Yesterday's Magazette

12 – Dumb Friends We Loved

Dumb Friends We Loved


By Cynthia Trem

We returned from boarding school for a two month Christmas holiday, the hottest months of the year, to a new home and to our friends, the pets in our holiday lives. With a little arm-twisting and many promises, our parents could be persuaded to approve additions to our family from the lost, strayed or abandoned animals and birds in the neighbourhood.

Some were given to us by the local Indians or by expatriates returning to Europe, while others just appeared and were adopted.  Wherever we were, wherever home was, there were pets. We lived in Government houses, always large with enormous grounds for dogs and other creatures to roam.

Father was the Collector, the District Commissioner, with the Government of the British Raj in South India. He was Police Chief, Magistrate and Judge, Health Inspector, Tax Collector and general peacekeeper, all of those. In our early years his work included travelling many rough miles by elephant to inspect surrounding villages, to arbitrate and to administer British justice. Mother was his wife, companion and mother to four children. She supervised the household of obligatory servants, attended to the health and well-being of her children and villagers. When called upon, she cheerfully performed the many official duties expected of the Collector’s wife.

I have no memory of her complaining of  loneliness when Father was travelling, or when her children were away in boarding school; nor did she seem fearful of living in what was sometimes a dangerous environment, or having to pack and travel to an unknown area each time Father’s work called for a move.

The frequent transfers and moving over great distances involved not just packing a few suitcases. It meant planning a major operation and travelling over road systems that were more suitable for bullock carts.

Elephants were the only animals we had during our early childhood , but as we grew older we owned and loved a medley of pets. Blimp was a mixer that looked like an English Sheepdog, and in later life was blinded by a stone from a slingshot. Jock had a knot at the tip of  his tail and he growled whenever Father approached him;  although we never knew the reason for this, we did guess who Santa Claus was one Christmas morning.

Fifi was a Scottish Terrier, the only female amongst our gang of dogs. She would produce numerous litters that had to be drowned, the normal way to dispose of unwanted puppies where there was no vet available. Paddy looked like a terrier but was not. A grubby and rather smelly blanket was his bed, which he would drag into the living room as a hint to guests that it was his bedtime and time for them to leave.

A black lamb grew into a rambunctious ram and accompanied us on walks with our seven dogs of questionable breeds. Two un-caged mynah birds followed us on walks by flying from tree to tree. They would mimick our voices and call to the servants who would come running, only to find three giggling girls.

One day the birds disappeared, probably stolen, until on a stormy night Mynah One appeared on the doorstep, soaking wet,  its wing feathers cut. It had escaped and had walked and hopped back home in the rain. A featherless  parrot, rescued from a cat attack, shared its feeding bowl with an orphaned  kitten.

One of our many pea-brained hens hatched a turkey chick that grew and  towered above the fowls, unrecognised as the ugly duckling among them. There were lovable ducks that became dinners whenever Mother and the cook could capture one without us knowing.

We tearfully protested. But as Mother said, “If we did not, someone else would enjoy them.” We missed Mary and Jack and the others. They looked different on the dish, but I have to admit they were delicious.

In the India of our time, children learnt to adapt.

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