Sunday , September 24 2017
Date: Sep 24,2017
Home / 12 : OVERSEAS LEAVE IN INDIA

12 : OVERSEAS LEAVE IN INDIA

Our last few days at Kitale were taken up getting everything organized for our long leave – buying all the essential items we would be requiring for the voyage and for our stay in India generally, particular attention being paid to such items as baby foods, feeding bottles, sterilizing liquid, nappies, etc. It was very fortunate that our passage home included food and a full complement of tinned baby food. All these arrangements were made by the Govt. Coast Agents with the B.I. Shipping Company. My in-laws were particularly sorry to see us go more so because they would miss their grandson.

At Mombasa, we spent a day with my cousins, Jock and Beryl, and left for Bombay the following day. The voyage was trouble-free save for the odd bouts of sea sickness Elsie suffered from. Our baby, now looking very healthy and bouncy, seemed to thrive on the fresh sea air — he was also the centre of attraction among the passengers and crew alike. We were never without a baby sitter. Our only problem was how to keep the number of volunteers down while at the same time not upsetting anyone! We stopped briefly at Mahe in the Seychelles and through the kindness of one of the passengers (who agreed to look after Clyde), Elsie and I were able to go ashore and spend a few hours on this heavenly island. We were ferried from the ship to the shore in small fishing craft and toured as much of Mahe as we were able to in the short time at our disposal. The Seychelles has a sort of romanticism about it and its people are very hospitable and courteous. We lunched at one of the smaller restaurants and returned to the ship laden with curios from the island. We so wished we could have spent some more time exploring this beautiful isle.

A further week at sea and we had docked at Bombay on the ninth day, where we were met by my cousins and taken by taxi to the home of my father’s sister (Esmeralda) and her husband (Ignatius Sequeira) at Dadar. They were all delighted to see us and my two cousins, Tony and Nabor  made a real fuss of Clyde. I got the impression, rightly or wrongly, that some of our people in Bombay felt we were too young to have started a family so soon. Perhaps they were right, but we were not in the least bit disappointed.

We spent the first few days in Bombay and later left for Elsie’s grandmother’s home in Belgaum. It was in this former military cantonment, a few hundred miles out of Bombay, that I had received most of my early education at the Jesuit-run St. Paul’s High School. At the time of our arrival in India, my elder brother Joseph, was away in South India pursuing his clerical studies at the Jesuit Seminary at Shembaganur — a lovely hillside town in the Madurai district. The weather in India was very warm and uncomfortable, and despite the use of a net, we were unable to keep the mosquitoes away at nights — more particularly in Belgaum! After a few days’ stay here, we decided to take the long train journey to Kodaikanal. Travelling on the East African Railways & Harbours system was a real luxury when compared with the modest facilities the Indian railways had to offer. The train journey from Belgaum, with two stops en route, was very long and tiresome. At one of the stations, we were ‘invaded’ by a whole pack of monkeys. I discovered later that this particular station was noted for these creatures. Passengers are warned to  keep their shutters up while the train stopped here – a warning both  we and our fellow passengers completely forgot about. There were  monkeys all over the compartment and a daring specimen from among these ‘uninvited visitors’ helped himself to a bunch of bananas which one of the passengers was carrying, while the poor owner looked helplessly and timidly on. He was much too afraid to make the next move, lest he excited the creature further. The monkey kept gazing at our baby, sending a fright through both of us. As soon as the train pulled out of the station, the monkeys left the coaches one by one, leaving us free again to talk about their daring raid on our compartment. The remainder of our journey through to Kodaikanal was very pleasant and on arrival at the station, we were met by my brother and another young Jesuit from the novitiate. They were delighted to see us and hoped we would have a pleasant stay with them. We boarded the local village bus, and after a hair-raising drive through some very winding roads, finally arrived at the Sacred Heart College at Shembaganur. Fellow Jesuits from the community (one of them my former class mate from Belgaum days) had gathered to welcome us and we were later shown around to our spacious and well-furnished guest-house. A room had been specially prepared for us, and before long, we were treated to a sumptuous breakfast. In many respects the community was self-sufficient; the bread was all baked on the premises by the lay brothers who also grew their own vegetables and, if I am not mistaken, kept poultry and pigs too. We enjoyed the college meals very much, and being situated at such a high altitude, always seemed to work up a very healthy appetite! Women were, as a rule, not allowed into the kitchen or other areas where the fathers and novices lived. Fortunately for me however, I was shown round the kitchen by the brothers, and on one occasion saw them hard at work mixing huge mounds of flour for bread. It was just as well that all this was done mechanically since kneading by hand would have taken several hours.

The climate of Shembaganur was cold and the air very healthy and bracing. No wonder, the Jesuits had chosen this secluded spot for their novitiate, I thought. The setting was ideal, and there were ample opportunities for contemplation and meditation in the vast grounds of this imposing training college. The entire Jesuit community had done us proud, and I was very grateful to my brother and the Revd. Fr. Minister, Fr. Morganti, for the trouble they had all taken to accommodate and feed us so lavishly. Even the car that belonged to the community was placed at our disposal and made available on one occasion to take my brother and some of his companions on a picnic to the nearby Kodi Lake. We enjoyed the outing immensely and even managed to do some boating during the short time we spent there. Clyde presented no problems at all since there were so many willing hands from among the young Jesuits to look after him. Elsie was even spared the job of washing and drying the nappies — one of the elderly domestic staff undertook this job quite cheerfully for us. I was deeply grateful to the Revd. Fr. Rector for granting my brother and his companions permission to spend some of their leisure moments with us. Jesuit discipline is, as a rule, very strict, and this is why I was all the more thankful for the concessions made in this instance. After spending some ten days in this beautiful countryside, we returned to Belgaum.

From here, after a brief stay, we arrived home in Goa. My grandmother, who was now in her late seventies was overjoyed to see us, more so her great-grandson; so also was our adopted African maid, Marie (from Mozambique). The neighbours from my village (Salvador-do-Mundo — ‘Saloi’ for short), came one by one to greet us and play with Clyde. For the younger people of the neighbourhood, he was a great attraction, and there were any number of eager volunteers, always ready to pick him up whenever he cried. He was truly spoilt! They would sometimes walk him among the coconut and mango plantations that we owned and Clyde certainly thrived on all the fuss and attention he was receiving.

Because of my service in the N.F.D., I had now earned the equivalent of nearly six months’ paid leave. This was a lot, especially since there was not much to do in a quiet village such as mine. The well-known susegad (quiet, calm) atmosphere of Goa prevailed; all we did was eat, drink and relax for hours on end. Regrettably, the latter part of our holiday was marred by my having to go into hospital for an emergency appendicitis operation. The young Sindhi surgeon who operated on me at the Asilo hospital in Mapuca, told Elsie later that I was very lucky to have survived; a delay of a few days could well have cost me my life, especially since the appendix was in a very bad condition. I was so relieved that it was all over, so too was Elsie and the rest of my relatives, particularly my aged grandmother. I received excellent treatment at the hands of the surgeon, Dr. Khemani and the entire nursing staff. Several visitors called to see me in hospital, among these being that eminent Jesuit historian, Revd. Claude Saldanha, who was also a distant relative of the family. The cost of my hospitalization was quite considerable, and I would like to record the deep debt of gratitude I owe here to my late grandmother and to a cousin in Bombay (Tony Sequeira) who, without any approach on my part, came to my rescue with financial assistance which no doubt enabled me to meet the bill. I cannot consider the charges excessive when weighed against the excellent treatment I received, but it so happened that the total cost of the operation and hospitalization was roughly three times my monthly salary at the time! I was most embarrassed to find that instead of helping out my grandmother financially while on holiday, it was she who had to come to my aid. (I am pleased to say however, that on my return to Kenya, I submitted a claim to the Government for an ex gratia payment. Fortunately, the bill was met in its entirety.) Because a period of convalescence had been recommended, I was advised to delay my departure to Kenya. This meant applying for an extension of leave on medical grounds. I immediately cabled the Secretariat in Nairobi requesting the extension, and also asked whether we could be provided with saloon class passages since I would be quite unable to travel by deck in my present condition. I should explain that because of the considerable savings involved, many of the Asian staff (although entitled to first or second class passages — depending on their grading) — chose to travel by deck and utilize the savings towards their holiday expenses.Mr. Ayub Ali, who was a Senior Establishment Officer at the Secretariat, and a good friend of my late father, immediately approved the extension, and asked the Government agents in Bombay to book us by saloon class on a sailing leaving Marmagoa (Goa’s natural harbour) in about six weeks’ time. This news came as a great relief to us. My period of convalescence was spent partly at our paternal home (with my grandmother in Saloi), with a few days being spent with an aunt in Moira (Aunt Lepoldina — my father’s youngest sister) and with a relative in Aldona (Mrs. Anna Clara Mendonca e Trindade, who we referred to affectionately as Aldona mae). Much to my aunt’s embarrassment however, I could not rest well at their Moira house because of the presence of the odd field mouse which appeared nightly in the adjoining room where the paddy harvest was temporarily stored. I am not a lover of mice or rats and have never felt comfortable with them around! Because of this, we had to cut short the visit to Moira and return to my granny’s house at Saloi. Here a lot of care was lavished on me, with special foods and chicken broth being prepared — all in an effort to get me back to normal. I was conscious all along of the great strain being placed on Elsie’s shoulders at this difficult time since she also had Clyde to look after. Because of my inability to travel long distances following the operation, we were unable to get out and about and so spent most of the time indoors. After breakfast each morning, we would read the daily paper from first to last page, covering every column including the sometimes hilarious-sounding matrimonial and personal columns! The arrival of the postman just before lunch was always a moment we awaited anxiously. This is when letters arrived from overseas and some from Bombay too and there was always disappointment if there was no mail. One letter that did bring us both a good deal of satisfaction was from Mr. Denton, the DC and Kitale. He had written to congratulate me on my passing the oral and written parts of the Standard Swahili Examination. I was excited over the news and knew that most of my Administration colleagues would come to hear of this through the publication of the results in the Kenya Official Gazette.

While we were enjoying the last few weeks of our holiday, frantic preparations were being made at home to ensure that we had a good supply of Goan delicacies to take back to Kenya. It is necessary to explain here that whenever Goans returned after their vacations leaves, it was customary for the household to arrange for the preparation of several rich and spicy Goa sausages, pickled fish and even some of the traditional Goan sweetmeats made from mango and guava. A flagon of the local spirit (cashew feni made from the cashew apple or coconut feni), and a cask (garrafao) of strong vinegar made from toddy would also be bought well in advance of our departure. Vinegar made from toddy is more like cider vinegar, slightly stronger but with a flavour all of its own. At home, this vinegar is widely used in salads and for making some of the traditional Goan dishes like sorpotel and vindalo.

After several months of holidaying in Goa, my granny and our relatives and neighbours were understandably sad at the thought of seeing us go. They were going to miss us a lot, especially our baby Clyde, who they had by now got so used to; he had certainly filled their otherwise empty leisure hours. I was particularly sorry to leave my granny behind at this stage because of the terrible blow she had received while we were on holiday. A few weeks before we were due to return to Kenya, news had come in of the death in Mocambique of my Uncle Bernard, her eldest son. He had died of a heart attack at his office in Lourenco Marques (then Portuguese East Africa). I realized how the blow had been temporarily cushioned because of our presence, since she always had Clyde to keep her amused and occupied and thus forget her deep sorrow and pain  albeit momentarily. With our leaving, she would be well and truly lost. Life can be very cruel at times.

A few days before we left, boatmen from the neighbouring fishing village of Ecoxim had collected all our heavy baggage and transported it in their boats to the port of Marmagoa whence we would be embarking, timing their arrival there in such a way as to coincide with ours. These men had in previous years rendered a similar service to my father, and I was truly amazed to see how these outwardly weak-looking individuals, were able to bear such heavy loads on their bare heads.

With a warm embrace from my granny and other close relatives who had come to see us off, and handshakes with several neighbours, we finally left for Marmagoa by taxi. It broke my heart to leave Goa and I am sure Elsie felt likewise.

The scene on arrival at Marmagoa, although in some respects chaotic, still had a festive air about it. There were crowds gathered at the quayside and it was quite clear that for every outgoing passenger, half a dozen relatives had come to see him or her off! This was not an uncommon feature especially among Goans.

Customs formalities were minimal — the Portuguese are pretty easy-going in this respect and, in any case, outgoing passengers were never subjected to any strict customs  examinations. The boatmen who had transported our luggage all the way from home and even loaded it on the ship, were the last to bid us goodbye after collecting their charges. I can still recall their parting message to us, “Bore bashen vossat, ani veguin ghara yeat” (go safely and come home soon!)