For all my new friends who have recently started following this blog.....please start at the very is a good place to start to get the full impact of this fascinating tale.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Laughing Matter

Victor had the innate ability to make people roar with laughter at the most awkward times. For a man with such an irreverent sense of humour, who could make the most outrageously funny statements, few people actually remember seeing him laugh out loud himself. Whatever he said was with a completely dead pan expression which somehow made the impact of his words even more hilarious.  
Victor played bridge at the Gorakhpur Club three nights a week with a group of his friends who were avid about the game, and this routine was inviolable no matter what the circumstances. On the rare occasion when for some reason the foursome was incomplete,  they would  reluctantly join the 'puploo' table to wile away time.
There was a particularly featherbrained lady, the wife of one of one of Gorakhpur's' leading contractors, who got on every one's nerves. At the beginning of a deal she would stuff the colored chips deep into her over flowing bra, defying the men to take whatever she owed. Luckily for her, the gentlemen were too polite and embarrassed to oblige.
One evening Victor and his cronies were deeply immersed in a rubber of bridge, when the aforementioned  lady waddled into the card room and in a shrill falsetto demanded to know what the four men were doing. Victor did not even glance at her as he retorted "Masturbating under the table!" Paroxysms of  mirth followed this remark as the lady stormed off  with an indignantly quivering bosom, never to play cards with any of them again!

Fooling Around
 There was a childish game we enjoyed with my father called King of Spain. The rules were elementary -  two people holding lighted candles had to stand at opposite ends of the room facing each other. They then had to walk towards each other very slowly, and when nose to nose one had to say "The King of Spain is Dead", while the other replied "Long Live the King". It was as simple as that, but the whole ceremony had to be done with a completely blank face - no smile, no emotion. My father would take up his position with such a grumpy and disgruntled expression, that hysterical giggles welled uncontrollably even before the ritual had begun. He would glower at us with a down turned mouth, which was the cause of more merriment and crazy cackling. The end result would be side splitting convulsions while he stood  grimly and patiently, holding the candle waiting for one of us to compose ourselves and join him. I have actually witnessed my grandmother Anna, wet her pants because she was shrieking with wild laughter and could not contain herself.
Years later, when I  had a daughter of my own I was often the target of my father's dry humour. I had once gone into the bathroom to change a tampon, when my two year old Sanam, barged in and asked what I was doing. I casually replied that I was using a tampon, and as she was not curious about it I presumed she had forgotten the incident. A few months later, on a visit to Saraya, I noticed her sitting on the carpet stuffing 'Swad' sweets into her pantie. I asked what she was trying to do and she solemnly replied 'I am using a tampon!". I was slightly worried and asked my father if he thought she could unwittingly do any damage to herself by playing like this. He thought it highly unlikely but dryly added, " In any case I have never heard of anyone losing their virginity to a Swad!" I felt a second of exasperation at his matter-of-fact impassivity about his granddaughter, but the comical remark got to me and  unrestrained laughter followed.
We were always an extremely close family and laughter was an integral part of my growing up. From my father I learned to find humour in even the most unpleasant circumstances, and this ability has got me through many trying periods of my life.  After he died, the Majithia's were very keen that all the last rites be performed according to Sikh tradition, and the immersion be done at Hari Ke Patan where others of the family had been sent on their way. My mother and I were flown to Ludhiana in Sati Majithia's private aircraft with Dad's ashes in an urn sitting between us. We disembarked and began walking away from the aircraft, when I realised the vessel was still in the plane, as we each thought the other had picked it up. I turned to mum and said "Oh dear, we have forgotten Dad". We shared a soft chuckle while relatives looked on in shocked disapproval at our lack of respect.
We were completely shattered by my father's death, but humour had always been so much part of his life  that it seemed quite natural to share a laugh even though he was not present anymore. He would have expected nothing less.....

Thursday, 29 September 2011


I crave for solitude these days
To sort out the tangled cobwebs of my thoughts.
These fragile cobwebs, which frighten me so
Because I find I am inextricably caught
In their viscous grip.
Chains of iron I could have handled with ease,
But god, these silken fetters frighten me.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

History Repeats

Nighat looking sideways while Tutu walks by Nina's side

For her wedding, Nina wore a beautiful deep pink Banarsi brocade sari with a matching gold tissue blouse. Capes were the rage that year, and she had one made from the same  material as the blouse, so everything matched perfectly and she looked an absolute dream.
After that special day, the bridal ensemble was carefully packed away, and would only be taken out once a year to be aired and refolded, before being stored away again. I remember as a child, begging to be allowed to play with the shimmering length of fabric and thinking it was the most beautiful material I had ever seen. I was always admonished to wash my hands before touching and was extra careful not to handle it roughly. I made up my mind all those years ago, that this is what I wanted to wear at my own wedding, whenever that would be.
In 1983 I married Sandip Sud, a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force. My childhood dream came true when I wore the same gorgeous sari at my wedding, twenty nine years after it had first been draped by my mother on hers. Down the years the  blouse had somehow been misplaced and capes were no more in fashion, so the original cloak was cut up and stitched to make one for me.
After all the ceremonies were over and my husband and I got home, I went to change out of my wedding finery and was shocked to find my underarms were stained a bright pink. The color of  the fabric had run badly and it made for a rather peculiar sight!
I telephoned my mother the next morning, and told her about my brightly tinted armpits and she began to laugh uncontrollably.
She told me the same thing had happened to her all those years ago. She and Victor retired for the night and when she woke up the next morning she was horrified to see pink underarms looking back at her from the bathroom mirror! Mortified and embarrassed, she asked Victor why he had not told her that her armpits were strangely discolored. Victor looked very sheepish and answered that since he had never seen pink armpits before, he presumed it was some alien Indian wedding custom, and  did not want to appear tactless and stupid by remarking on the bizarre spectacle!

Eva and Sandip

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Off The Beaten Path

Victor, Nina and Blanca
Victor's first memory of Nina was when she was just six years old. He had come to call on her parents, Anna and Safdar,and she had rushed unknowingly into the drawing room not knowing there was a visitor. She shyly mumbled a soft "Hello Uncle", but when her mother urged her to sit awhile she whispered, " I have to feed my rabbits!" and dashed from the room.
Nina's first memory of Victor was when she was eight years old. She and her mother had travelled from Lucknow to Deokahi, which was a small hamlet a couple of miles from Saraya, to visit Rajan and Satyavan Shergil, who were close family friends. Victor also happened to have driven over in his jeep, and offered to drop the ladies back to the Gorakhpur station for the journey home. He was casually attired in trousers, shirt and cap and little Nina thought he was extremely handsome. She remembers that he drove very fast in the open vehicle, and she kept staring at his head gear wondering why it was not blowing off  in the strong wind!
Over the next few years they  rarely saw each other. When Victor would drop by to visit Anna and Safdar, Nina would  usually be away at school, busy playing outside or tucked into bed. He was a very eligible bachelor and there was no dearth of female companionship, so on the few occasions she did manage to catch a glimpse of him it was always with a different glamorous lady on his arm. 
Victor and Nina
By 1954, Amrita had been dead thirteen years, Victor had taken on Indian citizenship and his practice in Saraya was flourishing.The Majithia family considered him as one of their own, his mother lived with him and ran the household with an iron fist and his social calender was sometimes too full to keep up with.  In the summer of that fateful year he arrived in NainiTal for his annual vacation alone, without the usual girlfriend, and the stage was set for one of the most talked about romances of the day.
By this time Anna and Safdar had amicably divorced and Nina was living with her father in Lucknow. They would holiday in NainiTal as Safdar had a beautiful summer retreat there called Mauldon Cottage, where Anna would  join up for a few days of  family time every year. It was at the Boat Club where Victor sailed regularly, that he encountered Nina again after a gap of many years. She was a stunning twenty one year old, whom he could barely recognise as the little girl who had called him uncle and scuttled off to feed her rabbits!
There was no motorable road up to Mauldon Cottage, and it became a common sight to see Victor riding up with flowers,chocolates or a bottle of wine. Rumours about a romance between Anna and him began to  surface since she was only a couple of years older and they had been friends for years. When he eventually asked Nina out for a movie, she was thrilled but nervous, and asked her mother what she should do if he held her hand! The feeling of attraction between the two was strong, but being twenty three years older, Victor's common sense told him the relationship was an improbable one, and he tried to dissuade Nina from thinking about a  future together. On her part she was absolutely certain that this was meant to be and sensing his hesitation, she was the one who proposed to him and asked him to marry her. He knew he adored her but suggested  they wait a year without any contact, and if she felt the same way after that, he would be happy to make her his bride.
Victor and Nina
They parted ways, he back to Saraya and she to Lucknow. Nina was convinced that what she felt for Victor was not infatuation, so the stipulated trial period did not bother her at all. She was ecstatic when just two months later she got a letter from him saying that if she was sure of her feelings, he would like to set  a wedding date instead of wasting time waiting. They were formally engaged on her birthday in September and were married on the fifteenth  December 1954.
Nina arrived in Saraya as a   shy and under confident young girl who had until then led a very sheltered life with her father in Lucknow. As she got to know the Majithia's better she found herself more and more overwhelmed by their suave poise and sophistication. Jibes of "cradle snatching", followed by cruel remarks about her immaturity and youth   made socialising dreaded occasions, which she began to make excuses to avoid. The ladies would pointedly exclude her as they gossiped together, which would make her feel more awkward and embarrassed. Victor sensing her discomfort, began to refuse invitations for parties and other social functions so that Nina would not be put into uncongenial situations. This made the couple quite unpopular and once Nina overheard one of the Majithia women cattily remark " The Egan's are such a dead loss!"
It took years of determined effort to find acceptance and establish her place in the family, but in the process Nina forfeited a lot of her joy and happiness. Victor was always supportive and made sure she lacked for nothing but it was a difficult situation at the best of times.
Victor and Nina
Apart from this Blanca, who had been ruling the roost for years, began to resent Nina's presence and Victor's devotion to her. She had the habit of waking before dawn to finish all the household chores and would complain to all how lazy and useless her daughter-in-law was. Her hearing was not very good and Nina was very soft voiced, which sometimes caused misunderstandings, since Blanca could not hear Nina's subdued replies and thought she was being rude and not answering her. When Nina and Victor would go to the club, Nina would be the one to sign the bar slips, which horrified Blanca who was somehow convinced that Nina was consuming all that alcohol herself. The situation worsened after 1959 when I was born, with Nina having to confront Blanca on many occasions about her constant interference regarding my upbringing and discipline . Blanca finally decided to return to Hungary for the sake of Victor's marriage as the situation was getting completely out of hand.
Nina was never deliriously happy in Saraya, but she  loved Victor dearly and would have done anything for him. All the predictions of a doomed marriage proved false and they stayed married for forty eight years. Victor pampered and protected her as long as he could, and when his health began to fail, she took over and did the same for him.
Nina was just sixty four when Victor died in June 1997, just short of his eighty seventh birthday.  She felt a  deep sense of loss and sadness tinged with relief, as he had been suffering terribly towards the end of his life. She knew she would lack for nothing, since he had left enough and more for her to live comfortably on, but  would always miss his strong calm nature, gentle strength and unique sense of humour.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Ignorance is Bliss

Victor driving off to visit a patient
Victor had a very wry sense of humour, which was more often than not, lost on the simple village folk he dealt with on a daily basis.He would make outrageously droll statements with such a dead pan face, that most times it took a minute to grasp the hilarity of what he was saying. In the years he practised in Saraya he encountered superstition and ignorance of such unbelievable magnitude, that when I once suggested he write a book about his experiences, he said  people would think he was completely daft and his stories absolutely implausible!
One such incident took place on a cold wintry day, when Victor was called out to attend to an ailing old man in a neighbouring village. When he entered the small dank hut, he found the patient lying on a 'charpai', shivering with fever, whilst one of his sons stood by, waving a large bunch of 'neem' leaves to and fro over his father's head. When asked why the young man was doing this, since the weather was icy and the sick old man's teeth were chattering in the freezing temperature, he was solemnly told that evil spirits would be kept from entering the body by the continuous motion of the make shift fan .
 After attending to the afflicted soul, Victor gathered up his bag to leave and noticed all the family members huddling around with concern, eager to know his diagnosis. He told them that the old man would be fine and he would return in a few days to check on his progress. As he passed the young lad, still frantically swishing the branches around, he casually stated that as far as he knew, spirits emerged from under the bed if they were intent on possessing someone, and not from above.
When he went back a couple of days later to see how his patient was doing, he was absolutely astounded to see the invalid's son lying scrunched up under his father's cot, flapping the branch fan as best he could in the very limited space below the low slung 'khatiya'. With a completely straight face Victor remarked that he was now certain no spirit, in any shape or form, would dare trouble the old man.
Another time a patient suffering from bronchial pneumonia came to the hospital to consult Victor, who wrote out a lengthy prescription and told the man to return for a check up after finishing the course of medication. A few days later he was surprised to see the villager stumble back in an even worse condition. When asked if he had been taking all the tablets as instructed, the simpleton answered in the affirmative. He went on to explain in great detail how he was shredding bits of the prescription into hot water and drinking it at regular intervals. He was not convinced when it was explained to him that it was not the paper he had to swallow but the pills - after all 'doctor sahib' had written on the 'parchi' with his own hands and that was a good enough remedy for him.
On another occasion an infant was brought into the hospital with a badly swollen face. On examining the child Victor discovered  a hard substance completely blocking the little one's ear passage. When he asked the apprehensive parents what they had done, they answered that the baby's ear had been oozing pus so they had poured in some cement to stop the flow. The concrete had set into a solid lump and they were relieved  that the trickling muck had stopped, but were baffled as to why the child's face had swollen up. It took all of Victor's skill and  ingenuity to remove the hardened mass from the squalling tot's ear.
Victor was one of those rare doctors who did not believe in over prescribing medication, but the naive village folk were psychologically not satisfied until they were given a shriekingly painful injection or a large bottle of nasty tasting tonic. Victor's assistant Baleshwar had his own recipe,where he would mix together the contents of a variety of bottles to make an unpalatable concoction, which would be distributed free of cost to the weak and malnourished natives.The effectiveness of this elixir was so amazing that they had to give it an official name. It came to be known as the GOK solution - God Only Knows solution.

The Mask


They called me unpitying, ruthless, unnatural -
And I have smiled -
A smile so carefully cultivated.
It would not do to let the world see me
When I murmur softly to a dying puppy,
Gently stroking its tiny silken head
As the life light leaves its eyes.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Amrita's Husband

Victor and Amrita

Victor's life and character have always been analyzed under a microscope, mostly by those who had never met him let alone known him.There was always a great deal of speculation and raised eyebrows about how he tolerated Amrita's bizarre and scandalous life style and how he was responsible for her untimely death.
Victor and Amrita had grown up together in Hungary and their relationship was one of intrinsic familiarity. They were never wildly in love and she asked him to marry her because she trusted him implicitly.He always had the amazing ability to accept a loved one completely and without question and she was confident that he would never criticize,condemn or sit in judgement of her sometimes erratic behaviour.  For some reason of her own she craved the security of marriage to Victor, in spite of having a long list of eligible suitors wooing her, yet at the same time wanted the freedom to express herself as she chose. She felt there was no one who could understand and accept her free spirit other than him.
Victor realised Amrita was eccentric and highly strung and they would have an unconventional relationship.  He agreed to follow her to India partly to avoid getting conscripted into the Hungarian army just before the second world war and partly because she felt her inspiration to paint lay in the colors and people of that land.
 Victor found himself in a strange land, surrounded by people who adored his exotic and talented wife and only knew him as "Amrita's husband". He never claimed circumstances were easy, but learned to make the most of  difficult situations. It was not that he was immune to the hurt caused by her unpredictable moods or notorious affairs, or that he did not feel completely isolated at times, but he had married her with a certain sense of commitment which did not allow him to ever interfere with the choices she made. She ensured that she got the excitement and stimulation she needed when she was painting one of her masterpieces and he in turn accepted that as part of her genius. 
In one of Amrita"a much talked about letters she writes - "I and Victor are very fond of each other, and yet have nothing to say to each other. When we are alone together, we sit by the hour in silence, he begins to yawn, and I sink deeper and deeper into a depressed and depressing silence, and we weigh intolerably on each other till, unable to bear it longer, one of us gets up and suggests a game of patience or chess."  When Victor was once interviewed and asked to comment on Amrita's seemingly bored discontent he said he had not given it a second thought since to him  it sounded  like any normal married couple he knew!

Victor, Amrita and Nehru
In October of 1940, Jawaharlal Nehru was tried in a Gorakhpur Court supposedly for some inflammatory speeches he had given in the area a few months earlier. Before his arrest he made a quick trip to Saraya to meet Amrita, whom he admired and had great affection for. After her death Victor destroyed all correspondence that Nehru and Amrita shared, saying with a deep sense of integrity, that the letters were too personal  and should not ever fall into the wrong hands.
A few years later, Nehru requested that Victor donate Amrita's paintings to the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. He felt  her work  deserved the status of "national treasure"and should be seen and appreciated by all. Victor generously agreed and presented the gallery with thirty five canvasses that he had in his possession, not keeping even one for himself!
I often grumbled at him about this big-hearted gesture, knowing the value of her work today, but he would always say it was better that her art be well preserved and maintained in a museum where everybody could  admire her unique gift. He also added with a smile, that if he had known he would ever re-marry or have a child with such an acquisitive nature, he might have actually kept a few!
When I asked him why he did not refute the rumours about his involvement in Amrita's death he replied that the facts were not as exciting as the murderous rumors and he thought no one would be particularly interested in his version of what happened.
Maybe I will put it all down here some day........

Tuesday, 6 September 2011



I awoke last night - (long after you had gone),
   to a strange but gentle touch.
I awoke to find Sorrow leaning over me -
   mystic, simple and yet so strong.

I felt no fear, he was a friend of sorts
   and through the years I had grown accustomed to his presence.
I asked him what he wanted of me
  and caressing my cheek he whispered low -

"I have come to bid you farewell, my friend,
   my time with you is spent.
We have shared many dark years, my friend,
   but now sleep on and be content."

Sunday, 4 September 2011

And Life Goes On

After the trauma of Amrita's tragic death, Victor began to pick up the broken threads of his existence in Saraya. He lived very comfortably in a palatial bungalow surrounded by a sprawling garden. He had a cook and bearer who looked after his everyday needs and a "maali" to tend to the grounds. The staff  got a handsome salary of four annas a month and Victor was told he was spoiling them by paying too much!
His work at the clinic completely absorbed him. He had to face an outbreak of plague, closely followed by an epidemic of cholera.Tropical disease and medicine, which had so far only been book knowledge, learnt in medical school, became a harsh reality with which he had to quickly familiarise himself.
Unfortunately, circumstances back in Hungary were not so good. World War II was raging on and Victor's mother Blanca and sister Viola were living in abominable conditions. He never wrote letters, but would sometimes furiously pound out a  few lines on his old type-writer using just two fingers, unmindful of grammatical or spelling mistakes. This letter written to Anna in 1946 tells how harrowing the situation really was.

Victor eventually sent for Blanca after the war and she arrived in India in 1948. She was quite content living with him in Saraya, pottering about the house, cooking Hungarian meals and overseeing the upkeep of the garden. At one point of time the household included Nina, her mother Anna, her half sister Kiran,  me, and a dog. Blanca was overheard sorrowfully telling the neighbour " My poor son is living surrounded by women.....even the dog is a bitch"! Her command over the English language was not very good and she had to tactfully be told that this was not a very complimentary thing to say. 
Regrettably, over the years irreconcilable problems arose between Nina and Blanca and she chose to return to Hungary in 1963. It broke Victor's heart to say goodbye to her because he knew it was unlikely that they would meet again.
Viola, Victor's older sister, whom he had last seen in 1939 decided to visit in October 1982. He travelled to Delhi to receive her, and found much to his embarrassment, that after forty three years he could not recognise her. He had to actually ask a number of old women at the airport who they were before he finally spotted a doddery old lady, standing in the wrong queue, who turned out to be his sister.
Viola had planned to stay three months but  found the Indian climate unbearably hot, the food too exotic and the environment extremely dusty and dirty.When she developed a stomach ailment, it terrified her to think she would die in this strange country far from her own loved ones. She returned to Hungary after just three weeks.
Victor felt a mixture of relief  and sadness after she left.Their conversations had been difficult - his Hungarian was rusty and  her English was not very good. All the friends he inquired about were dead and all the remembered places of his youth did not exist any more. It was depressing for the siblings who had once been close, to find that they had nothing in common anymore.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Big Game Hunting

Victor on "shikaar" in Nepal

Kirpal Singh Majithia's younger brother Surjit Singh Majithia, was the first ever ambassador to the neighbouring kingdom of Nepal from 1947 - 1949. Nepal, at that time, was ruled by the  powerful Rana dynasty, who held sway till 1953. Surjit Singh was also deputy defence minister in Jawaharlal Nehru's 1952 ministry and cut a very dashing figure in the corridors of power.
In those days big game hunting was a sport encouraged by the British and indulged in by maharajahs and wealthy landowners.Tiger, leopard and rhino heads were much sought after trophies, glassy eyed deer and wild buffalo adorned bungalow walls and coffee table legs made of elephant feet were very fashionable to have on display in ones drawing room.
Kirpal himself was an avid and renowned marksman and every winter there would be meticulously planned "shikaar" trips organised by the Ranas, in the Terai foothills of Nepal. The family owned elephants would be sent up a couple of months in advance to set up camp and get ready for the arrival of the esteemed members of the hunting party. Victor and Amrita were always included in the exclusive guest list and even after she died, he continued to enjoy this annual expedition.
They would arrive at the camp to find  tents neatly pitched, hot water for baths ready and bearers at hand to meet all demands. Meals were always formal affairs and after a hard days sport, men would change into dinner jackets and ladies into their evening gowns and there in the middle of the jungle amidst the buzzing of mosquitoes, a toast would be raised by candlelight to the victors of the day.
Elephants on "shikaar"
I  have seen unbelievable 16mm footage of some of these shooting sprees. First would come the "beaters",whose job it was to frighten the hidden beasts towards the waiting line of elephants. They would walk  through  high grass, hollering, jumping and thrashing the ground with sticks, all the while clanging pots and pans together to create an unholy cacophony. There were a couple of instances where a tiger turned around and badly mauled one of these hapless men but that never diminished the enthusiasm and excitement of the "haaka" or beat.
Frightened animals big and small, would blunder out of the grass, running for their lives, only to be meet by a wall of elephants being urged on by their "mahouts". Atop each elephant sat a "sahib" with a high powered rifle and what followed was carnage of the worst kind.There is no sound in the old movies but one can see the impact of the bullets ricocheting off a rhino's thick hide again and again, until it is finally brought down.
Soon after Victor married Nina in 1954, he decided to take her along to experience the thrill of a tiger shoot, which as it turned out was the last time he would ever hunt again. A piteously bleating goat was tied as bait beneath a tree while they clambered up into a "machaan".This  was a crude blind constructed high up in the branches, where they would have to make themselves as comfortable as possible and settle down to wait  in complete silence. Towards dawn a tigress emerged stealthily out of the scrub and padded towards the goat. Victor silently took aim and fired, bringing the rising anticipation of the past hours to an abrupt end.
Nina was completely devastated and wept uncontrollably, sickened by the sight of such a beautiful animal slaughtered in cold blood. She later told Victor if he wanted to impress her he would have to meet the tigress  on her own grounds,without a weapon or the safety of a "machaan". She made him swear then and there, never to hunt big game again and it was a promise he would always keep.
Despite his reputation as a big white hunter, it was from my father Victor that I inherited an unusual love, understanding and respect for animals.When I was growing up we would still go out to the jungle every winter but he would only shoot the occasional jungle fowl for the "khansamah" to prepare for dinner. These outings became more of a weekend getaway in which we were privileged to observe wild life  in an astoundingly beautiful natural habitat. 
 I am also making it a point not to comment on what I personally thought of sporting traditions in those days. Life styles were different then and it is not my place to sit in judgement of what was the norm in a bygone era.