An Alphabet Of My Life: I

I=India

I have never been to India, but that country featured significantly during two very different periods in my life.

My father was a regular soldier. He had joined the British Army in 1936, and served in the Royal Artillery. When war broke out in 1939, he spent some time with coastal defence artillery. Then when Japan entered the war in late 1941, he was transferred to India. It was believed that Japan would try to invade India, and my dad’s job was to train Indian Army soldiers to use combat artillery weapons.

As we know, India was not invaded. As a result, my dad enjoyed a happy war. With the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major, he lived a comfortable life as a Warrant Officer. He travelled around many parts of India, living in style in his own bungalow with servants looking after him. He played Cricket and Football for the Army teams there, and went on many hunting trips, shooting almost every known animal in that country.

When Japan surrendered, he stayed on in India becuase he was a regular, not returning to England until after the partition of India in 1947.

Once I was old enough to understand, he would talk to me about India constantly. He taught me about the different cultures and religions, gave me his opinions on the soldierly qualities of Sikhs, Punjabis, and other ethnic groups. He spoke about the wonders of the ancient temples, the extremes of weather, and also the poverty and caste system. Using the big map in my atlas of the world, he traced his travels around India, describing each different region to me in great detail. He also spoke highly of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and how he would dearly loved to have settled down there.

To accompany his talks, he used four albums of black and white photos he had taken whilst living there. They were small prints, carefully attached into the albums using ‘photo-corners’. They showed snake charmers, temples, dancers, festivals, numerous animals, and photos of my dad and his comrades doing all kinds of things. He also gave me some of his souvenirs, including a Gurkha Kukri battle knife in its leather case. Other souvenirs were animal skins from Antelopes of some kind, and a deerskin. They served as rugs for many years.

Pride of place was for a stuffed leopard’s head, and its full skin. That trophy was in front of the fireplace. I am talking about the 1950s here, so at the time such things were admired, and there was no talk of how bad hunting was or how cruel it was.

Because of those years being enthralled by his descriptions of this exotic land, I resolved to visit India as soon as I was able.

Fast forward to late 1984. I had been married for 7 years, and I was living in Wimbledon. I was an EMT in London, and my wife was a University Lecturer in Biology and Ecological Sciences. She came home from work one day and told me she had been asked to go on a trip for the British Council For Overseas Aid, leaving in a few months. She would spend six months in India as part of a group of lecturers, taking along a large amount of used school scientific equipment, including microscopes and soil analysers. The team would tour India helping trainee teachers learn how to use the equipment in schools, later donating it to them. She added that she had accepted.

I was excited. The destinations reminded me of many places my dad had told me about. Bangalore, Lucknow, Kashmir, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur.

For the next few weeks, I spent all my free time doing research. I bought detailed maps of India, checked on necessary vaccinations, purchased travel guides for each region,and even bought a large zoom lens for my camera. I went to my Area Headquarters and asked my Ambulance Service manager for time off. I was told I could use all my paid leave, then be unpaid for the remainder. But I could come back to my job as long as I was not away for longer than six months.

My wife was aware of all of my research, and she also knew about my dad spending all those years in India, and my lifelong anticipation of visiting that country. We were quite well-off financially, and a few months unpaid leave would not affect our situation. Besides, she would be getting paid by the British Council, in addition to her University pay. It was considered to be something of an honour that she had been asked to go.

One evening as I sat surrounded by maps of India, she told me that it was not considered to be ‘appropriate’ for spouses or partners to go. Hotel accommodation and flights had already been arranged, and she would be working up to 10 hours a day. I saw no problem in that. Hotels were cheap, we could easily afford my return flight, and I would not need much money while I was there. I could get a hotel nearby, and meet up with her when she was free. Meanwhile, I could explore the area, and take photos.

When I explained that, she seemed exasperated. She said she did not want me to go, adding that it would be ’embarrassing’ for her husband to keep appearing. I was surprised that she had not mentioned that from the start, saving me the preparation and anticipation. I felt incredibly deflated, and her best answer was “I knew you wanted to go there, and didn’t know how to tell you that you couldn’t come”.

So I never made it to India, and we split up in 1985 just before she was due to leave England.

I suppose I could have gone on my own later in life, but my heart was no longer in it.

68 thoughts on “An Alphabet Of My Life: I

  1. Pete, I read this and could not comment at first, for what an awful experience that business was. I felt stunned and disappointed for you. I am still at a loss for words . . but that gloomy patch of the road did at least lead you to Julie-and your dear Ollie.-and so I will dwell on that. x Michele

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Those conversations with your dad are priceless, a time when you were close and shared some common interests. I can’t imagine how disappointing it would have been to research and plan a whole trip and then have it pulled out from under you. A disappointment indeed! I wish you had an opportunity to go at some point in life. Hugs, C

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Wonderful memories, Pete of a country I would love to visit as you say there are so many connections to the UK…visiting was obviously not meant to be but it could have been handled so much better rather than letting you get excited and make plans xx

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It certainly is, Pete..you have been to many places I haven’t and vice versa but to do it all the only way for me is virtual trips with many on my bucket list but I have been luckier than some so for that I am thankful 🙂 x

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for the data. I have seen it before.
    I did not deflect. Nor do I shirk from accepting criticism of India. It was a genuine question about “What I felt was a one-sided description of India” in your comment.
    It is as common as equating every Indian male to the stereotype-not-so-flattering-depiction-of-an Indian male played by Peter Sellers or Apu.
    I don’t believe in me having the last word. But, this may explain my previous comment…. When I was training to be a teacher (to teach regular ed, special ed, and GT students), the first thing I learned was “The ratio of 6 positives before handing out 1 negative.”
    Best wishes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A story in a story there. Perhaps another story in the story of no trip to India… As for India, meh. I’m sure the culture is beautiful for those elite few, and a real mess for the rest if 600 million still need to poop outside.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Herein lies a story of a typical comment about India!
      Hope your comment is based on an extensive visit to India, and having learned its history and not on “knowledge” gained from movies, documentaries, and hearsay.
      Every country has its fair share of “Haves” and Have-nots,” ignorance and prejudices. Including so-called progressive countries that tend to sweep unsavory aspects of their lives, they don’t want others to see under the carpets and pretend all is just “Great.”
      I can say this confidently because I have lived and worked in India, the UK, and the USA and have traveled extensively.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. (1) Shouldn’t a WARrant officer wage war?”
    (2a) Bad citation: “My father went on many hunting trips, shooting almost every known animal in that country, including a cricket (though he gave it a sporting chance).”
    (2b) Reportedly, your father made an entire flurry of yetis very nervous.
    (3) Do Punjabis tell puns? If so, do they pun Jabi the Hutt?
    (4) “Antelope skins and deerskin served as rugs for many years until I finally decided to embrace the bald.” (Yul Brynner)
    (5) What did James Bond do with Pussy Galore in Bangalore?
    (6) Did you sign your divorce papers in India ink?
    (7) Overheard:
    New Yorker: “I booked a flight to Delhi.”
    Texas Cowboy: “That’s what I call an Indian reservation.”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Interesting story about your father, Pete. I hadn’t ever considered India in the context of WW2. Do you still have the photos from his time there? If not, at least you have the memories. We have pictures of my father-in-law in Egypt from WW2 and Bob has interesting stories to tell of his dad’s time there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When my dad left my mum for another woman, he took all of the photos. I gave away the Gurkha Kukri to a cousin, and we ‘removed’ his presence from our life at the time. I never spoke to him or saw him after he left.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. How painful that must have been and I can understand why you gave up the idea of India though it is a great shame. Sri Lanka is a place I would happily have lived also though they have their troubles like everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. My mother was born in India as her father was living out there as a blacksmith/silversmith/gunsmith in the French region near Calcutta. She was only a child when she left so didn’t know much about her life there, but could make a mean curry as learnt from her mother. I always wanted to go to India and did so in 1973 but unfortunately not to the place where she came from.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Sorry you missed the trip, Pete. It would have been a connection with your father’s memory. Which then makes me a bit suspicious, had it been me I would be wondering if there were more to her trip than she made apparent. A loving spouse might have been a bit more sensitive to your desires to go. Obviously I have no idea of your relationship nor is it my business. Sometimes life tends to make us more jaded with age regarding those things we once took for granted on faith alone. It would have been nice, if not educational, meeting your old man and hearing of his exploits.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think she was up to anything on that trip, Doug. I suspect she was feeling rather self-important at the time, and didn’t want to be the odd one out with a husband around. She sent me a lot of postcards from India when she was there. Maybe she was trying to be nice, but it felt like rubbing salt in the wound.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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