Some memories

The past is another country ,they did things differently there!

The house we lived in was vast, on two levels, the top being open plan, a vast area which baked in the sun during the day but early morning and late evening it provided a fantstic view of both the sunset and the sunrise. A massive pergola underneath had a very prolific grape vine. Huge bunches of fruit hung from it . Parts of it were bare too , with gnarled and twisted stems with nothing growing on them. At one end of the roof was a covered area where my parents rooms were and at the opposite end was my room. It was also a kind of dumping ground. Empty trunks and cases , a huge book shelf and all my mothers favourite books, Some of which i was not allowed to read ,being just eleven , but I had the insatiable curiosity of an eleven year old and read them anyway, hiding them under the monthly children’s publication we subscribed to.

Being an only child ,when you dont have anyone of near your age to befriend or play ,is hard. You spend most of your time looking for things to do, while constantly being told what you can or cant do. Reading however was a permitted hobby ,considered impressive and respectable ; and no one cared what I was reading . It was fine to read the forbidden books, as long as no one could see them.

When i think of those books, by todays standards they could well have been written for children! Even a kiss was not described ,it was all inouendos , some of which were beyond my unspoilt naive brain.

I was also forbidden to mix with the servants and their children. But they were the only ones who welcomed me, talked to me and told me things. A lot of information came from old wives tales, heresay and what little knowledge they had.

There were lots of characters who have stayed in my memory. There were two cooks, one who cooked the Mughal cuisine as it was known for Indian dishes and one who cooked the western “dishes”.

The Indian cook was a fat ,short fellow who just had one good eye. His other eye was cloudy and grey , he had pox marks on his face. He has had small pox in childhood which has taken the sight in one eye and left him with deep pox marks on his face and body.

The one who was in charge of the English dishes’ , was a very tall and skinny man. Stooped almost to half of his height , when he sat on the floor on his hunches with his bended knees up to his ears almost, he looked very much like a vulture. Later in life when I watched Disney’s Jungle Book ,the animated version , the vultures portrayed reminded me so much of him. He always had a sour expression on his face, rarely smiled and mostly whined about something or other. His speciality dishes were the roast, white and brown Stew and of course the bread and butter pudding and the caramel custard! He will now and then make some jelly and something called ” b l a mange”!

The lives of these people were so different to mine, it always puzzled me as to why they have to depend on us for everything. My parents paid their salaries on the 1st of every month. How they got through the month without anything else coming in , t food they got was the left overs ,after we as the family have finished eating. They had to divide it between them ,plus they were given a portion of inferior quality of rice to cook for themselves.They never had many cloths or belongings. Just the two sets of clothes and a bedding they could roll and take with them. They had no job security ,they could be turfed out at a moments notice if their masters were displeased with them.

I still remember though the kindness and the affection they showed me, there were two more servants, one was an old lady whose job was to be the cook’s assistant. Her job was to grind the spices , chop and prepare the vegetable and kneed the flour for making bread etc.

A young lad was what was know as the one who did the odd jobs , he would lay and clear the table, dust the furniture and sweep the floors in the living area, plus bring our beds out and make them at night and clear them away in the morning. Repetitive and mundane work.but then again they were very happy to have a job and a place to live. Our house was like any other house of the time ,where there were servants quarters, where they lived with their merger belongings and under poor conditions.

The young lad was an orphan ,my parents have given shelter , but apart from doing chores no one ever thought about his education ,future or welfare, he was destined to spend his life serving our family. I remember he ran away at the age of sixteen or so to the glittering city of Bombay, the anger and condemnation was immense. What right did he have runway from being a slave, and try and improve his life?

Years later I heard that he had worked hard ,learnt photography and had a little shop taking photos. I was pleased for him but no-one else was.

There was so much poverty , but those people were charming and generous. They were always willing to listen to me, tell me stories. There was a trend in India of telling fairy tales and other stories, most of them carried some message or other and all ended happily. Those were the only source of entertainment for me, apart from the two hours of radio a day I was allowed to listen to.

As a child you dont have much of social conscious, i have happy memories of sitting for hours wide eyed listening to the stories the old woman told me of fairy princess and the handsome prince, the evil step mother and the cruel kings. I would whine and pester her as she completed the chores she had to ,while telling me gently that she will as soon as she finishes the jobs she has to.

True to her word she would sit with me for hours telling me stories, while my own parents were busy either partying or visiting friends.I owe all of those servants such a debt of gratitude, am so full of admiration of their fortitude, their selflessness and ashamed that nor I or my family have ever done for them apart from exploitation .

Last time I visited India I was appalled at the treatment of servants by my sister and her husband. The exploitation and cruelty goes on.

I always wonder how do those people get the ability to put with it and not complain.

I know apart from paying lip service I can do nothing.

But I salute them.

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