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At the same time they would hold out one hand and tap their stomachs with the other, indicating hunger. Then came the inevitable, “Baksheesh [1] , sahib. Baksheesh.” — But there is no easy way out. Feel sorry for a single beggar on the street and give him or her “baksheesh”, and your day could be ruined because, where there was only one before, they suddenly appeared from nowhere and descend on you like a swarm of locusts.

What is the alternative? Give your donation to an organised charity? Forget it ; they are all a bunch of thieves. — I knew a fellow who worked at the Indian Embassy in London. He was in the department which dealt with foreign aid. One day I asked him how much of the aid donated was actually received by the beggar on the street. “I hate to tell you this, Pat,” he said, “ but, after it has been picked at by the ‘establishment’ in India, it amounts to less than 5%.”

I have always, since the age of eighteen anyway, looked at this question of charity with a somewhat jaundiced eye. It doesn’t matter where it takes place, there is always somebody skimming off — should I say “thieving”? — the top. Let me tell you of my experience in the army when I was a medical laboratory technician. One day the pathologist in charge called me over and asked me to fetch a “couple of pints” of blood from the blood-bank.

“Yes, sir. Which group do you want?”, I queried, knowing of the importance of not getting the wrong blood into a patient.

“Oh, any group will do.” he said, and, although somewhat surprised, I certainly wasn’t going to query his orders.

I went down to the blood-bank and asked for the blood.

“Yeah, which group?

“Any group!”

“What?.” he said, and then after a quick pause and a quizzical look at me, “Let’s see, you’re from the lab, aren’t you. It’s Friday and the bloke who wants the blood is, Major Xxxxxx.”

Bloody Hell! That’s clever, I thought.

“How did you know? What does he do with it?”

“He does it every weekend, mate. He pours it on his roses… swears it’s good for them!”

I really did think the blood-bank operative was kidding me on. But no, after a lot of exhaustive enquiries I discovered that it was true. Do you really want to talk about charity “rip-offs”?


Most times during the school holidays, unless you lived in the same town, you hadn’t seen your mates for three months. During the time of “teen-years” they had changed almost unrecognisably; up to a foot taller, bass voice and probably a stone heavier. “Gee, what the heck! Is that the little squirt I kicked the shit out of last year?” or, for his part, “I’ll fix him this year.” But, mostly meeting up after the holidays was a time for renewing friendships and rejoicing in the prospect of another year giving the masters a hard time.

“Fixing” was sometimes done in the boxing ring but the real stuff was done at the back of the school near the toilets. “Meet me at the bogs.” was the usual challenge. We’d fight bare-fisted and wind up with bleeding knuckles and bleeding noses, blackened eyes and swollen lips and cheekbones. Nobody ever got too badly beaten up, even though there were some vicious encounters, because the protagonists would have their respective cheer-gangs and “eggers-on” who would decide when their man was getting too much of a pasting and would stop the contest.

Then it was “make-up” time and though there were often scowls, and swearing under the contestants’ breaths, hands, most often with bleeding knuckles, would be shaken and the episode soon forgotten.


The bogs were a series of cubicles built into a corrugated iron-roofed, brick-walled structure. Each cubicle had a boltable door and contained a piddle-pot hung on the side near the inside of the door, and a commode backing onto an outside rear wall. The piddle-pots were emptied through the door but the commodes were built in such a way that they could be extracted by the “mathar” or “bunghee”, (the crap cleaner), from either inside or outside. It was not unknown for the stupid fellow to pull the pot from outside just as you were dumping. But, no worries, it was down to him to clean up anyway.

All the excreta was collected in a three foot tall cylindrical container and then carried across the back of the school grounds on the head of the mathar thence to a huge open cess-pit dug into the back of the hill which stood way over to the rear guarding “Roe’s Folly”. It was sufficiently far away and dug deeply enough to avoid its stench from getting to the school.

One day, horsing around at the back of the school, some of the youngsters were rushing blindly about playing “tag” or football or something equally carefree. One of them, “Zeppie” Palmer, crashed into the fully laden mathar and knocked him off balance. The mathar and canister wobbled dangerously for a second or two but could not be balanced. “Zeppie” got the whole container-load dumped on his head and his body. I was among a bunch of lads there at the time and will never forget the look of amazement on “Zeppie’s” face with a huge “sausage” mostly decorating his head and the rest of it on his shoulder, his body drenched with urine and “runny” crap. Poor little, runt!


Just down the khud near the bogs was the best date palm in the area. It had great big dates on it and we would throw stones or use a catapult to knock the dates off the tree. For some reason or the other the shouted call to beware was. “Heads, spikes and toe-nails”. If a wayward stone fell and hit someone on the head, whether it half-knocked his brains out or just caused a bit of instant pain and an oozing of blood, the thrower was excused because he had uttered the magic words.

Because it was common to throw stones at fruit trees such as mango, badam or whatever, a lot of head-stitching and bandaging was carried out in St. Mary’s during a school year. Sometimes there were so many guys with their heads bandaged that it must have looked like a school for Sikh (sick, Pun) boys.

There were also several broken limbs suffered by the fellows; a fall out of a tree, a crash down the side of a rock-face or a simple accident on the football, cricket or hockey pitch. Most injuries were swiftly and expertly dealt with by one of the religious sisters in the dispensary.


Mt Abu bazaar, with C of E Church in the background

Apart from my regular bouts of malaria, I once had occasion to visit the dispensary for a serious problem. It was nearly always raining when we went swimming to “our” lake, and because we wanted to keep a raft there we had collected a bunch of dried logs at the beginning of the monsoon and constructed a makeshift raft with the logs lashed to 80-gallon oil-drums. Going out to the lake on one occasion we noticed that the drums were floating free and the logs had disappeared. We reconstructed the raft and, though this time we anchored the raft in the middle of the lake, were amazed to find that the same thing had happened the next time we went to swim.

Suspecting thieves looking for relatively dry fire-wood, we re-constructed the raft for the third time, anchored it in the middle of the lake and, having left the lake for the school only about ten minutes earlier, we rushed back to find that a bunch of Bhils were indeed in the act of stealing the logs. They were not good swimmers and used a dog-paddle cum side-stroke method to propel themselves along in the water. We, for our part, were by now a crowd of excellent swimmers and decided to catch the Bhils and give them a hiding.

They scattered and made for the shore. One was quite near me and I went for him but, as he slipped and struggled up the bank, he turned and threw a scythe at me. The blade caught me on the left shin and opened a huge gash. I fell and examined the wound. The scythe had broken the skin and penetrated to the shin bone and, I guess because the water had been cold, it was just a deepish white-looking cut. But within seconds the damned thing started to bleed profusely. The other lads helped me back to the school while the bloody Bhils made off, fortunately this time, leaving our dry logs.

For a few days I attended the dispensary for dressing changes, the sister saying that she could not possibly stitch the wound without first consulting the town doctor and contented herself with giving me a tetanus shot.. I soon got fed up with going to the dispensary and decided to treat the wound myself. After all, I thought, it did look quite clean when I took off the, admittedly now, somewhat grimy bandage, and I wanted to be able to train for Sports Day which would definitely have been a “non, non” from the French sister.

I plastered “Germolene” ointment into the wound and each day I would add some more, but after only three or four days I had a painful lump in my groin and the bloody wound had a nasty blackish look about it with pus around the edges. I went humbly back to see the sister who gave me such a rollocking that I really thought she was going to start swearing.

She cleaned the wound and put on a new dressing.

“You could ‘ave get ze gangrene if you are not careful. You ‘ave to come back ‘ere every day until I tell you it is OK. You ‘ear?”, she scolded.

I quietly limped away, apologising and hanging my head in shame.

At that time, there were no antibiotics available and she treated me with the next best thing, one of the “Sulphonamide” group of drugs. It took about three weeks to show any sign of getting better and I was the last man picked for a sports team when I should have been a Captain as it was my last year at school. Nobody wanted a “no-hoper” cripple in their team. Yet I am proud to tell you that, though I bear the scar to this day, more than 50 plus years later, I went on to make a complete recovery, break records in the high jump and long jump, win the 100 yards and 220yards dashes and also win the 110 yards hurdles to become the Best all-rounder in the division.


Despite the long school year and six years spent there, only two boys died while I was in Abu. I don’t know what was wrong with them. One was Gerry Collie, twin brother of Ashley Collie and a nephew of the Collie who was one of those killed in the gunshot incident in 1934. The other was a young fellow with the surname, Ashe. They were buried in the cemetery in Abu.

“Spud” Murphy

“Spud” Murphy was a really nice guy, though sometimes a tough kitchen steward . He would not think twice about giving any of the bearers a sharp clip around the ear. However, he was left handed and in response to that, all the bearers used to tie their turbans so that they covered the right ear with a thick protective layer. You could always tell if a bearer worked for “Spud” because of this trademark.

St. Mary’s was reputed to have been the best-fed school in India. One of the few provisions we were not self sufficient in was “butchery” and relied on the town butcher for our meat supply. Being in a Hindu State, we never got beef to eat and so it was always lamb, except on special occasions when we got chicken. Each evening the town-butcher would ride his pony up to the school with five whole lamb carcasses slung behind him. “Spud” insisted that the carcasses always had to have the sheeps’ tails, complete with the wool, left on. This was to prevent the butcher slipping the odd goat carcass — cheaper and more stinky — into the delivery.

“Spud” Murphy was also a great hoaxer and we all laughed at his antics but, one day it began to get serious and tragedy followed. There was one, Brother Placidus, a junior teacher and a deeply religious man who would say his matins each and every day while walking the corridors of the school. He was kindly but shy, and “Spud” began to take the “mickey” telling him that the Pope wanted to re-connect the Catholic Church and the Church of England in harmony.

Placidus, “Spud” said, was to be the “re-connecting factor”. He had been chosen, according to “Spud”, to marry the then Princess Elizabeth (now Queen) and once more unite the two churches.

Everything, “Spud” warned, that was done was to be kept secret until the big day. This was because “not only were church dignitaries, at least with the rank of archbishop, due to fly into Abu by seaplane and land on “Nakki [2] ” lake near the centre of the town to make preparations, but the war was on and spies might have got wind of the intended journey and have attempted to shoot down the plane.”

Later on, it was suggested to Placidus, “your blushing bride, Princess Elizabeth, might even land there to meet you and to discuss the honeymoon arrangements.” I suppose that if Placidus had been able to consult the Bishop of the Diocese or any of the other religious fraternity, rather than the Brothers, things would not have got out of hand. But they did — and with a nasty sting in the tail.

It beggars belief, but Placidus, after a couple of years of brain-washing by “Spud”, gradually began to believe the story. “Spud” told Placidus to say his prayers with extra devotion and humility and to become even more religious because the time for the great meetings and the marriage ceremony were fast approaching. The other Brothers and, I hate to admit it, we senior boys too, kept up the hoax and would encourage Placidus whenever he seemed to have doubts.

Placidus began to wear his black habit and sacred hat throughout the year and eventually began, on “Spud’s” egging-on, to require that the boys bowed to him as they passed. Placidus would make the sign of the cross and bless us as we bowed our heads in supplication and acknowledgement of his “divine selection” in his direction.

In the second year of “Spud’s brain-washing, Brother Placidus went completely “bonkers”. He would reprimand the Principal for doing something which he didn’t approve of. He would suddenly fall prostrate in the middle of the playground or anywhere else in the school, like a sinner before his God, and wail out prayers of entreaty to Heaven. He spent hour after long hour in the school chapel praying with that sudden raising of his voice as religious “bible-thumpers” are wont to do. He never smiled and affected that haughty expression so beloved of many with a superiority complex.

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[1] Alms.

[2] From “nakhoun”, meaning, finger nail.


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