My first contact with India was through Grandpa Jerry. He had served as a Doctor in the British Military Administration in Lucknow for most of the Second World War. My Grandparents were married in ‘The Church Of The Holy Name’ in Wodehouse Road, Mumbai. My father was born in the cool Hill Station of Nilgiry Hills; and his brother, Clayton, in Srinagar. I won a book-prize in matric for English Literature about Rudyard Kipling’s life in India.  I never really paid much thought to this.

My grandparents spent their old age in the coastal town of Scottburgh in Kwazulu Natal.  It was Grandpa Jerry, again, who explained the meaning of the word Natal to me. Though he had held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army, and was awarded an OBE, the villagers at Abbeydorney barricaded the road when he came home. They did not like the fact an Irishman had served the British.

Grandpa Jerry knew a lot about martial history. He would go on and on about the armies of the world. He had a lot of respect for the Indian army – their infantry, cavalry and the famous gurkhas. He often spoke of life in India. The Reidys had also lived in Kenya – so there was a wealth of books and stories on East Africa, the Mau Mau and African wildlife. They had accumulated kists from Burma, busts from Indonesia and other souvenirs – like the little jade ashtray on the coffee-table – from Hong Kong. We have photos of this.

My Grandfather told me if I ever got swept out into the Indian ocean I should just tread water, because there was a warm current that would bring me back to the shore.  Once, at Park Renie, I nearly got swept out to sea.  I panicked, and struggled against the mighty Ocean.  Fortunately, a few breakers plunged me back spluttering to the shore.  Clayton pointed to the horizon and said if you go far enough in that direction you would reach Australia.  He pointed in a north-easterly direction and said, ‘And if you go in that direction, you will reach India’.  My childish mind tried to grasp the possibilities of reaching foreign lands.  I couldn’t even swim fifty metres into the Ocean, let alone reach a foreign shore!

My research of the Abolition of the Slave Trade led me into the Indian Ocean once again. This time I got swept into the intellectual current of Ethics, Western Philosophy and Economic History.  I began to question, very seriously, the need for an institution as cruel as Slavery.  Studying the Slave Trade was like opening a Pandora’s Box to the evils of this world. I started to look within my own heart as I questioned my role in the processes of history. I felt lost. I was way out of my depth. Fortunately, for me, I met the Hare Krishna’s during this time. They taught me how to chant the maha-mantra – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare HarThe/Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare – which brought serenity to my mind. The chanting was the warm current that would carry me to the shore of my aspirations.  Sometimes words or a metaphor can have a more profound meaning in a later context.

Advertisements