Ajmer 1933-40

 

 
 
April 6, 1930 Gandhi starts his "Salt March to the Sea" to inaugurate his civil disobedience campaign.  Government forces attack demonstrators.  Gandhi gets international sympathy.
 

1930 -- Winston Churchill on Gandhi  "It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr. Gandhi, a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still ...."

 
January 1932
India’s premier political group, the Congress party, was declared illegal.  Gandhi and people like him were arrested and jailed.
 
March 1933
120,000 people in jail.
 
In 1933 “…wholesale violence, physical outrages, collective fines in villages and seizure of lands and property...”
Report of Joint Hindu Muslim Group.
 
 
In 1934 Congress decided to run in “Power Sharing” elections for local  provincial government.
 
1936 J. Nehru is elected President of Congress.
 
In the elections of 1937, the year I started kindergarten, Congress gained major victories in several provinces.  In the same year, the Muslim leader Mohammed Jinnah tried to form coalition (Muslim) Ministries with the mostly Hindu Congress and was rebuffed.  Jinnah said publicly that  “Muslims can expect neither justice nor fair play under a Congress government".
 
 In September 1939, when I was six, Britain declared war on Germany.  Without consulting a single Indian, the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, declared that India was at war with Germany.  Congress was outraged.  It refused “co-operation in a war which is conducted on imperialist lines.."  Nehru and Gandhi demanded a declaration of Britain's "..postwar goals and ideals..."  Britain's Tory government refused.
 
In October 1939 Congress called on its members to resign from all ministries.  Only the Muslims were left to work with the British.
 
In December 1939 a joyous Jinnah proclaimed a "Day of Deliverance" for Muslims from the tyranny of the Congress ''Raj".
 
In 1940 Jinnah declared he would fight for a new country—Pakistan.
 
 In October 1940 Gandhi announced his personal campaign against the war.  Nehru followed in 1941 and was given four years in jail.  By  the time the family went to Mhow in 1941 20,000 "Satyagrahah" were in jail
 
 

 

 

British India with Acquisition Dates


I was born in 1933 in the town of Ajmer in the province of Ajmer-Merwara, in the land of the Rajputs.  The green blob in the middle of a pink section roughly in the middle of the map on the left is where I was born.  If you click  the map on the left you will see more clearly a blob in the middle of Rajputana -- that is the British province of Ajmer-Merwara embedded in a pink sea of "Independent" "Princely" Rajput states called the province of Rajputana.  A smaller portion of  old Rajputana is now known as Rajasthan.  A good portion of West Rajputana and West Punjab were hacked off and became part of West Pakistan in 1947 causing Ajmer to be fairly close to the Pakistan border. 

 

The old princely states  reported to a British  "Resident" who "Advised" the Princes and Rajahs of their responsibilities to the British Crown -- such as providing money and troops in  time of war, and meeting the ever increasing British demands for tax remittances.   The Rajputana Resident had his offices in Ajmer and in the hills in Mount Abu.  Rajputana consisted of approximately 20 "kingdoms" ranging from progressive large kingdoms like Jaipur and Jodhpur to tiny medieval desert communities mired in time somewhere close to the 14th century.

 

   Mum and Dad in about 1932

I was the first born of four children, born ten months after my mother and father were married.  My mother was 21, my father was 28. 

The world was in the depths of the depression.  Indians were agitating for Independence.  India's Hindu political leaders were in jail.  India's Muslim leaders were beginning to fight for their own country, Pakistan.  I have selected some of the more momentous events happening around my birth in the side bar.

For me, God was in his heaven, all was right with the world.

Unlike my three siblings who were born in hospitals, I was born at home using the services of Mrs. Connolly a well known local mid-wife.  Mother tells me that Mrs. Connolly moved into the house near the time I was due and spent several days there awaiting my birth. 

My earliest recollections are of my mother, my father, my ayah and my little friend Phitthu (pronounced Ph-ith-thu).  I remember playing almost every day with Phitthu the cook’s son, so this memory must have been from before I went to kindergarten. 

I also distinctly remember being sad that the play times with Phitthu began to be drastically curtailed after I started school.  Indian kids were just not part of the playgroup and were not allowed into the Railway Institute -- our “club”.  I do remember playing with other children with whom I later went to school, but Phitthu was my earliest constant companion.  In fact I remember Phitthu much more vividly than any one else from Ajmer at that time. 

Houses

The photograph here shows a typical Anglo Indian railway colony house for a manager level person.  It does not happen to be our house, but our house would have been almost identical.

As young children we played in the yard in the dirt, mostly under neem trees.  In India we called the yard a “compound”.  The compound was the area around the house which included the servants quarters. 

As I remember it the compound would have been about one to one and a half acres in a rough rectangle.  However, as we all know, in reality things are always smaller than childhood memories of them. In one corner would be the servants quarters; the main house would be approximately in the middle, offset a little away from the servants quarters.  When Janice and Paddy and I went back in 1998, the compound had disappeared and several other structures had been built in our old compound.

The compound was surrounded by a wire fence about three feet high, consisting of three strands of wire strung through metal posts.  I would guess the word “compound” came from the early days of the European trader in India when he lived as a bachelor with other European bachelors in a compound separated from the natives. 

The yard in the Ajmer house was mostly dirt away from the house, with patches of garden near the house.   Oleander bushes and neem trees were the major large vegetation I remember.  Bougainvillea grew against the house, and large plants and palms grew in pots near the house.

Phitthu lived with his mother and his father, our cook, in the servants quarters about 30 yards from our house.  The servants quarters were shielded by shrubbery --typically oleander bushes.  These servants’ quarters generally consisted of a kitchen and about three or four rooms where one or two servants and their families lived, and one or more locked storage rooms called “go-downs”.  The servants had running water but no toilet facilities.  In my memory there were always open fields or public toilets which the servants would use.  The go-downs were for bulk food storage and general storage.  The go-downs were places where you would tend to get bitten by scorpions if you were not careful!  I was once.

The house we lived in was a rented house in a "railway colony".  It was much the same no matter what town we lived in.  It was built of stone with verandas back and front which ran the length of the house.  There were typically two bathrooms, three large rooms and two small rooms as I remember.  Some times the verandah would be walled in to form one or more extra rooms. 

The small rooms would be bedrooms or utility rooms at each end of the house, which was where the bathrooms were.  They would be converted to the bedrooms where grandmothers or relatives would stay during their visits. 

One of the large rooms would be a dining room or bedroom depending on the size of the family , another would be a “drawing room”, meaning the room where friends were entertained, and the third large room would be a bedroom.  Our drawing room always had a piano in it which Dad used every day.  A verandah would run the length of the front and back of the house.   I estimate the rectangular footprint of the house to be about 70 feet by about 30 feet including the verandahs.  I remember the ceilings being very high, with lizards usually clinging to the upper walls and ceilings.  Everything was white washed white inside.

Bathrooms and Baths

The bathrooms were plumbed for “cold” running water.  I use "quotes" because in Ajmer in the summer the water was not cold!  The water pipes ran above ground for some distance, and one would have to wait for the water to get cool enough in the bath before taking a bath.  We used to run the water into the bath—an oblong metal vessel about 4 feet long, by 3 feet wide by 2 feet deep—and in the summer, wait for the water to cool.  I also remember in the summer that we would put a powder called "alum" in the water which would then cause the sand suspended in the water to deposit on the bottom of the tub.  I guess the water must have been piped from almost empty lakes.

Once the water was cool you would stand on raised wooden laths which were on a stone floor surrounded by a berm about a foot high through which a waste water pipe led to the outside of the house.  You would then pour the water over yourself, soap oneself, and then pour more water over yourself to remove the soap.  At that point, if you wanted to, you would get into the bath to relax, not to get clean—you were already clean!  It took me a long time to get used to sitting in “dirty” soapy water in the bath when we went to England. 

In the winter the water would be heated in a “boiler” in the compound and the servant would bring buckets of hot water to fill up the bath.  The used bath water would go into the waste water pipe which went through the wall and emptied into a surface drain which went to a far area of the compound.  There was no underground plumbing.  In the picture on the left, I am pointing out something to Paddy at the back of our house during our 1998 visit.  The door you see is the rear door into the bathroom through which the servant (or the bather) brought hot water.  The surface drain for waste water is visible, but is a little clearer here.  Over and behind Paddy's right shoulder (not shown here) is the old neem tree under which we used to play marbles.

The toilet system was the old commode system familiar to anyone without flush toilets.  After one used the commode, one called the “methur” ( a man of the "untouchable caste) who would remove the chamber pot take it to a corner of the yard where there was an above ground metal container (the drum), empty the pot, clean it and bring it back to the bathroom.  The drum would be removed by the bullock drawn “night soil” vehicle periodically.

My pre-school memories are non specific.  I remember being happy, having a nice life, and I have very fond memories of my ayah and my Mother and my Father.

School

I started school in kindergarten at the Railway School just up the road in 1937 when I was four years old.  Everything was just up the road!  We lived in a sheltered (not walled) railway community and all my friends lived within a few houses of ours.  Class sizes were somewhere between three and eight students.  I forget how many “grades” there were—we called them “standards”. I have this memory that one spent three years in "Kindergarten" and went into the 1st standard at about seven.

Here is another shot from our 1998 visit to Ajmer.  It is a photo of my old Railway School 60 or so years after I started .  When we visited Ajmer the school was closed down and obviously not used.  It was much more rundown but otherwise was exactly as I remembered it.  Note again the similarity to the house we lived in.

I remember playing with friends in school, and I remember playing in my own compound.  I don’t remember mothers taking kids to each others’ houses to play.  I do remember being taken to the Railway Institute and playing there, so either our family was peculiar, or mothers and young children did not visit each others’ houses informally.  I rather think it was the latter.   

The Headmistress of the Railway School was Mercy Gardner, Dad’s cousin.  This close relationship between Anglo Indian families and their care givers must have been quite typical.  We were a very small community.  Educated Anglo Indian women became nurses and teachers.  The educational institutions and hospitals were almost exclusively designed for Anglo Indian needs.  It would have been natural for the few trained Anglo Indians to end up in the community catering to the needs of their own community.  Perhaps it was like this in the pioneer days in the western United States and in Australia. 

We visited the Railway School (no longer operating but still standing) when we were in Ajmer in 1998.  The school was exclusively for Europeans (no Indians allowed) and was presumably funded by the railway company.  For those readers who have come directly to this section, I will summarize racial terminology. There were multiple classes of racial segregation in British India, depending on the entity under discussion.  In trains and railway stations and schools there were only two--Europeans and Indians.  Anglo Indians were always considered Europeans.  For a more detailed discussion on this subject see the section Indo Europeans

School was pleasant.  I was apparently a good student, and I had a nice time in school.  I remember one name from those days—my friend Rosemary Mahon.  I had totally lost track of Rosemary and just acquired her address a few weeks ago from Shirley Gifford.  Rosemary lives in England without an e-mail address—so I am going to have to use snail mail.

My recollection of all my schooling in India is that it was highly competitive and that there was constant measurement of a student’s performance against certain criteria, but most particularly against each other.  It was where you placed in class and where you placed in each subject that was important.  I believe it was taken for granted that one would meet the appropriate test criteria.  The question was whether you were more successful than your classmate. 

This approach to education is certainly not the norm anymore in the England that I know, or in the US for that matter.  I find this competitive approach is still used for motivation in Indian, Chinese and Vietnamese families. In my own family the idea that one did not come first in every subject was a sign of failure.  My mother has saved virtually all my report cards from my various schools.  I was particularly interested to note my report card at age 4..  Even at four I was being graded competitively!  I spent three years at the Railway school and remember being very happy there.  I left when I was seven because Dad was transferred to a town called Mhow.  On to Ajmer 1933-1940 contd