, tears of worry in her eyes. This is a lasting memory of my mother which, unfortunately, I saw enacted so many times later on while the younger children were growing up and still giving her a worrying time.

“Sorry, Mum.”, I said, and immediately decided not to write to Daphne after all, though I have to admit that she kept her part of the promise and I did get a letter from her while at school. Anyway, I remembered, we were going to be posted to Ferozepore within a couple of months and God knows where the beautiful Deflondore sisters would wind up!

Gymkhana Club, Mt Abu

Nakki Lake, Mt Abu

Dad and Mum brought Major Cauldwell up to Abu for a short holiday in 1943. He held a war-time short service commission in the Indian Army and had never been abroad before his posting to India. He was fascinated by the country. He was even more fascinated when he heard that he could get shoes made locally for about Rs.10 a pair.

He went along to the “moochie [1] ” and had himself measured for a pair which were delivered within ten days. He was so astounded at the quality that he requested the moochie to make a pair identical to one which he had purchased in England. The shoes were brogues and of very high quality, yet the moochie assured him that he could copy them, (Bilkul aisa banaar saktha, sahib - I can make them exactly like yours, sahib), but the price would be a little bit more – Rs.12/8, equivalent to less than 1 at that time. Cauldwell ordered a pair and gave the originals to the moochie as a pattern.

You can imagine Cauldwell’s incredulous gasp when he saw the reproduction copy. They were near perfect down to the last stitch. — The moochie had unpicked the originals, copied everything and re-stitched them.

Some moochies were very clever. Dad had many, many items custom-made for himself and our family. To this day, sixty and more years later, we still have some of the items, baggage trunks, a portmanteau, riding leggings, a collar-box and a camera-stand case, to name but a few. Showing only the wear and tear of the years, they are in otherwise perfect condition.


During the school year of 1943 I was unfortunate enough to somehow anger one of the “bully” Brothers. I cannot remember exactly why, but this over-sized lout, Brother Louram, had pulled me by the ear to the extent that it was partially torn off my head. I had heard a “zzztz” sound and on closer examination found that my behind my ear there was a tear and blood was oozing from it. I washed it and wiped it with a handkerchief and after a few minutes it stopped bleeding.

I guess nothing more would have been said or done about the incident, but it happened that Dad was visiting Abu because Mum had been taken ill while paying us a mid-year visit. He sent a message to the school that he would like to see me and I was allowed to have an afternoon off.

When I got to the Gymkhana Club where Dad was staying, he noticed that my shoes were holed on the soles. I got a rollocking. Dad sent for the moochie and I had to give him my shoes for re-soling. After he left, Dad noticed that I had this bloody scab behind my ear and asked what it was. I told him and he was furious, absolutely out of his mind with anger.

“Right, son,” he said, “We’re going to see the Principal.”. Unfortunately, I was now shoeless.

“Don’t worry about that. Here, wear these.” He handed me a pair of his “keds [2] ” which were at least four sizes too large for me. He gave me a couple of pairs of heavy socks to wear, but that did not solve the problem. Another pair was rolled up and put into the toe spaces of the shoes and, like some “Chaplinesque” clown, I flip-flopped across the room.

“Right! That’s good enough.” said Dad, and we started on a short-cut across the fields and stony paths towards the school. When we got there, Dad went straight in to see the Principal. I stayed outside and waited in case any corroboration was needed. After a few minutes, Louram, having been summoned by the clerk, hurried up to the Principal’s office and, after what seemed like ages, he emerged with his head lowered.

Nothing more was said of the incident. Louram didn’t speak to me for the rest of the year and I wished he had been my form teacher so that, each day, I could gloat at the rollocking he had received from the Principal. Dad told me that justice had been done. I was satisfied


Old Delhi, where we lived virtually on the perimeter, was the military cantonment. All the major government offices were in New Delhi, which was an exquisitely designed and maintained city. In the centre of New Dehli is Connaught Circus, over a quarter of a mile in diameter and housing the high-class shopping centre.

In the days of the Raj, the shops, restaurants, movie-theatres and other buildings were regularly painted white or cream and were a delight to see. Over the years since 1947 the place, like so many others in India, has fallen into disrepair, with the walls and colonnades of buildings cracking, peeling, and filthy with the stains of disinterest taking the attention of those of us who knew it in the old days. Roofs are rusted and dilapidated and, in contravention of bye-laws which were strictly enforced while the British were there, untidy clothes lines hang from almost any available accommodation and carry the squalid rags of a nation not interested and seemingly incapable of any semblance of tidiness whatsoever.

Dead cats and rats litter the gutters, crows and kite-hawks grabbing their shares. Mangy pariah dogs roam the streets and side lanes. The administrative buildings and government offices built of pinkish stone, tile and ceramics, with statues and minaret-topped edifices and memorials, are still in place, though decaying quite rapidly. But the broad boulevards, roads and gardens are unkempt and dirty by past standards and the whole atmosphere is one of “Jaana dho, jana dho.”, (Let it go, let it go.)

Having seen many other tropical and sub-tropical countries which are also filthy and uncared-for, one is almost inclined to blame the climate. But that would be unfair to places like Singapore, the sub-tropical states of North America and Australia, to mention but a few.

No! It is the mentality of the people who lack the will and the funds — because they are stolen by corrupt politicians and “establishment” figures — to maintain it. Many Indians will tell you that it is the fault of the British, “who stole all our wealth”, which is all too easy an excuse, and a lie — some Indians are among the wealthiest people in the world and even they don’t seem to care about how squalid the outsides of their homes are — of course, they will tell you that they do not want to advertise their wealth. That’s a load of old cods-wallop! In any case, India has had over fifty years to progress yet, in common with much of the rest of the Raj which chose “self-determination”, has gone backwards. No major roads or building projects have been undertaken and completed since 1947. They said “British Quit India.” and threw us out. Yet so many of them, who were so vociferous in their demands for independence at that time, have followed the Brits, run away from their homeland, and are now living in Britain — many on State Benefits. Which begs the question —Why?

Talk to many young Indians who have heard stories from their parents and grand-parents about the glory days of the Raj, and who are open-minded enough to listen and see, and they will tell you that, “On August 15th 1947 we, ourselves, perpetrated the worst crime against our country that we ever could.”

But, in spite of the decay and degrading atmosphere and the sense of having been brutalised along with the country, deep down inside me, I still love my India and somehow, through all the filth, the grime and corruption, it still manages to hint at the memory of the imperial grandeur that used to be, especially for those of us who knew it in those days.



When we were in Delhi we had several animals. There were two trap-ponies, Minnie, a ”tiddler” of about 9-hands, and Mary, a taller mare of about 15 hands. In addition we had an ex-cavalry horse called Bedsocks who also pulled a trap but, since he stood so much taller, he pulled a different, taller, two-wheeled trap.

We had a syce for the beasts, but when I came home from school, Dad delegated me the job of riding Mary to the local forge to get it shod. The trouble was that we didn’t have a saddle for Mary but Dad had scorned the idea when I said that I would have preferred to ride her with a saddle and said. “You don’t need a saddle, son. Ride her bare back.” I did, but by the time I got home again — it was three or four miles each way to the forge — I had a very sore backside indeed. However, Dad was solicitous and advised that I should wash with warm water and then use “blanco [3] ” on the insides of my thighs and on my bum — an old cavalry trick apparently — and sure enough, I was OK the next day.

Being wartime, there was no chance of having a private car even though there were many Indians who managed to find the funds to support one. Except when he was on official business and could use a staff car the ponies therefore became the mode of transport when Mum and Dad needed to go to and from the Officers’ Club. The syce would take them there and leave them for the evening’s “booze-up”.

When they staggered out at mid-night or later they would get into the trap and set off home without even bothering to drive, because the ponies, Mary especially, knew their way home and used to race back at full gallop.

Running all the way alongside the house, there was a “nullah”, a kind of narrow ditch with a small bridge over which they had to make a sharp left turn to reach the house. On several nights I would hear them laughing and singing as they came home but, one night Mary

<< Previous Page

[1] A shoemaker.

[2] Canvas shoes.

[3] A white chalk for whitening army uniform webbings.


Sitemap Generator