When FJH got married, he was Assistant Collector in Dhulia for the District of West Khandesh. A large part of the District was forested, with leopards and tigers surviving the onslaughts of the British Raj. Leopards fancied dogs, and when FJH went on camp, which was much of the time, since village inspection meant living in tents for lack of dak bungalows, he had his dog, Teddy, set on a table and fastened to the tent pole, with a sentry beside him. His wife, Susana, often saw eyes, green in the light of lanterns, staring at her out of the dark.
There were very few Roman Catholics scattered about the district. Not enough for a mission in any one place. Once a month, a priest came to the then tiny town of Manmad and opened up a small two-room building, not even big enough to be called a chapel. He arrived on Saturday evening, cleaned out the ‘chaplet’, slept the night in the minute adjacent room, and early next morning celebrated Mass. Then he packed up the vessels and linen and left for home. His journeys were by State Transport bus.
One early Sunday morning, as FJH and his wife were approaching the place, a bunch of excited people clustered around. From their chatter, and from what the priest afterwards related, this is what emerged. On Saturday afternoon, a tiger who had fed well and was desirous of a nap, found a platform below the tree into which he must have dragged the last of his kill, and stepped on to it. The platform moved forward, but slowly, and the tiger settled himself among a number of gunny bags and other impedimenta, falling fast asleep. The State Transport bus carried on, no one inside any the wiser. But when it stopped at Manmad, the tiger was observed to be snuggled in amid the baggage on the roof. No one dared raise a cry. Evidently the priest got off safely. He could not say what became of the tiger on the bus. Or of the passengers who wanted to retrieve their baggage. Neither could the people who had told their tale. This was a story that vanished into the sunset.....
When FJH went to Ahmedabad in 1956 he found in residence as Divisional Commissioner a jolly, able, intelligent ICS officer, who should not have been attached as fifth wheel to the administration because he was capable of far better things. In fact, he must have been sent there for treading on someone’s toes. After he was recalled to Bombay he proved himself the fine officer he really was.
Now, the Divisional Commissioner resided in a small palace built by Shah Jahan when he was only the Subedar (Governor) of Gujarat. It was on a bank of the Sabarmati. Much further along there was a Hanuman temple on account of which bands of black-faced monkeys went marauding up and down the river-bank, popping into every residence along the way (including the Collector’s Bungalow). This the Commissioner’s offspring resented. One of them used a slingshot and laid low a Goliath in the monkey band. Young David was not seen but the fallen monkey was. Horror!
When the Commissioner was told of it, he hurried out with a couple of his staff. A few people had collected and questions would be asked. To prevent what is called ‘an untoward incident’ the Commissioner immediately declared that the monkey so sadly dead should be cremated with all the honour due to him. He took money out of his wallet and sent the onlookers off to buy sandalwood – no less – and ghee for a proper cremation. When they were gone, he swore a reliable servant to silence and they hastily buried the corpse in the sand. Then he returned to his office.
The bearers of sandalwood and ghee returned to find no monkey. “Ah yes,” said the beaming Commissioner, “isn’t it wonderful! The monkey was not dead, only unconscious. After a while it got up, shook its head, and loped off.” What of the materials for cremation? Oh, those would do as well for a puja. “Why don’t you take them to the Hanuman Temple as a puja offering?”
He was a capable officer, indeed.