15. The Major

Subarata’s father was an eccentric and colourful personality usually known simply as “the Major,” a title won and retained from his soldiering days. A highly decorated war hero, he once confided to me sotto voce that World War II was the very best time of his life. I met him initially in 1981 at the Army and Naval Club in Dublin where, dressed in a borrowed suit and shoes several times too large for me, I posed as a geologist, claiming an income far in excess of reality to establish some credibility. We sat about in those huge leather armchairs that you find in ex-military clubs, breathing in the heady aroma of pipe tobacco and cigars. The Major informed me that I had a poet’s face and labourer’s hands and grilled me about my intentions towards his daughter. He later landed me a job at Dublin University as a junior lecturer in Anthropology, but I had to decline, reminding him that my area of expertise was stones, not bones.

Subarata’s mother, Nicky, adored my own mother – they met only once but formed an enduring and sweet friendship. At the exact moment that Nicky died, her framed picture fell off their living room wall and the Major sprang from his chair and cried, “Nicky! Nicky! Nicky!” many times, as though inwardly he knew. Outwardly he did not know or comprehend her passing, for he had by then withdrawn into his own private world.

Both of our fathers acquired a late-in-life interest in religion. When mildly chided for his late conversion, my own father, with characteristic humour, said he was “cramming for finals”! With similar humour the Major, an inveterate and lifelong gambler, responded, “This is one horse I’m betting on both ways!” All of Waterford, Ireland, turned out for his funeral, following his casket on foot through the city streets to farewell their favoured son.