Whilst waiting for the results of my exam for entering the Indian Railway Service of Engineers (IRSE), I had applied to the Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) for the post of an Assistant Engineer, as per their advert. The BNR headquarters was in Calcutta, a city I had never visited and which was 1200 miles from Bombay. I was happy, therefore, that we had family connections in that area – my father’s cousin Sarhan Latif was in Calcutta holding the post of Chief of the Stores Department of the Government of India. He also happened to be a good friend of the Agent of the BNR.

I got a call in January of 1937 to see the BNR’s Chief Engineer and the railway sent me a First Class pass to travel to Calcutta for my interview. I made my way to Calcutta and to Uncle Sarhan’s place, then had my interview. Much to my happiness, the next day I was told that I had been accepted but the formalities would take some time and that I would be informed after I returned to Bombay. In the meantime, I was invited to the Officer’s Club at Garden Reach Railway Colony that evening to be introduced to the other officers. On my arrival at the Club, the Chief Engineer put his arms around my shoulders and introduced me as the “New Member of the Family” to the various Heads of Departments, and, more importantly, to the Chairman of the company, Sir Trevor Wynne (who was in the midst of his final visit to India).

Calcutta, at that time, hosted the headquarters of three different railways. The East Bengal Railway (EBR) served Eastern Bengal (which is now mostly Bangladesh) and the Calcutta suburbs south to Diamond Harbour. Diamond Harbour is about 30 miles south of Calcutta and is situated at the furthest spot north on the River Hooghly (ed. this is the name for the Ganges at this point in its journey to the sea) at which deeper draught ships can make it up from the Bay of Bengal. The EBR was a Government of India-owned railway.

The other important railway based in Calcutta, and the largest of the three, was the East Indian Railway (EIR). This one served the industrial belt on the Calcutta-Delhi route; the rich rice and wheat growing areas along the River Ganges; the heavily populated areas of North Bengal; the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (now known as Uttar Pradesh). The EIR was also Government of India-owned.

Unlike the other two railways, the BNR was owned by a company and the shareholders were guaranteed a minimum return of 4% interest by the Government of India. In return, the Government kept a close watch on the running of the railway with’s its appointed auditor being a strict watchdog! The BNR served the East Coast, running along the coast of the Bay of Bengal to the city of Waltair [ed. now called Visakhapatnam] while passing through the capital of Orissa (Cuttack). The other arm connected Calcutta with the flourishing city of Nagpur, the capital of the Central Provinces. The areas served by the BNF were sparsely populated on the whole, but the goods traffic was considerable due to coal, iron ore, timber, bamboo and rice. Tatanagar, an important city with India’s biggest steel plant (at that time with 3 million tons output per annum) was on the Bombay main line. The major income came from traffic from the coal fields around the junction station of Adra. Coal from this area was supplied to the steel plants at Tatanagar and Burnpore (on the EIR main line to Delhi).

The Engineering Cadre of the BNR was about 32 gazetted officers, including a Chief Engineer, two Superintending Engineers, a Bridge Engineer, 9 District Engineers, and 20 Assistant Engineers. Of these, only 5 were Indian. Two of the Indians were on the pre-1933 pay scale (rising up to Rs. 2,500 per month), with the other three on the post-1933 scale (rising up to 2,250 per month). In the other departments, the percentage of Indians was a little higher but still very low compared to government railways. As a result, the BNR was called the “White Railway”! The BNR’s emblem was a shield in gold with a Bengal tiger standing sideways on the upper half and a coiled cobra in the lower half – all of that on a maroon background.

I returned to Bombay and continued to learn the practical side of my engineering profession as an apprentice to Messrs. Gammons (India). The firm was constructing a bridge for the Public Works Department of Bombay (under father) on the main highway from Bombay to the south, via Kolaba. The bridge spans were reinforced concrete arches with inclined steel rod hangers. It was a modern sophisticated design, economical in materials, but very time consuming in the calculations required (long before the advent of computers!). The spans were supported on foundations of wells and piers placed on the rocky bottom of the creek. The creek was tidal so it had a rise and fall of about 10 to 15 feet daily. As a result, the bottom of the wells were sealed by pumping “colloidal” cement by pipes into the bottom of a layer of 3/4 to 1 inch crushed stone filling (pumped in when the tide was high). The wells’ waters pushed the cement grout tight as the tidal water lowered outside. The colloidal cement was a new thing and very interesting to me. It did not get diluted when it was made into a colloidal solution and its setting properties were not spoilt.

In early February, 1937 I received my appointment letter and was instructed to report to the Head Office at Garden Reach, Calcutta. So, once again, Mona and I landed on Sarhan and Najma and I reported to Hill, the Chief Engineer. I was told that I was posted as Assistant Engineer (AE) at Nainpur, on the Satpura Narrow Gauge (2 feet, 6 inches) line. Nainpur was a very small town in the Central Provinces at about 2,000 feet above sea level, on a plateau in the Satpura Mountain Range. These mountains run along the northern edge of the Deccan Plateau. It is a hilly area with extensive teak forests, as well as many other hardwood species, and was teeming with all types of “game”, including spotted deer (cheetal), panthers, black sloth bears and sambhars. Also to be found were jungle fowl, ducks partridges and quail, along with the usual assortment of jackals, hyenas and wolves! The beautiful Weinganga River, immortalized in Kipling’s Jungle Book stories, meandered its way in the area, criss-crossing the Narrow Gauge line four times. The river had good Mahseer fishing in its many rocky pools. Mahseer is of the carp family and often gives as good a fight as a trout!


The Drowsy Guest

After the wedding we did not do the recognized thing and go on a honeymoon – after all, we’d already had a jaunt by coming to Bombay! However, there were many parties, hosted at various times by father and mother as well as our friends. At our very first party, we invited Mona’s uncle, Sir Henry (ed. see earlier post). The old man accepted gladly and we sat down to a good meal. After the main courses, the fish and meat were over, we were all waiting for the dessert (or the pudding, as it was called). We happened to notice that Uncle Henry’s head was nodding with his eyes tightly shut! Mother gave him a quiet nudge as the butler came in with the dessert and, to Henry’s credit, he work up so smoothly that, unless one had observed him earlier, one wouldn’t have known he’d been drowsing! I think this must have been a habit of his – and he did not seem to have a woman in his life to provide him with a nudge. I assume he must have been either a bachelor or a widower as I never heard Mona mention about a woman.

After our marriage, life went on much as before: I spending most of my time working on the Patalganga Bridge but, in about the middle of December, I got a call to go to Delhi to take the competitive exam for the Indian Railways. Mona, in the meantime, had got friendly with a Scottish couple – the husband being a District Collector in Sholapur. Father’s jurisdiction covered that area and Mona had been able to meet this couple (the “Wells”) when they had visited Bombay. The Wells invited Mona to spend a few days with them during the XMas week as they planned on having a lot of fun with many other officers leaving the City to enjoy a little of District life. Generally these visits to the Collector of a District would provide lots of activities such as small game shoots, etc… Mona took this opportunity and spent a very happy week with the Wells. She remembered fondly playing with Mrs. Wells’ pet lamb!

My cousin, Akbar Hydari, or rather Saleh Akbar Hydari, ICS, was then a Secretary in the Government of India dealing with the Railways. He was also a member of the Board which conducted the Entrance Exam and interviewed the candidates after they had written the papers. The interview was a very important part of the Exam as it carried a full 30% of the final mark. The theory was that as the candidates were all well qualified technically, all having good marks from their Engineering Degrees, it was important to judge their competence for working as persons in charge of a large staff, etc… Saleh, kindly, invited me to stay with him and his Swedish wife (Sigrid) when I came to Delhi to write the Exam.

There were about 20 posts available in the Engineering Cadre and some more in non-Engineering posts such as Traffic. Generally, most of the candidates opted for Engineering but, if they couldn’t succeed, they took up Traffic. In the written paper, I was about 20th down the list among the 150 or so applicants but in the viva-voce, I scored very well. Fortunately, my English education and family background were a great help in the interview so my overall position ended up being 5th. We were asked which Railway we would prefer – in order of liking. I said “GIP” (Great Indian Peninsular Railway), then BBCI (Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway) as both had their Head Quarters in Bombay. Of course, I ended up in the BNR (Bombay Nagpur Railway)!

The Wedding

Some time about the middle of November, Mona had a bad go of dysentery and had to spend a few days in the Government Hospital. In those days, the main hospital was at Byculla and staffed with doctors trained in the UK. The nurses in the senior positions also tended to be English. The fee for non-Government officers and staff was either a pittance or, if the illness was caused by conditions on duty, there was no fee. If one was poor, all treatments were free.

Mona, having had nursing training at St. Thomas’s in London, got special attention by the staff and became quite friendly with the formidable English Matron!

By the end of November Mona was feeling quite fit but was still looking rather pale. When I returned from the Patalganga Bridge, Mona said “Najm, I think I have now got to grips with the situation and I feel that I would be quite comfortable and happy living in India while married to you!”. So, we fixed a date: the 5th of December, a Saturday!

Mona had decided to get married according to Muslim law as in those days intermarriage between people of different faiths was only possible if each stated that he/she had “no religion”. In that case, one could get married by registrar.

There were various details that needed to be addressed. First, Mona had to appoint two “Vakils” who were her legal representatives. She appointed my cousin, Aasaaf Fyzee, a law professor at St. Xavier’s College and an authority on Muslim law with a double Tripos from Cambridge University in Maths and Oriental Languages. Incidentally, he was a Cricket Blue and a Half Blue in tennis!

Aasaaf had prepared a document on behalf of Mona which, among other matters, gave her the right to divorce me if I married another wife. This is allowed under Islamic law, unless the parties agree otherwise. Another important clause in the contract was the question of the amount payable to the wife if divorced for any reason other than infidelity. In our family, this amount was considered to be a nominal amount of Rs. 40, it being understood that other matters such as property division, etc…were of greater importance. Morally, the family as a whole would see to it that the woman was fairly treated. As far as Mona was concerned, the contract stipulated that I would be responsible for her return home to England plus some maintenance. There were many other binding clauses but, unfortunately, I cannot remember any of the others. All I remember is protesting to Aasaaf that he had made the contract very one sided! His reply was: “Mona is a foreigner and has no one of her family here, so one has to protect her!”.

Faiz-Chacha [ed. “chacha” meaning paternal uncle & “mamoo” meaning maternal uncle] had a palatial house on Malabar Hill (Somerset Cottage). It had a large hall measuring 60ftx40ft which was used as a “drawing room” for parties, etc… Every month he had a “Shakespeare Reading” when friends and family used to gather to read and act out one of the plays. This was the hall we used for the ceremony.

The guests and Mona gathered here on the evening of December 5th with Mona seated on a sofa with father, mother & various cousins around her. I was not permitted to be present at that time! The two Vakils, Saif and Aasaaf, then asked her in the presence of the guests: “Do you wish to marry Najm?”. She replied “Yes”. This was repeated thrice. Then, she was asked to read the contract document and  asked three times whether she agreed with its terms. After confirming this, she signed, with the two Vakils witnessing her signature.

The guests now had refreshments whilst the two Vakils and I drove to Badr Bag*** to meet the Mullah Saheb, our family priest. Once we arrived, I was asked if I was willing to marry Mona. On my confirming this, he asked the Vakils if the lady was willing and if a proper contract had been prepared. When satisfied, he registered the marriage by having me sign while the Vakils signed on behalf of Mona. Finally, he asked all of us to join in prayer.

Mona often used to joke that she did not know whether she was married properly as she had not been present during the proceedings with the priest (mullah)! However, the two Vakils had assured her that the official matters had been correctly conducted. They handed over to her the marriage contract, a copy of which had been sent to the Municipality Registrar for filing while another copy was kept at the offices of the Mullah Saheb.

There was a very large crowd at the wedding party with many of our European friends, as well as Mona’s Uncle Henry, in attendance. Mona wore a white silk sari with a heavy gold thread embroidered border. She looked very attractive, though rather pale, as she had lost her bloom due to the dysentery. We found that the English people who had been trying to dissuade Mona from marrying now seemed to have become resigned to the fact. They were now very friendly – in fact, one could not imagine that they had tried so hard to prevent the marriage in the first place! I think the main reason was Mona’s personality and charm which made it impossible for anyone to criticize her for long. They also wanted to ensure they maintained her friendship….

*** My grandfather, Badruddin Tyabji, had donated money to buy a fairly large piece of property in Bombay (not far from Byculla) for putting up flats for the not so well off “jamaat” people, a large community hall and a house for our family priest, the Mullah Saheb. This was the place called “Badr Bag”! We belong to a small segment of the Shia Muslim Community which had been forced to leave Yemen and settled in Surat (an area north of Bombay). Later, when the Tyabjis became wealthy and people of standing in Bombay, Badruddin decided to build these facilities as a gift to the community. All our functions and community prayers (such as Eid), weddings and various other types of ceremonies were usually held at Badr Bag.

Along the rear boundary of Chowk Hall, there was a clear oval space about 5 acres in size which was used, among other things, as a racecourse. The races took place on Saturday and Sunday evenings when the season was in full swing. The track was very rough – even having smooth rocks projecting in places! The racing was by the ponies ridden mostly by their owners, though some braver visitors also joined the fun. The hill ponies were sure-footed and the speed was not very high – so there were no serious casualties.

Off and on, we from the Chowk Hall group rode around the course in the morning and, from time to time, raced each other. One morning, Arvind’s pony slipped on a smooth outcropping rock and Arvind came a cropper, striking his forehead on a hard surface. He got a cut above his eye and was knocked out! One of us ran to the house and a servant was rushed to the small hospital near the railway station. The distance was about 2 km and it took the doctor an hour to reach us. By the time the doctor arrived, Arvind had been taken into the house and had recovered consciousness. The doctor stitched up the wound and cautioned Arvind that he should rest as he had a minor concussion.

One of the things Matheran was well known for was the shoemakers. A whole lot of “Mochis” from the villages, or even Bombay, came to Matheran during the season. Many of them were expert at hand stitching and the shoes were really very good in shape and strength. The leather used was “Indian cured” for the cheaper types or in the English style for the best variety. The Mochi made you place your foot on a piece of paper, usually a brown sheet torn from a package. He then measured the foot and traced the shape. In about two days the shoe was ready and delivered to your house. If any adjustments were needed, he either did it on the spot or returned with the changes the next day. The cost was very reasonable and worked out to be much lower than the cost charged in the shops in Bombay. In those days, it was possible to get shoes made to order in most of the shoe shops in the city and the cost was roughly equivalent to “ready made”. It is no longer so now. In fact, “made to order” shoes are not easily available now as the Mochies are no longer able to compete with the shoe factories such as Bata, Cawnpore Leather, etc….

One of the many attractions of Matheran was the delicious honey from the bees feeding on the Jamun tree flowers. This tree is a tall tree, about 30 ft. average height, with a hard, dark coloured wood. The fruit are of the berry type, very juicy and produce a deep mauve juice (which stains very easily). The honey produced from these flowers had a distinct Jamun flavour and also maintained the mauve colour. The honey-gatherers would canvass the houses so one could get fresh honey at the door step. The collection from the trees was done by men but the vendors were usually women.

As the main attraction for the visitors was enjoying the forest walks, many found that a walking stick was helpful when scrambling up the steep paths. The local people were adept at fashioning very attractive walking sticks from the hard local woods (including Jamun). One could get a round-knobbed or straight L-shape hand grip. We also made our own – though not so finished in looks! the L-shaped types were used by us to play hockey using some of the round hard, golf ball sized fruit found on the local trees.

The forest was full of red-faced monkeys! These were cheeky sorts, a little smaller in size than the black-faced langur which lived in the plains. It was a problem for us to leave any food on the back verandah of Chowk Hall where we had a table for eating breakfast. There was a tree with a branch about 5 feet away and the monkeys used to hang about and make faces at us whilst we were eating! If we left the table with any food on it, quick as a flash, a monkey would jump over and snatch it away. Of course, bananas were the greatest attraction!

As mentioned earlier, father and the family (including Mona) paid a visit to Matheran in November. One morning, we had finished breakfast on the back verandah and had left the table momentarily with a bunch of bananas on a plate. As we turned our backs, a monkey leaped down and snatched a couple of them. He was back on the tree and munching away before we could do anything. There he sat, peeling the skin and stuffing his mouth so that both cheeks bulged! Another monkey nearby had snatched the other banana and was also indulging. On our making more fuss and shaking a stick at them, the monkeys jumped down from the tree and moved off a little. Mona ran down the steps and shouted at them. The male leader of the monkey pack sat up with a grimace and moved toward her threateningly. Mona stood still and shouted “go away” at the male but he showed no fear and continued to snarl and move toward her. I was watching this drama from the steps and felt that I had better intervene before Mona was scratched or bitten. I walked toward the monkey while waving and yelling “shoo”. As soon as the monkey saw a man (ie. me), he turned round and loped off with his harem of 5 females scurrying behind him. Apparently, the monkey males are contemptuous of females: human or monkey!

Matheran, being a part of the Western Ghats, gets a lot of rain (over 100 inches in 3.5 months) and wind. Chowk Hall and most other houses had corrugated sheet iron roofing. Also, the rooms were protected by placing woven bamboo strip matting fixed along the railings of the verandah so that the water would not drive onto the verandah floor and beat against the inner walls. After the monsoon was over, the matting was removed but almost half of it got ruined every year. The sheet iron roof also required painting approximately at 3 year intervals. The masonry of the walls had to have some repairs almost every year as well. All in all, the maintenance of the building was fairly costly. However, in relation to the fun and pleasure of the visits and to the income of the owners at the time, the matter was not overly significant.

Father died in 1952 and his estate was divided amongst the surviving two sons and two daughters. My brother Habib had died while flying his Spitfire during the war (1943). Father’s second wife, Munira, was not included as per the agreement when he married her since she had her own property in Bihar and she did not want that touched except by her own children. Incidentally, Munira was a childhood flame of father’s – she had lost her husband, a famous Bihar politician and staunch follower of Gandhi.

By the early 1960’s, I was serving in the Railways in Eastern India (ie. on the other side of the country) and my brother Faiz had migrated to London. My sisters, Raffoo and Attoo, used to visit Matheran along with my father’s younger sister, Aunt Hanifa. However, I found that the visits were getting less and less as Kihim had become easily approachable with the Patalganga Bridge and a good road to Alibag. The cost of upkeep was also getting high even though we had been renting out the building with the proviso that one room would be available for a month each year. The cost soon overtook the rent and Faiz and the two sisters were not willing to spend the extra amount needed. I had to arrange “official” visits to Bombay to find the time to visit Chowk Hall for a weekend once in a couple of years. I had kept on the agent who had been looking after the property during father’s time (D’Souza, if I remember correctly). I told him to get me a buyer and, after a couple of years, he arranged with a Convent to buy Chowk Hall for a rest home and small chapel for the Sisters. I cannot remember the amount we got for it – probably about 40,000 rupees in the early 1970’s. As the property was 3 miles from the bazaar, and the modern visitors wanted to be in the thick of noise and loud music, the value of the property was not considered as high as one would have hoped. My Aunt Hanifa was very sad about the property going out of the family but she also understood the difficulty of maintaing the place given the rising costs and the aging of the building…

The Great Indian Peninsular (“GIP”) Railway went north from Victoria Terminus near the southern base of Bombay island up to the Junction Station of Kalyan (54km). Most of the length of this section had 2 up and 2 down lines as there was considerable commuter traffic. At Kalyan, one double line section continued North-East to Itarsi Junction for Delhi and East to Calcutta, whilst the other turned South toward Madras via Poona. Both the sections had to negotiate steep slopes to climb up to the Deccan Plateau which was about 2000 feet above sea level. As described in my last entry, the climb to Poona was steeper along the Bhor Ghats. About 38 miles (60km) from Kalyan on the Poona main line, there is a station (Neral Junction) from which a Narrow Gauge (1 1/2 feet) line creeps up the steep slope of the eastern face of the mountainous outcrop called Matheran. Matheran has almost vertical slopes on three sides. The top is a plateau about 7 miles running North-South and about 3 miles across. The water supply is from a natural lake which is filled from monsoon rains. The surface is very well wooded, with large Jamun trees and other hardy shrubs such as the Karwanda berry. The temperature during the hot weather is very comfortable and dry but during the monsoon it gets very heavy rain (up to 100 inches).

The little “steam tramway”, as it was called, had a very interesting type of engine designed in Germany. The curves on the track were very sharp so the body of the locomotive was able to slide sideways along the driving axle to cope. The speed was only about 5 miles per hour, with the total distance being about 15 miles. As a result, the total journey took about 4 hours, including a 20 minute stop midway to fill the engine with water. There was a little pony track, about 7 miles long, also running from Neral but this was mainly used by the regular visitors. Tourists preferred the “toy train” as there were a number of “loops” with a tunnel and one could jump off the train at the start of a loop and jump back on at the end (after it emerged from the tunnel). This train was owned by a Muslim businessman named Chinoy, as far as I recollect. Now, it is part of the Central Railway and the old steam locos have been replaced by diesel versions. These are not at all picturesque and the speed remains the same as the curves are still as sharp!

Whilst I was at Patalganga Bridge, father paid a visit to our “Mansion”, “Chowk Hall”, in Matheran with Mona, the girls and mother. November is an ideal time for the place as everything is still green from the monsoon. There are many small streams and waterfalls, some of which drop from a height of 200-300 feet.

I think a note about Chowk Hall is required. My Grandfather, Badruddin, had willed that, of the living sons at his death, the eldest (Mohsin), followed by Husain, Faiz, Salman (father) and Hatim, would inherit the house properties. As per the Islamic Law of Inheritance, Grandfather’s estate had to be divided in fixed proportions betwen the living wife, sons and daughters. As it happened that father and Hatim were not living in Bombay the three properties situated there were taken over by the three older sons (by consent and due valuation). Mohsin had the Somerset Cottage on the top of the ridge of Malabar Hill. Faiz got the Somerset Lodge, a three storey building on the slope facing the sea, while Husain got a three shorey house on the slope facing the other side (opposite the gateway to the long drive of Government House). The main Somerset House was sold – it was large enough to be turned into a college building at the Sophia College for Girls! All these in the prestigious locality of Malabar Hill! Father was quite happy to get the “Mansion” in Matheran while Hatim received cash and securities (as he was living in Karachi).

Chowk Hall is a single floor building but has a basement below the living rooms. As a result, there are two sets of curved staircases rising to the floor – which is about 12 feet above the ground. The house, thus, has a central large room used as a dining and general living room, whilst the two wings each have two large rooms used as bedrooms, with attached bathrooms and dressing rooms. A verandah ran all the way in front with all rooms opening onto it. Similarly, a narrower verandah ran at the back, with the same rooms plus the bathrooms opening up to it as well. The rear verandah was used by sweepers to come and remove pots, clean the place and fill the water drums for washing and bathing. The baths were taken with the water poured over ones body using a mug from a bucket of cold or warm water! The floor had a 6-inch high wall to make an enclosure to contain the spilled water and drain it away. Some people preferred to bathe sitting on a stool. Incidentally, even with piped water, many people seem to still prefer to bathe using this method rather than with a shower. The feel of the hot water sloshing over the body in large dollops, with intervals of cool air, gives an exhilarating feeling!

The large front verandah had a 10 foot wide settee, a “takht”, with a thick cotton mattress raised about 2 feet above the floor. We used this to loll about on, read or play cards. Large, sausage-shaped pillows were placed against the railing of the verandah for extra comfort!

The normal routine for the party, which usually had at least 10 persons consisting of adults and children, parents, cousins, aunts, etc…was to make a quick breakfast early, say 7 am, then pick up the picnic stuff readied by the servants (cold meat sandwiches, coffee in thermoses, fresh lime juice in bottles). We would sling the supplies over our shoulders and head off to some place a few miles away. This was usually somewhere on the edge of the mountain with a good view. It often happened that some of these places were of our own choosing and had no paths – so it meant a lot of scrambling down steep slopes, sometimes on all fours! Good fun!

The other morning activity was riding on horse-back. During the “season”, owners of ponies from the villages on the plains brought their ponies up to the visitors to hire. These were quite good size and were used to the hill terrain. They were very sure-footed over the uneven and rocky paths but had iron mouths often requiring a strong pull on the snaffle!

There were four of us on one occasion: my brother Habib, Haneef (son of my mother’s sister Ateka), Arvind Nanavati (son of a very close friend of the family) and myself. As I was the most competent of the quartet, I chose rather a large pony and we went off for a 2 hour ride. There were no carriages of any sort allowed on the roads, except hand-pulled rickshaws, so one had only to avoid running into the pedestrians enjoying their walks. The Municipal regulations only allowed a slow canter and the main roads were quite broad. The jungle trains were steep and rocky so only walking speed was possible. At one point, as we were riding homeward, there was a fairly steep uphill road. My horse had the habit of taking the bit between his teeth and galloping up the slope! I tried my best to slow him down but the brute could not be controlled and, to my horror, I saw a group of people strolling along and spread across the entire road. I shouted a desperate warning and, fortunately, they heard the clatter of hooves and scuttled out of the way just in time. They may have realized that the horse was out of control as they did not swear too much! Once on top of the slope, the horse settled down completely. I think he must have felt the rising road was a challenge – as did I!

True to his word, Henry produced Mona to a large number of friends (and their wives) in high Government positions. She had a very busy time “going the rounds” as Bombay, being the capital of the Bombay Presidency, there were a large concentration of British officers, including the military “Big Hats”.

Besides the social tea parties and club meetings for tennis and gossip, at which Mona used to fit in very well as she had the knack of getting on with both young and old, she also got a fair amount of riding with the younger Police and Army officers. The fact that she was braving the “trials and tribulations” of marrying a foreigner (and an Indian, at that!) plus that she had the latest on life in London, made her a much desired guest! The Police barracks were in Byculla, half-way to Bandra. Byculla also contained the bungalows for the British government community as well as the Byculla Club (a residential club for whites only). A number of junior British officers, either bachelors or those with their wives still in the UK, stayed at the club. It was only about 3 miles form the Secretariat -and taxis were cheap. The zoo was also nearby. At that time, the Bombay zoo was considered to be very well maintained and the grounds had a very nice park. One of my cousins, a graduate in Zoology, was the manager of the place and Mona had great fun playing with the young tiger cubs. Unfortunately, due to general indifference, the place has gone very downhill.

Mona had a very good flair for languages. She was fluent in French, spoke a little Spanish and German, and was good at her “native language” (Gaelic)! As soon as she got settled in Bombay, she got hold of a munshi (teacher) and, armed with the Army Urdu teaching primer (“The Munshi”), she tackled Urdu. Orally, it is a register of Hindustani (Hindi being the other one) but it is written using Persian-Arabic script. As she was considering becoming a Muslim, she also learnt to read the Koran in Arabic! She was, at the time, a member of the Church of Scotland, the formalities of which have some similarities to Islam. For instance, prayers in a mosque or any place, can be led by any “elder” in Islam. Similarly, prayers in a “Kirk” can be conducted by any lay preacher.

On the subject of Mona’s idea of embracing Islam, I have to make it clear that at no time had I suggested this to her. As a matter of fact, she did become a Muslim and could declaim the fundamental sentence: “Laa Ilahi Illallah, Mohammedan Rasul-illah” (There is one God, and Mohammed is his Prophet). Many years later, I think it was in Calcutta, she told me that she was not very comfortable being a Muslim, as she could feel its depth. I told her that she was free to change to any other religion she fancied as it would make no difference to me since I was was not a strict practicing Muslim anyway. So, Mona then became a member of the Church of England as she said that she loved the music and singing – which was lacking in the Church of Scotland.

Gammons was an engineering firm started and owned by a person who started out working in the Bombay Public Works Department. He was a good entrepreneur and was soon making a success of his business. One of his innovations was to introduce reinforced concrete in a big way for structural works. When I had arrived in Bombay and was looking around for a job, Gammons had a contract for bridge works on roads under Father’s control. He inquired from Gammons whether there was a chance for me to get a job with them. Gammons regretted that things were very tight and they could not accommodate me. However, if I wanted experience and a certificate later, they would let me work in their Head Office in Bombay on designs.

I spent a couple of months preparing designs and drawings for a variety of bridges. One very interesting design was an arch bridge using steel rods as hangers for the road deck. These descended from a reinforced concrete arch but the rods were at right angles to the arch – that is, they were “radial” instead of the conventional vertical hangers. This made the stresses in the arch much lower with the result that it was a comparatively lighter and cheaper. The problem was that the calculations were very complex and took many hours to complete. In these days, with computers, it would probably take a matter of minutes! The design was a patent of a Swedish firm (Christiania & Nielson) and Gammons had the sole rights in India. Fortunately, I only had to prepare the drawings after the calculations had been done by others!

After I had got a good idea of the operations of the office and as I was not getting any salary, I told the firm that I would like to go to a site where work was going on. As it happened, a bridge using the design of “inclined hangers” was being made on a river near Patalganga Town on the Highway going south from Bombay. It was to replace an “Irish Bridge” (also called a causeway) on the tidal river. There was an Inspection Bungalow on the southern bank and Father arranged for me to stay there. The chowkidar (caretaker) was a fair cook and attended to my needs.

I was dropped there by Father and Mona and was able to return to Bandra every 10 days or so as the distance was only about 80 miles.

The reinforced concrete wells for the piers were founded on the rock bed of the tidal river. The tidal waters had a rise and fall of 10 to 15 feet daily (depending upon the season) so the bottom of the wells were sealed by pumping “colloidal” cement groute into the bottom layers of the 3/4 to 1 inch size crushed stone filling. This was pumped in when the water had filled the well at high tide and, on the ebb, the pressure of the standing water pushed the concrete mortar firmly in, sealing the bottom. The colloidal cement was a new and very interesting material as the cement did not get diluted after being made into a colloid solution – as a result, the setting properties were not spoilt.

I returned to Bombay finally by the end of November after getting a very interesting experience in new techniques and other practical elements of bridge building. Later, in my professional career, I was very happy when I was able to tackle bridge works. Fortunately, I was able to get involved with these quite often!

Father had a large circle of friends, both English and Indian, in Bombay and Mona got quite friendly with most of them.

One one occasion, she was driving an English lady friend of the family near Dhobi Talao, a 5 road junction downtown near St. Xavier’s High School. It was the end of the monsoon, but the roads were wet, greasy and quite tricky when driving over the tram lines on the road. The wheels of the little Morris car just about fitted the tram lines and when Mona tried to turn to the left from the road centre to avoid a tram, she found the wheels locked! Fortunately, the tram was able to stop just a few feet away. In the middle of the panic, the engine had also stalled and Mona was feeling very shaken.

A number of people had gathered around and the tram driver had also got down to assist. Mona, however, heard a very cultured voice near by: “Can I be of assistance, Madam?”. Mona turned and noticed that an elderly slim, smartly dressed, quite fair complexioned gentleman was talking to her. She explained her predicament and said that she would be glad for any help. The person called to his chauffeur to take charge of the car and drive it to the kerb. He then introduced himself as “Byramji” and asked about Mona. When she said she was a guest of Mr. Tyabji at Bandra, he replied that he was an old friend of the family! He offered to drive the ladies in his car, whilst the chauffeur would take charge of Mona’s car and drive it home. Mona was quite happy at this offer and the two ladies had a very good day – with an excellent lunch thrown in!

Byramji, a Parsi, was apparently very well off, his car an expensive American-type – a Buick, I think. He came into the house and, after a short visit, asked Mona if she was interested in horse racing. When Mona told him that she definitely was very much so, he invited her to go with him to the Mahalaxmi Races next time. He would drive her over, pay all expenses and even give her some money to bet with – if she would help in choosing winners!

During the monsoon, the Royal Western India Turf Club conducted its racing in Poona. This is a city quite close to Bombay but receiving much less rainfall. The climate is very pleasant with the temperature not rising over 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the monsoon. The train service from Bombay was also very convenient as there was a “Race Special” on race days, leaving about 7am and arriving in Poona around 11am.The journey is only about 190 km but it it contains many steep grades and sharp curves – with over 40 tunnels. It also included a “reversing station” at one place where the mountainside could not be made suitable for curve at a suitable grade. At these kinds of reversing stations, the train was taken to the edge of the mountain slope, then the engine at the rear of the train took charge and the train went backward, with the front engine now being the “pusher”! Two engines had to be used for the “ghat” section, a distance of about 40 mines, starting at Neral and ending at Lonavla (about a 2000 ft. rise). The return journey was after the races finished and the race-goers could be back in Bombay by 10:30 pm. A dining car was also on the train so a good dinner and drinks could be had for reasonable prices.

The races moved back to Mahalaxmi in Bombay after the monsoon was over (about the middle of October). On the opening day in Bombay, Byramji called for Mona and took her to the Member’s Enclosure. As the horses were being paraded for the first race, he asked Mona what she fancied. After watching the horses for some time, she pointed to a rather nice looking horse. Byramji laughed scornfully, remarking that this horse was not considered even to come in the first 4! He said that he was going to bet on the favourite! However, Mona persisted that her choice was the better one. So, Byramji laughed and said that he would give her 100 Rupees to bet on her fancy and, if it gave her any money, she was welcome to keep it! To cut a long story short, the horse won by a neck! As the odds were something like 15/1, Mona collected a nice little sum. She offered to repay Byramji but he insisted that it was all hers.

A few days later, besides getting herself odds and ends, Mona invested nearly half the amount in buying the best portalbe “His Master’s Voice” gramaphone and a set of records. These included some classical ones featuring singers like Caruso and others of lighter music. In those days, the best HMV quality records were the “White Labels”, priced at about 5 Rupees each. The next quality down had “Red Labels” at Rs. 3.50 and ordinary dance music, etc….cost about Rs. 2 and had “Cherry Red Labels”.

[ed. This must have been the beginning of our family’s multi-generational passion for horse racing…for better or for worse! Incidentally, I’m not sure whether they are related, but the most successful racehorse trainer in Indian history is also a Byramji!]

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