After years as director of physical education for the North Riding of Yorkshire, my father retired. He spent a year as stockman for a wine and spirits company, a job he much enjoyed though it was physically beyond him at 60 and then mercifully, one of his “boys”, now grown and a headmaster, offered him the job that saw him to his second and final retirement. He was form master to the impossibles, form 1D till they graduated as 5D, and it’s fair to say he loved them and they loved him. He was born to teach and being a teacher again was heaven – he used to come home and re-enact interractions with the boys for my mother and I, for the sheer joy of it. There was a Sikh in that first group .
mocked for his skin (now they’d say “Paki”, then they said “niggah” – I’ve been called that too), mocked for his hair which is not cut as part of the religion and his turban (“manky rag”). Pop’s years in India had informed him rather better so he explained, starting with the fact they could see which was that he, George Leslie Taylor, was considerably darker in the skin than Singh.
One night we were having tea,
that’s the cup of tea before the tea with food that was our evening meal, when the dog began to bark. My mother told me to go and see and at the gate stood a tallish man, thickset, immaculate in blue pinstripe suit and pale pink turban. “Taylor Sahib ? “ he enquired. “Mr. Taylor ?” I knew “sahib.” “I’ll get him” I said. I took the dog in, my father came to the gate and invited him in. He shook his head, my father shooed me away. He returned to us some ten minutes later, carrying a beautifully wrapped silk tie. “ The boy in my class is his son” he said. “He wanted to thank me, to tell me he is much happier and he brought me this” he waved the tie” and sent his compliments to Memsahib ( my mother bowed) and Babasahib.” I had never known I could have a title.
I didn’t like my name and I chose Anna for all sorts of impeccable reasons when I was 17 and stuck to it. But titles and nicknames always appeal to me. My personal favourite was Poochinka which made me feel small and exotic and beautiful. Babasahib made me feel like a queen. And the other day I met Babasahib for real.
There were a couple on the bus, with a small girl in a buggy. She was fed up, she was bored, she whinged and they spoke soothingly to her in some language I couldn’t catch while I admired her cloud of dark airy curls and her plain gold earrings. Her parents cajoled her against her better judgement into staying in the pushchair and waiting till their stop. I smiled at her, she was quite lovely, sweet and firm like a fruit, and suddenly as they moved her off the bus, she smiled straight at me and gave me the royal wave. “Goodbye” she said as in – see you at the palace next Tuesday. And repeated the exercise. Truly a baby lord.
It has been a strange summer in dozens of ways – the weather up and down, the Olympics drugs and gold, the exit from Europe now or later, violence in various forms in horrid coherence. But flowers I planted bloomed and since there isn’t a green finger in sight and I pray over everything I plant, the sight of bud and then flowers on the Japanese anemone (Honorine Joubert) ,
the roses, the geranium who practically shouted “Hello !” after being released from their pots has been wonderful. And I began to wonder if Babasahib was really the face of summer.
When I looked it up (thank you Google), I discovered that summer is imagined as a young female in bloom. Winter of course is an old person, autumn a figure in prime which will pass (see falling leaves) and spring is young and hopeful. All perfectly predictable but it made me think all over again about how lovely a child that just is herself or himself, no aping, no precocity, no pretence. Like the flowers.