Maxine Steller’s Bombay

  Over the past couple of months, I’ve been blessed with a delightful new email pal from Australia. Her name is Maxine Steller and she’s a sprightly 82 years old. She’s obviously a computer wizard because she is able to scan and attach images – and what treasures she’s sent me!

Before she emigrated to Australia in 1950, she’d sung at several events around Bombay and has shared with me a wealth of photographs, commendation letters and programme notes (one from the war years lists her as “Maxine, The Boys’ Favourite”). There’s also a contract for a show on All India Radio in 1947, which includes a clause stating that the station director retains the authority to reject the performance if “the artist is not sober enough”. I wonder what 17-year-old Maxine’s mother made of that.

Two years before that, aged 15, she had been invited to sing with a band called the Broadway Boys, which had at its core members of the Steller family. Several years later, in 1951, Maxine married the band leader, Fred. Here’s her story, as she wrote it for her grandchildren.

        WISDOM COMES WITH TIME

Both my grandfathers joined the Army in England and were sent out to India. Robert Taylor was based at a cantonment in Bangalore.  Ernest Morris was in the Wellington Barracks, Poona, then joined the Poona police force, eventually transferring to Bombay.

My father, Bill Taylor, was born in Bangalore in 1902 and ran away to join the army when WWI broke out.  He was shipped to Mesopotamia and he would tell us stories of life in the cavalry taking care of the horses and eating the dead ones, as these young soldiers were starving.  After the war, when the ship docked in Bombay he joined the Bombay police force and married my mother Vera. Her father had been a Superintendent in the Bombay Police, dying at an early age. Bill and Vera had two sons and decided to try again for a daughter.

   I was born in the Motlibhai Hospital in Bombay, India on the 23rd October 1930 and baptised Maxine Iona Taylor at St.Anne’s Catholic Church, Mazagaon.  The heroine of the book my mother Vera (nee Morris) was reading at the time was named Maxine and although a friend suggested she call me Gloria instead, as Maxine conjured up French prostitutes, she stuck to her guns then threw in Iona as my saint’s name to tone it down.  Mum was of Scottish stock from her mother’s side, attended the Scots Kirk, Colaba, Bombay when a child, and the Isle of Iona is where the Scots believe Christ will appear when he comes back to this earth.  My Father Bill was a Catholic.

About a fortnight before I was born, my father and mother returned in a gharry (horse driven carriage) from a night out at the cinema and as they were crossing the road to the quarters behind the police station, they were both shot at as reprisal for someone being arrested.  The perpetrators were told to find and shoot a European officer and my parents happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Mum was shot in the thigh and Dad in his hand.  The men were arrested and there was a court case.   They apologised to my mother as they said they had no idea they were shooting at a memsahib.  Fortunately, there were no serious repercussions where I was concerned.  This story was never told to me until about 1946 when it was mentioned in a newspaper article when my father was made a deputy commissioner of police.

When Dad was a young police officer we lived at the back of the various police stations he was assigned to, so our lives were very different to the ones normal families led.

I was very fond of my ayah Ramu, who had been hired to care for my two brothers before I was born, and who only left the family after I finished school.  I used to love going into her room to squat on the floor and have a taste of the wonderful vegetable curries she would cook on her sigri (a little coal cooker).  She used to have pictures of all the gods pinned on her walls and it was comforting to find Jesus side-by-side with her own Hindu gods Rama, Sita, Ganesh, Lakshmi and Lord Krishna.  I can remember when I was young, Ramu was dismissed one day, and I was so upset that I packed a little suitcase and announced that I was leaving home. I sat on the top step of the stairs waiting to say goodbye to my Father and when he returned I told him I was not staying unless my ayah came back.  He discussed the matter with my Mother and it turned out that she had discovered a man in the ayah’s room and dismissed her on the spot, but Ramu was reinstated when they realised that fretting for her would probably make me sick.

Ramu was very loyal to the family and when Dad fell ill with typhoid and nearly died, she made puja and promised her gods that if he lived she would stop combing her long, thick hair.  Dad recovered, she kept her vow and the family did not have the heart to make her break it, so from that day on she had this mass of untidy tresses.  When it was time for her to leave, Dad arranged for the Sisters of Mercy in Bangalore to take her in, presumably because his dream was to retire in Bangalore where he had been born in the army cantonment.   I would send her a ‘pension’ from my own meagre pay-packet and prior to leaving India, I wrote and advised Ramu that I was going.  Shortly afterwards, one of the nuns wrote me that when Ramu realised she would never see her ‘Maxine missibaba’ again, she just gave up hope and willed herself to die.

Because of the rough and dangerous areas the police stations were situated in, our parents decided to send Cedric and Desmond to boarding school in Panchgani which is a beautiful holiday resort in the Western Ghats outside Poona.   Then in 1937 they were enrolled in Christ Church High School, Byculla, Bombay, which was a co-educational school, so that in times of trouble a police sepoy could accompany them (and eventually me) to the one school.

Living in predominantly Indian areas meant we would be in the thick of things when festivals were being celebrated.  Marbouri was a Hindu sector and we’d watch the fun when the festivals of Holi and Diwali were on. Pydhoni was a Muslim sector and the police station was directly opposite a masjid.  There was a high wall around the mosque and near the gate was an alcove where an old Muslim sat and cooked korma, which he sold with naan.  He’d do a roaring business on feast days and we’d sometimes send our servant across to buy his tasty food.

Bill Taylor, extreme right

At Ramadan (or Ramzaan as we called it in Bombay), devout Muslims pray and fast for a month, from one new moon to the next.  They are forbidden to eat or let water pass their lips before sundown.  They wake before sunrise to eat, and can only eat again when the sun sets.   The Mullah from the nearest mosque would climb up the minaret before dawn and call out to the faithful to fulfil their vows.  This would awaken us as well, as we lived across the road from the mosque.

People of several religions lived in harmony in India, except of course the Hindus and Muslims who were forever fighting with each other.  The Parsis originally came from Persia, were followers of Zoroaster and worshipped fire and the sun.  They were a wealthy community and engaged mostly in commerce.  They exposed their dead in the open air in the towers of silence.  There were always vultures sitting in the surrounding trees on Malabar Hill and when a body was placed there, they would swoop down and eat all the flesh.  Eventually the bones would fall through the grids into lime pits.  I think the richest man in Bombay was J.R.D. Tata, a Parsi gentleman, who lived in a huge green building called Tata Palace and who started Tata Airways which eventually grew into Air India International.  My cousin Ray Salway became Air India’s first Chief Air Hostess.  She married Aspy Noble, a Tata pilot, and they eventually settled in Perth, Australia.

We used to look forward to invitations to Parsi weddings and their religious thread ceremonies as the food was so tasty.  The guests would sit at long trestle tables with banana leaves used instead of plates.  The waiters would walk around with huge trays and slap a spoonful of everything on the leaf – wonderful dishes made with fish, chicken, lamb and vegetables also scrumptious rice dishes, and you’d always get a fried egg dumped on top of everything.  Then came the mouth-watering sweetmeats and ice creams.  Parsi cooking has a special flavour – once tasted, never forgotten.

We mustn’t forget the colony of Jews living in harmony in all the cities.  They were Bene-Israelites (of the tribe of Benjamin) and after the War when Jews started returning to Palestine from all over the world all the young people began leaving India to live on kibutzes in the new formed state of Israel.  One of my best schoolfriends was Estelle Gemmel and she made my daughter’s christening robe for her when she heard I was pregnant.  She contacted me from Haifa a few years ago and sends hilarious emails regularly.

In 1938 I joined my brothers at Christ Church High School and was placed in Standard 2 with Miss Penner as my class teacher. Previously, I had attended a private kindergarten run by Mrs Rhoda Cody at Thoburn House, Colaba and to have so many teachers and children milling around was very exciting.

 

 The dining room attached to our school was huge and the tables very large.  There would be a table reserved for each family and the family ‘bearer’ would serve a hot meal every lunchtime, set out on a clean tablecloth with cutlery from home.  Chemun would carry the meal in a ‘tiffin carrier’ and lunchtimes would always be noisy and fun.  When one thinks back, we really used to eat far too much considering the heat and our sedentary lives.  Most people would have porridge, eggs and toast for breakfast, then morning tea (elevenses), then a hot lunch of curry, dhal and rice, then afternoon tea, then dinner at about 8.30pm which was an English meal of soup, main course and pudding.

When our Muslim cook Abdul finally left, Chemun, who was a Hindu, told Mum that he had been watching Abdul and would like the chance to take over.  Mum let him, and from that day on, he did a good job with the cooking.  As we grew older, Chemun tried to make a deal with each of us children so that he would always have a job in one of our homes, whether it be Cedric, Desmond or myself.  Our servants were well treated and at Christmas or their Indian festivals were given gifts of clothes and sweets.  Chemun had a wife and child in his village and would visit them on his annual holidays.  He eventually brought them to live with him in his room and we made a big fuss of his beautiful little son.

Every night Mum would sit at the dining table with a notebook and the cook would tell her what he had bought at the markets that morning and how much it had cost.  Mum knew that he would be adding an ‘anna’ here and there to drop into his own pocket, but all memsahibs knew this was going on and did not mind.  Then she would tell him what to cook the next day, give him some money to spend at the markets and off he’d go to bed or out rambling as his chores had been done for the day.

Wages were paid once a month in India, and Mum would go monthly to Crawford Markets to buy sugar, flour, rice and all the other ingredients that didn’t need to be fresh.   She’d hire a coolie with a huge basket on his head to carry her purchases back to the gharry (horse and carriage).   We had large tins the size of garbage bins in the pantry which could hold a month’s supply of everything, which was essential as Gandhi would call a strike and the whole of India would come to a standstill –  no trains, trams or buses and the shops would be closed until further notice.  This was satyagraha – non-violent disobedience and opposition.

It was most important to bargain for everything as the shopkeepers added extra on to the price and expected it.  If you didn’t, you were considered ‘weak’ and lost face.  Crawford Market is  in the centre of the city and similar in size to Flemington markets over here.  There are beautiful carvings over the doors of the massive stone building which were done by Rudyard Kipling’s father, who was a famous architect.

Mum enrolled me in Phyllis Laidlaw’s Dancing School where the other three pupils were Rajkumar Rudy and Rajkumaris Betty and Rita (prince and princesses of Baria State).  They were extremely well-mannered and friendly children.  I also began to learn the piano with Phyllis’ sister, Dorothy Beck and studied with her for several years.  I wish I had practiced harder but would only pull out my music and pretend to be very conscientious when I knew she was due to walk in.  Phyllis and Dorothy were the daughters of  Superintendent Roy Smith of the Bombay Police Force.  Later, when I was about 14, I learnt with Arthur Jacob (a bandleader) who endeavoured to teach me jazz and ‘extemporise’.  He’d write the melody notes of the treble cleff with the bass chords beneath on a piece of paper and off we’d go, extemporising – tunes like Lady Be Good, Tea For Two, Dinah and all the great songs that came out during the War years.  I still have some of these pieces of paper, now wilting and going brown.

My brothers, being boys, were allowed more freedom than I.  They would line up for pocket money every week and they’d go off to the cinema or visit schoolfriends.   They played all the usual games boys did, like rounders and gilly-dandoo (with stick and ball, a bit like baseball), backyard cricket, hockey and football.

Cedric was mad about cricket and even devised a game whereby he could play by himself for hours on end.  He used an exercise book, dice, lead soldiers and a hand-drawn ‘cricket field’.  He’d throw the dice, the soldiers would run around the field and their runs, lbw’s, maiden overs, etc would be recorded in the book.  I’d hear him cheering whenever someone made a good score!

Cedric was a playful student and used to get into trouble with his teachers for inattention, especially the Head Mistress – Mrs. Tate.   Being very English, she made the boys learn English country dancing (Morris dancing to be exact), much to their embarrassment.  One day when she was in a temper she called him a ‘jarron’ (tea towel) and years later when his Moghul Line ship was passing the English vessel taking Mrs. Tate back to England, he sent her a farewell message from one of her ‘jarrons’.

My memories of India are good ones even though, as children of a junior police officer, we never settled down in one area or stayed put like other families.  Every two years Dad would be transferred and, yet again, Mum would have to pack everything and get used to new living quarters behind the police station.  We moved to some very dangerous areas, the worst being Nagpada, Gamdevi, Marbouri, Kalbadevi Road and Pydhoni and during the riots we would be escorted to and from school by a sepoy.  Riots brought curfews and everyone would have to be off the streets before 7pm which could be very inconvenient at times.

When we had Muslim visitors over at our house Dad would ask me to recite in Urdu.  It was our second language in school and we used to learn beautiful poems, and even read the ‘Indian Mutiny’ in our latter years in Urdu.   I sat for the subject both in Junior and Senior Cambridge and had to do oral and written exams.  It was quite daunting sitting and chatting with a strange examiner but I managed to get through.

I remember when we were on the netball field at school one afternoon, there was a huge boom, and window panes were shattered.  It was April 14th 1944 and the SS Fort Stikine carrying tons of explosives, gold bars, bales of cotton, drums of oil, scrap iron, rice and resin blew up in Bombay Docks.  Her berth in Victoria Dock was ringed by 24 other vessels and when she blew up she devastated 300 acres of Bombay Docks and reduced twelve ships to scrap iron.  White-hot metal from the ship’s plates fell on Bombay a mile from the ship and a million pounds of gold disintegrated.  Fire engines had turned up after the first blast and when there was a second one, the firemen were also caught in this disaster.  Smoke and the smell of death hovered over Bombay for weeks afterwards.

At an early age we became used to the sight of the injured being brought in with bandages around bloody heads, stomachs or intestines, and during the final years before Independence, we even had British soldiers stationed in our backyard, waiting for a call to quell an unruly mob.  They could not go without being accompanied by an Indian Justice of the Peace and when he gave permission to fire, they would fire warning shots above the heads of the rioters who quickly dispersed.  Dad would tell his family and friends hair-raising yarns of the riots and the dangerous positions the police officers found themselves in.

During the war an English entertainment group called ENSA started visiting hospitals and giving concerts for the troops and they asked me to join them.  They’d seat me on a piano and tell me to sing I Can’t Give You Anything But Love to the shyest soldier or sailor in the front row.  My favourite ballads at these concerts were Vienna, City of My Dreams and the Kerry Dance.   From 1938, I sang regularly for Aunty Hilda’s Children’s Hour on All India Radio, and I can remember singing Over The Rainbow at the Bombay Town Hall when the movie Wizard of Oz first came out.  I must have been about ten years old.  Another song I often sang at concerts when I was young was Alice Blue Gown and I also danced the ‘hula’.

In 1945 the campaign for Independence had been stepped up and Anglo-Indians (born of British or European parents in India) started thinking of where to go when they were asked to quit India.  A Catholic priest (Father Dalton of St Mary’s School, Mazagaon) lobbied for the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal.  He started the Britasian Club and put on shows encouraging young people to attend.  He hired a band called the Broadway Boys, seven talented young musicians led by Fred Steller, who were very popular.  One day Father Dalton got in touch with my father and asked him if I would sing at the next show.  I said I would but needed a rehearsal with the pianist.  Shortly afterwards, Fred Steller and his pianist, Billy Cooper, turned up at our house and my association with the Broadway Boys and the Steller family began.

Dad became interested in the Britasian movement and we attended all the shows, where I would sing regularly.  Fred asked if I would like to become the Broadway Boys female singer and I can truly say that my fifteenth year was by far my happiest.  My mother had previously been very strict with me but once I joined the band I was allowed to go to all the shows they played at (chaperoned by my parents, of course) and I met so many very nice young men who were all eager to dance with the new young singer.

Bill Taylor escorts Morarji Desai on a guard of honour

Dad was made Deputy Commissioner of Police and put in charge of traffic and the Naigaum Police Training centre where the young officers trained.  Whenever an important person came to Bombay – Nehru, Jinnah, Gandhi, General Carriappa and other dignitaries, it was his duty to ensure that they were safe.  Gandhi would want to walk into the crowds lining the roads, and it would be a hair-raising experience for the young officer who would be put in charge of his safety.  My father had a great admiration for Nehru, Jinnah and Carriappa.  They came from wealthy families, were well-educated and well-mannered.   Whenever Gandhi fasted, all police-force leave would be cancelled in case something serious happened to him.  Remember by the 1940s he was in his seventies, mellowing a bit.

As Dad was a gazetted officer, his movements were mentioned in the Bombay Police Gazette and very often the news article would say that Deputy Commissioner Taylor was accompanied by Mrs Taylor and their daughter Miss Taylor.  I was officially invited twice to Government House, the first time to meet the last English Governor Sir John Colville and Lady Colville, then the first Indian Governor Sir Maharaj Singh and Lady Singh.  Lady Singh was very interested in conditions at Burmah-Shell, where I worked, and asked a lot of pertinent questions.

My father was a very gentle man and never raised his voice or hand to anyone, especially his children.  Bill Taylor was popular and loved by his junior officers and friends.  I am proud to say I resemble him in features and I hope some of his other attributes have rubbed off on me.  My mother was a very shy lady and would always be taking a dose of chlorodine when she was invited to parties with strangers or maybe to act as a judge at some show.  I’ve definitely inherited her queasy stomach.

My favourite pastime was collecting the autographs of the rich and famous and during the War years many celebrities came to Bombay to entertain the troops.  I wrote to Lord Louis Mountbatten and he was kind enough to reply and send me his autograph.  Lady Mountbatten visited the Pitman’s College where I was training, and the girls all lined up for her signature.  I met Gracie Fields, Vera Lyn, George Formby, Melvyn Douglas – so many that I can’t remember but it was exciting trailing them.  Even the police sepoys who were stationed at the concerts would help me to get in to see them.  Mr Gandhi used to come regularly to his ashram in Bombay and advertised that he would sell his autograph for five rupees if we sent him the money and a stamped, self-addressed envelope.  I’m sorry I’m didn’t send for his autograph.  We were at Government House one afternoon and Dad called me over to meet Moraji Desai, the Home Minister, saying “Why don’t you ask Mr. Desai for his autograph?”  I still have it.

Lord Mountbatten was the last Viceroy of India and both he and Edwina did a wonderful job, diplomatically, over a very difficult period.   Over this period of changeover, Jawaherlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten became great friends and he would wear a rose on his jacket as a tribute to her.

On 14th August 1947, the girls gathered on the roof of the YWCA building to watch the Union Jack being lowered for the last time and the Indian flag raised.  From then on whenever we went to the cinema or any other function, instead of standing for God Save the King, we would stand for Bande Mataram.

My first place of employment was Kemp & Company, a pharmaceutical concern.  I became a Junior Secretary.   I worked for the Sales Manager, Derek Hampton, who instructed the senior clerk not to let any letters regarding birth control or condoms come my way.   My boss took a fancy to me and wanted to take me out.  He was all of thirty and I considered him too old (I was 17).

A year later, I joined the Imperial Bank of India where I worked for the Secretary and Treasurer. Not bad for an 18 year old!  While I was there, Nehru sent in his troops to fight the Nizam of Hyderabad’s army as he would not cede to the Indian Union.  Urgent instructions were going backwards and forwards to the Imperial Bank in Hyderabad to ensure important documents were burned.   The war lasted about nine days, then the Hyderabad army capitulated.

The most sought after band in Bombay was Ken Mac’s All European Band.  When the band would need a temporary singer, they would ask Doris Steller to fill in and when they needed a clarinet player or drummer, Fred or John would oblige.  Fred learned a great deal from one of the musicians Hal Green. Ken’s brother Horace also played in the band and when his young daughter Pamela contracted polio in a boarding school up in the hills, it was a great tragedy.  Her parents took her overseas to see eminent surgeons to no avail.  On her return she asked if I’d visit her and Fred accompanied me.  A well-dressed male servant would carry her around and he always wore white gloves to do this.  She used to sing in her uncle’s band and had a great voice.  We are still good friends and keep in touch when we visit Melbourne.

Fred’s father, Charles Steller was also a talented musician and in his young days conducted the Governor’s band, then in turn the GIP Railway and BB&CI Railway bands.  Eventually he started his own band called Carl Star and his Orchestra.  He had been one of the original members of Ken Mac’s Band and played the sax and clarinet.  His eldest daughter Doris had a beautiful voice and used to sing on All India Radio.  She also performed with Meli Metha and his classical trio at the Taj Hotel in Bombay.  Meli Metha is the father of Zubin Metha, the world famous conductor.  Zubin attended St Mary’s School, where the Steller brothers were educated.  Joe Rich asked her to make a few records.

A plum job in Bombay was at Burmah-Shell Oil Company, where the girls were paid good wages, free transport and lunches.   I was lucky enough to get in as secretary to the Manager, Kerosine and Petrol.  Our office was at Ballard Estate, next door to the UK High Commission, where my Uncle Ralph Thorley was employed.  Upon his demise my Aunt Bernie was given his job and when I needed a passport she rang me the day after I handed in my forms, to come across and pick it up.

The UK High Commission had instructed British citizens to come in and register, then choose the UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand to migrate to as soon as possible.  Apparently they did not want a recurrence of the Indian Mutiny, when so many women and children were slaughtered.  One day my brother Cedric was beaten up on his way home from the Port Trust where he was doing an apprenticeship.  He was cycling home with an Indian friend and a mob crowded around and ordered him to say “Jai Hind”.  He decided he wouldn’t, and paid for his stubbornness.  Then they told his friend to hit him and when he wouldn’t, he was beaten up as well.  They both arrived home in a bloody mess.  There were lots of instances where British or Europeans were accosted, had their topis pulled off their heads and their ties cut off.  One European police officer was even tied to a tree and a fire started under him.  Fortunately he was rescued in time.

On completion of his apprenticeship, Cedric joined the Moghul Line as a junior engineer.  Ships of the Moghul Line carried Muslims from around India to Mecca to complete their haj.  The main ports of call were Calcutta, Madras, Bombay, Karachi, Aden, Bahrein, Jedda and Singapore.  He also did one trip to Turkey to pick up pilgrims.  In those days Raffles Hotel in Singapore was on the waterfront but of course nowadays it is in the heart of the city on reclaimed land.  He served on several ships of the Moghul Line and whenever he docked in Bombay he would bring all his friends over to our house or we would be invited to parties aboard.

Desmond was sharp-witted with a quick sense of humour and used to torment Cedric and myself incessantly.  He nicknamed me ‘Keyhole Kate’ and used to say I was too nosey for my own good.   After completing his schooling, Des began an apprenticeship in The Times of India and in 1947 (just two weeks after Independence Day in August) he persuaded his parents to send him to England where he hoped to keep up his studies in art.  He enrolled at the London Polytechnic, sharing a flat with Barrington Brendan Brady and his brother in London.

When Gandhi died, all hell broke loose and the police officers’ wives and families waited at home for their menfolk to return, not knowing what to expect.   Everyone naturally thought he had been killed by Muslims.   Gandhi was 79 years old and on his way to a prayer meeting in Delhi when he was assassinated by a member of an extremist organisation.  The plot was hatched in an Indian Army barracks in Poona and on 30th January 1948 Nathuram Godse shot Gandhi three times at close range.  Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte (his accomplice) were hanged for his murder on the 15th November 1949.

All the young men were leaving India to try their luck overseas as the Indian  government was giving preference to Indians, rather than to our lads, which was understandable seeing that they had fought so hard for their Independence.

On the 28th February 1948, the last soldiers, men of the 1st Battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry were due to leave Bombay.  They fell in for the last time on Indian soil not far from the Gateway of India, an enormous triumphal arch the British had erected by the water’s edge to mark the spot where their King Emperor had stepped on to Indian soil in 1911.  Indian troops were drawn up in formation as the Somersets marched on to the quay.  The Indians presented arms in a Royal Salute, while their band played God Save the King.  Then the Somersets returned the compliment to the sound of Bande Mataram.    The Indian commander handed over to the Englishmen a parting gift.  It was a silver model of the Gateway, and on it were the words, “To commemorate the comradeship of the soldiers of the British and Indian Armies 1754-1947.”  Slowly the King’s Colour and the Regimental Colour of the Somersets were trooped to the waiting transport ship through the Gateway itself, to the playing of Auld Land Syne.  It was finished.  A promise had been kept.  It was a sad, sad day for those Britishers left behind because we knew that things would never be the same for us.

Fred’s mother kept urging him to leave, as his three brothers were already in Sydney.  She booked his passage and registered him for a pier-jump which meant he had to make himself available for a cancellation at a moment’s notice.   Fred was in two minds as he still had his band, a good job as Sound Engineer with Western Electric and he did not want to leave me.  The day a pier-jump became available, he had taken me to Juhu Beach where we went swimming.  His mother was very annoyed with him.  Eventually the day arrived for him to leave and he sailed on the Himalaya in May 1950.  On the previous evening, we became engaged and it was a very sad time for both of us.  Cardinal Gilroy from St. Mary’s Church in Sydney was also aboard the vessel and as Dad had been looking after him (policewise) while he was in Bombay, he asked the Cardinal to keep an eye on Fred on the voyage.

Shortly after Fred left, Dad was offered a job up in the hills somewhere running a Police Training School, which he accepted and although I begged him to let me stay behind and board in a guesthouse, he insisted I hand in my notice at Burmah-Shell, which I did.  In those days you did as you were told with no arguing!  Dad decided that as we were going to stay on in India we might as well become  Indian nationals, which my mother agreed to.  Preparations were being made for us to transfer when riots broke out again, and Dad was caught in a mob and stoned.  The injury was not serious but he declared, “This is no longer my country, why should I die for it?”  He decided he would not take the new position and put in for long service leave.

India was in turmoil, Muslims in India were being told to go and live in Pakistan.  Indians living in the new Pakistan were told they were no longer welcome and to go back to India.  Trains would arrive in Karachi and Delhi full of dead bodies as the slaughter continued.  Thousand upon thousands of people lost their homes and lives.   The Anglo-Indian community started leaving for the UK, Canada, Australia or New Zealand in droves as they were shown no consideration by the leaders who wanted India for the Indians, even though we were born there and considered ourselves ‘locals’.   Families and relatives were separated forever once the great trek began.  My mother never saw her brothers or sisters again although they had been a close family when living in India.

I persuaded Dad to take me to Australia.  My father was still Deputy of Commissioner of Police and we were living in a large flat at La Citadelle on Queens Road.  We auctioned all our furniture and household goods, had our last breakfast with our Parsi neighbour, Mrs. Dondhi, and boarded the Strathnaver.  This was in November 1950.

As the ship moved away from the docks into the Arabian Sea we could see the majestic Gateway of India in the foreground of the city of Bombay.  As it started to fade into the distance I felt as if my heart was being wrenched out of my body and making its way back to my city and the country of my birth.  In normal circumstances we would have lived our lives out quite happily in India, but these were extraordinary circumstances.

 

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23 Responses
  1. What a lovely story…. beginning to end Written with feeling and without rancour, despite the pains endured

  2. naresh fernandes says:

    Hi Ashwin,
    Maxine had included this quotation atop her piece, which reflects that spirit that you’ve identified.

    Know who you are and where you came from.
    Gather whatever positive memories you can
    of your family and ancestors.
    Find out their stories of courage and survival.
    Respect your Heritage.
    Do not be ashamed.
    Speak about it lovingly.
    — Anon.

  3. Stan Soares says:

    This is a great story – so well written -it brings back so many happy memories.I am an ex St.Mary’s boy – finished in 1945 – same batch as Johnny Stellar -I remember Johnny — he played the drums for the school band and he played as goal-keeper for the school X!.Fr.Dalton taught me English

    • Dear Stan,
      While doing online research for St. Mary’s School, I came across this wonderful blog post and through the post to your message. Your school celebrates its 150th year of founding next year and a whole lot of activities have been planned for the same. The first function is in November. Do log on to the facebook page mentioned and stay connected for details. It would be an absolute pleasure to see you at one of the functions. Best regards.

      PS: Thank you Naresh for this wonderful article and even the one on Bombay Boys (About Maxine’s husband Fred). Both made extremely interesting reads. Is there any way we could get in touch with you? Thanks and best regards.

  4. KTO says:

    Naresh: Thanks for these memories. I grew up opposite St. Andrew’s School (I believe there’s a fastfood place there now!) and I cannot recall a single instance of mob violence in the area bordered by St Peter’s, St Andrew’s Church, Pali Hill and Waterfield Road. In fact, we youngsters were told by various Uncles and Aunts to get stop playing and get home as Gandhiji had been shot and killed. I went home and turned the radio on and from then my mother worried about my father – he taught at St Teresa’s School in Girgaum – because he would tutor some kids till about 7 p.m. and be home by 8 p.m. That evening he wasn’t home till well after 10 p.m. and when my motgher asked him why he was late, he replied that he “went around to see the rioting.” Boy! Did my mother give it to him though my father’s attitude was everything was too exciting to miss! I remember most of the halwai shops (owned mostly by known RSS members) were forced open and halwai handed out freely before the shop itself was torched.

    Growing up in Salsette Colony meant not we knew little about the carnage in the city… KTO

  5. Cezina Dsouza says:

    What a lovely written down Life Memory!!!! Maxine Your memories have touched me beyond…..Well My dad being born in 1906 has also been a vital part of all this in Bombay.
    I was born in 1965 when he was almost 60yrs and he has been telling me all these lovely experiences.
    I was along with my older brothes and sisters just like you a student of Arthur Jacob and by the was I still have some of his handwitten manuscripts which have now also turned yellow. Strangers in the night was a favourite piece of Mr. Arthur Jacob and I simply loved it the way he taught me.
    I ended up marrying a boy from the same building as him in Mazagon and we have 4 children and married for almost 26yrs.
    God bless you maxine……….

  6. Neil says:

    Wow…. FANTASTIC… such a beautifully written slice of history, wonderfully peppered with anecdotes of Maxine’s life in a lovely Bombay of old.
    Naresh, there is a page on FaceBook called Things I Really Miss (Pls do have a look at the FB page) and it is about various aspects of life from days gone by…. a trip down memory lane. I wonder if you would allow me to post a lik to this lovely piece written by Maxine.

  7. Jillian Cooper says:

    My dad Bill Cooper on the piano,
    I have the same photo’s I may be repeating myself just to say its such a lovely piece of history just as Neil says.
    Sadly dad passed away in 2003 but I have fantastic memories, he was a brilliant pianist.
    Maxine Steller’s Bombay brought tears to my eyes.
    Regards Jillian

  8. K Patel says:

    A very poignant tale of a life well lived in India ….tuching indeed at times !
    K Patel .

  9. gerard norton says:

    did senior cambridge end 1956 then ssc by mid 1957 left Mumbai by ship end of 1961 and have since often returned
    am now in process of one day living all year round near marine lines station
    mumbai is still as it was but much more crowded and what was jungle is no full of high rise
    Mongini”s is not far from metro cinema now the fort one is now akbarally”s
    visited australia once in 1987/8 and also live in england where I will never revisit
    merci Maxine for the lovely memories rekindled
    remember Bill and his father mother sisters: was 9 years old when I saw them in Mumbai
    Vive Inde

  10. john mascarenhas says:

    yes a romantic tale and happy memories.

    when i first visited sydney in 1993, i visioned what bombay would have been during the time of the british in india.
    bombay today is called mumbai, the most expensive slum in the world, with glimses of beauty.

    when i return to india from perth for holidays, people often ask me what life here is like. i tell them to imagine eating bread and butter everyday-just clean, neat and almost the same grind from day to day. whereas they have food that is spicy, sweet,sour and bitter-just like their living conditions with up and downs.

  11. Ian Laidlaw says:

    What a complete surprise to read your wonderful account of the good old days of India. Of particular interest to me as my mother was Phyllis Laidlaw {Smith) your dance school teacher and my auntie Dorothy who taught you the piano.
    I guess my dad would have also worked with your dad in the Bombay City Police as he was at Nagpada at about the same time and I was seven at the time and remember bit clearly seeing Lord Mountbatten across the road.
    My Grandfather Roy Smith was probably also known to your grandfather as he was a superintendant of Police in Bombay.
    What a small world and it would be lovely to hear back from you.
    Kindest regards and best wishes always
    Ian Laidlaw

  12. Brilliant blog post Naresh. Would love to get in touch. Thanks and best regards.

  13. jenny hepworth says:

    My name is Jenny Hepworth – maiden name Fischer. We were in the same class school at Christ Church School in Bombay. I have lived in England since 1960 when my husband Norman and my kids came over on the P&O ship.
    I’d love to know whether you are the same Maxine I used to know. My son’s email is mark@geoeconomics.co.uk.

    Jenny

  14. Bill deMello says:

    What a beautiful story!! Thank you Maxine. What touches me most is your account of events with absolute non-bias. I was riveted to your story and reminisced about times when I grew up in Mumbai.
    I passed up a good TV show just to read your article. I found it so much better than watching TV.
    Best wishes Maxine.

  15. Sir Sachin Singh says:

    Very nice story and love the white pith helmets i wish i had one

  16. Joseph valu says:

    Naresh , Manny et al: Thanks so very much for sharing that lovely ladies’ memoirs.I do wish she records more of her experiences of the Raj and publishes them. She has such a tender, gentle way of conveying her thoughts about a very stormy experience re; Indians and the English.
    Truly a gentlelady of refined temperament.
    I share her feelings of leaving the known and endearing country of one’s birth .I left Burma for India (and St. Mary’s, Byculla) in similar circumstances where.I had one helluva good time as a boarder(1949-1951).
    Fr. Dalton ‘Si! / Fr. Casale “No!”‘ and graduated with a number of nice chaps many of whom I’ve lost contact with. “Passed out” ( to use the vernacular) with Maurice Shepherd, Brian Burke and JuJu Gomes– along with Zubin and Ajit Hutheesing and never dreamt I’d land up in these United States.
    Maxine I turned 82 this month and when asked by the fairer sex how does it feel? My reply “Like 82– and never been kissed!” Youll be surprised to learn (as my darling wife did) how many busses I got for my line!,
    Please visit my web site It has kept me in touch with the Raj of my birth– in Burma
    Regards, Joe

  17. S.Bhattacharji says:

    Lovely piece, Naresh. Thank you.

  18. Nate Rabe says:

    Great story!

  19. chris argent says:

    .Maxine Stellar,…a lovely story of a lovely time ….

    Along the lines of The broadway Boys and Fred Stellar,,,,,,,
    My Grand-Father Percirval Argent, was also a band leader in the early 30’s onwards,
    he was also know as Sunny Argent and did a recording for the BBC-India,

    I think his band played more in Karachi and my dad(Neil) and my aunt(June, who was also amongst the first stewardess to fly for Tata Airways) use to dance on stage while the band played(on some songs only) doing the Charleston!!!!

  20. Jason says:

    Fantastic story. I think there’s a book in this. Would love to hear more about meeting back up with Fred and beginning life in Australia.

  21. Yvette Laurel says:

    Thank you for story. My mother Yvonne Moore sang with Ken Mac’s band. My stepfather Joe Ray played the piano accordion in the same band. Both have passed in the recent years. At my mothers funeral guests were given a CD with copies of songs recorded with Ken Mac.
    During my childhood and young adult years I met Ken Mac, Jean, Pamela, ( Melbourne) Horace and Hal (UK) who were all my mothers friends.
    We recently discovered that my mother was Anglo Indian, a fact adamantly denied during her lifetime. My daughters DNA sample has revealed that on the maternal side, our ancestors were Indian.
    I would love find out more regarding life in India during the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s…particularly for the Anglo Indian community. Your experiences parallel many stories my mother told me throughout my childhood. My email address is whyalaurel@gmail.com. Regards yvette

  22. Hi Maxine,

    Hope you are well by the grace of God.
    I don’t know if you know but Arthur Jacob passed away a long time ago.
    Take care of yourself n your precious husband ,

    Love Cezina😊🌹👍

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