A Journey into Nostalgia
In November 1913, when the number of days before going home was getting
delightfully low, the Headmaster sent for a nine year old student, and
gave him the exciting news that he was to set off for Bombay next day,
and with his parents he was sailing for New Zealand on the Saturday.
I was that small boy, and my recollections of Mt. Abu have remained
vivid throughout the years that followed—a honeycombed hill along the
old back road, where swallows and martins nested; the lake behind the
rifle range, which is much shallower now; the escarpment overlooking
the plains; the ripe currawandas beyond the cud in front of the School;
the outrageous habit of nearly drowning squirrels on the theory that
the saving of them, and then the subsequent drying and feeding of them
engendered a feeling of thankfulness which made them loyal pets. All
these thoughts remained with me. In fact they served to make me a
field naturalist for the rest of my life.
The desire to return was born, and all the happenings of a lifetime did
not prevent it from developing. Mt. Abu was my OLD SCHOOL—it
represented a happy period in my formative years. I can see now as I
write, the knee-high balsam, and the caterpillars that commonly fed on
this plant. I can recall eating on of Bonthu the Baker’s loaves,
stuffing it with a roll of butter (saved from the table) and a tin of
herrings in tomato sauce. I wonder if I could survive it now. I think
At the end of 1968 I announced to my family that “the time had come.”
Against an outcry from friends and relations I stood firm—“No one can
go back that long”—“Nostalgic journeys are doomed”—With all the best
intentions they applied the pressures, and I found to my regret that my
wife, a New Zealander, was more anxious that our elder daughter should
have the trip than come herself. After all she had no nostalgic urges
about India, and particularly Mt. Abu, and on the other hand my
daughter was ready, willing and able to represent her!
So the day arrived when plans had to be made. A letter to the
Principal, the Rev. Brother Keane, had quickly brought a kindly
reply—the freedom of the School was ours.
My daughter Pat and I left in early January last, and after a few days
in Bombay, came up by train. But not to Baroda where the Bombay Baroda
& Central India Railway used to hand us over to the Rajputana
Malwar Railway. Now the change was Ahmedabad. But it mattered
little. I felt quite at ease in the midst of the multi-racial
noises—if only we had understood one of the languages! But Indians are
the most courteous people on earth, everybody helped to get two strange
Australians to their destination. A Rajput taxi-driver at Abu Road
packed our luggage aboard, and set off at maximum speed. He drove well,
but when he took both hands off the wheel to pay homage to a shrine,
only my daughter was sure we were to survive.
“Plummy” hadn’t changed, and I noticed evidences of some of the horse
changes in the tonga days of my boyhood. Eighteen miles at a near
gallop, and two minutes at each of eight changes for fresh horses!
The School has been well looked after: the additions are superb, and as
an old boy, to use an Australian expression “I dips my lid” to the men
who have controlled it down the years.
Brother Foran took us everywhere. He even showed me the door near my
bed in the dormitory, which led into the Matron’s rooms, where one
night a panther came in and sharpened its claws. His courtesies and his
interest is something we will never forget. In fact, he made possible
that rare happening in life—A Successful Journey into Nostalgia.
A G Otto