In 1944 and 1945, our teacher was Bro. Xavier Snotty Sinnott, the tuck-shop chief. Thief -(pun). He was quite a nice chap, but he could also use the strap quite well. By this time we were fourteen-year-olds and getting somewhat grown up for the strap. But Snotty had an alternative ; he was a wicked chalk-thrower. He used to wear spectacles with highly polished lenses and could, somehow, see the reflections of the boys in them even while he was writing on the blackboard.
It was often the habit of the boys to be inattentive while the master was busy writing on the board. But it didnt work with Snotty. When he could see inattention or simple dozing-off in the classroom, he would suddenly spin around and inch-accurately hurl his piece of chalk at the delinquent. He never missed, always hitting the head of the unfortunate student with a resounding ping and bringing the miscreant and the class to order.
In his second year with us we started to applaud his accuracy when the strike was made, and though he had looked angrily at us and started to reach for his strap the first time we did it, he changed his mind when we, mostly nearly six-footers, sat and smiled challengingly at him. He still continued to throw the chalk, however, Ive got to keep my eye in for next years boys., he would say, but it was with much better humour and no viciousness at all.
Snotty was actually a brilliant scholar and an even better tutor. His Latin was impeccable and his knowledge of the Latin set books was such that you could start him off anywhere in Caesars Gallic Wars, Vergils Aeneid or Ovid, and he would carry on for page after page by heart. His math skills were formidable too and I would swear that he knew the logarithm tables from memory. It was certainly no accident that his preparation of us as students for the Cambridge Exams was the reason why, for the first time ever, every single candidate in our year passed.
Snotty had a little mongrel called Blackie who loved him like a father and who would sit outside the classroom for hours on end and wait for his master. Blackie was a good gun-dog too. He was hairy, a bit like a poodle, and it took ages to get the stickle weeds off him after a frolic in the jungle.
Snotty would take a 12-bore out with him on jungle walks and make the class beat for wild-fowl. Most of the time, being out of sight of him, we used to smoke a cigarette or two and shout as though we were beating. The non-smokers among us, there were probably two or three, would try to teach Blackie to do all the beating, but would keep up the shouting to make Snotty think that we were all hard at it. It was no wonder that he hardly ever got a brace of birds, even when they were literally running all over the jungle.
Talk about smoking. Snotty was one of the heaviest smokers I had ever met. I think he smoked about 60-80 a day. He had this rasping smokers cough from early in the morning until last thing at night. But it never seemed to bother him. He would just take the phlegm out of his mouth into his handkerchief and put it away carefully in his pocket and light up another cigarette. The dhobi ghat was always covered in his hankies.
Dad was very fond of Snotty and vice versa, particularly because Snotty came from somewhere near Wicklow and they had a lot to talk about in common. If and when Dad came up to Abu he would always ask Snotty around to the Dak Bungalow, where it was customary for Dad and Mum to stay for a few days, for a snifter. Snotty would smile when I passed the invitation on to him. When he came back from his drinking session, we never saw him on the same evening, but Dad assured me that Snotty had had a skin-full by the time he left, as he used to put it.
When Snotty left the school, he went to South America and became a priest.
The Brother who taught us in 1943 was Costie Costello. A tall, gaunt, cadaverous, bespectacled individual, with thinning hair plastered neatly to his skull. He could sometimes be a terrifying sight and had mood-swings which suggested that there was something very wrong with his psyche. It was he, you will remember, who had treated Noel Whyte so viciously. He didnt come back to the school the following year and I suspect he was moved to another Christian Brothers branch to keep him out of the way.
In the late 50s, I was sitting atop a London bus in Bayswater, London, late one afternoon when, looking down, I suddenly saw him. I rushed down the stairs and, sure enough, it was he. He was in civvies and pushing a bike. His trouser bottoms were in cycle-clips. He looked even taller than he had been when we were in school and he cast his eyes furtively about him. He saw me approaching him and a guilty look of recognition spread across his face.
Hello, I said, Remember me?
I could see a computer-like data bank flashing through his brain, checking, wondering if he had given me a tough time in Abu.
In a faltering voice he stammered, Er, well, er, yes. Youre Patrick OMeara, arent you?
Thats right, Brother Costello. It looks as though your past is catching up with you., I said in a kind of half-menacing tone.
Well, er, well, you see, Im not a Brother any longer. I work for the Civil Service, Patrick.
Thats interesting. Where do you live?, I could see him messing his pants with fear in anticipation of a thump on the jaw or a kick in the goolies in repayment for all those evil punishments he had dished out to me and the rest of the lads in the class.
Er, er, well, you see, I live over near Paddington Station., and then as though he had received inspiration from Heaven, Have you met Brother Barry in England?
I can give you his address and telephone number. He works for the Port Trust in the City, you know. Here, let me write it down for you quickly. Ive got to be away for an appointment. He struggled to hold himself together.
I didnt know and I didnt care. I began to feel pity and loathing for the miserable, trembling wreck that stood in front of me, sweating profusely as he now was. He had pulled out a pen and a piece of scrap paper from his pocket and was scribbling out the information. He pushed it into my hand and beat a hasty retreat. Bye, Patrick. Nice to see you!
A couple of days later I came across the scribbled note and decided to give Punchie a call. When he answered and we had exchanged hellos, I invited him to have dinner with me at an Indian restaurant.
At dinner we talked about school days and I reminded him of the Brooklax incident. He blushed like a virgin being propositioned and his giant nose turned a bluish shade of purple. He said he couldnt remember the lying swine. Anyway, more important was that I suddenly realised that his demeanour was typical of what we used to call a poof I had been totally ignorant of such a thing when I was in school ; its amazing how innocent and ignorant I was as a youngster and, in his effeminate way he confided that he was out of the Brotherhood and sharing a flat with a friend in East London.
He told me that Costie was also out of the Brotherhood but added, somewhat sneeringly, that he had gone and got married and, was the father of six children. I did a quick mental calculation. Crumbs! Being generous, and allowing for even twelve years of married life, meant that the sod had produced a kid every two years. I immediately began to think of the unfortunate woman who had married him and pitied her and the children for the physical punishments they must surely have been enduring.
We finished our meal, said Goodbye and parted company. I never saw him or Costello again.
I met one of the other Brothers in England, Brother Ryan. He was a typical Irishman red-haired, freckled and stockily built. We had always thought of him as a potential professional footballer because he could kick the ball so accurately and hard and could knock just about anybody of their feet in a tackle.
I was walking past the Catholic Church in Southampton and had seen him looking over the gate at me quite intently. I instantly recognized him and said
Hello, Brother Ryan, how are you?
Yes, Mr OMeara, Im fine, but I am Father Ryan now
I congratulated him ; I guessed that was the correct thing to do and we chatted on for a few minutes before I too leave of him and left.
Some years later I met him again in Liverpool. He was with his aunt and the three of us chatted for half an hour or so. It appears that Ryan had come from a fairly well-to-do family and had decided on becoming a priest and living almost as a layman. I think he too went off to Latin America later.
Chapter 5. 1946 - 1947
The Last Years.
When we came up to Abu in 1946, we had a new Principal, Brother T.A.Comber, and we were, of course, Senior boys. We also had a new tutor, Brother Morrow.
Comber was a reserved sort of fellow and seemed to be quite pleasant. Right at the start of the year he invited us Seniors into his parlour and told us that he knew that certain of the boys were smoking.
Now, I know that some of you seniors have developed the smoking-habit and, since you will be leaving school at the end of the year, Im not going to try to stop you or change your behavior, though I suggest you try to curb the filthy habit. He lit a cigarette of his own without even thinking, and continued, However, you are not permitted to smoke in view of any of the boys outside of your class. You may, once you have obtained clearance from your form tutor, have the freedom to go down the khud for your smoke in privacy. But , he held up his own cigarette, if I discover any other boys with cigarettes or catch them smoking, I will withdraw this privilege. Do you understand?
Yes, sir., we replied, solemnly and in unison.
I think that of the ten of us in our class, only Claude Betty Almeida and Peter Coulter were still non-smokers. Betty was the genius of the class and never stepped out of line. He and Clint Hutchins, the other genius, could just look at the cover of a book and know it off by heart. At least that is what we used to say.
Until Bettys appearance in about 1943, I could sometimes unseat Clint for top of the class, but once Betty showed up it was always he or Clint who were in first place. I was extremely happy when, in the Finals, I too managed an Honours Pass, but these two were the bees-knees.
We left the parlour feeling very superior, but then realised that Combers permission was a clever move. He had set up an anti-smoking police force without any difficulty because we seniors made damned sure that no one would be caught with cigarettes or smoking them.
The last year was brilliant for us because we knew that we would be regarded as men when we left, and were able to parade our superiority as such, in front of the younger chaps during the last year. We were able to go for private walks, without being accompanied by masters and generally did our own thing.
Additionally, we knew that all the beatings, strappings and canings were over. We had not been given a hard time even during the previous two years so there was not much chance that any of the masters would be foolish enough to take us on in our final year. In all, it was a pleasant time and I would have agreed with the old clich that schooldays are the best days of our lives, except that I had some years previously promised myself that I would never utter the words and believe them.
Comber was more generous with odd holidays when the monsoon rains broke for a day or two. He also allowed more than the single annual Class Picnic which we had become used to in the years before his arrival. Earlier, it was possible to get a second picnic by collecting the most money, out of our miserable pocket-monies and donating it to the Holy Childhood a charity which I never believed in because I was certain that the Brothers used to nick and spend the money on themselves The unHoly Brotherhood.
There was a progress-chart outside the refectory which showed how the individual class-collections were growing. Each class was represented by a different coloured line running horizontally and cutting vertical lines indicating hundreds of rupees. The class with the highest total, sometime in October, would be the winners and would get to go on a picnic, naturally getting the day off too.
For several years consecutively our class had won the picnic, though this was not because we were extra generous or foolish enough to donate large sums of our pocket money to the cause. It was because we had an Indian prince in our class who, on the last day of collections and having seen what the totals looked like, would make a contribution of a couple of hundred rupees which nobody else could match, or more if the circumstances demanded, so that we would win.
Picnics were nearly always enjoyed at a place called Trevor Tal which lay beyond the Dilwara Temples (as I have mentioned before) and off to the left on a side road to Achalgarh. On picnic days the cooks and their helpers would set off at about 5.30 in the morning with the pre-cooked chicken curry a special treat because, as you will remember we otherwise only ate lamb, rice and the rest of the trimmings. Others would go into the town, pick up the pre-ordered sweetmeats, and cakes and join the cooks on site.
If any of the boys had ideas about climbing to Guru Shikar or walking to Achalgarh they would set off early too Trevor McCann was nearly always in that bunch wearing his ammunition boots and equipped with a bayonet, his dah  and a length of rope. The rest of us used to make a slow stroll of it and spend most of the time swimming in the tal at our destination. At sundown we would make our way wearily back to the school and fall into our beds no night studies on picnic days! and pass out.
The next day God knows how the habit started we would all troop off to the dispensary and take a dose of Epsom Salts!
Although we sometimes considered it, we never had a picnic at Sunset Point. Sunset Point is now very well known as a landmark for tourists, but in our school-days it was a quiet spot to walk to and see the sun setting over the plains. If you get there on a clear evening when there is no heat haze, it is possible to look steeply down a khud-side drop of 5000 feet and then, into the distance across the plains of Rajputana, now called Rajasthan. It is sometimes possible to see the plains stretching eighty or so miles into the distance. There then follows a most spectacular sunset which I wont even attempt to describe, but it is worth seeing. If you get a chance, go and see it for yourself, but be prepared to be foiled by the haze. Good Luck!
The Dilwara temples are world famous amongst students of ancient architecture. It used to be possible to walk into them quite freely and with no delay at all. But now, because of the widespread publicity they have acquired through tourism, it can sometimes be quite difficult to get into some parts of the temples. The carvings are, to the untutored eye, similar to many other temple carvings throughout India, but with regard to their geographical location in temples way up in the hills, they must qualify as being quite unique.
Nakki Lake, the place where, you will remember, Princess Elizabeth was due to meet up with Brother Placidus, is quite near the centre of the town on its western flank. It is reputed, in Indian mythology, to have been created overnight by a minor god who dug it out with his finger-nails in a single night, as one of several tasks set for him to complete before he could marry a beautiful princess and daughter of a major god. Shades of Hercules, we always thought.
Nearby is a recreational garden where visitors and the locals can sit alone and meditate or chat in family groups, and from where one can hire rowing-boats and inspect the lake at leisure. There was a belief that Nakki Lake would claim at least one life each year through drowning. It seemed to have lived up to its reputation during each of the years that I was in Abu, though I could never understand why people were foolish enough to swim in it when there were so many reeds and tall water-grasses lurking just below the surface and which were so plain to see. It was these water plants in which swimmers so often seemed to get entangled and drown.
Sometimes we would have our picnic at Abu Road. This meant an eighteen mile walk down the metalled bus road. Some of the more intrepid ones would actually roller-skate the whole way and virtually destroy a pair of skates in the process. I never learned to roller-skate though I had clipped on a pair once or twice during my childhood I always seemed to fall and bruise my backside so badly that in the end I gave up trying.
Essential footwear for these Abu Road route marches was a heavy pair of boots with studded soles. That was a pity because, although they saved your feet from blistering, they were a bloody hindrance when you wanted to trip the light fantastic, as the Brothers used to put it, in the local Railway Institute that evening. It was customary for a dance to be held in the Institute when the senior boys had picnicked in the town, and any of the girls who were not away at hill schools would attend and dance with us. But those damned great clod-hoppers really ruined your style and there was no chance of any nifty Fred Astaire footwork to dazzle the ladies.
At the end of the year Sean, who had been with me in Mount Abu as the youngest boy in the school, and I, went south to Bangalore. Sean had had to stay up and wait around for me after the other boys had all gone home because it was the custom for fellows taking Cambridge exams to stay at school beyond the end of the normal school year.
We got to Bombay and spent a couple of days with my cousin, Edna and her husband, Jack Robinson, who, as mentioned before, was the Station Master at Bombay Central. Their several children were down from their schools for the Christmas holidays too. An aunt of ours, Brunie, and her children, came to visit and took us all for a picnic to Juhu Beach where, for the first time that I can remember, I ate the soft creamy flesh of a baby coconut. At that time it was a great experience though, nowadays, baby coconuts are served on just about every tropical beach throughout the world.
 A heavy Burmese jungle knife.