June 22, 2009

It means bookworm

My father, JB D'Souza, grew up in a quiet lane off busy Girgaum Road in Bombay. The lane was the "village" of Khotachiwadi, today gaining a degree of fame as a "heritage" precinct. Going back to my youngest days, I heard stories from him and his family about the quirky characters of Khotachiwadi (him and his family no exception). Something about that quiet lane with its closely-spaced houses and neighbours sticking their noses into others' affairs seemed to stimulate quirkiness.

In his own words, taken from a memoir he began writing a few years before he died, here's one of those stories.


Joe F got into the Provincial Secretariat as a Junior Assistant on a modest salary starting at Rs. 100, yet higher than the rest of the village boys. Joe had had a visibly successful academic career (first class B.A. and B.Sc.) Two years behind him in academia, I tried hard to emulate him. In my early years (Standards I to V) in St. Theresa’s School, there was very little competition. There was that prize-distribution day, when I proudly returned home under a pile of prize books I could hardly carry. At the top of the village lane I heartily greeted Rocky, an appropriately named older boy who regularly flunked his exams. He stood there, brooding about his condition. My greeting evoked a single contemptuous retort. "Worm", he said, and turned away.

I hurried home to ask what that might have meant. The family uneasily translated "worm" into "bookworm."

Which was what Joe F and I really were, then and later, with our total immersion in studies, to the exclusion of everything else – sports, girls, socializing, whatever – except that Joe was too strait-laced in comparison with some of my slightly wayward instincts. He carried to extremes his devotion to studies. Characteristically, in later years, already a staid, rule-bound civil servant, he even chose to marry by the book of rules. He bought Courtship and Marriage, a guide-book written by Daniel Lord, S.J., who, as a celibate Jesuit, must have known all about the mysteries of the subject.

During his study of the book Joe used to tell me about the joys of chaste kissing. He and his fiancee M went steadily through the book together. Letting impulse run ahead of restraint one day, she leaned over affectionately to kiss him. "No, no, my dear", said her ardent lover. "That's in the next chapter. We'll come to that next week."

Father Lord's wisdom led them very properly to the altar. Still a bachelor, I was their best man, who didn’t let Lord's laws inhibit my attentions to M's numerous bridesmaids.


B said...

Do you know what were the words in their native language for worm and bookworm?

km said...

an appropriately named older boy

Ha ha, kinda like "Biff" or "Bubba"...

Did he finish writing the memoirs?

Dilip D'Souza said...

km: Actually he did publish "No Trumpets or Bugles", a memoir of his career in the IAS. That was in '02 I think. After that he started writing a more personal memoir, but wasn't sure he had enough material and also found it more difficult to do in his last years.

There is a fair amount he got done, though, and there are also a lot of his earlier articles/writings. One family project we are getting going on is to sift through it all and see if we can put together a second and expanded edition of his memoirs.

Puppy Manohar said...


I was told many years ago that in Khotachiwadi there is this "Maankaapya" character. After midnight he moves around severing peoples heads with a scissorlike motion of his hands. He apparently, does not have a head of his own.

Is this true?

I have heard a lot of ghost stories from Khotachiwadi. That ofcourse did not stop us from going there to pay "Ananthashram" a visit at least twice a year.

Baby V
P.S: While growing up, I often heard the name "J B D'Souza" during most discussions about civil administration with a "nahi tar aatache log" added as a predicate.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Puppy M/Baby V: Well, you've got it. Maankaapya is the reason people are fleeing Khotachiwadi like headless chickens these days. That most of them are also headless is a minor detail, of course.

Thank you, truly, for what you say about JBD.

Sidhusaaheb said...

So that's where you've inherited your sense of humour from!


Dilip D'Souza said...

Sidhu: thanks. I don't know about inheriting it, but he had a definitely oddball sense of humour.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed there is a difference between being signed in and using the blogger url to impersonate. I remember this came up in an earlier thread too. The one signed in has a glowing blogger icon.

Anonymous said...

> The one signed in has a glowing blogger icon.

also a picture on right side.