• the-south-asian.com                                               JUNE  2002




June  2002 Contents



 Mt. Everest - beginning of 50th
 year celebrations

 Sherpas - the Real Men who
 bring glory to others

 Everest Facts

 K2 - an account of a winter



 Super Achievers & Success
 Marshal of the Air Force
 Arjan Singh

 Shovana Narayan, Sidhartha
 Basu & Anjolie Ela Menon

 KPS Gill & Dr. Trehan


 Indra Varma - Polymers


 Sahir Raza - capturing Gujarat



 Jeev Milkha Singh

 Baba Saheb - the grand old
 man of kite-flying


 Raja Bundela's 'Pratha'


 The reincarnated Rickshaw


 'Ananda' spa in Garhwal


 Indu Gupta's new dimension
 to Tanjore paintings


 'Knock at Every Alien Door'
 - Serialization of an
 unpublished novel by
 Joseph Harris - Chapter 6



the craft shop

the print gallery


Silk Road on Wheels

The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh





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 Page  2  of  2

Serialization of



Joseph Harris


Chapter 6



Arrival meant that we had come to Fr.O’Brien’s mission church, a much larger building of brick and thatch than I had expected sitting atop the knoll. Next to it was a long building of stucco and thatch, which I took to be his hospital, about which he had spoken so affectionately on several occasions. Rajan & Samu, the beaters, were waiting for us on the steps of the hospital.

"Sister Ignatia has a nice lunch for us, "

Fr. O’Brien said. " Rajan and Sambu will show you where to freshen up. I‘ll see you at lunch ."


We followed the beaters through a neat six-bed ward in which each bed was occupied by an Indian and were shown into a large lavatory at the end of the ward. We were then shown into a large dining hall at the other end of the building, where Father O’Brien was waiting for us in the company of two nuns. The older one, wearing small gold-rimmed glasses , he introduced as Sister Ignatia, The younger one, dressed in the uniform of a nurse, he introduced as Sister Therese. The table was set for lunch, and seldom have I been more attracted by the sight and aroma of food.

After assigning us seats, Fr. O’Brien gave the blessing and said: " Sister Ignatia has prepared this lunch, and when you taste it I think you’ll agree she is, among her other many duties, an excellent cook.

The bespectacled nun smiled shyly. "The proof of the pudding is the eating thereof, Father "

The food was daal, or lentil soup, followed by-- the most surprising because so unexpected -- fried chicken and fluffy biscuits, accompanied by some of Sister Ignatia’s own mango jam. Because I wanted it to be so, I was absolutely sure the fried chicken and biscuits -- some of the best I’ve ever tasted -- were a concession to me, the only Southerner among them. When I ventured my delight and surprise to Sister Ignatia, she merely smiled appreciatively. But any regional penchant for food was dispelled when I saw the voracious appetite of Mark and Corporal Thomas at work on the meal. Sister Therese, seated next to me silently observant seemed amused at the alacrity with which they consumed the food.

Conversation lagged while everyone ate, and in the relative release from the heat I noticed for the first time Rajan squatting in a corner as he rhythmically pulled the cord that operated the punkah [fan] overhead.

" That’s the best meal I’ve had since I’ve been in India," Mark said, breaking the silence. "A feast for a maharajah"

"Sister Ignatia deserves the credit, " Fr. O’Brien said " She prepares the meals for our patients, too. And you must get her to show you her needlework. That’s another of her many talents."

We all joined in praise of Sister Ignatia as Sambu appeared, barefoot and silent, to serve more tea.

" What did you think of the tiger hunt?" Sister Therese turned to me, amusement still in her smile.

Before I could answer, Thomas blurted out. " I thought it was to be real tiger hunt. All I saw were monkeys."

" I must confess to a little trickery, Corporal," Fr.O’Brien said." I wanted you to see our place here. I hope that you are not too disappointed."

"Its nice, Father, but --- " Thomas mumbled. " Well, ever since I’ve been here I‘ve thought about getting me a Bengal Tiger,"


"I’ve been here twenty-seven years, Corporal, and I’ve never seen a tiger," Fr.O’Brien said. " That is not in the wild. The only ones I’ve seen were in a Maharajah ‘s compound. Of course", he added, with a little grin, "I don’t think you would want to encounter one in the wild with just your rifle in hand. You need special guns, and an elephant helps, along with a mahout. I‘m sorry I couldn’t supply those for you, Corporal."

Although mollified, Thomas was still obviously disappointed. " I guess I’ll just have to find me a Maharajah and get me a tiger."

" Tiger, tiger, burning bright ---" Sister Therese broke into unexpected giggle, finding in Thomas’ remark more humor than he intended.

" In the forest of the night -- " Mark took up the poetic gauntlet, and turned abruptly to Thomas. " Why don’t you write President Roosevelt and get him to give you a letter of introduction to a maharajah?"

"I might just do that, Haddon." Thomas disliked Mark as much as me.


"Why don’t we show you around," Fr. O’Brien said, tactfully intervening in a possible verbal encounter. " Sister Therese, why don’t you show them around while we clear things here, and we’ll join you in a few minutes."

Rajan left his punkah duty to join Sambu in clearing the table while we went with Sister Therese to see the rest of the hospital. She was as vocal as she had been silent now that she was in her own bailiwick, and took particular delight in showing us some modern equipment most recently acquired. She went from bed to bed in the small ward, conversing with the patients in a mixture of Bengali and English, stopping longer at the bedside of an old man, his skin like shriveled mahogany as she tenderly took his hand and leaned to whisper something in his ear. As I watched, I thought of death’s ministering angel, which proved to be true when the old man died a few hours later.

She then took us to a small entrance room in their living quarters, a cottage directly behind the hospital, which was filled with the handsome handiwork of some skilled artisan-- delicately woven cloths, crocheted pieces, and shelves of jams and jellies.

" Sister Ignatia," said Sister Therese, seeing our surprise. " She sells these in the local markets for the benefit of the mission."

"All this, " I said . " She makes all this? "

Sister Therese nodded with a little laugh. "My only contribution is to help pour the jellies in the jar."

" Can one buy --" Mark asked, eyeing the shelves of jellies and jams.

" Yes, if you like. " Sister Therese said.

" How much?" Mark held up a handful of jars.

" Whatever you wish, " Sister Therese said, " Its a donation to the mission."

While Mark was counting out his rupees, I bought a crocheted tablecloth and an embroidered tea cozy for my soon-to-be-wife, both of which adorn our house today.

When Thomas bought nothing, Mark turned to Sister Therese. " Don't you have a tiger skin for the great white hunter?"

Sister Therese giggled " Sorry, no tiger skin, Corporal."

Thomas scowled at Mark and left the room.

We were joined by Fr. O’Brien and sister Ignatia, who beamed in her shy way when she saw our appreciation of her crafts.

From this point we were taken to the church by Fr. O’Brien and Sister Ignatia while Sister Therese went back to her patients. The joy and enthusiasm with which Fr. O’Brien conducted his little troupe of non-Catholics through the church filled us with a strange mixture of awe and apprehension often experienced by those in the presence of another’s faith. But it was the personality of this extra-ordinary man that transcended such boundaries as told how, with the aid of his dedicated Indian flock, and his long time friend Dr.Singh, he had built this church on the original site of its mud-and thatch hut.

By the time the tour of the mission was over, it was time to return to the base. Fr.O’Brien had arranged our return trip without him. Rajan and Sambu were to guide us back, this time by a route that avoided the village and patch of jungle through which we had come . This had been the way of the tiger-hunt; no need for that now the hunt was over .

We said good-bye to the good Father and Sisters in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun and set out on foot to follow Rajan and Sambu. No more than a mile away they took us to a spot on a well worn village road where a group of Tonga wallahs huddled in a shaded grove sharing biddis, malodorous cigarettes, while catching up on local gossip. They immediately negotiated and emerged with a Tonga and two wallahs, repeating Fr. O’Brien’s instruction to them that we should pay nothing to the wallahs, since he had already taken care of that himself. We climbed into the tonga and bade the two Indians good-bye as they stood in the dusty road waving shyly after us.

When we arrived back at the base, tired but exhilarated by the experience Fr. O’Brien had provided us, we said good-bye to Thomas who went to his separate quarters. His mood was still sullen, deprived of his role as conquering hero with tiger in tow. He muttered a grudging farewell and left us as quickly as he could.


Mark and I went into the barracks and found Rafik Mian waiting for us with crisp clean uniforms in hand, which he hung carefully on our racks.

"Sahib," he said, addressing me. "Captain Jaffe asked me to give you the keys to his Jeep." He held out the keys to me. " He wishes you to go to Dacca and pick up a Private Tifton at the train station."

"Not this late." I protested, feeling the knot of the weariness tightening in me as I took the keys. " Why can’t he get somebody else -- "

"No, Sahib, " Rafik Mian quickly explained. "In the morning. He says you do not need to report for duty, but to go directly to the station. The train arrives at nine o’clock."

I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked Rafik Mian, but noticed that he still stood by as if in expectation. A bit puzzled, I said; " Was there anything else?"

" Your clothes," he said, pointing to my fatigues, " They need to be cleaned, Sahib."

"Of course," I said, forgetting for a moment that he always picked up dirty uniforms when he brought clean ones. " It’ll take a minute."

Rafik Mian stood patiently while both Mark and I shed our fatigues and gave them to him. As he started to leave he turned and smiled at us. " How was the tiger hunt, Sahib?"

"How did you know.." and then I remembered Rafik Mian seemed to know everything that went on. Mark and I looked at one another and broke into laughter.

" Talk to Corporal Thomas," Mark said, hardly able to stop laughing " He’ll tell you a lot of monkey business."

"Good night, sahib, " Rafik Mian said, laughing with us as he left.





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