No Baboons in India
No Baboons in India was published by Create Space in October 2013.
Two bemused British teachers struggle to help billionaire Indian
industrialists build the school of the future.
Through wealth and poverty, class and caste, tigers and technology,
materialism, mysticism and murder, No Baboons in India ranges from farce
to tragedy and back again.
John and Val and Lakshmi Bhai, their almost-daughter, together with Baldrick, the African Snake Hound and Basil his kingly brother, are the pivotal characters, but a billion Indians are the heroes and villains of the piece.
The day before Diwali the Taj was seething with visitors, mostly Indians, as the westerners were only beginning to trickle back after the Pakistan war scare. Because of the ever-present terrorist threat one enters the beautiful gardens through narrow airport-style electronically-beamed security gateways, one for men and one for women. Queuing does not figure in the list of skills the Indians learned from the British, and the national sport ought to be rugby rather than cricket. One is poked, prodded, jostled and manhandled. Father Jack Hackett would have been stuffing holy stones and other sharp objects into every adjacent orifice. The Muslim ladies are the worst offenders, concealing vast supplies of edible contraband under their voluminous burkhas.
In Agra with my Chosen One
Indian trucks usually have at least one light but not necessarily at the back. The driver already knows where he’s been so what would be the point of that? What they do have at the back is notices and pictures, such as a mama cow suckling her calf. This is a popular image in India because cows are sacred and known for their gentleness. But Indian lorry drivers are not known for their gentleness, so don’t be deceived. If you are driving at an appropriate speed for the road conditions you will certainly have one of these knights of the road snorting down the back of your neck and emitting a continuous trumpeting from his air horn. With a sudden screech of brakes from an oncoming vehicle he is past you in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes. The last you see of him is a crudely daubed notice on his rear which reads PUBLIC FRIGHT CARRIER.
Goodness gracious me!
Indian English can be both quaint and elaborately formal. Headlines seem frozen in the 1920s when Sleuths Nabbed Ne’er-do-wells and Night Watchmen were Bashed up by Crooks.
Papaji recalls his PE teacher: ‘You lot make a straight circle. You, boy, rotate the ground four times. You two stay together separately. You others go and understand that tree.’
Suddenly, the monsoon arrives. First, lashing trees and the smell of rain, then huge, single drops, then torrents, rattling the windows and sweeping in under the outside doors. The garden of our new house becomes first a paddy field and then a river. The rain hammers all night and Uttam, emerging sleepily at dawn, steps unwarily off the porch and finds himself spluttering up to the neck in chilly water the colour of tea. A yard-wide cascade is pouring through the roof into the school’s main reception area. Pumps clatter through the next night to keep the water out of the rest of the buildings. A flotilla of geese sails tranquilly across the brimming lake.
John Wayne, my boyhood cowboy hero, often fired straight from the hip, but his namesake, EWS’s first head of boarding, made every shot a sneakily-sighted piece of sniping.
A born intriguer who thrived on trouble, he was a natural winder-up: one of those people who delight in giving a discreet twist to the invisible key most of us carry in our backs. He tried it with me; he tried it with Mr Chatterjee; he even tried it with Mamaji.
But from the outset his bête noire was Lakshmi Bhai. From the first they had a perfectly balanced relationship. He hated her and she detested him.
Baboons were among my favourite animals during our time in Africa, which seemed to give me a sort of excuse for inventing some Indian ones.
And when, during an internet joust, one of my cyber friends described another as a ‘blue-arsed baboon’, it inspired my creation of Bishop BA Boon, primate of the Church of North India and prelate of the colony which, I claimed, occupied the big mango tree just outside my window south of Delhi.
From time to time the saintly bishop intervened in our online forum when things got rough, borrowing my laptop to exclaim with nervous and misplaced optimism ‘Oh, how good and joyful it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity!’
OVERHEARD AT THE WEDDING
‘That’s a very nice saree you’re wearing.’
‘That’s just what the old gentleman said!’
‘You mean the one in the plastic sandals?’
‘Correct. He said:
‘Is ‘very’ really an adverb?’
‘Search you? What are you hiding?’
‘Don’t be silly. It’s just a figure of speech.’
‘I seem to know your face. What do you do?’
‘I’m a model.’
‘Ah, I thought you looked rather artificial. Just who are you?’
‘I’m Lady Eleanore Evian of Golfcart Grange, Mineral Water Springs.’
‘Is that a special bra you’re wearing?’
‘I thought so. What’s the label?’
‘How do you spell that?’
‘What’s its USP?’
‘It has disposable cups.’
‘And a nerve centre.’
‘For extra sensitivity.’
‘Your makeup is special too, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. It’s designed to make my eyes look more profound.’
‘No, the pools aren’t ready yet.’
‘They’re in the pipeline?’
‘Like the horses.’