Visitors to the district being not very frequent and with the planter community being rather small and generally well knit, news of the arrival of one such would always spread very fast. Since a visitor also held out the prospect of a change from the usual routine of meeting and interacting with the same lot of folk, week in and week out and talking (wouldn’t take a genius to hazard this guess) about tea, any visit by anyone was always most welcome and was looked forward to in great anticipation. Just about the same time as when my transfer orders came through from the Agents in Cochin, word had spread around the district that the Superintendent on Surianalle, Clyde Walker Murdoch Lawrence, was being visited by his son Andrew who had arrived from Aberdeen to spend some time with his Mum and Dad.
Amongst all the covenanted staff, especially the Assistants working in Malayalam Plantations, Clyde’s reputation of terrorising and intimidating his SDs being somewhat of a legend, every time we met in the Club or anywhere else, the four Assistants on Surianalle, one of whom I would soon be replacing, would take perverse and sadistic pleasure in fuelling my growing sense of trepidation by continuously carrying on about their PD, making it sound as though I was soon going to be entering some sort of torture chamber. The one chink in my armour which was known to all and which those buggers played on was the dramatically different natures of our respective PDs. Which fact they used as an effective tool to be constantly nagging me, never missing an opportunity to rub it in about how difficult it was going to be for me to adjust from the gentle and fatherly nature of Abid, one which I had got used to in the two year working with him, to the polar opposite fiery temperament of the PD under whose tutelage I was soon to find myself.
With my bloody awful colleagues having the time of their life scaring the shit out of me, so as to soften what was beginning to sound more and more as though my relocation was going to be a very hard and rough belly-landing in Surianalle, I managed to psych myself into believing (a somewhat erroneous belief it later turned out) that I could leverage Lawrence Jr’s visit to his parents to somehow worm my way into the good books of Clyde. The central aspect of this devious plot was that I arrange to host a dinner in my bungalow for the clan Lawrence. The invitation having been despatched to Surianalle through the tapal boy and with Clyde having responded that the three of them would be delighted to come across to break bread with me in Panniar the next day, that evening, I went across to the PDs bungalow to request Abid and Shamim to join in the festivities. Which they gladly accepted.
On learning from me that I had never met Clyde’s progeny, Abid’s advice to me was to make sure that, besides PLENTY of food on the table, I should also arrange to have a very good stock of liquor because “you can be sure that Andrew will devour any and every thing you have to offer and will literally eat you out of house and home”. I was also advised that in addition to making adequate provisions for Andrew, I should also make arrangements to stock up with two bottles of Booth’s (no other) Gin which Clyde and his missus, between the two of them, were reputed to polish off whenever invited out. And then with a twinkle in his eye and a big smile across his face, my boss couldn’t help himself from sticking it in to me in making a suggestion that I make sure that this time around the chicken did not wriggle out of Kaliappan’s grip before finally ending up in the pot.
Next evening, well primed with what I believed was plenty of food and drink and having ensured that this time around the chicken would be unable to swim out of the gravy and escape from out of the pot, with Abid and Shamim having come in early in case I required any assistance, the three of us awaited the arrival of the Lawrence trio. Clyde’s car having rolled in, I opened the door for Winnie to step out of the rear seat while Clyde wiggled his way out from behind the steering wheel against which his rather generous stomach would always get lodged. While Clyde was still struggling, the passenger side front door of the Ambassador opened for an enormous human being to spill out of the car. The only analogy which comes to mind to describe the scene is that it was somewhat akin to what happens when one snips open a plastic bag of anything which has been vacuum packed! I couldn’t help myself being rude and staring goggle-eyed at this giant, built along rather munificent lines, as Andrew’s mammoth frame expanded into full view. In sheer circumference, while this would have been difficult for me to imagine had I not actually set eyes on him, he was streets ahead of his portly and rotund father. The difference in his circumference around the middle difference being the minor one, where he beat his Dad hollow was in his vertical frame which I estimated as being an enormous Clyde + half a Clyde!
The de rigueur small talk having been dispensed with, the first drink having been served and with the Booth’s Gin being knocked back in generous mouthfuls, post two rather large drinks having gone down the hatch, the ‘Lawrence duo at a party’ act which was a legend in the district played itself out. The curtain went up for Act-I of this drama just as soon as the second rather large Gin & water had gone down Clyde’s hatch. Which is when we saw his empty glass fly out of his ham fisted hand in the direction of Winnie who was sitting across the room from her husband. The glass in flight was accompanied with a “make me a drink” request to his wife. Almost nonchalantly the lady’s hand shot up to literally pluck the glass out from the air arresting its downward trajectory. The act, which I had been warned about by my sadistic colleagues, had obviously been honed to perfection. While I needn’t have worried, the fact is that I did have my heart in my mouth watching one precious piece of my very limited glassware collection in flight. Act-II of the performance was played out as a rapid scene change the moment the curtain had come down on Act-I. This time the lead actor was the missus who gently put the glass down on the bare red-oxide floor, aimed it towards her husband before giving it a casual flick of her toe. Without batting an eye, Clyde scooped up the glass, heaved himself out of the sofa and ambled across to the bar to pour out a drink for the lead actor of that particular scene.
While the parents were concentrated on working towards the final curtain of the drama, which culminated with them draining out the last drop from the two bottles of Booth’s Gin, their progeny was singularly attacking the rather sparse stock in my bar. As each bottle of whatever variety of alcohol disappeared down Andrew’s bottomless pit, he would reach out for whichever bottle his hand touched next, to attack that with a single minded purpose. The contents of the bottles of various spirits having been consigned to history, the gentleman washed it all down with whatever beer I had specially bought for the grand occasion. As each large gulp was poured down his gullet, I imagined I could hear all the liquid sloshing around in that enormous belly.
With my bar, now as dry as the Sahara desert, the six of us walked across to the somewhat sparse fare which Kaliappan had drummed up using all his culinary skills which were limited to his ability to convert basic vegetables (read that as Potatoes) and meat into some edible form. Totally ignoring the questionable quality of whatever had been dished out, short work was made of it all so that not just our respective plates, but also the serving dishes were wiped clean.
Effusive thank you’s followed before the trio somehow managed to squeeze themselves back into the Ambassador, with the effort Andrew had to make to adjust himself in the passenger seat somewhat akin to one making a futile attempt to put toothpaste back into a tube from which it had been squeezed out. The Lawrence clan having driven off, Abid’s parting shot to me as he stepped on the accelerator of his car was “told you you’d be eaten out of house and home!”
While there is another chapter to the ‘Andrew’ tale, this yarn having become rather long, I’ll spin that chapter as a sequel to this one …………….. watch this space!