Remembering our friends, the Dalbys

As expressed by my mother Rukmani Manay (nee Nair)

Our home on Serpentine Street-Leonard Lane was always alive with music, games and lots of fun. Many of the neighbourhood children (including the four of us siblings – Leela, Ramani/Pappi, Bala/Sundra and I ), used to meet here everyday. Our home – because the compound was large with many trees, and our parents were very friendly, hospitable and tolerant.

Some weeks ago, I read a write up in The Times of India (TOI Bangalore dated 26-May-2019), about a memorial that has been made by the SJBHS Old Boys’ Assn., for the war heroes of the school/college – as a tribute to Captain John Dalby and other old boys. John was from our neighbourhood, and reading this brought back a flood of memories.

TOI John Dalby
TOI 26-May-2019

Remembering the Dalby children – John, Leonie, Peter and Margarette. They lived on Wellington Street, in a house that no longer exists, replaced by a building where a Software company now has its office. Mrs Dalby was the nursing superintendent at one of the hospitals. I don’t remember the dad.

John was a strapping, handsome young man. Much older than us, I remember him entering the principal’s office at Sacred Heart Girls’ High School, dressed in military uniform, holding the hand of his little daughter Cheryl. In 1962, Captain John Dalby went to fight in the Indo-China War. We never saw him again. The family, especially his wife June, was inconsolable when he was reported ‘missing in action’. We heard that the other army men just could not retrieve his body.

Margarette (the youngest of the Dalby children) used to spend a lot of time at our home, especially during the holidays. Being Leela’s classmate at Sacred Heart Girls’ High School and a fellow Girl Guide, all of us were good friends. She was slim, tall, pretty, witty and lovely, lively company. Understandably all the boys wanted to be her friend. Very fashionable, she was brave enough to flaunt the ‘will-power’ dresses that we’d never seen before. She wrote in my autograph book in her flowery writing that quite reflects her love for books and the interesting person she was.

Margarette autograph and pic

Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and–sans End!
– Omar Khayyam

I fondly remember her innate kindness and generosity. When I was chosen as one of the Maypole dancers for the Girl Guides & Scouts Jamboree inter-school Country-dancing competition, I needed a suitable knee-length skirt. Without any hesitation, Marge (as we called her) gave me a brand new beautiful flowered skirt that was perfect for the part. She hadn’t mentioned it to her mother (as children we did need to take parents’ permission for such things) and it got her into trouble. Always willing to take risks and help others.

Though Marge was an avid reader, she wasn’t very keen on studies. After finishing school, she did a typing/secretarial course, and then she went away to Australia. She soon got married to one of those tough, handsome, wealthy Aussies. However, not much later, we heard that she died in a plane crash while flying with her husband in their private aircraft. This was 1969. Like John, we never saw her again. We were all very sad. My mother was very fond of Margarette and was quite depressed for a long time. Even in her old age she would talk about her.

Richmond Town-Langford Town (in fact much of the current CBD Bangalore) was the Cantonment area that was popular with the Anglo-Indian community and the Europeans who chose to stay back after independence. As a community, they always believed in living life to the fullest and having a good time. Ballroom dancing, singing, partying, picnicking, card playing, dating, among other pastimes, were an integral part of their life. The Bowring Institute and Catholic Club used to have the April Showers Ball and May Queen Ball that were big draws for the youthful crowd. Margarette was one of the most popular girls at these dances. We know because she used to come home after the dances with many roses – the boys had to give the girls a rose for each dance they requested, and the one with the most roses would be declared the most popular girl!

As the years went by, many of the Anglo-Indians of our area gradually moved overseas to the UK, Australia and other countries. It was touching to see Cheryl’s picture in the newspaper after so many years. Must visit John’s memorial sometime soon.


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