When it was time for the baby, my dad called the estate doctor to be on standby while he drove out to fetch Dr Manchi Disawalla who was stationed at the nearby town of Mudis. Dr Disawalla was the best doctor in the district and he and his wife Gool, who was also an excellent doctor, were very good friends of my parents. As the story goes, by the time they got to the house there was no need to keep the expectant father busy arranging for big pots of hot water because the baby had already arrived.
High Forest is a rainy place – second only to Cherapunji, as my mother used to say back then. In the monsoon, clothes wouldn’t dry, biscuits got soggy in about five seconds, shoes would be lined with fungus within hours of taking them off. My dad would come back from the fields with leeches clinging to the long socks he had to wear to protect his legs from them. It had been raining non-stop but the morning the baby was born, after weeks shrouded by clouds, the sun came out personally to welcome him. Besides, it was a Sunday. So they named him Ravi.
And this is how it happened that while I grew up with an unpronounceable headache of a name – in South India the languages do not have a ‘z’ sound – my brother had one of the most common names in the whole country. I felt awfully discriminated against. My mother once told me that, on a visit to the Mysore Zoo, we had gone to see the tiger and there was a board outside saying that its name was Ravi. Apparently I saw that and burst into tears, in the desolate knowledge that there could never, ever be a tiger anywhere in the world with the name Saaz.
In 1968, my father was transferred from High Forest to another estate, Prospect, in the Nilgiris. Ravi was just five. But High Forest would always stay with him. On his passport, ‘place of birth’ would always be ‘High Forest, Mudis Post Office’; in a country filled with so many thousands of remote places, and so many millions of letter-writers and money-order-senders, a post office was considered the only infallible indicator of location.
Years later, well into middle age, I told this story to a kind person who owns a gorgeous resort not far from Mudis Post Office and he sent someone to High Forest to take photos of the Manager’s Bungalow. The world had changed and so had Ravi’s first home: once elegant and beautifully maintained, it was now in a state of decay. In time I was able to locate two others who had lived in the same house in their time, Denis Mayne and Carolyn Hollis, now ‘back home’ (as it was called in those days) in the UK. I forwarded the photos to them and they too felt sorry to see its reduced condition. Taking another look at those photos while I was writing this post, I realised with surprise that I had a few photos of the very same parts of the house when we lived in it.