Wednesday, October 28, 2015


A pair of funny stories.

When FJH got married, he was Assistant Collector in Dhulia for the District of West Khandesh. A large part of the District was forested, with leopards and tigers surviving the onslaughts of the British Raj. Leopards fancied dogs, and when FJH went on camp, which was much of the time, since village inspection meant living in tents for lack of dak bungalows, he had his dog, Teddy, set on a table and fastened to the tent pole, with a sentry beside him. His wife, Susana, often saw eyes, green in the light of lanterns, staring at her out of the dark.

There were very few Roman Catholics scattered about the district. Not enough for a mission in any one place. Once a month, a priest came to the then tiny town of Manmad and opened up a small two-room building, not even big enough to be called a chapel. He arrived on Saturday evening, cleaned out the ‘chaplet’, slept the night in the minute adjacent room, and early next morning celebrated Mass. Then he packed up the vessels and linen and left for home. His journeys were by State Transport bus.

One early Sunday morning, as FJH and his wife were approaching the place, a bunch of excited people clustered around. From their chatter, and from what the priest afterwards related, this is what emerged. On Saturday afternoon, a tiger who had fed well and was desirous of a nap, found a platform below the tree into which he must have dragged the last of his kill, and stepped on to it. The platform moved forward, but slowly, and the tiger settled himself among a number of gunny bags and other impedimenta, falling fast asleep. The State Transport bus carried on, no one inside any the wiser. But when it stopped at Manmad, the tiger was observed to be snuggled in amid the baggage on the roof. No one dared raise a cry. Evidently the priest got off safely. He could not say what became of the tiger on the bus. Or of the passengers who wanted to retrieve their baggage. Neither could the people who had told their tale. This was a story that vanished into the sunset.....

When FJH went to Ahmedabad in 1956 he found in residence as Divisional Commissioner a jolly, able, intelligent ICS officer, who should not have been attached as fifth wheel to the administration because he was capable of far better things. In fact, he must have been sent there for treading on someone’s toes. After he was recalled to Bombay he proved himself the fine officer he really was.

Now, the Divisional Commissioner resided in a small palace built by Shah Jahan when he was only the Subedar (Governor) of Gujarat. It was on a bank of the Sabarmati. Much further along there was a Hanuman temple on account of which bands of black-faced monkeys went marauding up and down the river-bank, popping into every residence along the way (including the Collector’s Bungalow). This the Commissioner’s offspring resented. One of them used a slingshot and laid low a Goliath in the monkey band. Young David was not seen but the fallen monkey was. Horror!

When the Commissioner was told of it, he hurried out with a couple of his staff. A few people had collected and questions would be asked. To prevent what is called ‘an untoward incident’ the Commissioner immediately declared that the monkey so sadly dead should be cremated with all the honour due to him. He took money out of his wallet and sent the onlookers off to buy sandalwood – no less – and ghee for a proper cremation. When they were gone, he swore a reliable servant to silence and they hastily buried the corpse in the sand. Then he returned to his office.

The bearers of sandalwood and ghee returned to find no monkey. “Ah yes,” said the beaming Commissioner, “isn’t it wonderful! The monkey was not dead, only unconscious. After a while it got up, shook its head, and loped off.” What of the materials for cremation? Oh, those would do as well for a puja. “Why don’t you take them to the Hanuman Temple as a puja offering?”

He was a capable officer, indeed.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


The Union Government of India was urging people to “Grow More Food”. As an encouragement to them, a distinction of “Krishi Pandit” was instituted to honour farmers who achieved the highest yield per acre of Paddy, Wheat, and certain other food crops.

One day the Collector of Kaira received telegraphic instructions to send a non-official representative to attend an investiture ceremony of Krishi Pandits at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The date of the ceremony was four days ahead.

Rapidly, the Collector conferred with the Secretary and the Deputy Chairman of his district’s Rural Development Board. They agreed with him that it would be fitting to send a genuine farmer to represent the district. The Collector recalled talking to a sturdy agriculturist during a recent village inspection. He suggested that this farmer be sent to Delhi. Although, or perhaps because, the farmer was of a community generally disprized, the two politicos agreed.

Straightaway, the three drove to the village, persuaded the bewildered farmer to undertake the journey to distant Delhi – he who had never seen a habitation larger than the pilgrim centre of Dakor, some forty kilometres away – got an achkan stitched for him, and procured him footwear. In 48 hours he was put on the mail train to Delhi, accompanied by an Agricultural Officer instructed to escort him to Rashtrapati Bhavan, show him the sights of Delhi, and return him to his village. This speed-of-light activity was a fantastic adventure for all involved: the farmer, the villagers, the officials. 

When the farmer came back, he was a changed man, no longer diffident. After seeing what importance was accorded to farming by the great Panditji himself, Jawaharlal Nehru, who had shaken him by the hand and inquired about his farm and his family, this farmer was more attached than ever to his occupation. [He grew a fragrant rice of which he sent a sack to the Collector.]

The story of the farmer’s adventure came to be told all over the district. It caused other members of his community to feel uplifted. It encouraged all agriculturists. And it earned the district administration goodwill.

These photographs are from the time when her father was Collector of Ahmedabad. In addition to handling the daily threats posed by the Mahagujarat agitation – which makes matter for a fine long tale of daring, Odyssean cunning, integrity and fortitude – he had his village inspections. There was the importance of cleanliness to be stressed; there was a water supply system to be set up so that women need no longer tramp to the well and bicker when there; there were villagers to be honoured for some distinction or other; and then he drove away, but not before accepting a bunch of greenery from a village child!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

       ROOTS - 2

He was a modest man. His own daughter did not know of all the things he did or endured until long after his death.

Some things she understood from stray letters preserved, thinking with sadness of what he must have suffered in silence, as she matched them to her own memories of what she remembered hearing and seeing.

Other things she read written by him in a series of anecdotes which he ascribed to an unnamed IAS officer, never indicating that the officer was himself. One story was clinching evidence. She had heard it from a very old friend of the family, a young clerk who had caught the eye of the Collector of Kaira, and was sent for by him, with the pulling of many strings, to work as his Personal Assistant in Ahmedabad during the terrible months of the Mahagujarat agitation and after, because he was as secret as the grave, and was to be entrusted with most grave secrets. The old friend reported a story which for him summarised his idolised boss.

Here it is, in her father’s own words.

“One evening, the Collector, having risen from his desk to quit office for home, saw that there was a villager at the door, pleading with his Personal Assistant for an interview with the Collector. Intrigued by the man’s earnestness, the Collector asked him what he wanted. It transpired that he was a petty shopkeeper who had offered the highest bid at an auction of tax defaulter’s property, held by the Mamlatdar, whose Deputy Collector had, for some reason, withheld approval of the sale of those goods. This had happened several years earlier, since when the unsuccessful bidder had made repeated trips to the taluka office in order to obtain refund of the earnest money (some three hundred rupees) that he had paid into the taluka treasury on his bid being declared the highest. Returning from another fruitless attempt, he had visited the Collectorate on the chance of seeking the Collector’s intervention.

His manner was desperate, and his tale rang true. The Collector felt that immediate action alone would satisfy him.

He bundled the petitioner and his Personal Assistant into his jeep, and drove to the taluka kutchery – fortunately only a few kilometres away. Reaching after sunset, he sent his Personal Assistant to fetch the Mamlatdar and the Treasury Head Clerk from their homes. On their arrival, he had the Kutchery opened and the relevant records produced for examination.

He found that the petitioner’s tale was borne out by the records, and that the taluka officials could show no reason for withholding refund of the earnest money. On the spot, the Collector wrote out a “speaking” order, directing the Mamlatdar to refund the amount to the petitioner, got the Mamlatdar to acknowledge and carry out the order, and dropped the bemused petitioner at the chowk [market square] where he could catch a bus to return to his village.

This incident got to be talked about, even in official circles, where it taught the lesson that lack of precedent need not prevent an official from disregarding regular procedure, where redressal of an honest citizen’s grievance is the consideration.”

Thus the anonymous Collector’s tale. What the Personal Assistant told her is that the Collector gave him some money to have tea with the petitioner, whose vision was so blurred with tears he hardly knew what he was doing, and to return to Kaira by bus after seeing the poor man on his way home.

This is what made the Collector beloved of his people.

Friday, October 23, 2015

        ROOTS - 1 

Her parents’ marriage was arranged. Her paternal grandmother approached the parents of her mother and inquired if it would be agreeable to them and to their daughter for her son to visit their home, and she stated the purpose. After their inquiries confirmed a previous good opinion of the young man’s family and of himself, the visit was welcomed.

According to Portuguese law her mother would have inherited an equal portion with her siblings of the paternal property – small as that was. But she was going to marry an Indian and become an Indian citizen. Although at the time relations between India and Portugal had not reached the pitch of hostility that was to come, with her new status she would not be permitted – from the Portuguese point of view - to own ‘Portuguese’ property, even theoretically. As for her husband, he had not asked for her hand because it would hold a money-bag. Nor, as an Indian civil servant whose patriotism would be under scrutiny because he was also a Goan Catholic, did he want his wife to have any claims on her inheritance. So she willingly signed a legal renunciation of her claim.

Thus it happened that these two persons of deep religious faith and a strong sense of honour, but absolutely no monetary resources, started married life together. The husband had a job which paid a pittance and had very strict rules of conduct (in those far-off days), but a job which only the most serious misconduct would have deprived him of. A job which commanded respect if performed well, and offered scope for doing a world of good to fellow citizens, if the authority which vested in him were rightly exercised.

All this he did, and was long remembered wherever he worked, but that is matter for another tale. Here is the tiny story which remained the foundation of hope for herself and her sister in hard times.

Once a month, on a Friday morning, the beggars of the tiny town of Kaira (now Kheda) gathered in the compound of the Collector-saheb’s bungalow. Awaiting them were the memsaheb and her daughter, with a bag of rice and another of dhal. The mother would measure out a cigarette tin full of raw rice, and after that a half tin of raw dhal. Each time she handed the measure to her daughter, who gravely poured out the contents into a corner of a saree or a piece of cloth held out to her. The recipient would knot up the rice and the dhal, speak a word of thanks and blessing, and move on. This continued until the bags were empty.

Did the mother think of this when she stood in tears one morning before her oratory, because there was no money to buy food and the month was not yet over? There had been extraordinary expenses. She had given birth to a son only a few weeks earlier. Whatever she thought, a knock interrupted her prayers. It was the ayah. “Bai,” she said, “Bab has sent up a friend of his [the Collector’s office was on the ground floor] to see Baba.”

An old friend of her husband’s, and herself after her marriage, was in the room with her baby son. They spoke until it was time for the Collector to come upstairs and meet his friend. Meanwhile the mother returned to her baby and the round-eyed ayah. “Bai, see what Bab’s friend put under the pillow,” she said. The mother’s hand came away with a hundred-rupee note. In 1955 that was a lot of money. More than sufficient to meet household expenses until her husband’s next salary was received.

She told her husband the story and they agreed that God could always be trusted to help them in their utmost need, but they must never forget those who had even less than they did. This resolve guided their long lives, during which they were often in straitened circumstances and only knew a few comforts – such as most others would regard as necessities – in their old age. Luxuries, never.

That is why she was struck by the stupidity of people who assumed that persons who gave such sums in charity must have a hundred times as much stored away; and the cupidity of those who acted in the expectation of there being such wealth ready to be seized. But virtue must always be hard to practise, as even the pagan Romans well knew, although their definition of it was not equal to the Christian’s. Or where would there be the virtu in it?

Sunday, October 18, 2015


Proem: A frog consented to carry a scorpion across a pond.
Said the frog to the scorpion:
“You promised not to sting!”
Said the scorpion, “It’s my nature.”
“Now we’re both drowning,
Why did you do it?” froggie cried.
“My nature,” scorpion burbled as it died.
Moral: Some bad characters never change. Don’t trust them ever.

Proem: You can teach a mule to obey,
but an obstinate fool heeds not a word you say.
Dance lady, dance the night away;
In your red shoes, dance night and day.
Dance until the briars tear you,
Dance until your feet won’t bear you,
Then feet and shoes must go;
To be sorry you must know.
Moral: Read Hans Christian Andersen

©2015 by Ruth Heredia

Saturday, October 17, 2015


Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
'This is my own, my native land!'
          ~ Walter Scott

She turned over the frail, yellowed pages of letters sixty years old, and read there of unsuspected drama bound up with the visits of much loved grandparents, and years in which her family enjoyed the company of a beloved uncle.

But her story had old roots. There was her father’s father, fleeing imprisonment at the least, by the Portuguese who ruled Goa; escaping by canoe, and on foot through the forest, into the safety of British India.

During the Freedom Struggle, Sarojini Naidu, addressing a public meeting of Christians on the grounds of the Catholic Gymkhana, remarked that if Christians dressed like Indians rather than like the British, their patriotism would not be doubted as it generally was. It was a meeting well attended by Goan Catholics, and her aunts and cousins were soon regally draped in that much admired Indian garment, the sari.

When India won Independence, the country had assured France of special status for the French enclaves, protection of their individual culture, language and identity. Satisfied, France had ceded these territories. Portugal was offered the same assurances for its colonies, and responded in true Fascist style, with brutal suppression of Goan and Damanese aspirations to be one with free India: imprisonment, torture, killings, and every punishment to break mind and spirit.

Her father’s eldest brother was a vocal and influential leader of the Goan Liberation movement which followed. Learning that Brazil intended to dismiss him, their Consul in Bombay, for his stand against a coloniser from whom Brazil itself had won freedom with some bloodshed, her uncle had resigned pre-empting this move, and released to the press his letter of reasoned argument which ended with his resignation. India appreciated him, but Brazil made itself ridiculous with several attempts to punish him, while Portugal tried him in absentia, and sentenced him to life imprisonment for “treason against the mother country” on the grounds that he was born in Goa of Portuguese parents. Since everyone inside and outside Goa recognised the falseness of the first ground and the absurdity of the second, the Portuguese Government was exposed as a tyranny on its way to madness.

Portuguese secret police carried off her mother’s first cousin, then a student in Portugal, and he was never seen thereafter. A doctor friend of her mother’s family, dignified, highly respected, was reported to have expressed a seditious sentiment. He was beaten on his palms with a specially devised bamboo baton, as a warning, leaving him too broken to ever practice again.

Another, most dear friend of her grandparents in Goa, singing opera with them in Margão’s elite club; a Professor of Medicine, microbiologist and leprologist who earned world-wide recognition; yet also a literary man who wrote a book on Rabindranath Tagore, whom he visited in Shantiniketan; elected from Goa to the new Portuguese Parliament for the years 1945-1949, where his speeches drew the Sauron-eye and hostility of Salazar, was forced in 1951 to leave with his family for South America before he came to grief. A clinching reason? At the wedding of a white Portuguese with a Goan lady, the literary, Tagore-loving doctor had raised a toast to the confluence of an Occidental culture hundreds of years old with an Oriental culture thousands of years old. It was an unbearable insult to the rulers. White inferior to brown?

But as it is always with human beings, there was plenty of treachery – to gratify envy, to satisfy vengefulness, to lay to rest Portugal’s paranoid suspicions, to gain advantages, or from sheer malevolence.

Thus it was that her mother’s father, a doctor of repute and Mayor of Margão, yearned for the liberation of Goa. But he spoke of it to few, softly, and only after the thick wooden floor-to-ceiling shutters had been set against every window and door that faced the streets. For the breadth alone of one of those streets separated his house from the prison, and cries from that evil place, piercing even the wooden shutters, kept her mother awake of nights.

Her mother had a brother, a brilliant student of medicine, that beloved uncle at the start of this story, Tio Doutor (Uncle Doctor). He was recklessly outspoken - remembering his murdered cousin and other atrocities - about how he would leave for India as soon as he had his diploma, and never return. His father pointed out the imprudence. “Wait until you have the diploma in your hands,” he said, and his exhortation was supported by her own father, an Indian civil servant.

Examiners held back the diploma for five months, releasing it only in April 1955. Her uncle applied to the Indian Consul for permits for himself and his parents to enter India. He was sent home with a message that the Consul wished to speak with the young man’s father. But, meanwhile, her grandfather had sent his resignation from the mayoralty to the Governor. Retaliation was immediate. His resignation was refused. While the authorities plotted tactics to have him found guilty of misconduct and dishonesty in the management of municipal affairs, a friend brought word to him of this threat.

Her father, learning of the situation from his brother-in-law, the newly qualified doctor, hastened to seek assistance from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). He wrote: “the Portuguese, apparently quite aware of the effect on public opinion in Goa and elsewhere of my father-in-law’s resignation and departure for India, are preparing to subject him to the full pressure of Fascist methods for dealing with opposition. For my father-in-law to enter our Consulate at this stage, when the non-acceptance of his resignation leaves him subject to regulations governing the conduct of officials, would be to invite arrest and further unpleasant consequences. I have advised my brother-in-law to meet our Consul, to explain the whole situation to him, and to seek his assistance in evacuating the entire family to India.” That “evacuating” was a word which stirred in her a fear decades old, first felt when she was in Goa in 1961, but to return to the story. . .

In correspondence marked ‘Secret’, a representative of the MEA offered to arrange for delivery of letters by safe means, and to get her uncle out of Goa; if possible, her grandparents as well.

By June, her grandfather had approached his infamous brother-in-law, a Deputy, appealing to their ties of kinship. He got a villainous reply: “neither he nor his family would ever be allowed to leave Goa.” Her father, using the secret mail service, advised the old gentleman to seek an interview with the Governor, to find out what was decided about his resignation, and to cite his wife’s illness which required surgery available only in India, together with his own knee problem requiring specialised treatment, as reasons for the application to leave Goa.

And then she smiled as she read on in her father’s letter to the man from the MEA: “In the event of his receiving a negative reply from the Governor, I feel that my brother-in-law should get out of Goa anyway. I hope you will be able to help in that case. As for my parents-in-law, I have a recourse in mind, regarding which I shall let you know later.”

That sentence led her thoughts to another plan, an ingenious plan, which only a man with a soldier’s experience, a capacity for imaginative action and meticulous organisation, a man of courage besides, could have devised. It was a story she must tell another day.

Her uncle, warned by an old friend who was in the local police, that the order had been given for his arrest, escaped according to the arrangements already in place and came safely away. Eventually, late in 1956, her grandparents also got permits to leave for India on medical grounds. Since neither they nor their son made any public statement against the Portuguese regarding the affair, and since the old people, at any rate, returned to Goa as they had promised to, they were permitted to visit their daughter once more, in December 1957.

In May 1961 her mother was allowed into Goa with her children because the old gentleman had inoperable cancer. At the Portuguese customs inspection shed she boiled over with indignation. Footwear the family was bringing had been wrapped in pieces of newspaper, Indian newspaper, naturally. The officials were removing these scraps which might foment sedition. Between scorn and some concern – for these creatures were so clearly ignorant brutes – she asked her mother if they would confiscate her books, a Selected Scott, a Selected Dickens, and Little Women. Indeed, they leafed suspiciously through the books, whereupon the mother pointed out colour plates and illustrations that could not possibly be found in seditious material, and hustled her out of the shed. After that, it was impressed on her that she was an enemy alien and must hold her tongue and school her face. The jail across the road onto which their bedroom windows looked was sufficient reminder.

In October her grandfather was dying. On this occasion the Governor was human enough to permit another visit by her mother and the children, this time with her Indian civil servant husband. (How the word ‘Indian’ still rings in her years, spoken with such hostility and contempt by many Goans who rated liberty lower than the imported creature comforts their colonisation offered - rancid tinned butter, tinned cheese, tinned fruit and vegetables, tinned ham - delicacies indeed.)

Her loved grandfather died two months and two days before the liberation of Goa. As with the British in India, not all Portuguese were villains, not even under Salazar. Of this she had been persuaded even during that fraught month of May, when she met a teacher and his wife who were friends of her grandparents. In their pell-mell flight from Goa, the military, the police and officials took priority over civilians like the unassuming teacher. Now it was he who was in detention, and her grandmother sought her Indian son-in-law’s assistance. The poor frightened Portuguese teacher was released, and left for his country. “Come to Portugal,” he urged the widowed old lady. “You will be treated well there.” “Maybe,” she replied, “but even if my house were falling in ruin about my ears, it would still be my home.” And she never regretted her choice.

She remembered all these things with pride and sadness. It was well that they were gone, those admired people who loved their country, gone into that “great Ring of pure and endless light” where she would join them some day. Sighing, she folded away her memories.

The Indian civil servant

'Tio Doutor'

Thursday, October 01, 2015


Ahmedabad in 1958 was less a city than a large town. Cotton mills, famous mills – Calico, Arvind, Ambica among them – gave it importance and wealth. One of its leading families was that of the Sarabhais, which gave India the scientist Dr Vikram Sarabhai. One of his sisters was Leena, who married another mill-owner. Leena had been home-schooled along with her siblings, under the guidance of Maria Montessori, who sent a teacher out to them. From her parents and paternal aunt she imbibed certain values that blended with her own unusual ideas, making of her a pioneering, fearless, and dedicated educationist.

Leena Sarabhai began a school called SHREYAS, and among her many innovative ideas was this one, that the children who studied there should ‘experience’ the history, geography, and languages which they would be taught, as an integrated cultural experience. For this reason, the entire school would be involved each year in such an experience, revolving around a theatrical performance. Among these were shadow plays on the lives of Gandhi and of Abraham Lincoln, and plays on Don Quixote and Peter Pan. One of her earliest projects focused on a subject that had become important to her: the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. 

Leena went to great trouble to understand her subject, going to the country where Christ lived and spending time in retreat in a monastery. The result was extraordinary and unforgettable. The Illustrated Weekly of India published an account of it, lavishly illustrated with photographs credited to K. R. Koty. These are reproduced here, along with quotations from the anonymous article.

“To represent the story of Christ’s life from his birth to his death, to bring out the great truths of his teachings through parables, and in the process to enthral, even to move to the point of tears, a sophisticated audience, all these would amount to a great achievement.

“But this was much more. Treading a stage that was in itself a technical miracle, dressed in costumes eloquent of the barbaric splendour of those times, the students of Shreyas recreated in Ahmedabad, with a realism worthy of Oberammergau, the profoundly moving story that began in Bethlehem of Judah two thousand years ago, and thereby fulfilled the underlying purpose of the project to a degree unattainable through conventional methods of instruction.”

Guided by their teachers, the children made many of the costumes and props themselves. The Junior School presented the Birth of Christ. The children were taught the geography of West Asia and a brief history of its ancient civilisations. To practise them in a language new to these Gujarati children, this part of the drama was performed in English. Susana Heredia, a trained teacher and musician, the wife of Ahmedabad’s Collector and District Magistrate, taught the teachers and children suitable Christmas Carols.

“Christ’s public life was played in Gujarati by the High School and College students, assisted by a few members of the staff. The dignity and sincerity of their acting were impressive, and especially that of Prabodh Pandya, as Jesus. As the play ended, some of those who had watched him wept and touched his feet.”

The Crucifixion was presented in a darkness entirely natural since the sun had set. (The performance had been timed very well to take advantage of this.) Only voices were heard until the moment when Christ gave up His Spirit. Then a light grew slowly in brightness, focused on the cross, at whose foot Mary was seen to be kneeling.

“With song and dance the profound truths underlying the Parables of the Prodigal Son and the Wise Virgins were related with a spontaneity most appropriate to the themes. Splendidly, majestically, yet innocently the drama moved to its sorrowful but consoling climax; and when at last it was ended, and darkness descended on the stage, the silence that intervened before the audience broke into applause was a spontaneous tribute to a moving and memorable performance.”

It was indeed, etched in the memory of this young person watching it.

The Adoration

The Temptation

"They were fishermen"

At the Well of Jacob

"Suffer the little children to come unto me"

The Last Supper

Carrying the Cross

Mary at the Crucifixion