Story 18. Robert And Anton.

In 1961 and 1962, I was in Hyderabad living a very interesting bachelor’s life with a steady girl friend and making enough money to have a better time than most of my age group youngsters were having. One of the two favourite hanging out places for me and some of my friends was a place on Abid Road called Savoy which was a restaurant on the first floor. A very friendly Sardarji ran it and since it had a few cabins for private parties, it was a favourite place for cooing young couples to meet and have some snacks and coffee.

It was below this restaurant that I first made my acquaintance with Robert who would dust and occasionally even wash my scooter without my ever having to ask him with the expectation that I would give him a generous tip. He would do the same with the other scooters and motorcycles that used to be parked there and I suppose that he made enough to keep his body and soul together. He was a cheerful man around 45 then and so much older than I was or my friends but that did not stop him from being very friendly with all of us.

Over a period of time, I started using him to do other odd jobs for me like delivering letters and mail for which I would agree on a rate on each chore basis and he never failed me. Seeing me successfully do this, some of my other friends also did the same and he became a sort of courier operating out of that foot path. On some occasions when I had had too much of the good stuff, he would drive my scooter with me precariously perched on the pillion home and put me to bed and stay the night in my bed sitter till morning and leave after ensuring that I was operational. A kind of paternal bond that he developed with me that till date baffles me for its total unselfishness. There were many occasions when he had come to the help of me and my friends during our youthful capers and all my friends were also very fond of him.

Robert had joined the Indian Army as a young lad and had retired as a soldier after fifteen years of service. When his earning capacity became zilch and he had to depend on his meager pension, in a country with very opportunities for employment at that age for someone with hardly any skills, his wife took their children and went back to her parent’s place deserting him and leaving him to his devices. This was the reason for his enterprise that brought him into my orbit.

I moved to Chennai in December 1962 and lost touch with Robert till the middle of the following year when I went back to Hyderabad on business and met him. He requested me to find some kind of employment for him in Chennai as he was a Tamilian and wished to spend the rest of his life in Tamil Nadu. I promised him to do what I could and on return to Chennai, I did without much success.

In the meanwhile, in Chennai I had made friends with Anton, a very unusual fellow. A Franco Indian of French father and Indian mother from Karaikal. He was a Marine Surveyor for a French company and would survey ships for hull insurance claims on behalf of his employers in France. He was unusual for many reasons notably for his very flowery Tamil spoken like a trooper and English with a peculiar accent which made him stand out in a crowd. He would look like any Tamilian but wore his French ancestry like a badge of honour. He was a French citizen with Indian relatives and that was a formidable combination. He had a streak of wildness about him that was inexplicable and would take risks that normal mortals would not. He had a Ford Jeep with the steering wheel on the left side and would inevitably get into scrapes with other drivers on the road driving on the left side of the road in vehicles with the steering wheel on the right side. And when he had had a few under his belt, he would become a maniac and would drive like he was on open ground with no other traffic on the roads.

Anton was divorced from a lady who was back in France and lived alone in a middle class neighbourhood in an upstairs flat and had endless problems with his neighbours but since he paid a much higher rent than his landlord would get from an Indian, the landlord who lived downstairs would assuage hurt feelings and keep things from getting out of hand. He had trouble with his servants too and I must have seen at least half a dozen of them passing through his life in the three years that I knew him.

On one occasion when Anton was sans servant, I remembered Robert and asked him if he would consider employing him as a butler to which he readily agreed. I wrote to Robert and asked him to come down to Chennai to see if it would work out and when he did, it was obvious that these two were meant for each other. Robert moved in with Anton around the middle of 1964 when I was too busy to keep tabs as I was busy with my own life and adventures. We would occasionally meet at Anton’s and it was obvious to me that both of them were happy with the arrangement and that was enough for me.

Before I went away to Ahmedabad in 1965, Anton threw a farewell party for me completely arranged for by Robert and it was a memorable one in more ways than what I can write here.

In 1966, I received a letter from Robert announcing that Anton had died in an automobile accident and that he was moving back to Hyderabad. I received a couple of letters from him from Hyderabad advising me that he was unhappy there and whether I would be able to help secure him some employment in Ahmedabad. I was lucky in doing so with the help of a very dear friend who arranged to take him into his company as a watchman. Robert moved to Ahmedabad and stayed on in Ahmedabad even after his retirement after getting himself a local lady for a wife, till I lost touch with him after I moved to Pune in 1990. In between, every time I went to Ahmedabad, I would meet him and we would spend some time reminiscing about old times.

This is one story that I do not know the ending of. I do not know if Robert is alive or what happened to his wife and children if any as many changes have taken place in Ahmedabad since that time. The company that he worked for closed down and the land was converted to residential plots and the total landscape of the city has changed. I doubt very much that I would be able to go there now and find him. A strange ending for a man who wanted to spend his life in his beloved Tamil Nadu who landed up in Gujarat and just disappeared from my life.

But at an impressionable time in my life he played a valuable role as well as in the life of another amazing character. He is certainly one of my Unforgettable Characters as was Anton whose wild ways finally got his life as payment.

Back In Action.

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been The foresight to know where you are going And the insight to know when you have gone too far.
~ Irish Blessing

I now have the hindsight to know where I have been the last week, the foresight to know that I will not be undertaking such a rushed visit in the future and the insight to know that I am not a spring chicken any more,

The visits to catch up with kith and kin went off well and a lot of fun was had by everyone concerned. I just missed my afternoon siestas, particularly after so much of food for lunch cooked with so much love and affection not having been allowed to go without doing justice!

My hosts, Sheila and Mohan provided me with five star hotel comfort with home made beverages and food and indulged me with so much love and affection that I almost took them up on their invitation to stay on for some more time. Thank you Sheila and Mohan.

Rajam, who comments occasionally on my blog posts decided that childhood memories must be revived and so arranged for me to attend a get together with all the youngsters of the 1950s who lived in three houses in a cul-de-sac and played and grew up together. Apart from that nostalgic meeting, the food that was laid out was out of this world and I have no words to express my amazement at her ability to do so much at such short notice. Thank you Rajam.

It is nice to be back home. The climate is just what the doctor ordered for me to follow the high humidity experienced during my visit to Chennai.


The Rains in India are the most looked forward to events every year. For a country with many festivals the anticipation level for the simple annual natural event takes precedence over all other celebrations as if the rains do not come, disaster follows.

This year, I was traveling in South India when the North Eastern Monsoon broke over Chennai and I arrived there with the monsoon. I saw what rain could do to that city during the few days that I spent there. I also saw the grandeur of the monsoon in full strength from the veranda of my brother Arvind’s flat overlooking a lake and the Bay of Bengal in the distance. It was awesome.

The rains this year in Pune were like what we used to have when we first moved to Pune in 1990. The first monsoon in our very own home was in 1991, though we moved into a furnished apartment for a few months in 1990 till we located and bought the flat in which we currently live. So, this was the 22st monsoon that we saw here earlier this year, and bar two, they have all been good and normal. This year was a bit erratic but in the end gave us enough rainfall to avert drought conditions till next year.

One of the nicest things about the monsoon is that every thing around us gets refreshed and all the plants and the trees in the neighbourhood turn green and look cheerful! I am very serious. They do.

Every monsoon, till infarctions felled my late wife Urmeela, we used to go for a weekend to Mahabaleshwar, a nearby hill station to enjoy the rains there and to literally walk through the clouds. We used to have hot coal fire roasted corn on the cob from wayside vendors, hot tea and some amazing food hustled up exclusively for us in the hotel that we used to stay in as, during the rainy season, hardly any other guest would venture to this place.

The river Krishna originates from Mahabaleshwar and there is a Shiva temple built around the spring head. By the time the spring waters reach the plains 4500 feet below at Wai, the river has formed into a formidable force of water. In spate, the river can cause considerable damage as you will learn from the linked article.

Of the three main seasons for Pune, Summer, Monsoon and Winter, I prefer the monsoon from June to September. The climate is cool and wet but the air is fresh and there is greenery everywhere around. Urmeela and I used to love to sit in the verandah and watch the rain fall into our garden. We would have hot tea in the mornings and some hot snacks with tea if it was in the afternoons. I do not feel like doing that any more. I do sit in the mornings for my tea, but it is not quite the same.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post on the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where thirteen of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by yours truly. The twelve other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Anu, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Maria SF, ocdwriter, Padmum, Paul, Rohit, Shackman, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!

Travel Troubles

Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where twelve of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Padmum. The ten other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie, Maria SF, ocdwriter, Padmum, Paul, Rohit, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!

Having been in a career that involved a great deal of traveling, I have had my share of the usual troubles that all travelers face; delayed/cancelled/missed flights, trains, taxis breaking down, bad weather, flash strikes by transport and hotel workers and so on and so forth. I only had one experience of lost luggage but that was more due to a language problem, more about that later.

The unusual troubles that I have had are few, but I shall list them here.

The lost luggage incident was at the Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris. My suit case did not come out on the carousal and I had to run from pillar to post to find some one who could speak English. That was when I understood what a disadvantage speaking English is in France. After about an hour of running around, I found a sympathetic policeman, who helped me locate the luggage and I left the airport with the suitcase.

In 1982, I was touring the Eastern Uttar Pradesh and had left Varanasi for Gorakhpur by car late in the evening, hoping to reach the latter by about dinner time. On the way, luckily near a small town, our car broke down and we were forced to catch a rural taxi leaving the car and the driver behind so that we could go to Gorakhpur and send a relief vehicle. The driver of the taxi misbehaved with us on reaching our hotel and left in a huff. He took his own back by going back to the abandoned car and driver and a big police case had to filed and I had to return to that God forsaken place a few times before everything could be settled.

On another occasion, we were returning from Chennai by train to Pune after a family wedding. We left well on time and were driven by our friend’s son in law, but about half a kilometer before we could reach the station, we were caught in a traffic jam caused by communist trade unions taking out a march. Urmeela, Ranjan and I had to carry our suit cases and walk to take a pedestrian subway to reach the station. Luckily for us, as we neared the subway, a railway porter who had brought some one else’s luggage across the road came to our rescue and we reached our time well in time. The railways meanwhile, apprehending such difficulties for other passengers, decided to delay the departure and all our sweaty physical endeavours were for nothing.

On another occasion, while on tour by car in the South of India, I was harassed by the police and a false case lodged against me, during our infamous emergency days about which you can read more here.

In 1994, I was to catch a flight at Bengaluru for Pune to return home for Diwali. On reaching the airport, I was advised that the flight had been cancelled. This was quite common those days with the Indian Airlines being the sole airline in India. I decided to take a taxi from Bengaluru to Pune and was able to secure one with two drivers alternating and after a journey of 14 hours of driving, reached home in the wee hours of Diwali morning. I offered a bed and some rest for the drivers, but they opted to drive back home for Diwali too. They reached by afternoon of the Diwali day and phoned me to say that they had reached safe.

On another occasion, I was stranded at the Bahrain airport after having checked in for flight that did not arrive from London. I was forced to travel by another airline which was the worst flight that I have ever had. The ground staff and the flight attendants were extremely unprofessional and to be transferred to that kind of an airline from BA was most unfortunate. For diplomacy’s sake, I do not want to name that airline, but people familiar with flights in and out of Bahrain will no doubt find it easy to identify that.

Many such stories of travel troubles come to mind, but one flight out of London’s Heathrow to Mumbai is etched deeply for its uniqueness rather than for any trouble. The trouble was that our Air India flight was delayed due to fog and we were stuck at the Maharajah Lounge at the airport. I had the good fortune of meeting personally two great Indians there in similarly waiting mode, J R D Tata and Dhirubhai Ambani. The former all alone and the latter with Kokila Behan in attendance. The memory is strong because of what happened when we landed in Mumbai. All three of us along with the few others ahead, checked out of Immigration and I saw Dhirubhai immediately surrounded by a crowd of people who whisked him away leaving a few minions behind to collect the luggage. JRD waited with me at the carousal and chatted with me and a few others too, and when one suit case came ahead simply took it off the carousal and sat on it to wait for the next one. When that came, he took both and walked out of the luggage bay all by himself acknowledging the greetings of many who recognised him. What a contrast! JRD was the founder of Air India and only recently had been ousted from the Board of Directors by the petty minded government of that time.

Changing India.

This is a guest post from my brother Arvind who resides at Chennai.

“Power will go to rascals, rogues, freebooters. . . .
All leaders will be of low caliber & men of straw. . .
They’ll have sweet tongues & silly hearts. . .
They will fight amongst themselves for power & the two countries will be lost in political squabbles. A day would come when even air & water will be taxed.”
-Sir Winston Churchill. On why he was against granting indedpendence to India and Pakistan.

Barring a very few notable exceptions among our leaders, everything has come true.

He also said “India is merely a geographical expression. It is no more a single country than the equator.” Here though India has proven him wrong. It is certainly a very diverse country but united nevertheless. There are contradictions but a common thread of hope running through it.

There are two stories in this guest post. One is the changing face of rapidly industrializing parts of India, the other is the badly managed parts of India from where people emigrate to the former. Bihar is one of the badly managed states, which has opted for better governance the last five years and has reelected a government that brought about change. It is too early for Bihar yet, but you will find hard working Biharis spread throughout India. Bihar’s economy is run mostly by remittances, but it is changing.

The story is told in typical Arvind fashion bringing a bit of humour to it. To understand the humour, you will need to learn about Lalu Prasad Yadav. Please read as much as you can about him from the link given here. He is the type of leader that Churchill talked about.

“I paid dearly with my hair for the economic growth of India.

Tamil Nadu and especially Chennai has been witnessing a steady growth of Bihari immigrants.

With so many automobile, and other industries mushrooming, in and around Chennai. the local unskilled and semi skilled workers are paid fancy wages. The garment and cell phone industries have gobbled up the women workers.

Nokia and Motorolla are employing their fleet of buses to ferry girls from as far away as Kancheepuram and Polur. to work in their factories. these girls were originally helping their family in weaving silk and cotton textiles.

So, to augment the unskilled and semi skilled work force requirements, companies are employing workers from out of Tamilnadu, or in other words, Biharis.

The boom in construction activities is totally Bihari oriented. The old Mahabalipuram Road on a Sunday evening is chockablock with Bihari youths. Hundreds of engineering, medical and other colleges, are engaging agents to get students from Bihar. This has even led to a few murders among the agents.

Even in a small scale industry like Sharana Industries, the unskilled workers are Biharis.
(Sharana Industries is owned by our cousins.)

I have been watching this influx with benign bemusement so far. After all, it is as much their country as it is mine. They have every right to migrate to any part of the country.

This morning, I went for a hair cut for me and my grandson.

Needless to say, Biharis have replaced the local barbers too!

And the only hair style the Bihari barbers know is the Lallu Prasad style.
And that’s what my grand son and I got!!!.

And I paid Rs.75/- for each of us.”