Ajmer 1945-1949

Table of Contents | Preface | An Indian Childhood | Genealogy | Colonialism and The Raj


[An Indian Childhood] [Ajmer 1933_1940] [Ajmer 1933-1940 Continurd] [Mhow 1940-1945] [Ajmer 1945_49] [Leaving India] [Life iin the Plains] [Life in the Hills]

May 1945 -- VE Day  End of War in Europe
July 1945 Churchill voted out of power Atlee PM -- Congress rejoices
August 6 1945 -- Hiroshima -- end of War in Japan
Feb 1946 Indian Navy  Mutiny in Bombay increases pressure on British/Indian government
March 1946 Sir Stafford Crips leads another delegation from the British Labor Government to attempt to resolve India/Muslim issues and move forward on Indian Independence.  Delegation fails.  Returns to UK in June
August 1946 -- Jinnah -- frustrated by negotiations on Pakistan declares "Direct Action Day -- Rioting by Muslims mostly in Calcutta. 5000 dead, 20000 injured, 100000 homeless in Calcutta alone.  Situation in India becoming chaotic.
1946 -- INA members go on trial for treason -- defended by Nehru -- emerge as heroes.
March 1947 Mountbatten, cousin of Queen, descendant of Queen Victoria, is sent out by British Labor Government to work out British withdrawal from India and Indian Independence.
June 1947 Mountbatten accepts partition of India and declares Britain will withdraw from India in August 1947


Ajmer Again -- 1945-1949

The family moved back to Ajmer sometime in 1945.  Clive was born in April 1946 in the same nursing home in which Russell was born and in which I had had enteric fever.  I was in school at St George’s when Clive was born (April 8) so I don’t know anything about the details of his birth.  I left for school in March, and when I got back in December I had a new baby brother.  

In March 1942 when I started boarding school I was eight years old, the end of the war was not in sight, and the Hindu politicians were not cooperating with the Government.  I was only eight, scared of school, and not aware at all of what was going on in the world. 

By the time I got to St Georges in March 1945 the war was almost at an end (Germany surrendered in June 1945) I was 11 years old and was, I now realize, remarkably politically aware.  At school I was not particularly much in touch with the news, but at home I was very much aware of current happenings as they were reported in the newspapers and the radio.  I do however remember walking down the steps at St. George’s and hearing a shout that the war had ended.  For us colonials despite the presence of Japan in Burma, the war was Britain and Empire vs. Germany.  The Asian-Pacific theatre was a sideshow

Mum and Dad were always interested in what was happening in the world.  We used to get two English language papers at home--the Statesman and The Times of India-- which were (British) Government mouthpieces.  However they did cover the war and what was going on in India and Britain from the perspective of the (British/Indian) government so I was quite familiar with world events.  I was certainly more familiar with world events than I was with the events happening in my own back yard.  For instance, I knew nothing of the massive famine devastating Bengal in 1943-1945 which I learned about years and years later.  I knew little at the time of the jailing of Indian politicians, and I suspect that my parents knew little of the famine and not much more about the jailing.  

It was in St George's and so it must have been around 1946 as I was approaching 13 that I began to sense there was another side to the British history and mythology I had imbibed up to that point.  The Irish teachers had always had a certain cynicism when teaching about the “Empire” and about the benefits Britain was bestowing on the poor benighted Indians.  I had probably unconsciously picked up their reservations.  These Irishmen were not raving Imperialists by any stretch of the imagination.  Up to then I knew very little of the history of India from an Indian perspective.  I did however by now know quite a lot about European and Empire history.  It began to dawn on me that my country (England) had clearly behaved in a less than honorable manner in Ireland and in its dealings with native populations in America and Australia.  If that was perhaps true in America, then maybe it was also sometimes true in India.

My recollection of India up to about 1943-1944 or so, is that it was a peaceful, orderly place, with clean railway stations, clean railway waiting rooms, the trains ran on time and there was a general feeling of safety, at least in our community.  Around this time, I distinctly remember going to the railway station one day and finding the place strewn with sleeping bodies, luggage, stoves, cooking pots and general melee.  It was quite shocking.  When I asked about the cause, I was told they were refugees and DP’s (displaced persons).  But from that point on, life in India became gradually more dysfunctional until it reached its peak in the partition and massacres of August 1947.  When Janice and Paddy and I visited Ajmer in 1998, the Railway station was once more the quiet station of my memory.  It was not as spotless as I remember it from my early youth nor was it the warm comfortable place I remembered as a seven year old. 

My sudden awakening to the chaos around me may also be due to the fact that we moved from Mhow to Ajmer around 1945.  Mhow was a small army town full of foreign soldiers, with a very small homogeneous civilian population.  There was no reason for anyone to go to Mhow unless he was a soldier or worked for the railway.  Ajmer, on the other hand was an old, important large town with a large Muslim minority and a strong Hindu sacred tradition.  Anyway it was around then that I seemed to move from childhood ignorance to almost adult awareness of issues around me. 

I had started at St George’s in March of 1945 and the last time I was on that particular journey was December 1946.  The train from Dehra Dun to Ajmer went through the Punjab.  Nine months later in August 1947, the Punjab really burst into flames with Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs slaughtering each other.  By December 1946 rioting was in the air.  Muslims were marching to the slogan “Pakistan Zindabad” (Long Live Pakistan) and Hindus were clamoring for Independence and a united India.  The Congress party had boycotted WWII and its leaders had spent years in jail, with the result that Jinnah’s Muslim league had gained a lot of influence.  Even at the young age of 13, it was pretty obvious to me that there was serious trouble brewing.  Our Muslim servants were uncomfortable with our Hindu servants with whom they had lived for generations.  The railways had ceased to be the safe boring places they had always been and the railway stations had become the refuge of last resort.  At the end of 1946, my parents decided that it was too dangerous for me to continue taking the train to Dehra Dun to go to St George’s.  Besides which now that we were back in Ajmer, there was an excellent day high school called St. Anselm’s around the corner.   And I think war time inflation and the rise of native Indians in the railway ranks were beginning to affect my parents disposable income. 

My last two years in India, from January 1947 to October 1949, were spent at home in Ajmer and at school at St Anselm's.  Despite all the external problems around us, it was a very happy time for me personally.  I discovered girls!  All the rest of my life until then I had spent locked up in a boys’ boarding school.  The three months at home between the nine months of incarceration was not conducive to making friends with girls! At the age of 14 I was suddenly meeting girls everywhere.

St Anselm's High School New Years Day 1998


St Anselm's Boys and Convent Girls ca 1948

Although St Anselm’s was boys only, there were girls from the local convent at Mass, at the Railway Institute, next door, and just about everywhere!  I found girls were wonderful!  Three St Anselm's boys and a bunch of Convent girls are shown above.  Russell is second from left in the front.  I am on the extreme right.    Clicking on the photo will give a much better size picture.            

By 1947 when I started at St Anselm’s, the staff was in the process of being "Indianised".  The school priest was still a European, Fr. Bonaventure, an extraordinarily dedicated French Franciscan. The Parish priest was Fr. DeMello (Indian) a good friend of ours who subsequently became  Bishop of Bombay.  The English teacher was an eccentric Irishman whose name I don’t remember, the math teacher was Dick DaSilva (Goan, Anglo Indian), the science teacher was an Indian whose name I forget, and several Catholic Indians (mostly of Goan descent) made up the rest of the staff.   

At St. Anselm's the intellectual ground had started shifting under my feet.  The mythologies I had earlier taken for granted, and just begun to question at St George’s now began to look definitely shaky.  The syllabus began to be oriented more towards Indian history and to a view of colonialism that at the least questioned whether the Raj was an unmitigated blessing for India.  The Indian oriented teachers did an outstanding job.  The books were not anti British but they were also not totally pro Empire.  I saw that the “Indian Mutiny” in which my great grandfather had died in Delhi palace “massacred by mutineers” could very fairly be seen as the “First War of Independence”.  Gandhi may indeed be a great moral leader, and not just the “half naked fakir” of Churchill’s ill-tempered remark.  People like Nehru were beginning to make sense.  Maybe Indians were competent to do all the jobs that had been reserved for “Europeans”, including driving trains, inspecting boilers and inspecting the railway track. 

Now that I was back in Ajmer at St Anselm’s, Hindi was again the Indian language requirement.  I had taken Urdu as the native language in Mussoorie, and had missed two years of Hindi while I was at St George’s so my parents hired an Indian munshi (tutor) to teach me Hindi at home.  He was a very comfortable and engaging man and was the first educated Indian I recall ever being in our home.  He was a quiet gentle man for whom I developed a great respect.

This period of my life was wonderful in all kinds of ways.  I was a totally committed Catholic who bicycled to Mass every morning.  I was discovering girls, and beginning to question the received wisdom of my parents and friends. I was living at home, singing in Dad’s band at Saturday night hops and really enjoying school.  The teachers at St.Anselm’s were mostly bachelors and had little to do outside school.  Most of them would hang around after school and play various games with us and chat about what was happening in India.  "Carom" is a great game to play while you chat.  It is played on a board about 4 feet square with a pocket at each of the four corners.  About ten 1 inch discs are arranged in the center of the board like little hockey pucks.  The idea is to flick a 2 inch disc with your finger at the smaller disks and get the smaller disks into the pockets in the corner.  Sort of a cross between air hockey and pool. 

There was of course no TV at the time, but English language radio was ubiquitous.  We had the BBC from London.  We had the British forces "Radio SEAC"  (South East Asia Command) from Ceylon for more Asian slanted news, and we had a wonderfully irreverent music and news station from Holland of all places from a town called Hilversum which came in on long wave late at night.  I still remember the signature tune "I like a nice cup of tea in the morning".  Again like every other aspect of daily life there was no reporting of local daily life.  What we knew of local matters was what we observed. 

Catholic schools tended to be much less “rah rah” patriotic about the Empire than the equivalent Protestant establishment.  The Catholic schools of course were staffed by Irishmen, and Frenchmen and the descendants of the Portuguese.  Not exactly a cheering section for the Brits.  There can’t have been a more wonderful setting for an intelligent, aggressive teenager trying to come to grips with a world set on its ear. 

The shift in my attitude towards the superiority of all things European was quite subtle.  I remember learning about the India unifying Ashoka the Buddhist King, and the religious tolerance of Akbar the Muslim.  I remember for the first time being exposed to the idea that there was a highly developed Indus civilization (Mohen-Jodaro) before Solomon’s temple. It was becoming common for young Hindus to start wearing “Gandhi caps”, and young Muslims to wear the Muslim cap to show solidarity with their leaders.   It began to irritate me a lot that my Anglo Indian friends would look at this headgear as being “insolent”.  The word “insolent” was much in vogue in the European vocabulary to describe nationalist acts performed by Indians which a red neck American would describe as being the acts of “uppity niggers” 

It was becoming obvious to me that people like Nehru were highly educated intelligent men who should have no more difficulty running Indian affairs than the Brits who came to India and then left.  Also the enormous gap between the way I lived and the indescribable poverty of most of India began to bother me a lot.

On to Leaving_India.htm


Table of Contents | Preface | An Indian Childhood | Genealogy | Colonialism and The Raj


[An Indian Childhood] [Ajmer 1933_1940] [Ajmer 1933-1940 Continurd] [Mhow 1940-1945] [Ajmer 1945_49] [Leaving India] [Life iin the Plains] [Life in the Hills]