Monday, 26 November 2012

The gold cigeratte case

Mr Coleridge was close to retirement when I first met him. I was seven or eight .He was the biggest man I had ever seen, very tall and  heavily built, too large even for a European. He was the manager of the Tea Estate where my father worked as an officer.

In the 40's all estate managers were Europeans and he was the senior most among them, respected by all in Munnar.
He had a 10HP Ariel motor bike, the biggest I had ever seen. I often saw him riding it and was convinced it was custom made for him. But it was his car that attracted me more. My brother once got a lift in it when he went to Munnar along with my father. I was less lucky. I ran about imagining myself driving the car.

He had two horses and a very old dog. The keeper of the horses walked them on the roads near where we lived. Though I often talked to the keeper I never dared to touch the horses. The dog was friendly and allowed me to scratch his head every time we met.
My interaction with Mr Coleridge was limited to my wishing him good morning when ever we met. He always responded with a 'Morning' and a loud hearty laugh. That was all, we never spoke. Language was not the barrier, we both knew Tamil. But I would run away, am not sure why .

I had learned many things about Mr Coleridge from my father. According to him, he was a very unassuming man. He grew up in Kodai Kanal, where his parents taught in a college. So he knew the Tamil language very well. But for the short period of his serving in the Royal Navy during the world war, he was in India almost all his life. He liked many things Indian. Tamil songs were among them. Vada and Pazham ( A popular short eat combination) was another.

I had another source of information on Mr. Coleridge, though not very reliable. His butler's son was my class mate. According to him the manager sahib drank heavily, he often put his fingers down his throat and puked so that he could drink more. It was he who told me about the European lady.

She was related to another manager but was with Mr Coleridge for a month or so. She wanted everybody to salute her when ever they met her.
I disliked  her at the very first sight and as usual ran away. It seems that she complained to Mr Coleridge about my bad manners, and he told her she might not have heard me wishing, before running away. My father on learning about it told me I should have wished her good morning. There after I avoided the paths she was likely to take. It was only for a short while as she left soon.

Mr Coleridge's expenses were more than his income and the shortages kept on increasing. The dog, the horses the bike, the car ….....they all added to his burden and he was in debt when he retired.
In the meeting held in his honor on his last day at work, it was I who garlanded him. He patted me on my back and said he had a special gift for me, It was a very beautiful magazine containing colored photographs of many cars. It was my prized possession for a long time.

The parting gift from the staff members of the estate was a cigarette case. A gold cigarette case. From the way he opened it, I was sure he liked it. When he spoke, he thanked all for the wonderful gift. He said how to afford cigarettes to keep in it was his worry.... and laughed the loud hearty laugh.

For along time there after I prayed to God for enough cigarettes for Mr Coleridge.

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