Saturday, November 21, 2015


A problem with English is that in some important matters its vocabulary is inadequate.
God loves me and I love God are not the same use of ‘love’ as
I love ice-cream.
Today a very popular excuse for not doing the Christian thing from want of courage is to come up with the first part of a verse
from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 7
Do not judge and you will not be judged;
but leaving out the rest
because the judgements you give [not make] are the judgements you will get and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given. (1-2)

The context of the bandied about truncated quotation makes it clear that one is not to ‘sit in judgement’ or condemn hypocritically, or self-righteously. BUT Scripture constantly urges the believer to exercise judgement, meaning discernment, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, which enables the believer to evaluate, and to discern between good people and bad people, good things and bad things.
A spiritual man, on the other hand, is able to judge the value of everything, and his own value is not to be judged by other men. (1 Corinthians, 2:15)

Discernment is what is required from a Christian, not criticism. And after discernment, for which praise God, comes action, which almost invariably requires another gift of the Holy Spirit, fortitude. After that come yet more gifts: piety and fear of the Lord, two which hardly anyone comprehends because hardly anyone reads the new Catholic Catechism – already some decades old – or can be bothered with such ‘extras’ as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why not just let everyone do what he or she likes and all have a merry feast?
Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces. (Matt. 7:6)

Jesus was not afraid to say to some of those he cured, “Go, and sin no more.” Another much bandied about phrase is ‘unconditional love’. God is said to love unconditionally, and all will be forgiven, all will be made welcome. When put to the test of reasoned argument and the Gospel accounts of what Jesus said, this maxim needs to be very carefully defined. Else, we should expect to find Stalin, Hitler and their like playing harps in heaven. It makes nonsense of the deposit of faith that we have received – or should have received – from the earliest years of our lives.
Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to perdition is wide and spacious, and many take it; but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matt. 7:13-14)
Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on rock. (25)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Not Peace but a Sword

from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 10
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth: it is not peace I have come to bring, but a sword. (34)
Anyone who prefers son or daughter to me is not worthy of me. (38)

Laissez faire Christianity is Christendom’s betrayal of Jesus Christ, on account of which the world is as it is 2000 years and more after the Nativity. Of what use to celebrate Christmas, and cover up the Crucified One with decorations? The pilgrim way is a hard road, full of obstacles, and full of tempting side paths which seem to promise an easier way around those obstacles. How full of convincing arguments is the Father of Lies. “Don’t be ‘judgmental’.” “Everyone does it.” “Be real, be practical.”

You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. (22)

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. (28)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


An excellent custom obtained at the Sachivalaya (Secretariat) in Ahmedabad, after the state of Gujarat was formed in May 1960. Every Friday evening, at a fixed hour, the officers gathered to take tea, with the Chief Secretary presiding. It was an informal meeting, at which someone might relate a funny or a strange experience he had had in the course of that week’s official work. From one of these Secretaries’ teas, her father brought home an account heard from a junior colleague who, as it happened, lived with his family in the flat (at the Government Quarters) above theirs, and who, with his wife and children, had become good family friends. This story is a retelling of his account.


Babubhai was a clerk in the PWD.  During breaks he partook of tea and gossip; gossip from his cronies, tea out of a glass tumbler.  It was not an unusual specimen; one would not have thought it likely that this tumbler’s history would be enshrined in a government’s archives, but appearances they say. . .  Babubhai had inherited it from his predecessor.  He intended passing it on likewise.

However, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the tumbler and the lip.  It slipped out of Babubhai’s grasp and took its last tumble.  Babubhai thought over his predicament.  The tumbler had come to him along with a well-furnished desk, almirah, waste-paper basket and clay water pot, on his promotion to the rank of UDC (Upper Division Clerk)Ergo, it was government property.

Babubhai put up an indent for a glass tumbler.  That deceptively simple request travelled through the department like the Flying Dutchman, to and froIt acquired adjuncts and soon reposed in a burgeoning file.  Keener intelligences than the average person’s, worked on it and came up with queries of surpassing shrewdness.

To begin with, who had sanctioned the original purchase, and when?  This proved, after much investigation, to be as hard to trace as direct descent from Adam.  A query about the tumbler’s original cost met with a similar response – in due course.  Then arose the question, had it outlived its useful life.  Which in turn brought up the problem of how one could establish the length of ‘useful life’ in the case of a glass tumbler.  This byway was extensively explored and abandoned reluctantly when progress became impossible.

Someone then inquired how the tumbler came to need replacing.  Much paper-work later, came the inevitable question: how had Babubhai contrived to drink during the year and odd months since the aforesaid tumbler was broken?  Babubhai, now justifiably incensed, replied that he used improvised paper cups.  Back came the query, what paper did he use?  It was a promising line of inquiry, shedding light on the subject of what constitutes ‘government paper’: used envelopes, from non-government sources were adjudged not ‘government paper’.

Meanwhile, one ministry fell and another took over, resulting in a change of Secretary for Public Works etc.  The file came his way when the point was reached of asking Babubhai to show cause why the cost of the tumbler should not be recovered from him.  The Secretary carried the file home on a long weekend.

Come Monday morning, he asked some questions: what was the current price of a glass tumbler; what was the estimated cost (to the taxpayer) of paper and man hours expended on this exercise; could he write finis to the saga if he paid for the tumbler himself?  After this, sanction
came rapidly for the purchase of a five-anna glass tumbler whose actual cost by then, at a moderate estimate, amounted to Rs 500.

As was said at the outset, Babubhai was a clerk in the Public Waste Department.

Saturday, November 07, 2015


It needs no Magus to discern that a tangible possession is more readily acquired by inheritance than an intangible quality, she thought, and passed in review a parade of unworthy children. Yet a remarkably gifted child might be the offspring of unlikely parents. And, of course, there was the kinship of the spirit, much more reliable and enjoyable than the hazardous kinship of blood, which too often brought forth a venomous toad.

But what was one to make of the fine women and men one would wish to see replicated but never would, because they had no children, or were kept from marrying? There might be a larger pattern invisible to her mortal eye that explained such things, but to her it seemed only another of those melancholy mysteries of human life.

And so, from generalities her mind passed to the particular, from which passage emerged two bright memories of her early years.

Clara Peres, born circa 1912, was eleven years younger than her good friend, Eugenia Alvares of Margão, and twelve years older than her very good friend, Eugenia’s daughter Susana, married to Clara’s ideal human being, Senhõr Fred.

Clara was plain in appearance, but she had much intelligence, a craftsman’s skill, fortitude, willingness to work hard, seemingly unquenchable liveliness, boundless generosity, and a most loving heart. She effaced herself so completely that, of all the many times she came to stay, diligently stitching clothes and embroidering linen for the family, only one photograph accidentally captured her in a corner of the image, her face almost in profile.

Extreme right, seated, Clara Peres, Nadiad, September 1955

Clara could have married. There was once a man who desired that. Her father, who begrudged his three daughters the expenses of marriage, packed her off to her friend Susana in India, with dire warnings. Clara did not consider board and lodging that might be lost through disobedience, but she loved her mother, and never again thought of marriage, she who would have been such a fine wife and mother.

All three Peres daughters were dressmakers and seamstresses. Clara earned a living in Bombay, and from time to time, following the call of her yearning for family love, she came to visit the beloved family wherever FJH was posted in Bombay and Ahmedabad. She was welcomed as visitor or as guest, always cheerful, always kind, a shrewd observer of humanity; willing to lend a sympathetic ear but never betraying a confidence. “Aunty Clara” she remained to the children long after they knew she was no kin to them by blood. Yet she was more nearly, more dearly tied by bonds of love.

The loss of Clara Peres in April 1982 was a severe blow. Her bubbling sense of humour, her girlish laugh, the twinkle in her eye, her warm embrace, the glee with which she took gift upon gift out of her bag, were long remembered after the Shepherd had lifted his sheep in his arms and carried her to his home.

In 1954 her father was posted to Kaira, a district undesirable to his colleagues but welcome to him and to her mother. Almost his first act was to become acquainted with his staff as individuals. That was always so in any office all through his life, and served him well.

One bright-eyed young man caught the Collector’s attention. He had a long, narrow face and a look of alert intelligence.

Natvarlal Brahmbhatt, 1950s

It was a look that did not deceive. Alert, intelligent, and what is invaluable, trustworthy in every way required of a ‘personal assistant (PA) and camp clerk’ - which was the designation of Natvarlal Brahmbhatt.

As “Natubhai” he became known to the Collector’s family, remaining so for the next half century and beyond. After he married, even his shy wife, poor lady, came to be addressed as “Mrs Natubhai”, overwhelmed by the strength of her husband’s personality.

Natubhai came into Bombay Government Service from Cambay State Service and he was promised that his earlier service would count. The promise was broken. There came a GR to state that seniority in Bombay Government Service alone would determine pay scales. This was followed by talk of retrenchment, the latest recruits to be let go first. Natubhai presented a petition to the Collector who had preceded her father. The officer said he could do nothing. Madhavlal Shah, a local politician who would later grow in power, also declined to use his good offices.

A GR is not lightly rescinded, if indeed it ever is, nor easily side-stepped. It was knight-errantry to even try. But FJH was never afraid to try. His previous post had been that of Motor Transport Controller and Director, Government Transport Service, Bombay State, and his Minister was Babubhai Jasbhai Patel of Nadiad, one day to be Chief Minister of Gujarat. FJH had made a crowd of friends in Gujarat, which region he had to visit on duty. Many of them were Congressmen, local leaders, politicians of a quite different stamp from those that followed after. He was certainly on excellent terms with the Minister, as he was with a large number of colleagues in the civil services, ICS and IAS. The Collector of Kaira wrote to persons in Government, with a copy to his Minister, drawing attention to the injustice that Government was dealing out. How the affair was managed she did not find out, hearing this story only after her father’s death, but managed it was. Natubhai was confirmed in his employment, with his former service taken into account.

In April 1956 her father was transferred to Kolhapur to do some trouble-shooting. (This was during a period of turbulence across Bombay State, with two simultaneous agitations, one for Mahagujarat, the other for Samyukta Maharashtra.) Natubhai remained in Kaira. The new Collector of Kolhapur managed a very tricky situation with his usual mix of excellent intelligence work, winning ways with influential local leaders, and brilliant, inspired improvisation at a climactic moment – matter for another tale. Meanwhile turmoil in Ahmedabad had boiled over to bring forth a crisis. Time for the man known to be capable, fearless, tactful, clever (wily, said some), sympathetic to the injured, formidable to those who transgressed the rules which govern a civilised society.

In the third week of October 1956 FJH was informed by telephone of his immediate transfer to Ahmedabad, a State Government Beechcraft flying him next day to Bombay en route to his new post. (Her mother was left to pack up and prepare to move!)

It was evident at once that with a demoralised staff and loyalties under strain – for this was a sort of civil war – the Collector would need an exceptional PA. Natubhai’s transfer was contrived by the resourceful Divisional Commissioner, D. D. Sathe ICS, and he was given lodging in a room at the top of the inconspicuous stairway leading from the Collector’s offices below to the residence above. There he remained for six to eight months until living quarters had been built for him, and for Sathe’s PA, in the grounds of the Commissioner’s small palace.

So continued a long friendship between the Collector, his family, and Natubhai, which endures to this day. Clara Peres and Natvarlal Brahmbhatt - their like is not to be found any more.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

GLOSSARY for FJH stories

Bahadur – a great man; a brave man.
chaprassi - office servant; messenger (from chapras - brass buckle worn on belt). See also peon/ pattewala
chit - letter; note
civil list - Warrant or Order of Precedence, also known as the Green, Red or Blue Book
Collector - chief administrator of district, originally collector of revenue (see 'D.O.'). His office had an English department whose head clerk was called an aval karkun; and a vernacular department, whose head clerk was a chitnis. A deputy chitnis served the Collector’s other official duty, that of District Magistrate, and he had to be well up in the Police Act, and all law & order matters. The head of several talukas in a district was a pranth officer unless belonging to the IAS, in which case he was an Assistant Collector.
compound - enclosed area surrounding bungalow and servants' quarters
dacoit - robber, thus 'dacoity' - robbery
dak - post, thus dak-wallah - postman and dak-bungalow - government staging house.
dal/ dhal - lentils
D.O. - District Officer, executive head of district known as Collector, Deputy Commissioner or District Magistrate
dhoti -loose loincloth worn by caste Hindus
dhurri - rough cotton rug
goonda - bad character
GR – Government Resolution
hamal- house servant
hazur/huzoor - sir, honorific (lit. 'the presence')
heaven-born - honorific often used to denote the ICS
hill station - stations above 5,000 feet to which state and central governments transferred in the hot weather
hoshiyar – wary; careful; and by extension shrewdly watchful.
hullaballoo - uproar (from holo-bolo - to make a noise)
khansama - cook
khas-khas tatti - screen made of grass matting and hung round doors in hot weather
kutchery either used for a court or for an administrative office, particularly that of a District Collector; includes treasury.
lathi – heavy bamboo or wooden riot-control sticks.
mali - gardener
Mamlatdar - the officer in executive charge of a taluka, land records keeper of 70 to 80 villages (in the 1950s). There is a sub-treasury in every taluka.
memsahib - lady, from 'madam-sahib'; sometimes shortened to mem
mofussil - up-country; the provinces
naik/ jemadar – the head pattewala, with grander uniform including a turban; Naik for an Assistant Collector, Jemadar for a Collector. His first duty in the morning was to walk ahead of the Collector as the latter made his way from the residential part of the Bungalow to the office: “Saheb, if I don’t go ahead of you, how will anyone know who you are?”).
nilgai - largest Indian antelope; an adult male is thought to look like an ox and so is often called a blue bull
pattewala/ peon - office servant; messenger, (from patta, the sash over the shoulder and across the chest – with a brass buckle worn on a leather belt).
pi dog - mongrel found all over India (abbrev. of pariah)
pukka – proper
PWD - Public Works Department
raj - kingdom, used in twentieth century chiefly to denote British rule in India from 1858 to 1947
sahib/ saheb - sir; European, also affixed to rank, thus 'Collector saheb'
salaam - salutation
sambhur - large Indian deer
satyagraha - civil disobedience on Gandhian principles of non-violence
shabash - well done
shamiana - marquee
shikar - sport (shooting and hunting)
solar topee - heavy pith helmet
Swaraj - Home Rule
tahsildar - local tax collector
taluka - (in South Asia) an administrative district for taxation purposes, typically comprising a number of villages. Each taluka has on an average two or three head clerks (aval karkuns), one each for the office, the treasury, and rounds of village inspection.
tamasha - spectacle
tank - artificial lake
teapoy - small tripod table
verandah - open gallery around bungalow
wallah – man; also as in box-wallah derogatory term for service in a (business) company as opposed to the civil or the armed services. Refers to boxes carried by door-to-door salesmen.

Some of the technical terms in the Administration are as near as I can manage from old hastily pencilled notes made as my father reminisced - when he did reminisce in those last years.....

Natvarlal Brahmbhatt on the extreme left; with Bapalal Thakar on his left, and FJH on Bapalal’s left. Counting votes during the critical 1957 General Election, 28 January 1957. Meanwhile, at the Methodist Mission Hospital in Nadiad, NPH was struggling to be born alive.

The Collector of Ahmedabad received an urgent phone call. The expected birth was difficult and a caesarean was not possible. Which should the surgeon save, mother or child? He was sworn at as FJH was never heard to swear. The latter thought of his two small children and finally said, “Save the mother.” No one knew why he looked so grey and grim as counting continued.

As soon as proceedings were wound up, FJH got into his Dodge along with a pattewala in case of need (even in a crisis he never failed to make provision), and drove like a crazed man for Nadiad. The road with no traffic was through Matar, passing over the Shedhi River by a rackety old bridge. When he got there, sure enough, a portion of the bridge had fallen into the river and someone had laid a plank across the gap. To the pattewala’s horror, Saheb backed the car some distance, then drove at maximum speed so that the car almost flew across the river, the plank splitting with a loud crack and falling into the water below.

Until rendered helpless before dying, FJH never failed to pray the Rosary before he slept. And God never forsook him. He got to keep his wife and to hold his baby daughter in his arms.

When his wife was well enough to go out with him, he took her to Mansukhlal’s, the saree shop where the very rich made their purchases. With an overdraft he bought her three sarees of the latest mode – for a new bride, he said – a light pink French glass nylon encrusted with lace and gold thread; a powder-blue of the same material embroidered with mother-of-pearl and silver sequins; and a royal blue Banaras silk patli-pallav, its pleat section and pallav like panels of gold brocade with elephants and peacocks woven into it in red and green. That was FJH of the tender and faithful heart.

There was also the Collector Saheb.

Bapalal was a Mamlatdar in Ahmedabad District. He was good at his job; an upright man. Off duty he was a well-bred, cultured man whose hobby was photography. It was he who took many of the photographs of the Collector on duty. Bapalal gave copies to his boss, writing on the backs: “With best regards to Saheb Bahadur.”

Bahadur was a title that the Collector of Ahmedabad earned in dramatic fashion, at least three times, but that is matter for another tale.

Saheb Bahadur, and Saheb Hoshiyar, he was to many an awestruck citizen of Ahmedabad. How did he know what conspiracies were hatching?

A slim young man who watched keenly and observed shrewdly could have told them. But Natvarlal Brahmbhatt never did. He told no one.

Natubhai came from a bardic clan who were record-keepers, chroniclers to the rulers of their day. For this they required excellent memories. However, they sang their histories in verse. Not so Natubhai. He made notes of secret meetings, notes to be destroyed when it was time. He typed letters that were never to be archived.

Had he spoken, the legends would not have thrived. The truth was so simple: absolutely first class intelligence gathered from watchers of diverse occupations, including the police. The legends grew around a Saheb who, by night, cycled around Ahmedabad, listening in on conversations, spying who went whither. No, said some, he sat in a corner at Diamond Restaurant and eavesdropped. Since the famous eating-house was owned by a Muslim, the Saheb was kitted out by storytellers with a lungi and a skull-cap for disguise.

[Many years later, when FJH was Home Secretary, there was the case of the bunch of conspirators who were planning a disruptive action that would have meant a catastrophe for Ahmedabad than which only one other kind could be more devastating. One night, they all disappeared none knew where to.

All of them except one. He was known to be a babbler, and a dabbler, too. The only one who could plausibly be blamed for betraying the others. He had not. But it was expedient that he be suspected.

Next morning, in all innocence, he awoke to exactly that, when it was openly said to him that he had betrayed his comrades, all whisked away by policemen before they could make a phone call (no cell phones then!) in an operation most artfully planned and meticulously executed. The terrified man hastened to Police Headquarters. “Arrest me!” he screamed. “Why don’t you arrest me?”

“We have no orders about you,” was the reply from a poker-faced officer. “But you must arrest me now,” the man pleaded. “What for?” he was asked. “If you want to be arrested, go and ask the Home Secretary-sahib” And then he knew. That dangerous fellow, who had once been the Collector (Odysseus lay beyond the man’s ken) had best be avoided. He had reason.]

But during the Mahagujarat agitation there was the case of the undermined street protest.

In political agitations there are the manipulators and the manipulated; there is strategy and there are tactics; there is also timing, which application of mind can interpret and turn back on the aggressor.

There was a sit-down protest, fasting, and blocking busy roads. Old women, young men, all took part. The plan was to sit until the mills had their shift change. As workers came away or went to work, there would be some jostling as they pushed their way through. Weapons would appear out of clothing and be used against the policemen lining the roads, with cries of ”the police are attacking us!”

When policemen carrying lathis are assailed, they tend towards excess in their reaction. Therefore, the highest-ranking officers and the Collector himself moved ceaselessly to and fro keeping a look-out for signs of trouble.

Sun and hunger had begun to try the endurance of the crowd. As pre-concerted, at a moment which the Collector had rightly judged, the signal was passed around and officers sent for tea and samosas from nearby tea-stalls to refresh their men. Policemen are human. Some of them slurped tea loudly and remarked to each other on the tasty samosas.  Some even offered refreshment to the crowd.

It was all too much for one beldame. She got to her feet, groaning, and stumbled off to the nearest tea-stall, ignoring the entreaties and threats of the provocateurs. Before long, large holes had opened up in the packed mass of humanity. By shift change time no one was left.

Sometimes it isn’t necessary to disperse a crowd with violence when a little wit will serve.

The Collector of Ahmedabad on the look-out.

[There is an entry from The Hindu’s Archive at that explains my cryptic tale above of the plot that was thwarted. One further detail is imprudent to reveal here.]

Reflections on All Saints’ Day

What is good has been explained to you, O man,
this is what the Lord asks of you:
only this, to act justly,
to love tenderly
and to walk humbly with your God
~ Micah 6: 6-8

Fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble,
everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour,
and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise ...
Then the God of peace will be with you.
~ Philippians 4: 8-9

Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord?
Who shall stand in his holy place?
The man with clean hands and pure heart,
who desires not worthless things.
~ Psalm 23

I love you, Lord, my strength,
my rock,
my fortress, my saviour.
My God is the rock where I take refuge,
my shield my mighty help, my stronghold.
The Lord is worthy of praise:
When I call I am saved from my foes.
~ Psalm 17