|Mrs Davey's double|
Mrs Davey’s parents belonged to an affluent Armenian Jewish family of Rangoon, Burma (currently Yangon, Myanmar). On the ground floor of the third block on Lahore’s famous lane 3 of Temple Road, my teacher lived as our next doors neighbour with her husband, two daughters (Noreen and Daphne) and three sons (Clayton, Adrian and Llewellyn). The inhabitants of Temple Road were jokingly called Roads Scholars.
Mrs Davey’s sons and most boys within the radius of many miles—including yours truly—studied at the English-medium all-boys St. Anthony’s High School. Other noteworthy schools in Lahore were Cathedral and the Aitchison College. The former was nicknamed ‘kaddu’ or pumpkin school for reasons beyond comprehension while the latter attempted to educate the sons of horse-trading tent-pegging elites. The rest of the lads fell into the cracks of Centre Model or Don Bosco schools. Although the first choice for the fair sex was the Convent of Jesus and Mary, other likeable institutions were Queen Mary’s, Cathedral, Sacred Heart and Esena Foundation.
The stocky Mrs Davey of St. Anthony’s walked with considerable effort and was thus instantly identifiable even from great distances. Fair-skinned, sporting short hair, with a front tooth or two missing; these were the physical attributes that made Mrs Davey appear jovial even when she angrily foamed at the mouth. She always wore sleeveless dresses which exposed her fleshy arms to us skinny brown children w-ho felt intimidated by the superiority associated with white power.
My mother, herself tall and fair, made the Daveys feel so right at home that when the couple indulged in shouting matching, the poor husband dressed in cotton trousers and singlet (spaghetti straps), headed straight to my father’s home-office to mumble, “Woh pagal aurat phir hum say jhajra karta (that mad woman is again fighting with me)”. The husband was never taken seriously because he would not give up the bottle, and Mrs Davey could not keep her sentiments bottled up. And my father, being an advocate at both the High and the Supreme courts, thought their entire case was like a message in a bottle worth tossing back into the sea.
Up In Smoke
Mrs Davey’s husband, Clarence, was a lean bald man who worked at the USIS (United States Information Service or the ‘Umrikan Santer’) located inside the Bank Square on the Mall Road of Lahore. His father, a Catholic Welshman, worked for the telegraph office in India. In 1944, somewhere in that incredible country, Clarence met Mary and the new family decided to move to the Land of the Five Rivers: Punjab.
To us children Clarence Davey always appeared to be loosely hanging about the house reading voraciously and smoking ceaselessly. As fate would have it, while simultaneously smoking and reading Ernest Hemingway’s classic For Whom the Bell Tolls, he tucked himself snugly in bed and fell asleep mumbling, “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”.
Fire, being nobody’s friend, soon filled the Daveys’ house with thick smoke that lazy winter afternoon. And quickly the fire engines of Shimla Pahari, their tolling bells not half as musical as those of St. Anthony’s church, appeared at the burning Davey doorstep. Someone promptly alerted Mrs Davey at the school. By the time she arrived at the scene, the fire engines had already given the house the wash it richly deserved. The old furniture, the dusty carpet, a coughing Clarence Davey and his panting dog, all got a free bath. Television had yet to make its appearance in Pakistan but Clsdarence Davey’s negligence produced the greatest live show the neighbourhood had ever seen up to that point.
In his private moments, Clarence Davey always spoke about ‘going back home’ which, without any doubt, referred to setting sail for ole’ England. But in 1966, at age fifty-two and before being able to transport the entire family back, he sailed for his final abode.
The first thing I experienced upon becoming Mrs Davey’s pupil was her showering generous amounts of affection by assigning me a location in the classroom that enabled her to keep a special eye on this boy who lived next doors. I do not recall her ever hitting the pupils—corporeal punishment had not yet descended upon us—but she loved labelling every careless student ‘blooming good-for-nothing fella’. In those days we knew absolutely nothing about expensive branded apparel, hence, hearing a class-fellow being branded ‘blooming’ always produced smiles that were impossible to hide behind our little palms. I generally steered clear of trouble by doing pretty much what was required at school but the less fortunate who approached Mrs Davey’s desk with incomplete assignments had their copybooks flung on the floor and from where they slid magically into the wide corridor as if carried upon invisible wheels. One morning when half the class was resting heads down, I was summoned by a smiling Mrs Davey.
“Haaa—haaa— ”, she exhaled over her prescription glasses, wiped them clean with a handkerchief and snapped, “Come closer, will you? I won’t bite you!”
I moved forward until I could smell her Indian Englishness.
I held on to my shorts—knickers, as they were called—as I imagined they were suddenly being pulled down by an invisible Jinn. Utterly ill-prepared was I to instantly and correctly answer her question because it involved knowing our kitchen’s geography and mother’s cooking history. But recalling what mother cooked most often, I replied shyly, “Aalu-gosht!”
I must confess that as a young boy I barely showed any appreciation for the subtle variations of aalu (potato) and gosht (mutton) which mother frequently cooked in a humble smoke-filled kitchen. If I felt disinterested in the menu—a frequent occurrence—I simply walked up to Regal chowk to feast on eatables that the street offered and which mother expressly forbade me from eating, namely: spicy dahi bara, hot samosas, or sizzling aalu ki tikia (potato cutlets). Since McDonalds—worthless plastic food—had not yet appeared on the scene to destroy youthful innards, I had blind faith in the nutritional value of my rebel’s menu whereas mother believed it had great nuisance value.
Mrs Davey did not look particularly happy with my aalu-gosht revelation. For her Jewish- Armenian-Burmese palate some ‘blooming’ potatoes and chunks of mutton floating about in a broth probably did not produce the same mouth-watering effect as say chicken biryani or a roasted leg of lamb. But then pretending to love aalu-gosht she whispered in my ear, “Mummy ko bolo, thora sa hum ko bhejna (ask your mother to send me some)”.
The classmates seated nearby only heard a garbled version of her aalu-gosht request and later asked me during recess what Mrs Davey meant by hollow ghost.
I was to discover very early in life that I was blessed with aalupathic abilities if not telepathic ones. Upon reaching home, I whispered Mrs Davey’s secret demand into mother’s ear and found that that was precisely what she had cooked. With plenty of aalu-gosht about the house, mother dished out a generous portion for me to deliver with full protocol at my teacher’s doorstep.
Mrs Davey was thrilled to be on the receiving end, smelled the dish deeply and said, “Mummy ko thank you bolna (convey my thanks to your mother)”.
The next morning at school, thanks to mother’s cookery and generosity, I became the apple—or perhaps an aalu—of Mrs Davey’s eyes. Some times in the middle of teaching at the blackboard, she would turn to look at me and smile. I quickly learned to smile back. At least once a week, she would ask, “What’s cooking?”, and upon hearing an appetizing reply, utter with a twinkle in her eyes, “Lovely!”
This short dialogue dramatically improved my spoken English, and since I imagined that my scholastic future in class four depended on what I was able to deliver at Mrs Davey’s doorstep, I made it my business to know each morning what mother planned to cook. Mother might have been secretly thankful to Mrs Davey for it was because of her that a son had begun to enquire about home-cooked food, and that perhaps one day he would eat at home instead of lick his fingers in public at the food stalls of Regal chowk.
One afternoon, when I home-delivered aromatic mutton stew at Mrs Davey’s she became as ecstatic as a whirling dervish and requested, “Mummy say bolo, thora aur bhej do. Sath mein chaar tandoor bhi lana (Ask your mother to send some more. And bring along four rotis as well)”.
On the double, I relayed the message back to mother’s headquarters—the kitchen—where I found her facing the stove slapping away rotis in the oppressive heat. Unpleased to the core she retorted, “Cook ME and then dish ME out to that moti mame!”
The Urdu word mame, since British colonial times, has been used exclusively to refer to fair English ladies; from this emerged the honorific title mame sahib. But the pet-name, moti mame, meant fat lady. It was not my mother who bestowed the title upon Mrs Davey but rather her eldest son, Clayton. He was a skinny sharp-featured rebellious young man who refused to walk with his mother on the same side of the road as he felt his skeleton contrasted sharply with a huge motherly frame. He teased his mother by calling her names, and moti mame was a nickname that became more known than Mrs Davey own name.
Mrs Davey was in the habit of having Pakistani tea in English style. Before noon each day she would command her favourite errand-boy, “Naseemullah, my boy, run to the tuck-shop and tell that Mushtaq fella to bring for me half a set of tea”.
When I heard the term ‘half a set’ for the first time I thought she ordered tea for the well-behaved half of the class but when Gul Khan, the tea-bearing Jinn, appeared with a small tin tray I knew she meant tea just for one. None thought it odd that our teacher consumed tea in class. But what I found strange was this: at the end of her lonely tea party, Mrs Davey opened her cupboard, unscrewed a small glass jar and emptied the sugar-pot into it. I was able to see a pattern: on Monday the jar would be empty, by Saturday quite full, and then empty again on Monday. All that sugar was certainly going somewhere and Mushtaq, the tuck-shop owner, appeared to be the sweet loser in the battle.
Sugar was a hard commodity to find in those days hence, Mrs Davey did not steal sugar but rather practised the same ‘doctrine of necessity’ that every military dictator (Mil-Dic) from our history has practised. For this story we need only look at General Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first Mil-Dic and martial law administrator (Mal-Admi). Having grown up in the ancestral fields of Rehana, he conferred upon his self the medieval grand title of Field Marshall, meaning, keeper of the king’s horses. But the public, always quick to respond, nicknamed him cheeni-chor (sugar thief) because his unelected government issued ration cards to the populace and increased the price of sugar from eight Annas (half a Rupee) to ten Annas per seer (approximately a kilogram).
Ayub, who considered himself and his colleagues superior to ‘corrupt politicians’, went on to debase democracy to the most ‘basic’ level, held a dubious national referendum, and boasted such enviable connections with Uncle SCAM that he was able to win the Presidential race against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah (founding father of Pakistan). State propaganda was able to convince the voters that Ayub’s election symbol (rose) had the ability to grow if it rained but that of the Mohtarma (lantern) was doomed to be snuffed out.
Suffice to say, the long and painful history of foreign invasions and martial usurpations of ‘bloody’ civilian’ rules in this entire region makes Mrs Davey’s sugary naughtiness pale into such insignificance that it must be posthumously hailed as a brave attempt to conserve a scarce national resource: sugar.
Returning to the story, all the three-storeyed flats in lane 3 on Temple Road had similar facades; they were built by a rich Hindu landlord prior to the genocidal Made-in-England partition of India in 1947. Right after entering into any of these flats, one landed in a living room with a 16-foot high ceiling, complete with two roshan-daans (ventilators). And it was always in the living room where Mrs Davey gave me private tuition of a quality so fine it convinced my well-read father I could spank the British in English language.
My huge female Buddha-like teacher always sat on an upholstered sofa, and behind her on the wall hung something that truly fascinated me: a German cuckoo clock complete with sadomasochistic chains and levers. The marginally accurate contraption sometimes upset Mrs Davey by cuckooing at the wrong moments—chiefly those during which she snoozed. Because it was the only time-keeper around, she never was able to smash it despite frequently swearing that she would. Instead, she would have me pull various levers that dangled below the ‘blooming thing’ and which achieved three miracles: the tic-toking restarted, the dead cuckoo arose from the grave, and the Earth resumed spinning on its tilted axis. The resurrected cuckoo’s soft cuckooing never failed to make my teacher happily sink back into the sofa for one more quick nap, and to deliver most of those English lectures while snoring sonorously. And while the fat cat slept, I sat quiet as a mouse, wondering how the cuckoo was able to live in a tiny wooden flat that was housed inside yet another flat on the greatest road of them all: Temple Road.
Snow White and the Dwarf
What deeply worried my school teacher was this: she was beginning to get old while I grew younger by the day. Since I had become proficient at raising dead clocks, Mrs Davey cultivated one more hair-raising talent in me in order to reverse her aging process. Before imparting linguistic secrets in English, she would first have me take care of the cuckoo-clock and then stand me in the rear to hunt down all the white hairs I could find in her Armenian-Burmese-Jewish scalp. I turned white with fear doing that for the first time as I thought it might make her bleed to death right there on the sofa, and that a policeman from Mozang thana might handcuff me for stealing her precious silver hairs. But no such tragedy befell when I gave a long white hair my first vicious pull.
“Come on man, show that blooming thing to me!” she thundered for the evidence.
She loved using the word blooming. I produced the white proof and she threw the blooming thing on the carpet where her sleepy dog too saw it fall. And so, like many other things in life, I soon became adept at sustaining a younger look for my aging class-teacher. I might have been her best kept secret because had she mentioned me to other aging ladies of the locality, they might have whisked me away to do the same chore for them for free. And so the home-deliveries, the private tuition, the clock winding, and the pulling of white hairs continued as if I were marked to become the sugar-lady’s man-servant. Of course, my parents never discovered all the chores I performed for Mrs Davey.
Then one day Mrs Davey asked me to eat a little something at her house—very unusual considering it was mostly our food that frequently graced her dining table. What I got was a portion of a thin slice, pink in colour, and meaty in taste. When I swallowed it, my teacher smiled with an approving nod and sent me home early. And when I described for my mother what I was given to eat she shouted aloud, “Oh Allah, moti mame nay tumhein soowar ka gosht khila dia (Oh God, the fat lady fed you with swine flesh)!”
I suddenly felt Christian, then Jewish, and finally Armenian. Mother’s good neighbourliness and patience suddenly vaporized and she tried to re-convert me to being Muslim by inserting her fore-finger deep into my throat. The trick failed; I was unable to vomit the forbidden meat. It took until the next morning to flush out from my system the animal declared by the Lord as ‘unclean’.
Had this incident taken place in today’s utterly intolerant climate, the entire household of Mrs Davey might not have survived the blitzkrieg of the Bearded Brigade. I do not recall seeing mother confront Mrs Davey with rolled up sleeves but soon afterwards my visits to her house were put to an abrupt end. We never found out how pork, which was not sold in Pakistan, ended up in my teacher’s possession. All I was told was that Muslims, Christians and Jews were all strictly forbidden to consume it, and that Mrs Davey had done to her student something totally uncalled for. Suddenly, I was back to being just another boy in her class who stayed away from her house, her clock and her silvery hairs.
During the Indo-Pak war of 1965, Mrs Davey’s sons picked up a stray dog for a pet. Considering the officially-induced hatred Pakistanis displayed for Indians during that tense period and the Indian origins of the Davey family, the animal was named Nehru after India’s first Prime Minister. Then another son of the Temple Road soil, Ajji, picked up yet another dog and promptly named him after India’s second Prime Minister, Shastri.
While the ‘spiritless’ Indian army knocked at the gates of Lahore and risked being converted en-masse to Islam, and as our high-spirited soldiers dreamed of hoisting the star-and-crescent flag atop Delhi’s Red Fort, the boys at 3 Temple Road vented out their emotions on the poor dogs by garlanding them with old shoes and chanting, “Nehru kutta hai, hai. Shastri kutta hai, hai (down with Nehru the dog. Down with Shastri the dog)”.
Nehru was deeply touched by all those leathery medals and being smarter than Shastri, soon befriended a bitch-at-large befittingly named Edwina; the pack of ogling dogs were happily named Mountbatten 1, 2, 3 etcetera. Much later into adulthood I read about the alleged love-triangle of Indian history in which Lord Mountbatten did not mind very much if Jawaharlal Nehru addressed Edwina as jaan (life) instead of the more appropriate bhabi jaan (dearest sister-in-law).
With or without Edwina jaan by his side, our own prime sinister Nehru roamed wherever he liked, ate whatever one fed him and slept like a log at the oddest spots. The Daveys owned him but he was the dog next doors, the dog that fully had his day, and everybody’s dog without a worthy pedigree. Although a depressing atmosphere of suspicion hung in the air during the 1965 war days, the intelligence agencies were able to clearly tell that Nehru and Shastri were not Indian agents. And we all saw Nehru bare the teeth and viciously scratch the ground when someone asked, “Nehru, do you wish to die fighting for your country?”
|Nehru virtually dying for Edwina 'bhabi jaan'|
A naked faqir laughingly remarked, "He is indeed on your side, and he will die fighting long and hard if you promise him a bit of coloured ribbon".
Later in life I found out that the naked faqir, wiser than many fully clothed onlookers, had actually quoted Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte on the subject.
Now that my hairs are greying I am inclined to agree with the naked faqir. Today one can see loan-defaulting politicians working hand-in-glove with conniving bureaucrats, businessmen with armed guards, trained at our expense ‘security personnel’ taking over businesses, and small bands of ‘al-CIAda’ extremists spreading themselves thin over this Land of the Pure.
Thinking about our own canine Nehru I wonder what the deceased could have achieved by merely barking in defence of Pakistan at the Canine United Nations. He was a creature of habit that always bravely barked up the right trees under which no other dog even dared to relieve himself. True, Nehru loved chasing after Chevrolet Impalas yet never bit any living thing half Edwina’s size. I do not know where they buried brave Nehru who warded off strangers and stray dogs that ventured into our neighbourhood. I would like to imagine he is licking his paws in dog-heaven.
In 1978, another Mil-Dic named CIA-ul-Haq descended upon the nation to teach her democracy and to stamp on human faces a boot for almost forever. Ever since his mango-flavoured departure on an American-built intergalactic spaceship that boldly went to a place where many Mil-Dics had gone before, luck has favoured militants who would rather blow themselves up wearing suicide dinner jackets than enter barbershops in Pakistan for very close shaves.
And so in 1977, unable to stand one more Mil-Dic, Mrs Davey, age fifty-nine, passed away and joined Clarence Davey to become a teacher in God’s divine no-medium school. I imagine the heavenly tea-bearers are busy fetching her half-sets of tea, that there are mountains of white sugar at her disposal, all kinds of curries and permitted roasted meats present themselves the moment she thinks of them, her cuckoo clock tolls louder than the Big Ben of London, and that all of Mrs Davey’s silver hairs are now transformed into tresses of 24-Karat gold.
I dedicate this real-life story to the memory of my 'class one' class-fellow, Akhlaq Ahmed, who passed away after protracted illness on 18 November 2013. I lowered his body with my own hands into the grave but he can still be seen in that class one' group photo I have. Of course, he will live in my memory as long as I live.
©Tahir Gul Hasan, 2014
References and grateful acknowledgements:
- The first in the 'nostalgia series' of articles dealing with my childhood is The Amazing T-Pad
- Unless you can genuinely proove otherwise, I coined the terms aalupathic, Uncle SCAM, al-CIAda, Mil-Dic and Mal-Admi, CIA-ul-Haq, and dog-heaven. Please give me credit when you use them.
- Twenty-five killed in plane crash (making Ayub Khan the winner in the C-in-C lucky draw of the Pakistan Army)
- The Field Marshall From Beyond The Grave
- America welcomes President Ayub, 1961
- Medieval jurist Henry de Bracton’s Doctrine of necessity: That which is otherwise not lawful is made lawful by necessity”. And Roman law maxim urged by Ivor Jennings: “The well-being of the people is the supreme law.”
- I have no idea where the images of Mrs Davey's look-alike, the fire-engine and the St. Anthonys' logo came from. But thanks anyway.
- Sugar-pot photo
- German cuckoo clock photo
- Pig photo
- Angry dog photo
- Henri Cartier-Bresson: photo of Lord Mountbatten, Edwina and Jawaharlal Nehru