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Houseboy In India

TWANG YANG [1919-1995)

“In my heart I was happy and proud of the idea that thousands in the world would read my story if
ever my book should be published”.
These are the last words of the book written by Twan Yang about his early life. At that time he
was in his early twenties and had still not come to Sikkim, where he would leave his indelible
mark as a pioneer in many fields.
Artist, filmmaker, a keen photographer, a columnist with international magazines... It is hard
to pin Twan Yang with any one vocation. Old timers will recall his enthusiasm as he covered every
important event in the kingdom. The chief chronicler of the visual history of Sikkim, he was
instrumental in setting up the photo section of the IPR department.
Twan Yang came to Sikkim in the 1950s and never again crossed the border at Rangpo. Afraid
that as a Chinese, he may not be allowed back in. He was born in Kalimpong in 1919 to a Chinese
father and a Tibetan mother from Shigatse, Tibet.
Twan Yang’s four-decade long relationship with Sikkim came to an end in 1995, when he died
after a long illness. But he left behind associations and memories, which those who knew him
find hard to forget.
NOW! serializes Twan Yang’s autobiography, “Houseboy in India”...

Himalayan Childhood
In the heart of Asia lies Tibet, guarded by snow. On the south it is bounded by India and on the east by
Szechwan, a province of China.
My father served as a sergeant major in the Chinese army in Tibet where the Chinese ruled at that time. My
father was from Szechwan, and was a Confucian. He married my mother in Shigatse. She was very kind-hearted
and was a Khammo (a native of Eastern Tibet) and also a Confucian. After her marriage she gave birth to a girl,
my elder sister.
In 1911 the Tibetans rose against the Chinese and my father was taken prisoner. He escaped execution by the
Tibetans and was sent alive to India with many other Chinamen. After a very hard tramp over mountains and
hills, with my mother and baby sister, he came to Kalimpong, south of the Himalayas, in the northeast of India,
and there he settled down. Some of the others settled in Darjeeling, some in Kalimpong, and some went on to
Calcutta and back to their native China by sea.
I was born in 1919. My sister was ten years older than I. When I was about three years old my mother gave
birth to my younger sister, Mimila. Not long after this my elder sister fell ill and died. Very soon after that my
beloved mother also died. She was buried in the Christian graveyard. Only much later I understood why. When
my father had settled in Kalimpong, he had great difficulties. Mother had been ill and he had no money to pay for
treatment and none of his friends helped him much. But he had one friend who had become a Christian. He
advised my father to become a Christian also because Christians give kind help in the troubles of life. So my
father and mother became members of the Church of Scotland. When my mother was ill, the late Rev. E.
Mackenzie, and Mr. Tharchin, and others, came to visit her and took her to the hospital. I think I was baptized by
Mr. Mackenzie but I am not sure. So my mother died in hospital and was buried in the Christian cemetery. My
elder sister had been cremated in the Tibetan burning ground near the monastery because she died at home and
the Tibetans and the lamas would not allow her to be buried, for all Tibetan families loved her.
I think my father took me often to church. But at home he worshipped Confucius. He believed both in the
Christian and his old religion. My father had a good friend, also from Szechwan, who was married but childless,
and my father arranged with him that he should adopt my younger sister Mimila. At that time I was big and
strong enough to walk. I remained at home and soon began to help a little in the house by cleaning pots, bringing
water from the tap and making biscuits. My father knew carpenter’s work and could earn his living by making all
kinds of wooden things. He got work in the workshop of the industrial school in Kalimpong. At home in the
evenings he made biscuits to sell.
In this way my father and I lived together until I was six years old. We had a happy life but my father was so
busy that he could occupy himself very little with me and I became a regular little vagabond. When I was five
my father sent me to school but I ran away from it as much and as often as I could.
That winter my father was very busy making biscuits. Every Saturday and Wednesday we went to the bazaar
to sell our sweets, biscuits and cakes. The Saturday market was very big and perhaps more than a thousand
people would come to it, buyers and sellers. The stall keepers had to pay a tax according to the size of their
stands. We had to pay a tax of one anna, for we occupied a space six feet long by four. Near our stand all kinds
of vegetables were sold, potatoes and spices and fruits. The people made so much noise that sometimes when we
spoke to each other it was difficult to hear what was said.
Most of the women in the market came from Argara, Malli and Rilli or Bam or from other valleys in the
neighbourhood. The Nepali women looked as if they were very poor, for their clothes were not so fine as those I
have seen worn in Bengal. But all the Nepali women and small girls wore gold or silver around the neck and in
the nose and ears, or on the wrists and ankles. If they had no gold to wear they would feel ashamed. Sometimes
the women came alone through woods and dangerous places. But Kalimpong is such an honest place that even a
small girl wearing gold is not afraid of thieves.
The new year would bring happiness to the hearts of our Chinese and Tibetan people. This festival would last
three days and nights, and the greetings and rejoicing would make any man’s heart burst. I remember one such
On the night before the festival, my father worked very hard, for he had to prepare the cakes and sweets and
all the other things, which would be demanded the next day. He also prepared our food for the morning so that
we should not have to cook next day, to make it a real holiday. That same night we pasted outside the door, one
on each side, two long sheets of red paper on which were written in Chinese the customary auspicious Happy
New Year’s words. Then we hung a Chinese lantern over the door and placed an earthen pot on the ground at the
door side in which we stuck incense sticks which were kept burning. Inside the house our bedroom was
decorated with pictures of our Lord Confucious and Hou Tzu [Master Monkey], the Indian monkey god. A plate
with various fruits was placed before the picture of Lord Confucious.
Our dining room faced east and through open windows a pleasant cool breeze blew. We could see the
Chinese house opposite made beautiful with many paper lanterns hung from the doors and windows; for that
house belonged to a rich Chinese trader. We two, father and son, were only poor, but in a way we were also rich,
for it did not matter that we could only decorate our house poorly if we could decorate our hearts with happiness.
There is no need for nice things in the house, but we need them in the heart.
Next morning, I woke up at five through the noise of crackers being fired, and I asked my father to allow me
also to fire one. This he did, but first we knelt down before our great teacher Confucious to give him our
greetings. This day we closed our shop but we left the door a little open for any guest who might come. At seven
o’clock my friend Bersi came to greet my father and me. Our custom is that when children come to bring their
greetings they are given a bag of red paper in which there are copper coins. After Bersi’s visit my father and I
went to the other houses to give our greetings. In all the Chinese houses where I went I received eight annas or a
rupee wrapped up in red paper.
The Tibetans follow a different custom. The boys or girls take a round cane basket filled with barley paste on
the top of which are one or more fruits and burning incense sticks. So they go from house to house to give their
new year’s greetings and to receive presents. They also carry a pot with chang and, when they come to a house,
offer to the householder a morsel of the barley paste to eat and a few drops of the chang to drink, and those who
accept these gifts put money, mostly copper, in the basket.
During the day my father and I went to the Chinese temple near the Tibetan monastery. On the road many
people could be seen going to the monastery to offer oil to the temple lamps or incense or flags to the local god.
This god lives in front of the monastery. There were mostly women and only a few men; many were turning the
prayer wheels on the walls of the monastery.
We went the next day again to the monastery, for a Cham was to be held there, the big devil dance which is
shown only once a year. There were several hundreds of people, men, women and children, seated on the ground
round the field in front of the monastery, and some were standing. As the devil dance began, several boys came
out of the monastery door, wearing devil masks, big and small, of all kinds. Some were made to resemble corpses
and looked terrible; you could only see the bones and skull and nothing else. After the dance was over all the
richer Tibetans went inside the monastery to place scarves around the necks of the gods.
This new year’s festival lasted three days and when these happy days were gone, my father said, “Believe in
God, my son. In all things we depend on God,” and he added “We shall soon be very happy on the feast of the
fifth day of the fifth moon, which is your birthday.”
About three years after my mother’s death my father married again. His work did not leave him time to cook
and wash and do the housework. He therefore took a second wife, a Tibetan woman from Lhasa. Her name was
Tshering Dolma. He thought that this would give him comfort and that she would look after me like a mother.
For four or five weeks she was kind to me. My father had opened a bakery. During his absence my
stepmother would sit waiting for buyers of biscuits or cakes or sweets. The whole day long she was busy knitting
socks and sweaters both for sale and for our own use.
In school I had begun reading the first book of Nepali and of Tibetan, though I ran away as often as I could.
My real education was by the games I played on the road with other boys. However, I attended school more or
less, for a year and a half. When I was twelve years old, I began to see how foolish I had been in always running
away from school and in wasting my time. My former schoolmates had become fluent readers of Nepali and had
also learned to write with ease. I could do none of these things. But I did not even think of that when I was six or
As my stepmother knew that I was not going to school regularly she threw all the small housework on me,
such as cleaning pots and pans, bringing water and going to the market. Except cooking, all the other work was
given to me as if I was a servant. My father did not know about this and I was afraid to tell him or she would
have told father I was staying away from school and it would have been worse for me.
My dear father was not to work much longer. He had an accident, which damaged his leg so that he had to go
to the hospital. From that miserable day my stepmother began to treat me in the worst manner that ever man or
boy had to endure. When she found herself free from her housework and the biscuit business, which had stopped
entirely since my father was in hospital, she went out, day and night, to other houses to gossip with her woman
friends and to drink chang with them. She drank chang with them. She drank chang as freely as others drink the
water given to man by nature, and she certainly did not look after me but left me to myself. When she came
home altogether drunk she abused me till she became sober again. Sometimes, she beat me in a very cruel
manner. She may have gone to see my father in hospital once or twice, but I went every morning to ask how he
felt and to talk.
Now, I have not mentioned my father’s habit of eating opium from time to time for his health. Certainly
opium sometimes does a little good, but it forms a strong habit and this made him feel the need of a daily dose to
chew before his meals. So from time to time he told me to bring some for him. I did as he told me, and often I
gave him some opium very secretly so that no one might discover it, as there were very strict rules in the
hospital. After three weeks, by the mercy of God my father came home, with his leg healed but crippled. It was a
most happy day for me to see him again in our home. However, he always remained lame in his left leg and
limped. The boys in the street began to call him afterwards the “Chinese Duck” because he waggled like a duck
when walking. Soon my father’s nickname became known all over Kalimpong. Therefore my own name soon
became “Chinese duckling”. All the boys would jeer at us and say: “Look at the Chinese duck and his young.”
My father could not do anything, for he was old and lame, but I was strong enough to fight them alone. One
day about eight boys were playing marbles in the road near our house. My friend Bersi and I made a plan to bring
some nettles and caterpillars to throw among these loafers, who had been mocking my father. We two went to the
mission forest where on the trunks of the trees you could find many caterpillars. These we collected. We also
bought back nettles, which we got with difficulty. We plucked them with tongs, which we use to pick up burning
charcoal. The caterpillars we put in a handkerchief and took secretly near the boys. Among them was one who
was the worst and was always jeering at my father by calling him “duck”. I quietly dropped the caterpillar from
the handkerchief into his neck. It began to sting him, and he began to cry for help from his mother. We two
friends, Bersi and myself, then gripped the nettles firmly with handkerchiefs round the stems and went for the
boys. We said: “If you boys say that again, then we will do this again to you; so remember, do not call duck
My father again took up the making of biscuits. The work was hard and my father was very busy. Just a week
before the date of our Chinese feast, my stepmother got up one night, stole all our money, about thirty rupees,
and ran away. When next morning my father got up early he found her gone and also the money from the cash
box. He cried out in dismay and I woke up. He got wild at losing all his money and went at once to the Chinese
Club to ask what they could do to help him catch her and have her punished. But the Chinese Club did not help
us. Then my father sent for a friend and told him the whole matter. First we searched every part of Kalimpong
but we could not find her. Then my father’s friend said, “I had better go to Darjeeling and look for her there.”
“That is very kind of you,” said my father. So the friend went to a stable and hired a horse for three rupees a day
and went straight to Darjeeling. That very same morning my father’s friend came back with twenty rupees for my
father, which he had managed to get back from the bad woman. For these twenty rupees my father brought
everything needed for the festival called Wu Yueh Twan which means the fifth day of the fifth Chinese month.
That day was the anniversary of the death of a very good man of olden times in China, and at the same time it
was my birthday. Because I was born on this day I was called Twan Yang. My father and I went to the Chinese
Club, for there was a big exhibition of the dragon play, played by eight or nine people, and several musicians.
They took the dragon all around Kalimpong from door to door. Every home to which they went had to give two
or three rupees for seeing the dragon dance. And many crackers were fired and the music played till midnight. At
home, at night, my father fired a bundle of crackers and burned a bundle of paper money. Then we had to kneel
down and pray to Confucious, and to call on our dead relatives and send our love to them in heaven.
My stepmother had been with us about a year.
When I was seven years old my father fell ill and had to go to the hospital. He made an arrangement with a
Chinese family to take care of me. Early every morming I used to visit my father, taking some milk in a bottle. I
used to sit by the side of his bed and he gave me good advice. He said: “My son Twang Yang, I am getting worse
every day and I have no hope of getting better again. My son, stay with that family as long as you can, and
behave yourself. Keep also thinking of your sister Mimila. Go from time to time to see her.” I promised to do as
he said with all my heart.
One morning I went as usual to see my father, taking my bottle of milk, but when I reached the hospital I was
told that he was dead. I came home full of grief. The sun had dropped out of my sky. I first told the sorrowful
news to my adoptive mother and, after telling her went to Mr. Tharchin to give him the sad news. He was sorry
to hear it and went to call some members of the mission to bury my father. They placed his body in a coffin,
which they covered with flowers. Then they said a prayer and slowly marched towards the church. The Church
bell was toiling every three minutes. I followed the hearse, which five or six people were pulling. From the
church we all went to the burial place. I was sobbing and two grown men were trying to console me, saying,
“Don’t weep, your father is now in heaven.”
The burial place was a deep bamboo forest with many wreaths and crosses side by side. This was the first
time that I had been there. My body began to tremble and I heard a strange noise as if someone was whispering
something into my ear, but I could not make out the meaning and I was sobbing all the time and could not think
properly. Mr. Tharchin made me pray and bow my head towards the coffin. Then they buried it. At this moment I
felt as if the ground was shaking. I knew not it was my own body trembling and thought it was the ground.
After my father’s funeral I went back to the family in whose care he had put me. My father had left seven
hundred rupees, four or five maunds of corn flour, many maunds of brown Indian sugar and of white sugar,
cooking oil and many tins of cigarettes, and matches, and his good clothes and my mother’s clothes, earrings and
a golden gau, instruments for biscuit-making and tools for carpentry. And there was money to come from the
customers and at home in the cash box. One of my father’s friends told me my father had told him there were
seven hundred rupees in the house, but I did not learn this till two years afterwards. My adoptive mother took all
this money. She opened a shop to make biscuits like my father’s. I showed her all I knew of the way to mix sugar
and oil and water and flour. At last she understood and made them as well as my father had done. Gradually they
got back my father’s old customers.
For two or three months this Nanni Amala treated me as her own son. One day she said to me: “Son Twan
Yang, if any one comes to say that you should go with him, don’t do it. And if Mr Tharchin asks you to go to
read in the Homes School, say that you do not want to.” I was only seven and did not know any better, so I
agreed. One evening I was called to the mission meetinghouse. A big elder of the church and Dr. Knox and Mr.
Tharchin asked me whether I wanted to stay with Nanni Amala or go to study in the Homes School. I said: “No,
Mr. Tharchin, I am quite happy here with Nanni Amala and her family.” They asked me twice: “Are you quite
happy there?” My adoptive mother, who was also a Christian, was pushing me from behind and whispered: “Say
yes, sir”. So I said: “Yes, sir”. After that I was happy with her for a short time and then they put me to do the
housework. I had to work hard and was often beaten. It was a terrible life. Then I began to understand that I must
have done evil in my previous life and had now to pay for it in difficulties.
My adoptive father worked in the Industrial School and earned thirty rupees monthly. Three of my adoptive
brothers worked at the same place, two in the same department as their father, making leather bags, and the other
as a carpenter. My younger brother, who received a Christian name, Philip, was reading in school, and my
adoptive sister, called Lancho and ten years old, was working at home like me. I had to clean all the dishes and
pots, of the morning tea, the afternoon lunch and the evening meal. I had to bring water from the tap in the road,
in buckets, once in the morning and once in the evening, and had each time to fill a large copper vessel at home,
because the water was shut off from ten in the morning till three in the afternoon.
Further, I had to go to the bazaar morning and evening and to buy meat and vegetables. Sister Lancho had
always to sit at the stall near our door to sell monkey nuts and biscuits and sweet of many kinds, and cheap
cigarettes and matches. At home mother cooked the food and sometimes washed the children’s clothes, all except
mine, and also sometimes looked after the shop. The whole responsibility for the house rested on her. The house
contained two large rooms and a veranda. My father and mother and sister slept in one room; we boys in the
other, near the oven on the floor, or on the veranda. My adoptive mother did not make any difference between
me and the other children when giving out food, but I did not get as much as I wanted, and I dared not ask for
more for fear of being beaten.
Sometimes I had also to look after the stall at our door when my sister took a rest inside. On market days I had to
go to sell our sweets and things at the same stand, which we had kept on from my father’s time. I had to get up
early, at five o’clock in the morning, and the first thing I had to do was to go for water from the tap or I would
not get a place in the line.
About a year or a year and a half after I had come to live with this family, our brother Twan Ku, Nanni
Amala’s second son, lost his place in the workshop because of some foolishness, and then the elder son, Kua Yen
Pu, also lost his work there. Now there were only two wage earners in the house, and their earnings were not
sufficient to support so many persons. My mother’s business of sweets and biscuits was not very profitable at
this time but she had to do her best with it to make some money anyhow.
A cinema house had recently been built in Kalimpong, large enough to hold four hundred people, and my
mother had contracted to keep a stall to sell our sweets and things there. The gatekeeper of the cinema was our
neighbour, and this meant that he always gave me a chance to see the pictures, but often I had no time to go.
During the day we had to prepare everything for the evening sales.
And so this is the way in which we made our living in those old days in Kalimpong.
On Saturday night we would all have to work hard until ten or eleven. Some of us would peel the monkey
nuts to make sweets, some would bake biscuits, and some cut them into shape in molds. On other evenings we
went to bed at eight thirty or nine, and would be fast asleep before ten.
Among our old customers was the keeper of an eating shop at paying. When I was nearly seven years old, my
father had said to me: “Twan Yang, you are now a big boy, so you must take the biscuits every day to Payung.” I
was still very small, but in the hills even small boys have brave legs, and I felt rather proud to do this work. I did
it for about three months before my father died, and then continued it afterward. Every week on Sunday morning
I would put so many biscuits in a bamboo basket, which held about twelve dozen. It felt to me to weigh about ten
pounds. I carried the basket on my back, kept in place by a bamboo strap on the forehead. I took a strong stick
and set out on my long walk at about seven o’clock.
On summer mornings the clear sky, and the fine view of the hills lit up by the rays of
the sun, the rich green of the trees, the blowing of the cool wind from the northeast, the
singing of the many birds winging up and down the hillside were very pleasant for my
living young soul. At this early hour very few people were about. On my way I would
meet a group of four Tibetan beggars praying while clapping their hands to the tune of
their prayers, and I would smell the incense, which the householders burn at this time of
the morming. The distance from Payung to Kalimpong is about seven miles. I stepped out
briskly towards Tirpai Hill, where there is a small village near the Tibetan monastery.
From this part of the hill the view toward Kalimpong is most beautiful. Toward the north
is the great Himalayan snow mountain, Kanchenjunga. The sun’s rays made the snows
glare and glitter, so that no eye could look longer at them than a minute. Using my stick
in every step for ease in walking I felt happy whilst proceeding on my way, whistling and
heading for the hill of the homes.
Except for the change in the weather, dry or wet, hot or cold, this walk was nearly always the same. But
sometimes something unusual happened which I remember very clearly. About two miles from the Homes hill
there is a hamlet of a few houses, with a bench for travellers to rest on and also a spring for the thirsty. One
Sunday morning I put my basket on the bench and then went to the spring near by to have a drink. In this place I
would always see cowboys playing in the road. While I was drinking, one of the cowboys stole some biscuits
from my basket and ran down the hill with two or more biscuits. I had my catapult with me, and I aimed a shot at
his back with a stone. I made a good hit and he fell down. Then I went on.
On my return I saw that all the cowboys were waiting for me at the roadside with sticks in their hands. I saw
them from far away and took out my catapult while filling my pockets with stones. When I came near they saw
the catapult in my hand and they said and did nothing, but when I had gone a little farther they began to abuse
me. I put my basket down and aimed at them with my catapult. Then they threw stones back at me, and so the
fight continued for sometime. At last I got away and returned safely home.
I was longing to run away from home to escape its drudgery. Next to our own stand at the Saturday market
was one of an old Nepali who came weekly to sell vegetables and milk. He had been my father’s friend and had
always been very kind to me. One day I took my courage in both hands and spoke to him about my difficult life
at home, how my adoptive mother was scolding and beating me and was making me work all day long. I told him
that I wanted to run away if I could. “Well, son,” he said, “that is very bad business, and I do not think it is good
for you to run away. They may fetch you back, and then you will have more trouble. Life is always difficult, and
being in another place does not change that. However, I understand your difficulty, so I will make a suggestion.
You may come with me to my house and stay there for the night. Then you will know how to find your way
there, and if at any time your troubles become too great you can come to me and I will see what I can do for me.”
“Baje,” I said, which means grandfather, “This is very good of you, and I thank you very much. I will
certainly come with you.”
So at about half-past three, when the market came to an end and the people who lived at a great distance had
to leave to be home before dark, he packed up all his things in his baskets and I gave all that was left of my own
things to my adoptive brother to take home. I told him I was not coming home but did not explain further. Then
we five people, Rai Baje and his wife, their two young sons, who were of my age, and I, left the market for the
Malli Valley, about six miles down the hillside. I was so grateful that I asked permission to carry one of the
baskets. At that time of the year darkness comes very early and soon it was twilight. Rai Baje and his wife were
very kind to me and told me to tell them if my load was too heavy, but I felt ashamed to. We did not speak much
because we were too busy looking where we had to put our feet for the stones on the road and the unevenness of
the path. At last we came to the bottom of the valley. By now it had become dark but not so much so that we
could not see where we were heading.
Another three hundred yards, brought us to the house, made of bamboo and matting, with a thatched roof. It was
not so very small, for it contained three rooms. The biggest was the living room, and then there was a kitchen and
a bedroom for Rai Baje and his wife. Outside there were some outhouses and a stable. We three boys went
outside. First they showed me the stable, in which there were two cows and three calves and a bullock. Near the
door a goat was tied to a post and a few kids were running about free in the compound. There were hens running
around and also many ducks walking in a funny way. Near the door a dog lay sleeping. Then, after seeing all the
animals, the boys took me to see the fruit trees and the vegetables. There were also many pumpkins and melons
growing against the walls and on the roof so that it looked like a house on a feast day decorated with Chinese
lanterns. I was much interested in seeing all these things, but now the dusk had deepened and Rai Baje’s sister-
in-law came to the door and called out to us: “Boys, you had better come inside now, the food is ready.”

I did not need to hear this twice: For I was tired and hungry and after all this exercise. We three boys washed
our hands and feet and seated ourselves in a circle. First of all we got rice and curry without any meat, for this
Nepali caste does not eat any other meat than goat flesh, and that too only once a year. But fish is allowed. Then
we got a kind of bread made of Indian corn, in very thick slices.
In the curry there were all kinds of spices, and very soon my stomach ceased crying that it was empty but was
singing: “I am full and content.” Then, after we had finished our food and our water, we got a cup of tea without
milk and with some salt instead of sugar.

The custom of this family was that all men ate first even if they were small boys. Only then did, the women
take their food. After we had finished we still sat a short time talking. After this Rai Baje’s wife put sheets on the
floor for us boys to sleep on. I do not remember that I dreamt anything that night, but I am sure that I must have
been very happy in my sleep. I awoke very early in the morning. After morning tea was finished, Rai Baje said,
“Now, son, it is time to go.” He had a big bamboo tube, filled with milk, which he had to sell in Kalimpong.
I got up with a little sadness in my heart, for I knew that I had to go back to my unkind mother and all the
troubles at home, but there was no help for it, and I was a very young boy, and had slept very nicely, and eaten
very well, and seen many new things, and received much kindness, I did not think too much of the troubles at the
end of the road. I thanked Rai Baje’s wife and said good-bye to the others, and off I went.
I look back many times to that happy house. Perhaps Rai Baje’s family were poor in money, but they were
rich in kindness.

I remember one Sunday when I did not have to go to Payung but went to church instead. It was a win-ter
morning and hail began to fall so violently that if a man were to stand in it he would never keep hold of his soul
but death would take it away. I was warming myself near the hot oven, on which there was a big pot with water
on the boil. When my elder brother came to make the tea, he accidentally dropped this pot of water on the floor
and half of the boiling water fell on my right leg. I was crying and jumping up and down for this unbearable
distress, and one of my next-door neighbours, hearing my cries, looked in. He said: Apply hail on the burns; hail
is very good for burns on leg or arm.”
On his advice my younger brother rubbed hail on the burn for quite some time. Indeed after four or five hours
my leg became all right.
It was Sunday, but my leg was not in a fit state for me to go to Payung. So my adoptive father told his second
son to go that day instead of me. My adoptive father and mother, the other sons and the girl all made themselves
ready to go to the eight o’clock morning church. They wore their best clothes and told me to stay at home and do
the housework. I did not want to stay at home but I had no good clothes like the others. After they left I went to
Mr. Tharchin’s house. Soon the church bell began to peal. Mr.Tharchin, his wife, his adopted daughter, who was
called Miriam, and myself – we all four went together to the church.
In front of the church my adoptive father and mother saw me and asked why I had come. I replied: “Because
Mr. Tharchin told me to come whenever I could. I never before had a chance to come on a Sunday because I had
to go to Payung.”
Mr. Tharchin’s wife, Guru Amala, was standing at my side and said: “That is right. Twan Yang should go to
church at least once a month, but he has had no chance. Now he has come today to the big Sunday church. There
is no harm in that. Be kind to this orphan boy, Nanni Amala.” After this Nanni Amala could not say more.
Soon we all entered the church, and after the organ music and prayer Mr.Tharchin had to give a sermon about
God and heaven and hell. After this was over all the people in the church began to sing but I did not know the
words or the tune. I did my best to pretend that I knew and followed the music by humming. Then we again bent
down in prayer. I thought that if I could not say any words as the others did, I could say the prayer from the heart
like a secret prayer. I only thought: Konchok Sum, which means “O God!”
Later I heard about Jesus and about going to church to ask for forgiveness for our mistakes, and to make our
minds full of peace and to think about God. But on that Sunday I thought only of paying back somehow for all
the cruel trouble I had had, and that is why I made my religion that day, instead of thinking of God.
At last, about two years after my father’s death, my adoptive mother gave up the biscuit business because it did
not pay sufficiently well. She found work as an ayah in the Himalayan Hotel that belonged to Mr. David
Macdonald, who knows all about Tibet and has written two books, one called The Land of the Lama and the
other Twenty Years in Tibet. I was now eight or nine and she sent me to work for Mr. David Macdonald’s son,
Mr.John. Here I had to do housework and look after his baby. It was winter and at that time I had no other
clothes than those that I was wearing. Mr. John’s wife was very kind to me. She did not like me to look as I did
without a decent stitch to wear, and therefore she took me one Saturday to the market to buy some clothes. I lived
in this house like a son of the family, so nicely did they treat me, and I felt that I never wanted to go back to my
cruel and adoptive mother’s house.
My master, Mr. John was the eldest son of Mr. David and was a good master to me as long as I was with him.
My work was to go in the morning to the chicken run and open its gate, then feed the chickens with Indian corn
and water and let them run about the field. Then I had to go back to the kitchen and wash dishes or bring water
from the tap near the house. Third, I had to take care of the baby, which was one year old. Once the baby was
asleep, I might be cleaning pots and pans or washing my own clothes.
Before I knew it I had been staying there for more than a year. Then one day at about ten o’clock in the
morning, my adoptive mother and father came to my master’s house to get me to go back to them. My master
and mistress could not prevent it. And so, weeping bitterly and feeling very unhappy I went away.
For another two years I had to put up with the old unhappy life in that cruel home of my adoptive mother and
father. I behaved as badly as I could and ran away to the houses of my friends, and did not do my work properly.
At last that family got tired of me and did not want to keep me any longer and one day they found work for me
My age was eleven or twelve at the time. There was a big merchant in Kalimpong who
wanted a boy to go with him to Punjab. He had a Nepalese servant called Dil Bahadur,
who was twenty years of age and our neighbour. This boy did not want to go himself, but
he told my adoptive mother about it. This merchant was Sirdar Sone Singh, a dealer in
hides, which he bought in Kalimpong from the Tibetans. He was a Sikh and belonged to
the Punjab. He had two children: one of them was one year old and the other five years. I
was to take care of the baby, and my wages were to be three rupees monthly, but these I
did not receive myself. I heard later that Sirdar Sone Singh had paid my adoptive mother
an advance of fifty rupees for taking me away for two or three years. This business was
like selling me to the Sikh merchant.
My new master treated me nicely as long as I was with him in Kalimpong, but I could not know what he might
do later. He bought some new clothes for a Nepali hat, to show in the Punjab that I was a Nepali boy. In this new
place I was very content, for I could eat as much as I wanted, as my mistress told me not to be ashamed in eating.
My master was a good man and kind to me, but my mistress not so much as my master himself. Sometimes my
mistress got angry with me for slowness or mistakes in my work and scolded me in her own language, but I did
not understand what she said, as it was in Punjabi.
After I stayed with this family for three months in Kalimpong, we were one day to leave the place at ten
o’clock in the morning. I was wearing that day my Nepalese costume and hat and looked like a real Nepali boy.
Not even from my adoptive family came to say good-bye.
I felt excited and full of curiosity to be going to India, but sad at leaving my childhood and beautiful
Kalimpong behind. For Kalimpong was a place to delight a man’s heart and make him wish to stay there.
Anyone who sat on the hill slopes at daybreak would lose his heart when he saw the sun rise over the mountains,
coming to shed brightness on the world. As the sun rises higher and higher, Kalimpong looks as if it’s catching
fire, and at last the golden rays shine directly on the peaks of Kanchenjunga, turning its snows into gold. Then
almost instantly the gleam disappears, to be replaced by the cold white appearnce, which remains all day long.
Anyone who was born in the hills loves the mountains, the skies, the valleys, and the rivers and feels happy
among them.
It may be cold sometimes, and windy, or there may be rain or hail, but these are like short moments of anger
of a loving mother who nearly always smiles and is always kind.
The day I left, Kalimpong itself looked as if it was in a sad mood for my going away. The sky was dark, the
sun had gone behind the clouds, and everything was gloomy. Before noon we set out toward the south from
Kalimpong bazaar to the Tista. This was the second time I had ridden in a motorcar. But for the first time, along
the Tista road, which went down steeply, winding like a great snake, I felt great fear when looking down the deep
valley, where I could see the Tista bazaar far away in the distance. My master and mistress occupied the back
seats while I was sitting in front next to the driver, holding the baby. In an hour and a half we had reached the
bottom. I felt as if we had come down flying, for there had been none of the trouble and fatigue it used to cost me
to walk it.
The road to Siliguri ran along the mountainside some sixty or seventy feet above the rain swollen Tista River.
We passed deep, dark forests, crossed streams and rivers. Over the Sevoke, which was about twenty yards wide,
there was a small iron railway bridge, but motorcars had to ford the small stream. This time the water was higher
than usual. The driver stopped at the water’s edge, doubtful whether we could cross safely.
My master said: “Well, if you drive fast we may be able to get across safely.”
So the driver set his car at full speed and so entered the water. But in the middle of the stream the engine
stopped. The water was already over the wheels and mudguards, and the luggage strapped at the back was half
under water. It was not so many steps to the bank, but the current ran strong and higher and swifter every
The driver got out and went to find help at Sevoke station a quarter of a mile away. In the meantime my
master and mistress got out of the car, taking the elder child with them. Holding each other by the shoulder, they
walked very slowly and reached the bank slowly. For them it was perhaps not so difficult because they were big,
but for me it seemed almost impossible because I was so small.
As soon as my master had placed my mistress and the elder boy safely on the bank, he came back and took
the baby from me. By this time the car was at least half under water. It was facing toward Siliguri, and the
Sevoke was running out into the Tista a few hundred yards away. I saw that big river flowing there and feared
that the car would be carried away by the strong current into the river. I began to be afraid of drowning and got
out by the right hand door, holding myself by the mudguard, and walked toward the radiator. My master would
have come back after me, but I did not wait and tried to reach the bank myself. But I was not strong enough to do
it. Half of my body was under water, and then a big wave came and my body was under water, and then a big
wave came and carried me away toward the Tista. I could not swim or even cry out, for my head was under
water, but soon I came up and then cried for help. Meantime I was lucky to catch hold of a large rock in the
middle of the riverbed. I clung to it tightly, for a moment taking breath like a dog that has been running fast, and
the water kept dashing against me. Then my master saw me and rescued me. If I had not had the luck to catch
hold of that stone, then I think I would have disappeared from this world. But the Lord God of this world was
king to me and gave me a new lease of life to taste its pleasures.
The driver came back with a number of men and women, all villagers or jungle people from the Sevoke
Valley, bringing with them ropes and wires. Some of them went into the water and tied these ropes to the bumper
on the front of the car and to the sides. Then they all pulled hard and dragged out the car, which took them nearly
an hour. The car was useless, so the coolies took out the luggage, and my master paid off the driver. Then we all
walked across the railway bridge and went directly to the station in Sevoke village to wait for the small Siliguri
Mail train.
The railroad is set in a deep forest. We could hear only the noise of the river and the cries of the birds in the trees
above the station. But suddenly we heard a sharp whistle from the woods, which was repeated several times.
Then I saw smoke rising up through the trees, dancing like water boiling in a pot, and soon the engine burst
through the woods and appeared on the track in front of us. This was the first time in my life I saw a railway
engine. We took our places in second class compartment, a small room with six windows through which one
could look out and see everything we passes. The train began to move, first very slowly, and the smoke of the
engine caused a smell entirely new to me. I became dizzy when I looked out of the window, for I felt as though I
was flying through the air like a cloud or a bird.
We reached the Siliguri station about sunset. I was astonished to see this flat country without hills or
mountains, and no less astonished to see the big station and huge trains at Siliguri. In the station I was bewildered
and did not know where to go. There was a bridge we had to cross, and I was surprised to have to go upstairs to
get it. Soon I found out that it brought us to the station platform on the other side of the rails. The coolies brought
our things and put them down on the platform near the place where the train was to come, as my master directed.
I was told to stay there to look after it as well as the baby, while my master and mistress went to he station
tearoom. I gazed all around me at everything I could see. It was all a wonder and surprise to me and entirely new.
I was perspiring all the time from the whole of my body and most of all from my forehead, for this was the
tropical part of India and the wind itself was hot. It was unlike any wind we had in Kalimpong, and so I began to
think that Kalimpong must be the best place to be in.
At last, about eight o’clock, came the train for Calcutta. In this train I had a separate seat in the servant’s
compartment, with only a few people inside, among them two Nepalese men and one woman, and further on,
three Indians. At last we came to station called Jalpaiguri, where the Nepalese got out. I went to my master and
asked for some food. He called a food seller who was walking up and down the platform and bought two annas
worth of puri for me. I also got some vegetable curry. There was some water in the bathroom, but it was not fit
for drinking, and so I sat alone and dumb like a wild animal and could only keep thinking of all the astonishing
marvels of India.
As soon as we reached Sealdah Station in Calcutta, my ears were filled with the cries of the coolies shouting:
“Coolie, Sahib! Coolie, Sahib!” They raced after the train while it was still moving, and as soon as it stopped
they rushed into the compartment and began to take out the luggage, asking my master which way to go.

During our stay in Calcutta we saw many strange things such as electric trains and two storied houses and
horse carriages and rickshaws pulled by men. I had not even dreamed about such things! In the hotel I had
nothing to do in the daytime but to sit on the verandah with the baby. From there I could see everything that
happened on the street. Looking at the street I was reminded of evening in Kalimpong. There at that time you
will see birds flying over the village in all directions, and now here I saw motor cars and trams and buses or
horse carriages darting about without ever stopping for a moment, just like birds. I wondered how this earth
could stand such heavy weights pressing on it, and the rolling of all these wheels, and the noise of everything.
When the week was over we set out for Benares because my master and mistress wished to take some holy water
from the Ganges river. At the Benares station we found the same things and customs as in Calcutta. Our
destination was a tall house of three stories, standing near a Sikh temple. Next to the house was a Hindu temple
dedicated to Ram and Lakshman. The room where my master was staying was on the top floor, from which I
could look over the whole city all round us. I saw the river bank with hundreds of people bathing, men women
and children all mixed together. Also I could see monkeys jumping from house to house, from tree to tree, and
even through the windows.
During the first day I felt very hot and tired from the journey. In the evening I was told to take a bath on the
river bank, where a special place is made for this purpose. My master gave me a full description but I did not go
there as I was afraid. Near the temple there was a water tap. I asked one of the priests whether I was allowed to
take a bath there. “Oh, yes,” he said, “you certainly may do that and be happy, because it is very pleasant to take
a bath on such a hot day.” This much I could understand, for I had already learned a little Hindustani. My
difficulty was to reply: Yet I tried in a broken language. Then he asked again, “Where is your country?”
“My country is Nepal,” I said, because my master had ordered me to reply in this way if anyone asked me
who I was and where I came from, as a sign that I belonged to the Hindu religion. And he had also said that if
anyone should ask me for my religion or caste, then I had to say that I was born a Kshattriya so no one would
think he was keeping a low caste servant: and besides, I would get respect for being a Kshattriya. So when the
priest asked me a second time, I told him I was a Kshattriya boy. He was glad to hear this and asked me with
respectful words to come to his temple whenever I had the time to worship. I had to accept his invitation or he
would have thought I belonged to a lower caste and then I would not have been able to talk with or touch anyone.
If they knew I was a Tibetan or a Chinese, they would not be able to approach me but would say, “Go away!”
So that evening at eight o’clock, when the temple drums were beginning to be beaten, I went for a short time
to the temple. That same night my master told me to keep a choti, which means a hair lock on the crown of my
head: and so next morning he took me to a barber who cut my hair except for this lock which is the sign of Hindu
After a week in Benares, we went to Lahore, to the house where the parents of my mistress lived. The house,
which stood in a road facing an open space, was two-storied and on the ground floor were three tailor shops.
Inside, a large staircase mounted to the apartment.
When we entered this house an old lady and three or four other people gave their welcome to my master and his
family in their own language, Punjabi. The old lady was very surprised when she noticed me, and all the others
were also looking at me very closely. The old lady asked my master how I was called and what my caste was. I
think he told her the same as I had told the priest in Benaras, but I could not quite follow what he said. I could
only understand that my name was Dal Bahadur, but that he called me Kancha. Dal Bahadur was the name of his
previous servant. The old lady showed me by signs of her hand that I was to go down the staircase to the right,
where I would find a water tap, and said that I was to take a bath there. She repeated this in Punjabi, and my
master translated it into Nepali. I thought it was a very strange custom that I had not been one hour in the house
and yet was immediately ordered to take a bath. As soon as I had bathed nicely, I put on a pair of pajamas, or
sutan, and a shirt the old lady had given me. She also told me that I had to wear shoes. Now I looked like a
Punjabi boy, just like the other servants of this house.
When I showed myself to my master in my new dress he said, “Kancha, in this country you must not walk
about without shoes in the road or your feet will get burnt, for the road is like fire. But in the rooms you must
walk without shoes. It is the custom in this country that before coming into a room the shoes are taken off and
left outside the door of the room. Now, boy, go and ask for your breakfast from the cook woman in the kitchen.”
In the kitchen, the cook who was a Brahman, gave me some chapattis and curry such as I had eaten in
Calcutta. I did not like this food very much but what could I do? When I had finished I went upstairs to take the
baby and walked about the gate and looked at the road and all the strange people in it.
My master told me to get up early in the morning. “Kancha, do not show any laziness in this house,” he said.
“Show yourself as an intelligent boy and a hard worker, so that the people will say that Sirdar Sone Singh’s
servant is not lazy but very clever. After getting up early take your bath and have your breakfast, and if the baby
is not sleeping you must take it out, that is your work.” I replied: “Yes, master,” and exactly as my master told
me I got up early every morning at about six.
One morning for breakfast the cook gave me a glass of lassi, or milk curds. It tasted so sour that I shuddered.
“This is not milk,” I cried. “I will not take this horrible drink anymore.” She laughed so that she gasped. “Oh,
what a boy! All right, then, I will give you no more of it after today.”
“Then I shall be happy,” I said.
The next afternoon my master took me to town in a horse gari. The street was crowded
and my ears were filled with the noise of the people. In Calcutta the biggest noise comes
from the cars and trams, but from here the people shouting while hawking things in the
street. The gari went on slowly, slowly and the driver had to shout to the people many,
many times and had to ring his bell all the way along the street.
We left Lahore at nine o’clock at night. As the sun rose above the horizon next morning, the train began to go
very slowly over the rocky hill. I looked out and saw that we were coming to a bridge over a smooth-flowing
river. It seemed to me the most beautiful view I had seen in India, reminding me of my own country, Kalimpong.
At the other end of the bridge over the river I could see a hole in the mountainside. This was a tunnel, something
I had heard about but never seen. In the tunnel I was frightened because we seemed buried and everything was
dark outside. A light came on inside the compartment so that we could see, then we soon passed out of the tunnel
into daylight again. I was relieved, but then we ran into another tunnel. There was no less than seven tunnels, big
and small, one after the other, on this line!
At about six in the morning we reached the city station of Peshawar. I could see the town surrounded by a
high wall like Lahore, with two high towers standing up in the middle. I learned that they belonged to a
Mohammedan masjid. This, too, was one of the finest views I had ever seen in India.
We got out of the train at a station named Chaoni, to the north of the town of Peshawar. The people in this
place looked quite different from those I had seen up till now in other parts of India. Our destination was a large
bungalow surrounded everywhere by flowers and guarded by trees. Inside, the rooms were richly decorated with
pictures and ornaments. From it a few other houses could be seen in the distance, all of which were connected
with the regiment stationed at the Peshawar army camp.
Everyday I had to take the children twice to the maidan, or park once in the morning and once in the evening.
Most of the people we met walking in the road were army people. Either European soldiers, mostly kilted or
Gurkhas. I heard that this was the place for the whole Peshawar Army, called the chaoni, or camp. On this road I
always heard the pipers. Sometimes we would meet Scottish soldiers marching twenty strong with one piper,
sometimes there were larger groups with three pipers.
Half a mile away from my master’s house there was a large parade ground where every morning the soldiers
went through their drill. The whole place was surrounded by barracks of the Sikh regiment, on the east the
Gurkha barracks, and next to them the barracks of the Mohammedans, who were Pathans.
One morning, when I had taken the small baby to the park and the big one was still at home with my mistres,
I met a young Gurkha, that is a Nepali soldier. He spoke to me, “You look like one of our own caste. Are you?
“Yes,” I replied. “Well, well them let us now speak Nepalese, that is better than Hindustani.”
Then he asked me where I had come from, and I told him the truth that I had been brought up in Kalimpong.
This Gurkha was returning to the barracks and he took me with him and introduced me to one of his friends, also
a Nepali in the army.
We sat talking for a long time. Among other things they told me never to be afraid of the Afghani people in
the frontier country. “They are afraid of us Gurkhas, and so you must be like one of us. Besides, you must always
wear a kukri, as we do. All the Nepalese in Peshawar, even if they are not in the army, still look like us because
they wear the same kind of clothes and always wear a kukri. Tell your master that he should buy a kukri for you
and then you must wear it on your left side.

I told my master about the kukri, the slashing knife the Gurkhas wear. So one evening
my master took me to the bazaar and found a second-hand kukri for three rupees. It was
neither large nor new, and not as sharp. Nevertheless, I felt very proud of it and from that
day forth I always wore it whenever I went out.
When we had been some two months in Peshawar, Sirdar Sone Singh had to go back to Kalimpong for some
urgent work. But my mistress, the baby and I were to stay at the home of my mistress’s sister in the town. This
house was three-storied and stood in a street called the Ram Gali. I saw only Punjabi Hindus and no other people
of our caste at all. My mistress’s brother-in-law was a cloth merchant.
The day we arrived was very hot, much hotter than in the camp. I did not see any electric fans such as we had
in the camp, only a punkah, a long strip of cloth hanging down from a long pole suspended from the ceiling. A
servant pulled the punkah forward and backward by a rope all the time fresh air was necessary. At night the
whole family, the sister and brother-in-law of my mistress and their son, who was fourteen years of age and
reading in school slept on the flat roof. My own sleeping place was arranged in a corner near the kitchen.
In this house there was a servant, the only one, who had been with his master for the past five years and had
learned Punjabi very well. He himself came from Benaras and spoke Hindustani excellently as this was his
tongue. By this time I myself had learned a great deal of Hindustani. Whenever I could not understand anything,
I asked this other servant from Benaras, and he would explain to me. With my own mistress I spoke in Nepali,
and with her sister mostly in Hindustani. But my new mistress very often forgot herself and spoke to me in
Punjabi. At such times I would look dumb and open my mouth wide. Then I would run quickly to my new friend
and repeat the sound of what I had heard, and he would tell me the meaning.
My new friend, who was called Ram Lal, took me one day to the bazaar to show me all the shops in which to
buy all things used in a Hindu household. I was forbidden to buy anything from any Mohammedan shop. I took
careful note of everything, and then we came to the food shop, where Ram Lal invited me to have food with him.
The shopkeeper was a Punjabi Brahman. Ram Lal said: “Eat as much as you can, for this kind of simple food is
much better for poor people like us than the good food we get at home but only in little driblets. Such good food
is not for us. We do not want all kinds of nice tastes. We only want food to fill our bellies.”
When the children were asleep in the afternoon I had other work to attend to. First of all I had to wash my
clothes and sometimes also those of the children, and I had to sweep out the room, because in this Hindu house
no sweepers were allowed to enter the rooms. Then I had to always execute my mistress’s orders, whatever they
might be. I was especially told always to keep my body purified and free from defilement. I had to bathe oftener
to purify myself, so sometimes I would be doing practically nothing but bathing all the time without a chance to
do any work, and I would not grudge that, because it was a great pleasure to refresh myself by the cool water of
the well on these warm days of the hot Indian season.
As a rule no Mohammedan may come to take water from a Hindu well, and no Hindu may go to take water
from a Mohammedan well. For such people as lived in places without any well near by, mashkis, which means
water carriers, supplied water. If he were a Mohammedan, then the mashki would bring the water in a sheepskin
bag which he carried on his shoulder and under the left arm: but if he were a Hindu he would usually carry the
water in a copper or earthen vessel.
Before very long I had been well over a year in Peshawar and had gradually learned enough Punjabi to speak and
understand ordinary conversation. One day in April my master, Sirdar Sone Singh, returned to Peshawar and was
greatly astonished when he heard me speak his own language. He stayed only one week in Peshawar and then
our time had come to go back, as I thought to Kalimpong. The kind mistress and master of the Peshawar house
had given us farewell and we left Peshawar behind us for good.
After leaving Peshawar, we returned to the house of my mistress’s parents in Lahore. When the old lady who
had given me a rupee saw me, she nodded her head and said, “How are you, my boy?” “Thank you, Sirdarni. I
am very well,” I said in Punjabi. She was greatly astonished that I had learnt to speak it.
Two weeks later we went on to Amritsar, where nearly all the people were Sikhs, like my master, with black
beards. Outside the town was a small Sikh temple with a rest house, three stories high, and we stayed on the
second floor. One morning in the heat of the day my master took me in a gari, to a big Sikh Golden Temple
surrounded by water, over which the bridge led. I had to take off my shoes in a place arranged for this purpose.
One is also not allowed to enter the temple without a headdress. I was wearing my pagri and white Punjabi
pajamas, so I taken by the temple people to be a Hindu boy belonging to my master’s Sikh religion. This temple
building was two stories high and plated with gold all around, even on the gate and windows, and it had a golden
covered dome with a golden staff on the top, shining brightly. I heard my master say that if anyone comes here to
pray, his sins will leave him forever. For that reason people came from every part of Punjab to pray in this
Golden Temple.
At the end of the week we went on to Delhi, then to Agra, and thence back to Lahore to the house of my
master’s mother-in-law, where life went on as before. In about two weeks time my master had to go to Bombay
on some business. My mistress stayed on inn Lahore and I also. For the first two weeks she treated me well, but
later she did not. I had to look after the baby the whole day long while she herself paid little attention to it.
One night I had a dream, which made me happy and laugh for joy. Next day I told this dream to a man in the
house, who explained that this dream meant bad luck for me. If one dreams of good it means bad; but if one
dreams of bad, it means good, he said.
The same day I asked my mistress for some money, as I now had none whatever. She asked me why I should
want money. I replied to her in Punjabi: “Mistress, may I not ask for my wages for all the years that I have
worked for you?”
“What nonsense are you talking, Kancha! We paid fifty rupees in cash to your adoptive mother before we
brought you here. I am willing to give you a pice or an anna from time to time, but I cannot give you wages
because I have already paid them to your mother.”
This was terrible news to hear, but I kept quiet for the moment. I thought it would be better to speak about the
matter to my master on his return. Master was master after all and would understand better than any woman.
So for a week I did not ask for any money, though I felt sad because of my dependant life in which I had no
chance to fulfil any of my heart’s wishes. I could do nothing but obey with no reward. Then once again I asked
my mistress for money to buy things I needed, but again she refused. The matter was hopeless. Then I spoke to a
friend of mine who worked in the same house, who was called Pratap Singh. He advised me to go to the police
and complain about the matter from head to foot. I followed his advice and went with him to the police station.
There I told the whole story to a sergeant sahib how I came to this country and received no pay at all. Then I
gave the full address of my master, with the help of my friend, Pratap Singh, who was my only witness about the
work. The police sahib entered my complaint in his diary and asked me, “Are you or are you not willing to do
so.” I replied, “I would like to find work somewhere where I could get regular pay.”
“All right,” said the police sahib, “I will take you on to look after my children.”
I agreed to do this and immediately started work in the house of that police sergeant, taking care of his three
Here I received good food from the sergeant’s cook.
Next day my new master sent two policemen to the house of my mistress and asked her to come at once to
the police station. Soon my mistress came, accompanied by some others. I was called to appear before my
mistress and the sergeant sahib. My mistress’ brother-in-law told the sergeant many things in English about me,
and I saw the sergeant nodding his head twice, which looked very ominous. Perhaps my mistress had accused me
of theft or some other bad thing. At last my new sahib said, “I understand,” but I did not know what he meant by
“I understand.” Happily nothing happened after all, for the sergeant sahib said to me, “Boy, are you willing to
continue working with your mistress?”
“No sahib, I am not,” I replied, and added, “Your honor, kindly get me my wages for the two years I have
worked for this lady.”
Then the sergeant sahib made her give me twenty rupees, and so the matter was concluded. I felt like a
prisoner set free that is, like one in exile but no longer imprisoned. I was still left in India and might never have a
chance to return to Kalimpong, but at all events I had escaped from the prison to house.
From these twenty rupees I spent 15 buying clothes and going four or five times to the pictures with some
Indian friends, so that my pocket was empty once again after two months. After that I gave up going any more to
the pictures or buying any clothes, for I thought these five rupees would be a great help to me if any difficulty
arose and I had no other money. But I received two rupees monthly from my master for my work and saved half
of it for six months. With the five I had left over, this made eleven rupees in all.
The work, which I was doing now, was not so hard as in the Punjabi house. Also, I did not have to take a bath
so many times a day and always be purified. In this new place I was free from all these customs. I could also eat
anything my stomach craved for, and for the first time in many, many days I again enjoyed the taste of meat. My
stomach liked this, for I was born that way.
After three months in the new house I was taken with the memsahib and some of the children to Delhi. My
mistress’s house was outside the town. My work consisted in taking care of the children, as before. Afternoons
free, and then I had time to look at the town, where I went often to see the bazaar.
Walking there I saw many strange things that were new to me.
Early one morning I went to the river of Delhi, called the Yamuna, to bathe and swim, as I had learned to do in
Peshawar. On the way back we met a sadhu sitting at the roadside near the river. He was telling the future to
people who showed him their hands. So I thought I too would have a try and find out whether he was right or
wrong. I put one pice before him and told him: “Sadhuji, I am only a small boy and so cannot pay much. I will
pay you one pice, and please look at my hands to see what kind of fortune is written in them.”
Then I asked him when my father died, and when I had been born, and when my mother died. He gave me
the right answers and then said: “Your father died in a sad mood because of a new wife; your mother died
because of the miserable pains of the birth of a baby; and your sister died because some enemies poisoned her.”
All this he told me exactly as it happened.
Then I placed another pice before him and asked him about my future. He took my hand and looked carefully
at all the markings of the fingers. He said: “Boy, you have been very unlucky, but God has been so good to you
that you have always found friendly places. But you have not been satisfied with them and have lost them one
after the other. You want to grow up and get big wages, and you are thinking of a big job. But it is written in
your hand that your fate has not made this possible so far. Yet later you will become learned and clever and very
happy, and then the troubles of your early years will cease.”
As far as I knew, he had correctly told me about the past, so perhaps his predictions of the future might also
be true. I thought much of this and of my future all the way homeward. As long as I still had money. I was happy
in the house of memsahib. But when all my money was gone I began to feel the want of something to spend on
my needs. My mistress gave me only one rupee a month. One rupee a month is not very much for a boy of
fourteen. I noticed that all the other servants received bigger wages than I did, from 12 rupees at the least to 30
rupees monthly, and I asked myself why I did not also get higher wages when the only difference was that the
others were big and I was small. Thinking about these things, one day I asked the cook how much wages he got.
Thirty-five rupees a month, he told me. When I heard of this big sum, I felt great astonishment. Then I asked the
cook whether I could not get five rupees or more if I worked in any other house.
The cook said to me: “Certainly, my boy. Later, when you grow up and do your work intelligently, you will
get more than now. But this is only if you know your work well, for even if you grow up and remain a wild
fellow or do not do your work well, or are lazy, you will never earn a plate of food. Everything depends on
cleverness and knowledge and hard work. And this is true for every possible kind of work.
Now that I had begun to think about this matter, this desire to earn more stuck in my mind and I could think of
nothing else but how to earn more and get as much as the others. I begged the cook, who was always very kind to
me, to look around from time to time to see whether there might be anywhere some vacant place suitable for me.
And one day he did find me a job about fifteen miles from Delhi in a small village called Ghaziabad.
When the cook told me about this job, I was in difficulty. How could I go away from this place when I had no
excuse for leaving? Since I had never made any error, my master would probably not want to let me go. If I
could make some mistake for my master to see, he might perhaps dismiss me, or at least not object to my going
away to take another place.
At last I thought of something. One day I went out in the morning to the bazaar and then to an Indian picture
house, to the morning show at eleven o’clock. This picture I saw with great enjoyment, then I continued to walk
around the bazaar till three o’clock in the afternoon. I came home too late for my usual work. My mistress was
angry with me and began to abuse me in English with all kinds of nasty words such as ‘dirty dog’ and ‘fool’. But
since I did not understand the meaning of the words, I did not mind her abuse.
That same day I told my mistress that I did not want to continue working any longer in this house, that I
would like to look for another place if she had no objection. She said there was no objection whatever if I was
not happy to work for her. This settled the matter. How happy my heart felt! My face beamed and smiled: feet,
arms and hands all worked nobly together on account of this happiness. I worked so well because of this feeling
that my mistress said, “What has happened to you today that you seem so very happy?” I invented an answer,
saying that today was my birthday. Really, I meant the birthday of a new place.
Now the English have a curious custom that on one’s birthday one receives gifts to show the happiness of the
occasion. So now my mistress very kindly gave me a pair of new shoes and a packet of chocolate as a birthday
gift. This gave me the greatest joy and at the same time caused a great deal of trouble in my mind, for now that
she showed, for the first time in a long while, kind feelings towards me, I no longer felt so sure I should leave
this place and go to Ghaziabad. Thinking this, I could for a moment only show my happiness by folding my
hands and smiling to show my gratitude for the gift.
The cook gave me a letter of recommendation, and that very same day I asked my mistress for permission to
leave, saying I was returning to my country. I told this little lie in order to part from her in a kindly way. My
mistress raised no objection, as she did not like to keep me if I was dissatisfied. She could afford to pay wages
and obtain as many boys as she liked instead of me. In this world there is only one great magician, and that is
money. I had knot known much about money up till now. All I knew was to make friends with that bag in the
body called stomach. But then I learned that the absence of money was an obstacle to this friendship; for without
money my friend, the stomach, could not help me and would have to be buried in the ground.
The cook came with to the Delhi Station to show me the train and then left me, after
giving me a ticket for Ghaziabad. I do not know how much he paid for it, but I felt very
grateful for his kindness to a poor boy. I came at length to the station at Ghaziabad and
got down to the platform from the third-class carriage with my little box and the bedding.
I went straight toward the railway office near the platform with my letter and showed it to
a railway babu, asking how I could find the place given in the address.
At the Ghaziabad station I was directed to a big building. Here all the higher railway-office babus lived, as well
as some guards and ticket-checker sahibs. It was two stories high, and the flat in which I had to work was an
upper one next to that of another office babu. As it was lunchtime when I reached the house I met my new master
at home. He made me sit down on the floor, asking me what my name was and what work I had done before. I
gave a complete reply, telling the story of my life from head to foot. He was pleased to hear my tale. He told me
not to be afraid of him and to do my work well. I had to work here for his wife and to clean the rooms and play
with his son, who was his only child, ten years old, and named Lala Singh. He further promised to pay me three
rupees monthly, and this would be increased to sixteen rupees later if I should work well and faithfully.
I felt very happy that I was now to get more wages than before. Very soon my new master’s wife called me.
She very kindly made me sit down by her side and asked me where I had been working before and who had been
my master. When I told her that I had been working for Sirdar Sone Singh in Lahore and Peshawar, she was very
pleased. She knew my old master and said that her husband knew him very well. Then she asked me how and
why I had left him, and I told her the whole story.
I had a very comfortable existence in this house and felt very happy that I had now come back to the same
condition as before with my old master. I now learned all the customs of a Punjabi house, and I had no longer
such a trouble as before in the Punjab. My master and mistress were also very pleased that I could understand
them and speak to them in their own language. Every month my master gave me some new clothes, as well as
shirts and pajamas of the same kind as I had worn before in the house of my old master, and so once more
became a Punjabi boy.
This master was a good master and always kind to me. He helped me always in sickness and with any money
I needed to spend and was not only kind and gentle but treated me like his own son. I found this house so good
and so kind that I did not mind any hard work at all, but would do it with great happiness whenever I was
One day when I had been with this master for about three months, I was in the compound where there was a
tree called Ber, the Indian plum. The little boy asked me to get some fruit from the tree, and I did as he asked.
We both ate the fruit and then played about in this spot. After some time I felt a great need to pass water. I did so
at the foot of the tree. But immediately afterwards I began to shiver and my teeth clattered, which clearly
indicated that I was falling sick. I went to my master and told him, and he took a thermometer and measured my
fever. “This is very bad, my boy,” he said. “You lie down, I will go and call the doctor from the railway
The doctor, a Punjabi, examined me carefully and said my illness was not a dangerous one. But later in the
evening my fever rose still higher until I no longer recognized the people around me and began to say all kinds of
silly things. I lost my head and got a sickness called delirium. I learned this later from the other people, at the
time I did not know anything about this delirium.
I continued in the same condition till next day, and then I became still worse. I said all kinds of bad things to
other people, and later my condition became so bad that I got up from my bed and ran downstairs to others. But
when I saw these other people and looked at them, they did not seem to be human at all but wild beasts.
When I came to my senses again, someone asked me how this fever had happened so soon after playing
outside in the garden. I said I had been playing near the tree and that I wanted to make water and had done so on
the same spot. And then got my fever soon afterwards. One man said he knew why this had happened. He said
that this place was dangerous for everyone, for long ago they had buried there a churi, a sweeper woman, and it
was she who had caused this sickness. Therefore I had to perform a ceremony so that the churi would give me
back my life. I would have to ask her to forgive me for the evil thing I had done. Otherwise she would put me to
death for having defiled her body. But the doctor told my master that my sickness was malaria and I would have
to change my living place to some other country. I would get worse if I stayed on in Ghaziabad.
The doctor told my master that my sickness was malaria and I would have to change my living place to some
other country. I would get worse if I stayed on in Ghaziabad. On the ground floor of the building lived a railway
sahib who was a ticket checker. He had a daughter living in Karachi, the wife of an Anglo-Indian locomotive
engineer. This memsahib was staying with her father, and one day asked me whether I would like to work for her
in Karachi. I replied that she should ask my master. My master agreed because, he said, I had better go away to
some other place, more healthful for me. Besides, he also believed that the ghost woman would trouble me if I
continued to stay in this house. This was said, not only by my master, but also by others who knew about the
matter and believed that I had committed a crime.
One evening a month after my attack of malaria I took leave of my master. He gave me five rupees and all
the clothes he had bought for me, and he said, “Boy, I wish you happiness and good health in the new place to
which you are going.” I was very sad to leave the best master that I had ever met. But what could I do after
having come to this condition by the power of the dead woman’s ghost?
So I left Ghaziabad with my new mistress and her three very young children, from five to eight years of age.
In Karachi there was also a grown-up stepdaughter, fourteen years old like me. Her name was Miss Mary. Of the
three small children the eldest was called Sonny Baba, the second Kenny Baba, and the name of the third I have
In the morning we left the United Provinces behind us, in the evening we arrived at a junction called
Hyderabad. The language I heard the people in the station speak was different from the one used in the central
parts of India. Some relatives of my mistress had come to this station to meet her. When they saw each other,
they all embraced and kissed. I had never before seen people kissing each other, as this is not an Indian custom,
neither in the plains nor in the hills.
Our destination in Karachi was the large engine depot of the Northwestern Railway, where its locomotives
were cleaned and repaired. A long, one-story building contained many apartments, the quarters for firemen and
engineers. It stood in a large compound, part of which was garden.
My master was the engineer of a freight train and had to go to his work at odd times. My work was the same
as what I had been doing all the time, playing with and looking after the children. From time to time I also had to
wash the clothes for the smaller children, and sometimes carry food to the engine shed when my master was
working on his locomotive.
The customs in this house were different from those of the Indian households in which I had worked. In this
English house, there was no discrimination. In this house, also, no work was done by the mistress or the master.
A mistress is, of course, the mother of the house and should take care of the whole house in her charge, as is the
natural way of this world for a mother. But money makes all the difference in an English house. So my mistress
was not like any other mistress I had before. She did not come to the kitchen to inspect the work there. Only two
things were most important to her to do everyday.
One was to give out the money for marketing and the other to eat the food ordered from the cook. She
expected things to be clean and good without any such hard and fast rules as were enforced in an Indian house.
The cook gave me food twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, and everyday I also got two
cups of tea with two slices of bread. The cook was an old Mohammedan from Agra and was very kind to me.
Miss Mary went to school, but the smaller children remained at home and during the day would play with me in
the house or garden. Every day, toward sunset, Miss Mary and the other children and I went out for a walk to get
fresh air. All the children spoke English among themselves but Hindustani with me, though a very imperfect
Hindustani. I had not yet learned any English, and very often I had to ask them to translate their words into
Hindustani. But after some time, as they always used the same words, I began to learn a number of simple words,
like go, come, eat, do not want, come along, sit down, stand up, good-by. All this I learned from Miss mary, and
this was the beginning of my English education.
My mistress was Miss Mary’s stepmother. She did not look quite like a European, as her skin was dark like
ours. But Miss Mary, whose dead mother had been an English lady, looked English. She had a gentle voice and
was always kind. When I learned that she had lost her own mother, I began to think how she must feel being in
the hands of her stepmother, who was never kind to her as a real mother. This made me remember my own
childhood, and one day I told her” “Miss Mary, it is not only you who have lost your mother. I also have not had
a father and mother for many years.”
“Yes,” she said, “my father is always absent on duty for two or three days at a time, and my stepmother is not
kind to me and always quarrelling with me. But what can I do?” Saying this, she sighed very sadly. She was very
friendly in every way and often joined us in playing with the children and sometimes gave me toffee. Every
morning when she went to school I had to bring her to the bus, carrying her satchel containing her schoolbooks.
My master was very fond of the races and of gambling there, and also of going to the pictures, and my
mistress no less so. On Saturdays they would usually go together to the racecourse though sometimes my
mistress went alone. Sometimes they would lose money, at times very much: but at other times they would have
a lucky day and feel very happy. In addition, my master smoked a tin of cigarettes a day. These were his habits to
fulfil his desires.
This was the first time that I saw a horse race. Every Saturday during the racing season Miss Mary and the
children and I went in the afternoon to a place outside the racecourse, beyond the railings, where the public could
look on. I began to take a great interest in watching races because this was a new kind of amusement open to me.
My master also had a habit of going to the pictures as often as possible. When he had his free evenings he
went at least twice a week, and the children went at least once a month.
My wages had been arranged at four rupees a month, but I was actually given only two. Two rupees a month
were to be saved for me to use in the future if any trouble should come. I thought this a very good arrangement
and accepted it.
Karachi was not so cold as Peshawar, but early in the morning and also in the evenings it would be very cold.
One day I caught a cold and got fever. I had to go to bed and my master told me that as long as I was ill I need
not do any work. Because of this fever my body began to shiver and all day long I had no comfort, whether
sitting or lying. I did not know that it was a return of the malaria. I had again an attack of delirium and began to
talk all kinds of nonsense and wicked things as in Ghaziabad. I said all kinds of bad words to my mistress as well
as to other people. But one day in my madness I called to Miss Mary, saying that she was my darling, and my
master heard me.
But one day in madness I called to Miss Mary, saying she was my darling and my master heard me. He said that I
was playing with his daughter, and that my illness was only pretence. Then he took a large stick made of cane to
beat me. I was so mad in my delirium that his anger did not frighten me, and I began to laugh at him when he
brought his stick to beat me. But he did not hesitate a moment. He pulled me by the arm inside the storeroom and
threw me on the ground. Then he beat me for more than a quarter of an hour. I felt no pain at his beating, but I
saw Miss Mary crying. I heard the cook say: “Master, forgive him for his wicked words. He will not say them
But my master was so angry he did not listen to any words or excuses but went on beating me. If you had
seen me in this condition, you would have wept for grief at my misery and suffering. When my master had
finished beating me, he said: “Go away from here. I do not want you here anymore.” At the same time he threw
out my small box with clothes and said: “From now on you keep out of my house and never come here again, or
I will beat you again like this.” So I picked up my little box and said to my master that I wanted the wages he had
saved up for me for the six months I had worked for him. He said that he would give me nothing but another
“All right,” I said to the sahib, “I will see you later.” And so I took my box and went out of that place. It was
a Saturday evening, and that day my master must have lost a great deal of money, which made him angry, and
now he had unloaded all his anger on me.
At the time of the beating I had felt no pain, but later I began to have great pain. My back was in such a bad
condition that I made a sight to look at. When I reached the bazaar, people asked me who had committed this
crime, and I told them. A kind Muslim named Abdul Karim took me to his house, where his wife was cooking
the evening food, and I had to tell the whole story again from beginning to end. They felt very sad when they
heard it.
At seven o’clock Miss Mary came searching for me all over the place and asked for me from the bazaar
people. They told her where I was, so she came to this house and asked me to go with her to her father. But I
said: “No, Missie Baba. I will not go back with you under any circumstances because of what your father has
done to me. I cannot work any more for your father.” She insisted many times, but I refused and so she returned
home sadl
Abdul Karim’s wife was in purdah. She took me inside and made me sit down on a bed. I took off my shirt
and showed her my back. “Oh, my son, you must be in great pain!” she exclaimed. “Let me wash the sores for
you, my son. I will give you no pain at all if you take courage and have patience. Then she washed the whole of
my back very carefully and gently. She told me not to put my shirt on again, so that it would not rub against the
My leg also hurt me, and the flesh had swollen up where my sahib had beaten me and pulled me about. My
left arm was hurt in the same place where it had been broken in Kalimpong and at the moment it was quite
impossible to move it in any manner. The kind woman put it in a sling. After that the food was served and I was
told to eat with them. The food gave me great delight. It was the curry and rice to which I was accustomed from
I was given a place to sleep for the night, and the next morning was told to go to the police station to report
everything about this bad sahib. I could not yet walk properly, so Rahim Ali, a Sindhi and an engine cleaner,
took me directly to the place by tram.
The police inspector was very kind to me. He promised to help me get the money from my sahib. He asked
my name, birthplace, and also my caste. There was no use telling a police sahib any lies about my life in India, so
I told him the whole truth. I gave my proper name as Twan Yang and said that I was born of a Chinese family in
Kalimpong. Then the police sahib said I should return to his office next day at about ten o’clock to appear before
the bigger police sahib and be taken to the house of the railway sahib.
I rested till late I the afternoon in the home of my kind Muslim host. When he came home in the evening I
paid my respects to him saying, “Salaam alaikum.” He was greatly surprised to hear me and returned my greeting
in the same way, asking me where I had learned to say “Salaam alaikum.” I told him I had learned it from the
railway sahib’s cook, a Muslim, who had always told me to become a Muslim, but I had not wanted to do so. “It
would be very good for you to become a Muslim,” said the kind man, “because then all the Muslims will be kind
to you and give you work if you are without it. Especially because you are an orphan you should do it for the
sake of your future.”
I began to see that what he was saying was very sensible. I kept on thinking about this for the remainder of
the day.
The next morning I went to the police station with Rahim Ali, and showed the marks on my back. The police
sahib looked at them very carefully and wrote down everything on a sheet of paper. He told me not to worry and
he promised he would get some money from my sahib. But first I must go to the city hospital and see what the
doctor said about my arm and back. At the hospital the doctor made a photograph of my arm. He said no damage
had been done. When I returned to the police station with the doctor’s letter, the police sahib asked me then
whether I wanted to go back to Delhi or stay on here in Karachi. I said I preferred to go back to Delhi if I could
get the train fare from the railway sahib. Then I was told to meet the police sahib at the railway sahib’s house.
I went there with my friend, and soon the police sahib arrived. At first the railway sahib said he would not
give me any money to go to Delhi, but at last he agreed. Only he did not give me money, but a railway ticket to
the place. The wages, which I was paid, came to eight rupees, and I was quite content with this amount. It would
have been silly not to be satisfied; whatever the amount might be which was due to me.
However, I did not go to Delhi. I sold the ticket for ten rupees to someone going to Delhi. The buyer was
happy to get it at a bargain price, and I had now eighteen rupees in all.
I kept then very carefully.
I had decided to stay on in Karachi with the kind Abdul Karim and his wife and become a Muslim myself. When
I woke up the second morning, I saw that Abdul Karim was already praying at six o’clock, kneeling down and
rising up, again bowing down and falling to his knees. I watched this with great curiosity.
When he had finished, he asked me once more if I was willing to become a Muslim. He was glad to hear that
I would and in the afternoon he took me with him to a Mohammedan masjid only a few hundred yards from the
house, where there was an old man with a long flowing beard, wearing a red Turkish Fez with a long tassle
hanging from it. He wore spectacles on his nose. This old man was the moulvi, or priest, of this Mohammedan
temple. I was to go to the masjid every morning for prayer lessons. At home Abdul Karim and his wife also told
me how to begin the prayers. Both of them were great lovers of God and loved to teach other people to pray.
My first lesson was to say “Bismillah” before any action, eating, doing work or anything else. This is
important to all Muslims, for it means “In the name of God.” The second lesson was to say “Allah u Akbar,”
which means “God is great.” And the third was “Bismillah ir Rahminir Rahim,” “In the name of God, the
compassionate and merciful.” Many of the prayers took me a long time to learn. At the same time I had to follow
the prayers in the masjid together with the other worshippers. To perform these prayers is an unbreakable law of
the Mohammedan religion, and no Mohammedan may escape them. One may not look anywhere but straight in
front toward the place where one will prostrate while praying. And one may think only of God while one prays,
at home or in the masjid. Before his prayer the believer should wash his feet and hands and clean his mouth. And
he must take everything unclean or forbidden out of his pockets, including such things as money or matches
because they bear pictures. All these things are written in the Koran.
In the house of the kind Mohammedan the only work I had to do was to fill the pots with water and to go to
the railway village to buy food. One day after the meat-seller in this village had noticed that I was regularly
buying his meat, he asked me whether I was a Muslim. I said that I was, that I was now learning the prayers and
going to the masjid. Then I said I would very much like to get a job somewhere. He replied that if I wanted to
help him sell his meat and look after his two children, he would pay me some money from time to time,
whenever I needed it. After some hesitation I accepted this offer.
Abdul Karim had been a customer of this meat-seller for many years and was very glad I had found such a
good man to work for. My new master’s name was Ibrahim, and he was a great prayer, almost like any moulvi.
His place in the bazaar was made for two stands, but he used one half of it for his meat and in the other he said
his prayers when he had no time to go to the masjid. It was a very suitable place for this and quite clean.
Late in the afternoon, towards sunset, he took me to his house, where I found his mother, brother and father,
with his wife and three children, all living together in two rooms, one small and the other somewhat bigger. In
that larger room they all cooked and ate and slept and lived. I made my salaam, and when they asked me my
name. I told them my new Mohammedan one, Taj Mohammad, given to on the day I promised to become a
Muslim. They all gave me a very kind welcome and said to me that from now on I was their adopted son: but if
at any time I should not wish to sty with them any longer, I should tell them so and do what I liked. I thought that
at last I had been lucky to find a place to stay for the remainder of my life.
This was a good house and the people in it were kind to me. In the evenings I had to accompany my master to his
meat shop at the railway village and watch carefully his way of cutting the meat. This I had to learn well, or
otherwise he would lose all the profit from his sales.
I had given up wearing pants and a coat and wore again the same kind of pajamas I had worn in the Punjab
and a Turkish fez. Little by little I learned the Mohammedan religion, and then came the time for the fast called
roza, which is observed for a whole month in the name of God. So I also kept the fast along with all the Muslims,
as was the custom of this religion, every year, in the name of God, the Master of this world.
So I now kept the roza after seeing the new moon of the Ramazan Sharif. In the early morning before
daybreak we had to eat all the food for the day at once, as much as we could, and then no more, not even a drop
of water, until dusk. This early food was called sahri, and a man would come to every door and knock, calling
out to people, “Get up and take your sahri!” Then at six we went to the masjid to bless Rahul Karim and to
worship the great God of this world. If one keeps the fast faithfully, he will be free from sin from this day until
the next year’s roza. It was very difficult to keep careful guard over my tongue and mouth and not to eat anything
until the proper time in the evening. I did not like it much, but as I had now become a Muslim, I had to observe
the Mohammedan law. In the evenings when the fast could be broken, I felt that I could eat everything that might
be put before me.
My master told me so many things about God that I thought about them continuously. I began to like this law
of God. I never forget to pray and ask for forgiveness and to help me not to make any mistakes in the prayers and
in the observance of the roza. All the railway people, seeing me going regularly to the masjid told me that I was
doing very well and were very kind to me. When they said that I was a namazi before others, I felt very proud
and I began to pray more and more.
At last came the end of the roza, a time of happiness for all Muslims. This day is called the Id, and is also
shown by the moon. My master presented me with a new pair of pajamas and a new shirt, and from my own
money I bought a pair of new shoes and a Turkish fez. All of it cost me five rupees. At ten o’oclock we all went
to the masjid in town for our namaz, but the masjid was so full of people that there was no place for us inside.
We stood outside in the road near the bazaar on a ground where the big Id namaz is usually held. Many
thousands were already there waiting, wearing new clothes for the feast day. The prayers lasted for an hour, and
when it came to an end we went away to enjoy ourselves. When I reached home I embraced my master and all
the family and the neighbours. No one could say that I was not a Muslim, for I looked exactly like the others,
wearing Mohammedan clothes, and wherever I went to the Mohammedans whom I knew and the neighbours
would say, “Salaam Alaikum.”
I went on doing my best to learn all about the Muslim religion and the Koran. My master explained to me one
day all about death and heaven and hell from the Koran. He said the Muslims always go to heaven, and after this
talk I felt very strongly that I wished never to commit any sin from now on. But this was not enough, for I
remembered my sins of earlier years.
In one way I liked this religion very much, but on the other hand it was difficult to understand the Mohammedan
law completely. For instance, my master, who was one of the biggest prayers I have ever seen, had goats killed
for him everyday and made his living in this manner. I did not like it. He loved God from the bottom of his heart,
and yet he did not give up the killing of animals, which he ordered every day of his life. I thought it was a very
bad thing to go on killing goats and taking lives. But what could I do after having come under the Muslim law? I
had to do as the Mohammedans did; there was no help for it. No one else protected me from the difficulties in
this world and once having become a Muslim, I had to obey their law until I should be free again.
Now, in this village I had a friend who was always very kind to me. He was twenty-one years old and called
Abdul Sharif. He had a brother who worked in Kiamari Island with a police sahib named Mohammad Ali. I had
been to his house during the Id festival to give him the greetings of the day. I had already told him that I did not
like my present work and asked him to let me know whenever he knew of a place where I could look after
children. And one day he sent word that he had got a place for me in Kiamari Island. My wages were fixed at
three rupees monthly, with food and clothes. After my new master had engaged me, I went home and told my old
master that I had got a job in Kiamari Island to look after a baby, and that my wages would be three rupees
monthly. Abdul Karim was glad to hear this and told me to work well and earn good money. He gave me his
blessing and also some money as a present. And if my new place should not prove satisfactory, he said, I might
come back to him. I thanked him for his kindness and for all that he had done for me. The whole family were
sorry and tried to keep me with them. But they did not want to pay me any wages, so that I would be a kind of
slave for the rest of my life, and I therefore kept to my plan. I left for my new work at Kiamari Island, sorry to
leave these people who had been so kind to me but with great hopes for the future.
My new master was a rich Parsi, the chief manager of a large trading company. His wife was a quarrelsome
woman whose mouth never stopped talking. The routine of the house was very strict and difficult. My master had
an unmarried daughter about twenty years old, and there were two small children belonging to my master’s
sister, who lived in this same house. I had to take care of these two from time to time when I did not have
anything to do.
My master and his family belonged to a religion quite different from any that I had hitherto met. They
believed that the great Father of the world is fire, and every morning I watched them perform their ceremonies,
and also in the evening. They would sit facing the sun and take out a long strip of a white cloth, about an inch
wide, which they always carried with them, and pray silently, turning the long string many times through the
fingers, and then bow before a fire made of sandalwood which had come from a special place.
One day my friend the cook and I were working in the kitchen. I was cleaning the pots and he was cooking
food for the family. While my friend was cooking he was secretly smoking a cigarette, which of course was
forbidden by his master. Those Parsis do not like smoking because fire is their god and they worship it. At that
moment my mistress came toward the kitchen.
At that moment my mistress came toward the kitchen. I saw her coming and quickly whispered to my friend:
“Mistress is coming!” But he did not hear me. I whispered again and when I tried a third time, our mistress had
already entered the kitchen and found him smoking. She grew very angry and spoke to him loudly, with such an
angry face that the cook had not a word to say for himself. My heart was beating with fear and excitement, and at
that very moment I realized how quarrelsome and angry my mistress could be. I decided not to commit any
mistake, and I was so careful that for two weeks I managed to avoid any trouble.
Taking care of children had nearly always been my work ever since I came to India. This and cleaning pots
were the only work I really knew. Now, one knows very well that a baby will cry at any time for any small
reason or no reason at all, and the only way to end it is to tell him sharply to stop the noise. It cannot be done in
any other way. In this house this crying happened not once a day but all day long, both during the day and the
night. One day the boy was playing with a small piece of glass lying on the floor of the veranda. I told him to
leave it alone, as he might cut himself, but he did not listen. Then I told him once more, “Throw that glass away.”
But he refused. I got angry because he did not listen and beat him on the hand to make him throw away that piece
of glass. Immediately the boy began to cry, and the mother came to see what had happened. The boy said:
“Mother he is beating me.” The child was only four years old.
When the mother heard this, she called me a wicked boy and said: “You have no right to beat my son. You
are a bad boy and good for nothing.” So she continued for a long time. Hearing this stream of abuse, my heart
sank lower and lower.
Later I told everything to my friend the cook and asked him why she should abuse me like that. He said:
“Well, my friend, we have to be patient for the sake of our stomachs and bear this treatment as well as we can.
No one in Kiamari Island likes her. Many servants have come here to work, to stay only at the most for a month,
and some only for a few days. A man needs a strong heart and great patience to work in this house. Master, of
course, is a very good man, but he is seldom at home, and anyway he does not look after the household. I have
worked here now for six months because I myself am in great need of money. I try to jog along as well as I can
and keep my living. It may be very difficult for you, my boy, to stay here for long, but I advise you not to run
away now just because you have been scolded. Be patient for the moment. It is no use to fight the mistress or to
leave before you have found another place.”
When I heard all this I changed my thoughts about this house. I liked it because of the money I earned, and I
had to like my mistress also because I was helpless and without resources. From the house I could see all over
the Island. To the west was a small harbour with many sailing boats. In the distance one could see the jetty with
the big steamers alongside. Near the big harbour there was a small one where only small steamers and private
sailing boats were anchored, dancing on the waves. To the west of this jetty was another for the big B.I. steamers.
One day I heard for the first time a big B.I. boat, which was sailing for some distant country hoot so loud that the
noise nearly burst my ears.
Toward evening it was pleasant to stand in the fresh sea breeze blowing from the ocean and watch the many
sailing boats moving about with their light sails like large sea birds. In front of the jetty rose a rocky hill, flat at
the top, with a tall tower standing on it. This was the lighthouse for the ships. Near by, to the east, the hill sloped
steeply down to the sea, and one had a fine view from there. But the place looked very dangerous though it was a
fine sight to see the waves dashing against the rocks below. I don’t know for certain what was on the other side,
but I heard there was a fort with its guns facing the sea. That place is gilded when the sun sets in the west,
disappearing like a golden ball into the sea, and one feels as if one has lost a beloved friend of the world, known
to all creation, except perhaps the fishes.
On the way to the shore was the police station where Abdul Sharif’s brother worked. I used to go to him from
time to time to give him salaams and speak with him about my difficulties in the house. So one day towards
evening it so happened that I was talking with the policeman at the gate when the big inspector of the police
station came out of his room and saw us two together. He called me to him when he saw me with my master’s
child. His face looked like Hitler’s, with exactly the same kind of moustache, and also with the same way of
combing his hair, and there was not much difference between his uniform and Hitler’s. He asked me who I was.
At first I felt greatly frightened, but the police inspector told me not to be afraid. Then I said: “Huzur Sahib, I am
a poor orphan boy come our from the Chinese nation, and I am now working with a Parsi master where I have
great difficulty. But as I have no other place to go to I am staying where I am.”
That very evening my mistress got very angry with me for my delay in coming home. “You are doing your work
very badly, and if you don’t like your work you can go away,” she said.
Then I cried out: “All right, then I will not work for you any longer. I have to work hard and get only three
rupees a month, with very much abuse. I will find a better place than the one here. Kindly give me permission to
go tomorrow and my wages for the three weeks I have worked here.”
My mistress agreed and paid my wages for three weeks and the very next morning said goodbye to that
house, leaving my friend the cook behind. Then I went to the compound of the police sahib, where he lived. On
the way I met many people who had known me during the three weeks, and they said: “Yes, it is much better to
leave the house of that bad memsahib. One day she might accuse you of some terrible thing like theft if you were
to stay on. That has already happened many times before. All of us living here in Kiamari Island know her very
well. I wish you good luck, my poor little boy, but you must work very hard with the police sahib, for if you did
any bad thing it would be very dangerous.”
Then I went to the police sahib and gave him my salaam. That sahib showed me his brother, who looked
exactly like him. There was no difference at all in any detail, for this was his twin brother. The other sahib had a
wife and my own master had several children, but their mother was dead. When the new master showed me to
the children, they looked at me all over with great care. And when they found that I was a Chinese boy they were
very pleased.
I was now nearly sixteen years old and had left my childhood behind, but my body was still small and had
not grown very large so no one believed I was as old as I was, and every one still called me a child because my
conduct and my feelings had not changed from childhood. I still remained as playful as ever.
The weather was very cold, and a chilly wind blew from the ocean over Kiamari Island. I had few clothes and
shivered. Seeing this, my master gave me a sweater for the winter.
With these children I talked some words of English, which I had learned from Miss Mary. The children liked
it so much that they always spoke with me in English whether I understood it or not. Often when they were
speaking without my understanding the meaning I had to look at their faces like a deaf boy, and gradually I
began to pick up some new words, but they were very simple ones.
Summer began again three months after I started working for the police sahib. Early one Sunday morning my
master took me with him on a fishing trip with the boys and their aunt and two friends of his, police sahibs from
the city. We were over a dozen in all, seven in our party, and then about half a dozen fishermen. It was a large
boat, rather narrow, ending very sharply in front, with two floats, one on each side, and two large white sails
standing up to catch the wind to drive us forward. The two masts were thirty feet high, pointing upwards to the
sky. The food we took had all been prepared the day before and there were also beer, whisky, soda and
We sailed smoothly from Kiamari Island to the lighthouse on Manora without any reason for fear, and yet as
this was the first time I sailed out to sea, a great sense of danger came over my heart when I looked out over the
black and angry water. It was still barely dawn, and the flashes of the lighthouse were searching the whole open
At about six o’clock the day broke and threw gold all over the clouds, and the sun rose to throw its glorious light
over the surface of the sea, letting me see water and still more water. I asked the older boy whether we would
never stop going, as we had already come so far that Kaimari Island had entirely disappeared from view so that I
could see only the lighthouse on the top of the rocky hill. By this time my master had already got many good
fishes called sole and what are called poplin and sharmal in the Indian language. The boat wobbled as if at any
moment it would sink down into the water, but the fishermen were so clever they managed to keep us out of
At seven we had breakfast: bread, butter, roasted meat and tea, and they now let down the anchor and moored
the boat so that we settled down in this place like a house on the sea. But the boat kept dancing up and down all
the time. All round us, at some distance, many other fishermen were engaged like ourselves. In this part of the
Arabian Sea one could meet many large fishes called whales, coming to the surface and diving down and then
showing their tails again. One of these big fishes came nearly under our boat. My heart sank down with fear of
losing my life in the sea, but by the grace of God nothing happened and the fish went slowly on its way. By this
time I began to feel dizzy and got a headache and fever and nearly vomited, and my mind ran full speed with
feelings of dislike for the sea. I felt as if I were sitting on an earthquake with this boat dancing up and down. The
two boys also got seasick and the memsahib also. But the men were used to this work and felt no seasickness.
During the hours I lay helpless on the bottom of the boat they took the lives of many fishes. I did not like to see
all this killing as is there was a big war.
For three days afterward the two children remained in bed because of the seasickness. With me it was the
same, but the memsahib was not so bad. A week later my master went fishing once more and asked me to go
with him. I said: “No, sahib, I had a very fine fishing time in my bed for three days.”
Hearing this my master laughed at me and said: “What a coward you are!”
On Sundays the children had to go to church in the morning. When I saw them doing this, I remembered my
own younger days. So I told my master that I had been born a Christian boy and used to go to church. When the
memsahib heard this, she told me that I might come to church too and take a seat in the corner if I wanted.
Unhappily, my foolishness was such that I did not understand the prayers and did not want to join in on them or
in the singing of the tunes of the organ. I was far more interested in seeing what the church looked like, and after
a short time inside I came out again to enjoy myself outside in the church compound. However, two or three
times I attended the whole of the service, and found that this Roman Catholic church was quite different in its
customs from the Scottish church. The Scottish church did not have a custom of lighting lamps before a statue of
Jesus, but it demanded a true belief in God of the heart and a true belief in the teaching of the Bible of the soul.
But I think it will be found that good or bad is not a question of a religion or of a book, but of the character of a
Now, I had been staying in this house of the police sahib for over five months without any regular payment. I
was given clothing and food and a few annas to spend, yet I did not feel happy, for I was afraid that this
condition would always remain the same as long as I was willing to continue working. I was, however, a little
afraid of asking permission to go away, for I felt sure that if I ran away the sahib would put me in jail and I might
be accused of something. On the other hand, I was now growing up into a big boy and did not like slave service.
There were really two reasons that I wanted to go away. The first was that I wished to become independent
and my own master. Second, I felt that there was great danger in this house. The police inspector had a daughter
thirteen years old. I had now begun to speak some pidgin English, and I often told her fairy tales, and I played
with all the children together, and we were always jolly and laughing and amusing themselves. Now, the other
servants in the house told me that I should not play so much with the inspectors’s children, especially not with
the daughter, because if the inspector should see us he would surely put me in jail. Hearing this, I became very
much afraid and no longer had any pleasure in playing with the children. It did not occur to me to doubt the truth
of what these people told me.
So one day I made myself very brave and spoke about leaving to the police sahib. I told him I did not like to
go on working in this house because the work was too hard for me as I did not get any wages. “Master, I will
only continue working here if you give me regular wages,” I said. “Up to now I have worked well for you, but
now I am a big boy, so I do not like to go on working without wages.”
My master then said: “All right, John. If you do not want to work with me any longer, I have no objection to
your going. You are perfectly free.”
I had no idea where to go, but I said to myself, “God is always great: so it is better not to worry.” I gave my
salaams to all the family, and all the children were sorry that I was leaving. It was about eight o’clock in the
morning when I left the house with very sad feelings. I took my possessions on my back and started out for the
city, all the way on foot, to the cantonment where I had a friend, who worked at the Palace Cinema.
After I gave up my job with the Karachi police sahib because he refused to pay me regular wages, I walked
all the way to the railway settlement with my bundles on my back. There I went to the house of my friend Mr.
Charlie, a Roman Catholic Eurasian who was head barman at the Palace Cinema soda bar. His family gave me a
friendly welcome, and Mr. Charlie himself said to me: “John, do not worry, I will try to find a place for you at
the theatre where I am working.
When Mr. Charlie’s master saw me, he recognized my face, and I, too, recognized him as the younger brother
of my former Parsi master in Kiamari Island. I saw that he understood the way of his sister-in-law very well, for
he accepted my story and said I might start working here in the lemon and soda bar for three rupees a month.
There had been five boys at the bar, and now I was the sixth. We had to fill the orders of any buyers and some of
us had to go inside the cinema hall with a small tray of cold drinks. If we had good luck, we boys would earn
three or four annas a night in tips in addition to our low wages. Our clothes had to be very clean, and I had to buy
some white coats and pants and white canvas shoes in the second-hand market.
And so I lived from the middle of July till the first of October when my place with the Parsi master came to
an end because in the cold season not so many cold drinks were sold and not so many boys were needed in the
soda bar.
Luckily, however, through the recommendation of my Parsi master I was now given the work of gatekeeper
in the same cinema on a salary of fifteen rupees a month. My work was to check the tickets when admitting
people to the hall and to give out gate passes during the interval. Every morning we gatekeepers had to dust the
chairs: and every three days we had to change the bills on the boards outside and to hand out the program of the
New show. I was very content with this work. For my sleeping I arranged a place in the hall of the cinema,
and for my food I arranged at Charlie’s house, for I now could pay him the proper expenses which were eight
rupees a month. The rest of the money I saved to buy clothes for the winter. During this time I grew fat and
strong because of my happiness and contentment.
Soon after January a bid German dancing company, called the Tropical Company, came to Karachi to this
theatre. There were songs, and acrobatics, and magic, and dances, and all kinds of amusements. In this company
were a dancer sahib and memsahib who were husband and wife. He acted as a cowboy and his wife was a
Spanish dancer. In the afternoon I helped them by bringing them water and soda water when they felt thirsty, and
also in the mornings after they had practiced on the stage.
One day this German sahib asked me in English, “What is your name?” I replied that it was Twan Yang. At
once he said: “Oh! You are a Chinese?” and began to tell me that he had been in Shanghai. At the same time he
said many things which I did not understand and I continued to reply, “Yes, yes, Sahib,” as if I understood him.
Now my master, the manager of the cinema, one day told me that I must give up my work because I was
doing it very badly and letting people into the picture house without payment. It was all-untrue, the work of some
enemy who wanted to get my place. There was one mistake I had really made. I had not cleaned the chairs every
day as well as the others. This was a real mistake, but the other thing was entirely untrue.
But now, after six months in this cinema, I was dismissed. I stayed in Charlie’s house and with his help
immediately tried to get a job as a coolie with the dancing company to pull the curtain or to do any other kind of
work. Then that German sahib, who had been kind to me, said that he would give me twelve annas daily to work
for him. “You can travel all over India with me, to help me dress for dancing and to help the memsahib, and to
go to the market for us and to do the cooking,” he said.
I accepted very gladly. I thought how happy I would be, getting more than twenty rupees a month and
travelling free through every part of India and perhaps later also China. So in their third week, after the last show
in Karachi, I left with them by train for Bombay at about midday on my way to a new and unknown world.
The Capitol Cinema, in the middle of Bombay’s Boribunder bazaar, had made a contract for some weeks with
this dancing company, so we all went there first to leave our things, and then in search of rooms. My sahib and
memsahib stayed in the Roral Hotel, which was not far from the sea. Next to our room was that of an Americal
step-dancer and actor in Warner Brother’s film company, Billy Carrow, the brother of the actress Nancy Carrow.
Several of the dancers prepared their own food, which was much less expensive than eating in a big hotel. They
always carried an oilstove and all the kitchen utensils and dishes with them wherever they went.
The dancing show began the day of our arrival, and I had to go to the theatre with my master’s dinner.
Afterward I sat looking at the magician’s and acrobats and dancers till twelve o’clock at night. I was permitted to
see the show every evening during the stay of the company on Bombay and I learned by heart many of the tunes
such as the Spanish song “Valencia” and a very good one called, “Daisy, Daisy, Give me your answer, Do!’
After two weeks in Bombay the head of the dancing company quite unexpectedly decided to go to Egypt and
from there to Europe. Unhappily, there was no possibility of getting a passport for me to leave by sea, so I had to
remain behind. My master, however, very kindly arranged for me to work with his friend the American step-
dancer. “You had perhaps better ask him yourself and tell me the result,” he said. So I went to the American
sahib and spoke to him about it. He was still young, about twenty-two years old. He answered that a Pathan
servant had stolen a valuable diamond ring from him and that he did not trust Indian servants any longer. He did
not use the word “trust,” which I did not know that time, but said that this Pathan was “no good” and that he ‘did
not like him”
I then said, ‘Sir, me no bad boy, me Christian; me work very good for sahib, if sahib takes me for work.”
At last he answered, making his words so simple that I could understand him: “John, you Chinaman; you
coma and work for me. All Chinese boys, good boys!”
On the day that my German master was to leave, he took me to Mr. Carrow and said, “This boy is a very
good boy and I like him. He has worked well and is honest.” This I heard. When these two sahibs stopped
talking, they shook hands, and my German master told me to work well and gave me fourteen rupees as bakshish
and a portrait of himself riding a white horse in cowboy dress to remember him by. I felt very sad when he went
away and left me behind.
I stayed in the same hotel with Mr. Carrow, sleeping on the verandah. Next day he took me to his big studio
near Colaba, where he gave dancing lessons. Two young ladies were already waiting to take a lesson in step
dancing. These two girls began their practise to music, moving their feet fast but their body only very slowly.
The feet were beating the floor like a drum. I thought this was a very strange dance indeed. My master taught this
for one hour or half an hour at a time and charge five rupees for a lesson. I very often heard a tune played called
“Dinah,” and sometimes a tune would be played called “The Music Goes Round and Round.”
My master always had his meals in some restaurant or hotel, and sometimes he received invitations from his
friends to lunch or dine in their houses. He had especially three friends, well educated, of good family and rich,
with whom he passed much of his time. They often went out together as his work lasted only a few hours in the
mornings. After lunch he would disappear like a bird in the sky and only return at night. During his absence I
was completely in charge. I had to clean his room and give his clothes to the laundry, and when my work was
finished I would lock my door and was free to amuse myself. I often went to the seaside after having my food in
some small eating-place. I also went often to the pictures wasting money like anything on that, but my master
also sometimes took me with him to the pictures.
One day my master took me to the Bombay market and bought a shirt and a pair of pants for me, readymade,
and he also ordered two suits to be made for me in a tailor’s shop. Then he bought me a pair of white shoes and
told me to put on a necktie to make me look like an American servant. I did not know how to wear this tie and
did not like it. If I were to go to Tibet or Nepal wearing such a tie, the people would laugh at me and think I was
trying to strangle myself. In these new suits I looked completely changed.
I remember very well how one morning my master took me with him to a restaurant near the museum to have
breakfast. Afterward he had to go to the house of one of his friends to give a dancing lesson. I was carrying his
shoes for the tap dance and a towel to wipe away the perspiration after the dancing. In the restaurant my master
made me sit down at his table and asked me what I wanted for my breakfast. I felt so shy that I did not dare to tell
him because it is not a good custom to eat before one’s master. However, he insisted so strongly that I should at
least have a cup of tea and an egg, or coffee and toast, whatever I liked best, that at last I said I would like to
have a cup of tea with two slices of toast and dried dal. Then he said, “All right, I will take the same” and he
ordered this food for both of us. He further said, “John, you must remember that in America we always treat
servants in this way and we do not make any difference between master and servant, as long as the servant is of a
good character.” Then I began to understand how he could treat me so kindly. However shy I felt, I had to eat, as
this was a hukum, or order.
It was now summer and the warm weather had set in with its hot breezes. During that time one would like to
go every night and morning to the Apollo Bunder, near the Taj Mahal Hotel, with its big gate, to enjoy the fresh
air in this place. There would be many hundreds of people amusing themselves in small sailing boats and in the
small steamers, which took people for trips in the bay. The Sundays would be the special days for such
enjoyment. One Sunday my master took me on such a steamer for our pleasure. There was also a place for boys
to swim in the sea, but they must not come to the other side of the Apollo Bunder as this was forbidden. Not
knowing this, one day I jumped into the water to swim. I came out at the stairs and two policemen saw me and
made me put on my clothes and go with them to the police station. There I asked the police sergeant to forgive
me as I was new to Bombay and had not known about this, and he believed me and set me free.
And so life in Bombay went on like this during the summer. Now my master changed his room from the hotel to
another big house close by which belonged to an Anglo-Indian lady. After three months there my master decided
to change again, and he went to live in the house where his studio was, where a room had become vacant. The
reason for his changing again was, I think, that he had fallen in love with a nice young unmarried Anglo-Indian
girl, who lived in that house. Whenever I went there I saw them together, and they seemed to be very happy in
each other’s company. I thought that they would like to marry someday, but as my master had come to India only
for a few years and had in the long run to return to America, I did not see how this was possible. Yet they loved
each other very much.
Shortly a letter came to him from Delhi engaging him to dance in a Delhi hotel, and so he went there, leaving
me behind and telling me to work under the orders of the memsahib. I remained alone for three weeks, having
not much work to do but going much to the pictures. Sometimes I went with a Parsi boy who worked in a shop.
He was also learning to step dance and he danced very well. Sometimes I went to his house to play my mouth
harmonica for him to dance to. Sometimes he took me to the pictures as his guest in the Regal Cinema. Near the
ticket office was a machine to try one’s luck. My friend was very clever with this machine in getting money out
of it. I once tried this machine myself and got about eight annas, but when I tried again, I only lost my money.
Afterward I tried many times, but always failed. By this time the money which my master had given me when he
left was all near spent, and I could only spend four annas a day on my food, which was not really enough. When
my master returned I told him all about my foolish work with the machine, and he laughed when he heard about
it. So I worked the whole summer with him. One day he told me that he would take me with him to his home in
America in Hollywood, but it was all a matter of a passport.
I had told my master that I had a sister in Kalimpong whom I much wanted to visit, but that I had no money
to go there. Thinking about this, I thought that it might me good for me to be somewhere nearer to Calcutta, and
so one day I asked my master why he should not go to Calcutta to dance. He liked the idea and he said, “All
right, I will write and ask the hotel keeper if he wants any dancer.” After a few days a reply came that he could
come to Calcutta to dance at the Continental Hotel. Then we packed up all our things and I told my master that
he had better take everything from this house. He said, “No, my boy, the memsahib is a very good memsahib and
will do no harm to anything we keep here. We shall only take with us what is necessary.”
Nevertheless I replied to him, “Master must not trust any Anglo-Indian lady.” He only laughed at me and said
that he had to come back again to Bombay and would then stay again in the same house, so why should he take
all his things.
Then I said: “All right, master, me know nothing. Master knows best.” He left at the house a long and large
box and a large wooden drum on which he danced.
When we arrived in the Continental Hotel we were given a key to Room 19. First I had paid the taxi driver and
now I paid eight annas to the coolies with the luggage and two rupees to the man who had brought us to the
hotel. As soon as my master had put down his things he went to speak to the hotel manager and I got the keys,
which my master had given me to keep, and opened the boxes. Then I took out all the clothes, which he would
need in the evening and all the dirty linen left over from Bombay. This I put aside to take to a laundry in the
neighbourhood. Later in the morning my master went downstairs to practise his dance on the stage and the
manager came to look on. My master’s dancing began next day after our arrival, which was a Saturday, when
there would be a big crowd. All the Europeans enjoyed my master’s dances very much. At least this is what I
thought when I heard their loud applause and their cries of bravo! The hall was filled with the noise of clapping
hands. For a newcomer in such a big town as this, I thought it would be difficult to find a good eating place. If I
were to enter any Hindu place I ought to be a Hindu boy or it would be a terrible thing for me and I would be
driven out like a dog. In a Mohammedan shop I must say that I was a Mohammedan boy. I myself did not really
care whether I was a Hindu or a Mohammedan. My only concern was to be employed and to earn my living, no
matter what my religion might be. I rather felt like a cow that can be used for every kind of work, maybe in
pulling a bullock cart, maybe in ploughing, or maybe in supplying milk. And I soon learned that here in Calcutta
it did not matter whether one was a Hindu or a Mohammedan if one had enough money to spend. But for a boy
like me the prices in the restaurants seemed very high. My master’s room was only a small one, and I had to
sleep on the floor under the fan. My master got only three hundred rupees a month but free lodging and board.
He could easily save the larger part of these three hundred rupees if he wanted. When I told him one day my
difficulties with food because I had to spend too much on a good meal, he said, “John, I will speak about you to
the bearer.” This he did, but as the bearer could not speak English, I had to translate. My master spoke for a long
time and I nodded my head all the time even when I had not understood. I told the bearer to bring master’s
breakfast and tea and lunch upstairs every day and then my master would pay him some extra wages. The bearer
would always bring a double breakfast and my master would eat half of it or as much as he liked and after that he
would say to me. “John, eat this.” For lunch and dinner my master would go down to the dining room except
sometimes when his friends invited him. Then he would tell me beforehand so that I should remember this
chance of eating his food. He did not drink much tea in the afternoon and always gave me whatever he did not
take himself. The bearer was such a friendly man that he always brought me something extra to eat in the
mornings as then he would get some nice Bakshish of two rupees a month as extra wages.
During the day when I had nothing else to do I would sit down to play my harmonica at the door of the room.
There was a lady among the musicians of the hotel who one day heard me. She looked through the window and
when she saw me she smiled. I thought she must be laughing at me and my heart stood still like struck by
thunder, when seeing this European lady peep at me through the window.
Every night my master had to dance twice and each time I had to attend to him and help him to dress. After each
dance his whole body would be perspiring and his clothes would become moist. He had therefore a special shirt
for his dancing, easy to put on and easy to take off. It consisted of only a front without any back at all, fastened
with strings around the waist. After his first dance my master would come up to his room to change his clothes
and then would go down again for a second dance.
Sometimes, but rarely, he danced three times in one evening. I had to follow him with a towel and when he
came off it after a dance he would at once lean back in a chair and I would have to wipe his face, neck and hands.
Behind the stage there was a kind of general waiting room for all the artists. When I entered it with my towel all
the other dancers looked at me very carefully and soon began to ask me where I had come from with this sahib. I
told them a story which was not altogether true and said that I had come from Shanghai. Then a girl dancer
whose name was Valencia said, “Oh, China is a very good country and a very great place,” and asked me
whether I knew a certain hotel in Shanghai. It was difficult to give a suitable reply but very quickly I turned my
tongue into a protector of lies by saying, “Oh, madam, I left Shanghai when I was a child and so I do not any
longer know much about the hotels there.”
The lady who asked me this was a German girl who danced alone and was very smart in doing Spanish and
Mexican dances such as the Cucaracha. I often helped her with her work when she asked me to do so. Gradually
I became accustomed to knock at her door and ask whether she had any work for me. Sometimes I cleaned her
shoes and sometimes I cleaned and tidied up her room. She was very kind to me, and one day she asked me
whether I would like to come and work for her and travel all over the world with her. I said, “No, madam, I
cannot do that because I have a good master whom I do not want to leave. It is very kind of you to ask me this
but I do not want to go.” I said this in a very simple English, and I knew that she had meant to do me a kindness.
She left the hotel after having danced there for about a month. She told me that if at any time in the future I
should have no work and if she should be in Calcutta, then I should certainly try to find her and she would give
me work.
One day an American sahib came to the Continental Hotel. He was a sailor, and perhaps he came to see my
master’s dance. Anyhow, my master made friends with him and took him up to his room, and they sat talking
together like brothers, as they were both Americans. After that time these two met often. One day that gentleman
said that my master should teach me some dancing and he also asked me, “Would you not like to learn to
dance?” I replied as well as I could, something like this, “Me, sahib, like; but sahib maybe no like teach me.”
However, this idea of making a living in the future by stage dancing had sunk into my brain and I thought to
myself. Why should I not try once to beat my feet on the floor to the tunes I have learned? It must be possible as
I have been able to play the songs on my harmonica. So I indeed spoke to my master about my desire and he very
kindly agreed to teach me. He said that he was willing to make a big man of me in the future to earn money for
myself this way. I had to begin by learning to make the tap very regular, quite exactly to the tune of a German
song called “Ach, Du lieber Augustin,” very suitable to start learning the tap dance. I regularly practiced these
beats, beginning very slowly and then increasing the speed. It took me exactly three months to master this first
dance together with the song. My master taught me for about a week and after this first dance I practiced in the
room when he was not there.
Without saying anything about it I did a foolish thing. I used my master’s tap shoes when I was practising in his
absence. He had given me a pair of new shoes with taps on the soles, which were too small for him, but these
shoes were so hard that they would make a big noise on the floor. So I used his soft shoes, which he used in
dancing to stand on his toes. One day he surprised me when I was doing this wicked thing, but he did not get
angry and only laughed at me, for he was too good a man to get angry for little mistakes. He immediately
understood why I was using his shoes, and said: “Oh, I see, the other shoes were too hard and stiff for you. Is it
not that, John? He said this very kindly. I was still like a child, and I answered, half laughing and half shy, “Yes,
master, I am a bad boy.” But I was too stupid to ask pardon for my mistake. I did not know how.
He must have been waiting for my apology, for then he taught me in a most kind manner the way to make my
excuses in English. He said, “John, are you not sorry for what you have done?”
Then I answered: “What is sorry sahib? Me do not know what sorry is! Sahib, tell me what is that.” Then he
said to me, “John, if you do anything bad which I would not like, then you must ask me to forgive you. Next time
when you do anything bad you must say, “Please excuse me,” I said, “Yes, yes, yes,” three times, for I had now
learned a lesson opening a door into the house of the English language,
One morning when I was preparing his bath I had to sneeze loudly and went on sneezing for a long time. My
master laughed and said, “What is the matter, John?”
Then I remembered that I had to say, “Excuse me,” but instead of using the correct word each time I sneezed
I said, “Accuse me.” He laughed and laughed when he heard such English.
We had now been in Calcutta for about four months. Every time the manager of the hotel insisted that my
master should go on dancing for another month. Now my master wanted to show a new dance in which he had to
stand on a wooden drum, which he had left behind in Bombay. He wrote a letter to that memsahib who had been
keeping his things. In reply she wrote that she would not send it before he paid the house rent, which he had not
sent for the last two months. There in Bombay his room had been left vacant and he was still being charged rent
for this vacant room. In the box there were some very valuable clothes, which my master had brought from
China. They were embroidered in gold with dragons, and he told me that the value of his things in that box was
about a thousand rupees. He needed these clothes to show a Chinese dance. He had already shown many
different dances, sometimes alone and sometimes with a lady partner, and he had nothing new left to show. So
instead of doing his dance on the drums he ordered the people of the hotel to make some steps and showed his
dance on the steps going up and down.
Now the end of his engagement was approaching and we were soon to return to Bombay. So one day I asked
him kindly to give me permission to go and visit my sister in Kalimpong and to give me money for the railroad
expenses. He did not refuse but said that I might please myself and take two weeks leave.
How wonderful was it to see the old friend of my childhood again, the river Tista. I laughed with joy seeing my
native country and my birthplace, Kalimpong.
My adoptive mother’s family were living in a new place, but as soon as they recovered from their surprise
Nanna Amala said: “Welcome, my son Twan Yang, I am glad that you have come back here to my house,” and a
moment later continued, “Why have you not sent any letter during all these years?” At the door she had spoken
Nepalese, but now she continued in Tibetan, and as this language had got clean out of my mind I found that I had
almost forgotten how to speak and understand it.

After a short time I said that I was in a hurry to see my sister. They understood and let me go. I went straight
to the market, where I found her adoptive mother, Shakhang Achala. “Oh my son” Shakhang Achala said, “I am
happy to see you still alive and standing before me healthy and well. Where are you staying?” then she asked me
to come that evening to her house to dine. After this her mother called Mimila and said: “This is your brother
Twan Yang! Do you remember him? But Mimila was very shy and bowed her head, and I felt sad that even my
own sister did not recognize me.
When I told Mimila’s adoptive mother that I would be only a short time in Kalimpong, she said, “Why not
stay in my house? Go with Mimila and bring your things here.”
I said, “All right.” And together we went back to Nanna Amala. She, however, would not let me go, but said,
“First you must pay back all the money your father owed to the Marwari which I have paid.” I replied: “I do not
know anything about all this. If that is so I will speak to Mr. Tharchin.” Now, Nanna Amala once more had a
Tibetan husband, as her first husband had died long ago. He began to fight with me and nearly kicked me in the
back but I managed to get hold of my things and hurried straight to my sister’s home.

The next day my sister’s adoptive mother and I went to Mr. Tharchin to settle this dispute. I asked him to
arrange it somehow so that I should no longer belong to Nanna Amala, and I also told him that this family were
trying to beat me or perhaps to murder me out of anger because I had not paid them the money owned by my
father. Mr. Tharchin said it was too bad for them to act so wickedly toward an orphan boy. Then Mr. Tharchin’s
wife told my sister’s adoptive mother that Nanna Amala had lost her reputation among the Tibetans. Her
daughter Lancho had been married to a man in Darjeeling, and then she herself had run away to Darjeeling and
married the same man leaving all her children behind in a destitute condition. She had not paid the house rent to
the Marwari when she ran away, so the Marwari had come and had impounded all the household things and had
them sold to pay for the house rent. Turning to me, Mrs. Tharchin said: “Twan Yang, what would have been your
condition if you had stayed in this household! You are indeed a lucky boy to have gone to India.”

So Nanna Amala had run away to Darjeeling and mother and daughter together lived
with the same man and both became mothers by one father. However both these children
died, and Lancho died also. But Nanna Amala returned to Kalimpong to show her lost
face to the Tibetans and Chinamen there, who all knew about her terrible conduct. Mr.
Tharchin thought that she was no good at all, but as the family were Christians and as the
sons were in difficulty he let them stay in the Tibetan press room. Then Mr. Tharchin said
that, as to the matter between Nanna Amala, and me he would see whether it couldn’t be
settled for good and all.
During the first days of my stay in Kalimpong, all the friends of my childhood, hearing that I had come back to
Kalimpong, came to see me every day. Each day one or two would come, but specially my friend Bersi, who
would come every day without exception, and together we went about Kalimpong like two brothers. He was also
grown up and now doing tailoring work. It was the season of Indian corn, which I had not eaten for many years,
and I liked it so much that I was eating corn the whole daylong. When I had nearly stayed two weeks in
Kalimpong I got an attack of dysentery because of eating too much of it, and when the day for my return came
around, I could not yet get up. Only two days later was I sufficiently well to travel at all. I had not sufficient
money left to reach Calcutta properly, for I needed about twelve rupees.
Mimi’s mother kindly lent me this amount. She told me that I should write to her at least once a month, for
till now she had never received a single letter and this made her think I had died. “You are almost like a son to
me,” she said, “and I have adopted your sister as my own daughter. My husband died two years ago, and I have
no one in this world but your sister and yourself, and my elder sister. And I have no power to keep you near me,
for you are now grown up and have to work hard for your own livelihood.”
During all this time that I was in Kalimpong, my sister spoke only very little to me, for at heart she was still a
child and did not understand the love between brother and sister. Yet, she must have gradually begun to feel
something because at the last moment when I set out for Calcutta she began to weep because I left her again. At
that moment I realized that people of the same blood, from the same mother, must always feel the blood magnet
whether they are far or near and that, whether they are friendly or quarrelling, they must at the moment of
separation feel like losing each other by death.
Next morning I arrived in the Continental Hotel in Calcutta with my bundle of bedding and to my
consternation I found that my American master had left that very evening before my return. What a
disappointment! Fate seemed to have ordered it that I should have another experience of the difficulties of being
without anybody on whom to depend for my living and that too in such a big city of India. My heart was
drowned in sadness. One of the bearers in the hotel with whom I was friendly said to me: “Friend, I am sorry you
have lost your master like a fly flown away in the air. He has been urgently called to Rangoon to dance at the
Silver Hotel. What will you do now?”
“Well,” I said, “the sorrow has nearly killed my heart. Now the provider of my food has broken away and
flown out over the sea to another country. What can I do now?”
He said: “Well, I can keep your things here, and you may sleep on the roof. I will ask
the manager if he can give you some work, and in the meantime you can look out for
some other place.” “All right,” I said, “this is very kind of you.”
That afternoon when I went up the Chowringhee Road, the Cantonese shoemaker to whom I had several times
brought my master’s shoes for repair saw me and said in English: “Your master, the American dancer, left
yesterday evening. Why have you not gone with him?”
I explained what had happened and the result was that the manager of that shop agreed to give me a job. The
wages were settled at three rupees monthly with food. The work was hard and lasted from morning till evening.
It consisted chiefly in cleaning shoes, inviting customers to enter, telling them the prices of the shoes and fitting
them to their feet. The other two workers were shoemakers. They knew I was a Chinese by my name, and also
from my face, but not from my language, for I had only learnt very little Chinese from my father, and even that
little I had now forgotten. Besides, there is a difference between the language of Canton and of Szechwan, as
much as between English and Scottish. So I worked here and for the first time since my father’s death I tasted
Chinese food, which gladdened my heart. For the rest, these people were kind to me. People who work in offices
are like scholars, but people working in shops are like hunters after a wolf. They have to try to catch people by
pleasing them, and so my work was now quite different from anything that I had been doing up till now. I did not
like this shop business very much, for I had no excuse and could take no walks nor do any large and heavy work
fit for a man. After a long day we would have food in the evening, and then after a little rest we went to sleep
because our work started early.
The others spoke English with me, but they made certain that I was a real Chinese, for they wrote to
Kalimpong about it. That same friend of my father whom I have mentioned before, who got back the money
from my wicked stepmother when she ran away to Darjeeling, wrote in Chinese and sent greetings to me as from
a father to his son. My master read the letter for me, whose name was Sho Ping. After this I was fully accepted as
belonging to the Chinese nation and to the family of the shop. The Chinese have the good custom of not thinking
of caste or being rich or poor, and when I brought the food we all sat down together and took our food from one
and the same bowl with our chopsticks.
In this new place I had great difficulty with my wages. Instead of the twenty and thirty rupees a month I once
had, I got only three rupees. So I stayed about three months in this shop learning much about the business of
shoemaking and, though not very unhappy, passed through a very hard time.
Then a memsahib in Theatre Road who had known my dancing master and seen me in his company
recognized me, and offered me work as a servant at fifteen rupees a month.
In Theatre Road I worked as a houseboy. The work was free and not hard. The lady was a Eurasian with a
European husband, and she loved quarrelling. Every part of my work she taught me two or three times and every
time she accused me of making mistakes. Now, my nature is so that I did not like quarrelling, and no amount of
wages can put me up with it.

I cannot bear being scolded and at once began to feel sad. That is why, when I had
been there only two weeks, I began to dislike my work. I realized that I had done a most
foolish thing when my greed made me leave the shoemaker’s shop and come to work
here. When I felt like this, the matter came to an end by itself.
It happened like this. I had been sent to the bazaar and was walking through Park Street when a Tibetan who was
working in a carpet shop recognized me and called out to me, “You must be the son of the lame Chinese duck. Is
that not so?”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Well my knowledge comes from Kalimpong. I saw you there a few months ago, and I know you very well.
Your father was a Confucian, and his name was Shing-kuo. Long ago I used to work under him on the Chinese
festival days making biscuits when you were only a little baby boy.”
The man spoke so kindly that I was greatly interested. While he was talking, his needle went swiftly up and
down, for he was sewing foxskins together. He told me that he was a Chinese of the same province as my father,
and that his name was Thing Yang. He did not look like a Chinese, for he wore Tibetan clothes.
“Now that your father is dead,” he told me, “you have no one to look after you. You must remember this
place in case any misfortune happens to you. Then you may come directly to me.”
I answered that these words made me very glad and I certainly would not forget. But this pleasant meeting
proved to be a very stupid thing after all, for it became a bullet that killed my work. My memsahib got angry
with me and said, “Damn it, you fool, you have come back late; I will tell the sahib.” These disagreeable words
struck my heart in an unbearable manner and I cried out: “No, madam, it is perhaps you yourself who are damn
it, you must not call me damn it. I am not going to work any longer in a house filled with such nasty language.” I
said this in Hindustani, for in English I could not have given such an answer. No sooner had I spoken these
words than I felt that it had been most foolish, but I could not bear this abuse, and just as anyone who is being
shot at with a gun would shoot back, so I answered back these word bullets for my own protection. But I felt at
once that my job has come to an end. My mistress got still angrier and said, “Shut up, do not talk such shameless
nonsense to your mistress.”
Then I also got still angrier and said: “Mistress or no mistress, I came her to work, but not to listen to all the
dirty words that you say to me every day. My work is to obey your commands and my business is to get my
wages, but not all kinds of abuse. I may not be good enough to serve you, but you are not good enough to be my
“Don’t talk. You are fired from the moment that the sahib comes back,” she cried.
I was willing to accept this decision. I took my bedding, and a few clothes inside, and I said to myself: “Why
should I worry? I am alone, and for a young boy it must always be possible to find some work somewhere. Up
till now I have been able to manage somehow, so why not also in the future? Perhaps God may be willing to help
a poor boy like me, for I know He is the only one on whom I can depend in this world.”
When I came to this place I had six rupees and I calculated that for half a month at fifteen rupees I would get
seven rupees and eight annas. I would then be almost a rich man in my poor circumstances.
That afternoon when the sahib came from his office my mistress told him the whole
business, but he only asked me, “Why, John, what is the matter with you?” When he
spoke so kindly, I felt courage and answered freely: “Sahib, me no like that memsahib,
me no like bad words, please give me my money. Me go now.” He was not angry at all
and tried to make me stay on, but I continued refusing, for God knows what kind of
invisible drink I had taken to make me so drunk that I remained obstinate. So at last I
received my wages, and then the sahib and the memsahib began to quarrel together about
me because I refused to stay.
At five o’clock I reached Thing Yang’s workshop in Park Street, and at six I came with him to his room in
Chinatown. I told him the whole story of my stupidity, and he said, “All right, if that is so, you may come to stay
with me,” I accepted his kind offer eagerly.
Thing Yang lived in a room, which belonged to another Chinese. It was very small-eight people at the most
could find place in it; any more would lead to suffocation, but as it was, we were only five who lived there. This
room was a secret opium den. If any C.I.D. man or informer should discover it, all the Chinese living in the
house would be arrested and taken to the police station.
In the evenings the customers would come and lie down to smoke their opium. How much each man would
smoke depended on his habits. Thing Yang would smoke opium for eight annas every day. This opium is a
beloved friend of the Chinese. Its use really causes weakness, tiredness, laziness and painfulness, but the smokers
think that opium is the greatest medicine for their health. God grant that I may never learn this devilish teaching
of the opium habit. My poor father died of it because too much opium poisoned his stomach; and it was not only
he who was killed by opium, but also other people in Kalimpong were ruined by it.
One night at eight o’clock there was a big noise at our door. The police had come to know the secret of this
opium shop. The opium seller, the old Chinese, did his best to quickly hide all his instruments for opium
smoking, but in vain. At that time I happened to be outside the house at the back near a water tap. I heard the
people crying, “The police have come,” and hid for a long time. At last I came out and found that the shopkeeper
had been taken to the police station.
Thing Yang happened to be out that night and was lucky not to have been caught. Later he came back and I
told him how we two had only just escaped. I was very much afraid of staying on in this place, which I disliked,
because I felt like a mouse which might be caught in a trap any day, but he said there was now nothing to fear for
they would certainly not come again after they once had caught the old Chinese. I had to believe Thing Yang,
and, not being able to do anything else, stayed on in the place for a few weeks. Next day, after his wife had paid
the fine, the old Chinese returned to the house and he decided to continue his business, as he had no other means
of livelihood.
Thing Yang, my newly adopted brother, told me that he and I were from now on like the sons of one
mother and should be ready to help each other out in any trouble or misfortune. I was full of gratitude for his
words. He seemed to speak from the sincerity of his heart, yet I did not know whether he was not perhaps
scheming to get hold of my small savings by using such kind language. But when I considered that he belonged
to my own nation and that he had known my father and served him, I felt that I had to trust him, and I handed all
my money over to him to keep and to pay for my food and lodging in his house in Chinatown at the rate of eight
rupees a month. He told me he was looking out for a place for me to work, suitable to my abilities, and asked me
with what kind of work I was familiar.
“Well,” I replied, “I know nothing at all, and I would not like to work all the time as I have been, serving in
house after house like a dog begging for its food. I would like to have some knowledge to enable me to do some
work of a pleasant nature far removed from the cleaning of pots and carrying babies all a slave.”
“What kind of work could you do if you do not want to work as a servant any longer?” he asked. “My brother, I
have heard that the work of painting is very good and I might perhaps be able to do such work, for I am always
drawing pictures. I would like to learn that work and get a place in a painting shop.”
“All right, I will do my best for you,” said Thing Yang.
He knew a shop in Bowbazaar, and one day he took me with him to that shop, presenting me to the patron.
He told him that I would like to be a pupil for some months during which time I would not need to receive
wages. So this painter babu accepted me. The shop was a very small one and the work consisted mainly in
making signboards, sometimes with pictures painted on them. I had to observe carefully how letters were drawn
and how the colors were mixed. By watching the others I had to learn and when I had nothing else to do I would
sit drawing pictures of mountains, hills and rivers, or view about the town, or ships in the river. This I did with
pleasure, because it came naturally to me. I made pictures of everything that I remembered having seen. Now, by
watching I learned some new things. I learned how to put in the proper colours and also how to combine several
figures together to make one proper whole. Then I learned about shadows and I also learned a very important
thing which they called perspective, which makes things far away look smaller and things nearer larger.
My painting master liked what I did, but he needed an educated man to paint the letters on his signboards. In
this shop there were four people: one who was the real boss and painted the pictures; two who only painted the
ground paint on the signboards, and one who could do the lettering. I myself was left to pick up whatever I could
Seeing that in this shop there was no really regular teaching and that consequently I would not make much
progress, I tried to find some work aboard a ship, as I heard that cabin boys earned good wages. But this proved
to be very difficult for I needed a passport, and a medical certificate from the doctor, to the captain’s satisfaction.
Then I would have to pay some fifteen to twenty rupees for photographs and for having my application written
by a letter writer and for a tip to the doctor, for the people said that without such a tip I would not be passed. I
had already stayed with my new Chinese brother for a month and spent twelve rupees on food and pleasures and
clothes. So I had to give up the idea of going to sea and remain with the painter.
One morning at about ten o’clock on November 4, 1936, when I was having my food in the eating shop to
which I was accustomed, there came an old man for his breakfast. He looked sick and weak and seemed to be a
Tibetan. I asked his name and caste, as he was sitting next to me, for I recognized him as a Hillman and I thought
about my fatherland. He replied that he was a Tibetan, and I might call him Nyima. He further said he was
serving a great sahib by the name of Mr. Johan Van Manen, who was not now here in Calcutta, but would soon
return from Europe on the ninth of the same month. We went on speaking, and I asked him, “From what
miserable sickness are you suffering?”
“Oh,” he said, “do not speak of it. I am suffering from a disease from which I cannot recover. Whatever I
have done to get better for the last three months has all been in vain. I have heard that if anyone is in pain, then
he must take some opium, which will be a medicine to drive the pain away. Do you perhaps know of any opium
I told him, “I do, but you must not speak aloud about it.”
Then after we finished our food I took him to the secret opium shop. He limped when walking because of his
weakness, and he had a pain in his thighs. When the opium seller saw that there was no reason to doubt this new
customer, he brought out their opium smoking instruments from their secret hiding place and started on his
business of preparing the smokes. As soon as the old Tibetan had smoked them he felt as if a heavy burden had
been removed from his back. All his pain disappeared, and he slept soundly for ten minutes. When he woke up,
my brother stayed with him for some time. My brother knew him well as both were old friends.
Nyima, the Tibetan, talked to us and said: “My master is very soon arriving in Calcutta, but unhappily I am now
in this poor condition, and when he comes there is no one to do his work. I have been looking for someone to
work for my master as a substitute, or badli. My master does not speak Hindustani so it would be rather difficult
for him to take an Indian.” Then my brother said: “Twan Yang can speak some English, for he has been working
with a dancing sahib. If you want to, you can take him. He has been trying to get employment on a ship, but I
think he will not get it, because he is too young.”
Then Nyima turned to me and said: “If you can work for me as long as I am ill, I would be very glad, for you
can speak English. If you come to me on the day of my master’s arrival in Calcutta on the ninth of this month of
November, I will try to arrange for you.” I thanked him very warmly for these kind words. After this promise I
took him home in a rickshaw. Riding in that rickshaw I felt ashamed to be pulled by a man as if he were a beast.
When we arrived at the house, we entered an astonishing box which was pulled up by an electric machine
and which was called a lift. It took us less than a minute to reach the seventh floor. I had never before been in so
high a building. Nyima took me to his godown, where I saw his wife lying on her bed and two children with a
young servant girl. His wife was expecting a baby; that was the reason why she was lying on her bed in the
daytime. She told the servant girl to great hopes. I was now about seventeen, though I did not know it at the time.
I felt that my boyhood was coming to gratitude and happiness at the possibility of a new job.
How much did I hope to find a good master and a place, which would last. I looked toward the ninth of the
month with great hopes. I felt that my boyhood was coming to an end and that I had now to learn to behave like a
On the morning of November 9, 1936, I rose earlier than usual, at six o’clock, and I thought that my conduct
should also be different. I put on clean clothes to prove to my new sahib that I was a clean boy, and so, turning
over in my mind again and again whether I would get the place or not, whether the sahib would like me or not, I
went on praying silently to God to grant me His help. So thinking, I soon came to Mr. Van Manen’s house. The
liftman took me up to the top floor and directed me to the staircase leading to Nyima’s room on the roof.
About nine o’clock news came that Mr. Van Manen has arrived and wished Nyima to attend him in his room.
Although Nyima was still weak and suffering pains all through his body, he was so happy that his pain and
trouble almost disappeared. Telling me to wait until summoned, he went down to welcome the master for whom
he had worked for twenty years.
Soon I was taken to the sahib’s room. On entering I saw the sahib leaning back in a chair, looking very tired.
He was dressed in a white suit, had a cigar in his mouth, and wore a pair of spectacles on his nose. His body was
so big that I thought it might weigh eighteen stone, yet he sat so lightly on his chair that there was no danger of
its breaking under him. When I came near I made a salute with my right hand, and he answered in the same way.
Nyima told him in Tibetan that I was the boy about whom he had spoken. I gazed at them speechless while they
conversed together, for the language, which the sahib spoke was the pure Tibetan, the language of Lhasa, better
than I had ever heard before. Then Mr. Van Manen Sahib put some questions to me in Tibetan asking me where I
had come from, my name and so on. I could understand him, but it was difficult for me to answer in the same
language, so I turned to pidgin English. Then Mr. Van Manen Sahib said, “Are you a good boy and will you be
true to your master?”
“Yes, sir,” I answered.
“I want three important things from you,” he continued. “One is to be clean, one is to be honest and loyal to
your master, the third is always to be punctual. Will you be all that?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, “I will.” But at the time I did not know the meaning of “punctual” or “loyal”.
My master considered whether he should keep me on or choose someone else, but eventually he took pity on me,
thinking that a boy without parents who had come to his house must be a relation of his from a previous life. So
he determined to obey fate and keep me on, God willing, for the remainder of his life in his adopted land, India.
He spoke seriously to me and said that I had to be as honest and faithful and clean as his old servant Nyima, and I
promised that I would do my very best. The sahib said that he would fix my wages at twenty-five rupees monthly
with an increase of two annas monthly up to thirty rupees, as he used to give Nyima in the first years.
From this time onward I was put completely in charge of the rooms and had to look after the other servants
and the books and the house in general and everything, like a mother of the house, as the sahib himself was an
old man and could not be bothered about details. I was given the title of a butler. Every month I had to receive
from my master the wages for all the servants, five in all, and some thirty rupees for household expenses. These I
would bring from my master’s office on the first of the month after giving an account of my monthly
expenditure. The sahib did not know anything about his naukars, whether they worked hard or not at all. He only
wanted to have the house clean and to have things as he wished them. In the beginning I was somewhat afraid
that, when I had paid the wages to the other servants, they might complain to my master that they had not
received their full payment, but after all I found that they were not the people to say such things. I came to trust
them completely and my master fully trusted me, and so everything went well after all.
But whenever they saw me, Nyima’s children called me names and jeered at me, saying that Chinamen eat
snakes. The people on the roof would laugh and believe these stories. I did not like to hear anything of the kind,
as I had already heard it so often. I told Nyima’s son Dawa, “Please do not say things like that,” but he was a bad
boy and would fight with me and repeat all kinds of things in my hearing. I got so angry I nearly beat him, but he
ran away in time and called his mother and told her that I was beating him. Then Nyima’s wife rushed toward me
to beat me, but I quickly ran down to my master’s room and told my sahib how she was fighting me and for what
reason. Sahib already knew her character and understood that she was jealous of me not for having got Nyima’s
job. He did not want us to fight. He told Kanchi that she should vacate the room, as Twan Yang needed it. So one
day she went away to another place, but she continued to receive the full wages of Nyima every month as a
pension, thirty-five rupees.
For the first time in my life I now had a nice room of my own to protect me from heat and rain and to be my
home. Nice as the place was, however I was afraid to stay there alone. People told me that the dead Nyima would
come back in the night as a spook, so I wanted someone to keep me company. I thought of Mr. Trin Chen, who
worked for my master in the office of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. My master was general secretary of
the society and I sometimes went there with his tiffin. There I had encountered Mr.Trin Chen whether he would
like to stay with me without any house rent. He accepted with great pleasure, as he knew that this place would be
comfortable with its clean air and pleasant breeze. He came on a Sunday with his things and we stayed nicely
together and told each other all kinds of stories. We were very friendly and everything went well. Now I could
sleep without fear of spooks and was altogether happy in my new little house.
I never have seen so many books in a single room as in the flat of my sahib. There were books in Sanskrit, in
Chinese, in Tibetan, and of course in Dutch and English, and in many other languages. I have counted books in
more than thirty different languages, of many of which I had never even heard the names. One of the most
curious was written in the old Egyptian language in which every letter was a picture of birds and men and
flowers. It was impossible to understand this. There were books on history and religion and philosophy, and all
kinds of sciences, and some finely illustrated picture books, some about the sun and the stars and books of so
many kinds that I cannot describe them. There were many hundreds of books all about Tibet alone and many
books of travel, more than a thousand volumes of all different nations and of all kinds of learning. They all stood
in rows on the shelves showing their backs to the room with the name of their castes written on them. I felt that
to pass over into the country of these books was like having to invade an enemy country, which was defended by
the barbed wire and guns of many different languages and difficult words, which I could not pass. Nevertheless, I
liked to look at the many pictures in these books, and one day I found a book on Tibetan travel with a fine picture
of Potala, the palace of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. I took a pencil and made an enlarged copy of that picture on
good paper and then coloured it with my master’s coloured pencils, and at last it looked exactly like the original.
Then I framed it and presented it to my sahib. He liked it very much. When I had nothing else to do I would sit
drawing pictures, for I wanted to keep my hand accustomed to drawing and keep this up all my life.
My master would pass his day mostly in writing or in reading books, which is the greatest pleasure for the
eyes, and he would read all kinds of learned books in many different languages. But in the evenings he would
often read one curious kind of books called the crime Club. I asked him one day why he liked these books so
“Because I want a change from my serious reading. They are well written and full of excitement.” Often he
would read on till the morning. At other times in the night he would play cards alone with himself, on a table
with some cards and one in his hand. I had never before seen people play cards with themselves the way he did,
and I found that he was doing it with deep thought and careful reflection fully occupying his mind all over the
table. It was as if he was making a calculation and then he would say to himself, “No good, it won’t come out.”
He had another curious occupation. That was drawing lines with a sharp pencil, a ruler and a pair of
compasses, making straight lines and circles. Then I would have to keep the pencils sharpened, but there was
nothing to interest me in this work because lines and circles are only lines and circles. If he had only drawn
pictures, that would have been of some interest to my eyes. But these lines and circles I could not understand.
However, that was not my business.
My master’s custom was to go to bed very late at night and to wake up very late in the day, when other
people are already at work.
His character was always joyous and jolly, notwithstanding his old age. He would always joke with me. Once
when he was taking his bath and I was sitting near the door to be ready for him when he should call me, he asked
me what I was doing. I said, “Sir, I am looking at a book.”
He began to laugh and said, “Look at that fellow, like a monkey reading the bible.”
My master had dictionaries of a great number of dif-ferent languages, especially of the Himalayas, China, Tibet,
Siam, Burma and all parts of Asia. I have counted more than six different Tibetan dictionaries and even greater
number of different Chinese ones. There were also dictionaries of another kind in which one could find
information on any subject in the world. I think that the biggest book he had was a collection of the holy books of
Buddhism, which he loved very much. It had thirty-seven volumes and was printed in Siamese letters, impossible
to read, of very thin lines that all look alike. It was in the old language of Buddhism, called Pali, and was given to
him by the Siamese government. But he also had a great collection of Buddhist books in Chinese, and he had
more than one thousand Tibetan books, printed in Tibet, but these he had given to be kept in a library in Holland.
About Chinese religion he had hundreds of volumes, and most of all the books of the great teacher Lao-tse, of
which he had more than fifty different translations and more than a dozen Chinese editions. I felt very much
ashamed to see all these in the house, for I was a Chinese boy and did not know anything about my own religion,
but my master loved Lao-tse and was always busy translating him as he said that, though there were more than
fifty translations, there was not a single really good one among them.
In many of his books letters were passed, or only some friendly words were written in the beginning, for they
had been presented to my master by the authors. My master knew all the sahibs who had written these books.
My master frequently went out to visit his friends or to dine with them, and he also received many visitors in
his flat. Twice a year he had to receive the Viceroy and the Governor of Bengal in the Calcutta Club, as he was a
member of its committee, and every year he went a few times to Government House for a dinner or hall or
garden party. One day when he had received an invitation from his Excellency the Governor of Bengal to dine
with him, he told me to note the date. “Asticot, you are now responsible, see that everything is properly ready at
the right time.”
“Asticot” was a nickname, which my master had given me when he had found that I was a reliable servant to
him. The real Asticot was an English boy, but one like me, who lived with his master in France and about whom
a book has been written. So my master told me, “Asticot, I have to dine on such and such day at Government
House, and remember that you should have everything ready that evening, dinner dress tail coat, white waistcoat,
stiff dinner shirt, white tie and decorations.” These decorations my master only wore when the Governor or the
Viceroy invited him to dine with him, and I think that this was to show his respect. The invitation of which I am
now speaking was the last one issued by Sir John Anderson, the Governor of Bengal, for soon after His
Excellancy would retire.
In general my sahib was never left in peace. People would invite him day after day for lunch or tea or to some
exhibition or meeting or other function. Sometimes he had to go to the Dutch or French or Belgian Consul. Then
he would put a rosette on his coat, as he had received decorations from His majesty the King of the Belgians, and
the French Republic. Such a rosette was only a little coloured button to be put in the buttonhole of the coat. To
me such a thing would be of no use, and if I would get one I would throw it away. But of course, I will never get
one, for it is a very big thing for people like my sahib, as it shows that they have received a title from the country
or empire to which that decoration belongs. On an evening when my master dined at Government House he had
to wear all these decorations, a kind of talisman round his neck like a necklace, and on the left breast a row of
miniatures. But this was only done for the Governor or the Viceroy. A big name, a big title and big trouble: For if
any of these things were to be lost or spoiled it would be shameful. So I kept these things most carefully, and my
master relied on me that everything would be all right.
Now, in all my life I had never had a birthday because I did not know when I was born. One day in May, 1937,
my sahib asked me how old I was. I replied I thought I must be eighteen or nineteen. “Don’t you know exactly?”
I replied.
“No, master, I can only guess,” I replied.
“Well, at least you know on what day of the year you were born,” he said. But I did not know that either.
“Then tell me what is the meaning of your name, Twan Yang,” my sahib continued.
“Master, please excuse me, I know nothing about that. I can only say it is really Twan Yang.”
“Can you write it in Chinese letter?”
“Yes, master,” I said, for I had learned this in the shoemaker’s shop. My master looked carefully at the two
characters I wrote and then took down a Chinese dictionary. He found that Twan came from Wu Yueh Twan, the
name of the Chinese feast of the fifth day of the fifth moon, which is known as the Dragon Boat Festival. I had
evidently been born on the day of that festival. Then my master wrote to Mr. Tharchin in Kalimpong to see if the
church records would show in which year I had been born. As my father and mother had been Christians, there
was indeed such an entry, and I had been born in 1919. Then my master looked up the Chinese almanac and
found that in 1919 the fifth day of the fifth Chinese month fell on the second of June.
When June 2 arrived, my master’s kindness gave me my first birthday in my life. He bought some books for
me as birthday presents. He also gave me a holiday and some money to spend. With Mr. Trin Chen I went to
Chinatown to the Chinese restaurant, and afterward to a picture. This was the first birthday I ever celebrated and
I was happier than ever before in my life. I will never forget it all my life long.
In many ways my coming to Mr. Van Manen’s house proved to be the beginning of a new life for me. It was
as if my mind was really born from that time. My master gave me this new life by opening my eyes and brain to
reading and writing that language of the Western World which is called English. He now always spoke English
with me instead of Tibetan, for he had learned that it was no use to speak with a mule like me proper Tibetan. I
used my Pidgin English instead. Doing this every day, I soon made much progress. He was delighted to see how
much I learned within a few months. So he said to me one day. “Twan Yang, I see that your English is improving
day by day. Now you must learn to read and write; then you will learn English properly. You are already a
different man from the boy who came to me a few months ago. You must go on and complete the change.”
Then he made me buy a copy of the first of the King’s Readers. He gave me a lesson every evening and
during the day as often as I had no work to do in the house. I already knew the alphabet from the days of my
childhood and had nearly forgotten it, but I could still recognize the letters from A to Z in capitals and I also
knew how to pronounce a few short words like “box” and “pot” but that was almost all I knew. When my sahib
began to give me his lessons every day, I learned to spell all kinds of small words. He taught me the joining of
letters b-a, “ba”, b-e, “be”, b-I, “bi”, b-o, “bo”, and in this way I learned to pick up the sound of words and to
read from spelling, which I had not known before.
During the lesson my master would say, “Now, Twan Yang, be sensible boy and do not make a mistake.” I
would understand the whole sentence excect the word “sensible” which I had never yet met, so I asked what it
meant. That was the way in which I used to learn. I always wanted to know things and asked him kindly to
explain. With any other master it would have been impossible to disturb him while he was having his food, but
Mr. Van Manen told me not to be afraid and to ask him anything that I did not understand at any time.
I soon finished the first book of the King’s Readers, and then I was given the books of the New Method
Readers, in which were stories about boys and animals and other things. These books I learned with great trouble
and by giving them all my attention, asking explanations from my master and memorizing the words to myself
for humming sentences while I worked, like this “There was an old woman who had a cat…there was an old
woman who had a cat….” it was a very old cat….” In this way I read the whole first book of the New Method
Readers while I was doing my housework.
My Sahib put aside a definite time every day to teach me, and he took special care to use a new dictionary. When
reading a book I would look up new words in the dictionary, for I was very anxious to find out the correct
meanings. I am an inquisitive boy and always asked about everything, even if it was not my business. In that way
I learned a lot. Some of my English I did not learn from books, but from the speaking of others or from the
cinema. I would go just to hear the actor’s converse together, and I always learned new words from them.
To show how clever I had become I began to use big words. One morning I said to master, “Sir, the breakfast
is at your disposal.”
He began to laugh and I said. “I am full of gratitude for your great kindness in teaching me English, sir; I
shall never forget your sympathy.”
Well, this was not simply a joke and not because I wanted to act as if I had become a European boy, but
simply as an exercise in speaking correctly and politely as big people do. But whenever I used such big words I
never knew whether I used them correctly, for I was afraid of having fallen over on my feet when I found that my
master laughed and mocked at me.
When I had finished the last book of the New Method Readers, I had learned 773 words and really knew
them. Then my master gave me some new books to read. The first one was a story from Bible about the prophet
Elijah. In that book I found new words like “thee” and “thou,” which were very difficult to me because they were
a special Bible language. Later the sahib bought me a simple grammar book, but first he wrote on a sheet of
paper the different jats, or castes, of all words to learn by heart and to study before I began to read the grammar.
He told me that among all the words in the language there were the verb, noun, adjective, adverb, and so forth.
To know this was like entering the doors to the house of the English language; and so I went on studying all
kinds of new things of which I had not known anything before.
In the meantime I got many new books to read, Robinson Crusoe, The Arabian Nights, Gulliver’s Travels,
and a very large book, Bible Stories for children, later followed by many other books. Sometimes my master
would order me to tell him a story so that he might see how far I had entered the house of the English language. I
told him many Indian, Chinese and Tibetan stories, and in his turn he told me some. He had many fairy tales in
his library and one by one he told me interesting stories from a Mongolian book about the wise and well-wishing
Khan-stories about a prince, a yogi, and a corpse, full of interest and terrible danger.
Gradually I had become capable of holding an ordinary conversation. I think that by this time I had learned
some two thousand words.
One may start on a voyage from some point and, after traveling a year without turning
back, come again to the same point of departure by traveling continually round the earth.
And so it was with English. I could scarcely look through a page without meeting
strangers there, which would be the new words. Then by looking in the dictionary I
invited those strangers to enter the house of my knowledge so that I might learn their
secrets. I determined to keep studying while I was growing older in order to make myself
educated through my master’s kindness. I felt very grateful to him and will never in my
life forget his help. My knowledge of writing and reading is like a memorial to him,
which I build in my heart.
My master had many files of life stories written by Tibetans in their own language. One day he said to me,
“Twan Yang, why should you not write your life story and describe everything that happened to you during your
younger years in India?” So I began to do this, and in the beginning I wrote without any order, now writing a
chapter about Kalimpong and then a chapter about India without any regular sequence. My master collected
everything in a file which grew larger and larger every day and month-by-month. In the beginning my stories
were very simple, and I could not say anything about the mountains and rivers and hills and plains, and I only
gave the bare facts of what had happened. Then I would write the stories again, adding descriptions of the
weather, and the colors, and other things. Every now and then my master would question me further and write
down the title of any new story for me to write out later in full for the book.
When I began, I first wrote about seven hundred pages, but it was all upside down, without headings or
endings, and in bad English. I first wrote about my father’s death and a chapter about my adopted mother, and a
short cut story of my Indian adventures. At present these early writings do not seem to me interesting at all but
yet my master was pleased. Gradually I began to be able to write better than before and I used this writing as a
means to study English. This was in 1938.
In spite of his kind character and friendly feelings, my master sometimes could be very angry. Please, reader,
don’t say that I am speaking ill of my master. I only want to show the joys and sorrows of a servant and how
master and servant can be master and servant in the body and yet friends in the heart.
When he was in a good mood, I talked with him about all kinds of things in this world, for I am very
talkative, and it seemed that he liked to have someone near him in the house to talk to. At such times he was very
friendly and taught me many things, but at other times I made him angry by unpunctuality, and then he would be
curt and refuse to talk to me. However, I made it my habit to keep talking and smiling even when he was angry
with me, trying to make him forget his anger and restore his good temper. This was sometimes very difficult, for
when he was really very angry he would not return to me a happy face until I had properly apologized and
explained the reason for my mistakes.
During the first year of my service I had several times great difficulties because he and I were not yet
accustomed to each other. As a rule he was very patient with me, but, as I have told before, my master required
first three important things from me honesty, punctuality and cleanliness. I had promised him never to tell a lie,
and I really tried never to do so. About cleanliness I was also very careful. But especially as to punctuality I
made many mistakes that was my weak point. Once I had promised to come home from my marketing that was
my weak point. Once I had promised to come home from my marketing at eight o’clock, but unfortunately I was
late, not so much in buying things but because I met one of my friends in the road and stopped to talk with him.
When I came home my master had already arrived, and it was nearly nine o’clock. When I entered the room I
saw that he was angry. When I said, “Good evening, sir,” he did not answer a word.
“Is this eight o’clock?” he finally demanded. “No, master.” “Then why do you come so late?” “Because my
buying took me more time than I had thought.”
“You have no punctuality at all. Once again you have not returned at the right time. If you say eight o’clock,
it must be eight o’clock. Why do you return at nine? You always make the same mistake and then tell me lies to
excuse yourself, pretending that you are not at fault.”
“No, master, what I said is true. Besides, it was raining. And you know, master, how much time it takes to
buy everything in the various shops.”
“Oh, shut up! You talk too much. You always try to justify yourself and show that you know better than your
master. Now go away. I don’t want to see you or talk to you. You have made me very angry.”
“All right sir” I said. “Even if master does not speak with me, I must speak to master from time to time, for it
is my work to ask for permission to do what I have to do, I can not help speaking to you.” This I said, smiling,
and that was the last we spoke that night. I left the room for my godown.
There was another kind of trouble with my master. In the beginning when I started writing down my childhood
memories, I found that writing made me very sleepy. I was so lazy that often instead of writing I fell asleep, and
then I would not write much during the day. Sometimes I only wrote one or two pages, though I had promised
my master to write many. I had another bad habit. For a week I might be very industrious in reading or writing,
and then all of a sudden I would stop for many days. When my master would find that out, he would become
Then I did mot show myself before I had written some pages to show him and to bring him the good work to
make him forget his anger. So when my master was angry I would have to work very hard writing my story. At
such times he would not call me to help him, and I would have no other work to do. Then I would sit down and
write many, many pages instead of doing my housework. But when I showed him these pages he read them
silently and not aloud as usual, and then he would not correct these pages as at other times and explain to me my
mistakes in writing. That would show his bad temper. Whenever I noticed this I always tried to smile happily
when he looked angrily at me. It was really like some kind of game or joke, but in the beginning this happened
fairly often, perhaps once a month.
I do not mean to say that my master was usually angry or by nature grumpy. On the contrary, he was nearly
always jolly and happy. In the beginning of my service I did not quite know his habits and his likes, and I only
gradually learned that he thought keeping a promise very important. He used to say, “A man a man, a word a
word.” So I learned from him to be careful with my promises and really to be punctual. After the first year of my
service it happened less and less that my master got angry with me, for he knew me better and I knew him better
and so at last there were no more black clouds in our house.
One day I told my master that I had fallen in love with a Tibetan girl from Darjeeling and my master was
exceedingly astonished to hear it. “What. Twan Yang! You really in love with a girl?” “Yes, master, that is true.”
Then I told the story. Some time in March, 1938, I went for my weekly treat of Chinese food to Chinatown,
to the Chinese restaurant. There I saw two girls having their chow or dinner, the older of whom I recognized as
being from Kalimpong. She told me that she was living with her husband in Alipore. We sat talking for some
time but the other girl did not speak to me at all. When they had finished their food the girl from Kalimpong said,
“Why not come and visit us in Alipore from time to time?”
I said, I shall be quite pleased to come if your husband would not object.”
“Oh, not at all, my husband knows you very well.” Then they went away and I also returned home. That
other girl was quite young and looked very charming, with a round face, but her nose was a little flat; her
complexion was yellowish-brown. Up till now I had practically never been in the company of women and had
never talked much with them, but this new girl somehow made me think about women and about marriage and
about the comfort a wife would be. I did not like to spoil the young strength of my body with ordinary women,
and so I felt that I should have a wife and I prayed earnestly to God to grant me the fulfilment of my wish. I
could not marry a Chinese woman as Chinese women do not come to their husbands because of love, and I could
not afford to pay a large bride price. It is not only good for a boy like me to marry, but also very good for a girl to
have a young boy of her own so that they may live together as a loving couple of good character and behaviour,
and learn to manage the household together neatly and well. This is the custom of us people in the hills. Now I
had learnt, as a matter of fact, which the people on the roof were saying behind my back that I was a loafer and a
bad fellow because at my age I had not yet married, as was the custom. So I felt that I had to become a lion boy,
showing my pride through wife and children, and earning the respect of others as the father of those children.
One Saturday afternoon my master went out earlier than usual to the Swiss Club and my time was entirely my
own. I hired a bicycle and went to Alipore to look up that young woman from Kalimpong and give my salaams
to her husband. I found their house without any mistake and with them I also found that Tibetan girl whom I had
seen in Chinatown. After tea we all sat chatting together, first about Kalimpong and then about this girl’s
birthplace of Darjeeling. I asked her where she was living now. She replied that she was staying in Chinatown
but her family had only come for a few days to see Calcutta.
“Then how is it that you are here?” “Because I have come to visit my friend Jetty.”
I asked what her caste was, and she replied that her father was a Tibetan but her mother was half Chinese.
Then she asked my own name and I told it to her. We gradually came to talk freely like friends. When I left they
all said, “Good-by,” and both husband and wife added, “Do not forget to come again, Kancha.” The girl said
Three days later, I went back, and found her still staying with them. Jetty’s husband drove a motor car and
that day he was out on duty. I stayed for about an hour but had a pleasant talk with both girls. I found that the girl
from Darjeeling was an old friend of Jetty’s and her name was Phuphulhamo. She said that her parents had
already returned to Darjeeling while she herself was staying on with Jetty to see more of Calcutta. Hearing that
she was not a prisoner of her parents, I felt hopes that I would have the opportunity of asking her to become my
wife. I told my secret thoughts to Jetty, and she replied that she was willing to help me if I really loved the girl.
Now my heart would no longer be satisfied without seeing her at least every other day. I had really fallen in
love and I forgot altogether that it was very indiscreet to visit another house every second day, but the girl was in
the same mood as I. So these visits continued for about a month, and gradually I could speak more freely and her
shyness disappeared. Whenever I came Jetty would go away and leave us two alone in the room so that we could
talk of love and marriage. When I asked this girl to be my wife she consented and almost at once I had to go back
to my work. When I got up, I took her in my arms and kissed her and this was the first time that I had ever
touched a woman in love. She hung her head and felt shy and after this, when I came, she would not show herself
out of shame because I had kissed her. When I found she would not show herself, I did not know what to do and
therefore did not go to the house for several days. Soon afterwards, one Saturday afternoon, she came to my
godown on a visit in the company of Jetty. It was now she who felt no rest until she had seen me again and
learned whether I was well or not.
Just about this time my sahib asked me about my conduct, and whether I was doing any scandal work with
women. It was then that I told him about my love. I answered: “Sahib, I have my own girl with whom I want to
be married soon. It was not my plan to inform you of all this and to ask your permission to bring my wife here to
my godown, as marriage would be much better for my young life. I am truly not doing anything else.”
Just about this time my sahib asked me about my conduct, and whether I was doing any scandal work with
women. It was then that I told him about my love, I answered: “Sahib, I have my own girl with whom I want to
be married soon. It was my plan to inform you of all this and to ask your permission to bring my wife here to my
godown, as marriage would be much better for my young life. I am truly not doing anything else.”

“Oh, is that what is going on?” he said. “My boy, you are much too young to take a wife. You are not yet
twenty years old, and it would be much better if you were to wait until you were twenty-five. Besides, tell me,
how old is this girl and what is her name?”
I said: “Sir, she is sixteen and her name is Phuphulhamo. And besides I love her very, very much and she is a
good girl, and it would be good for me and my single orphan life to have her as my wife. She is willing to marry
me but I was afraid to marry her without your permission.”
“That is all very well, but your life will be most difficult if you marry her now. Both of you are too young to
have children. I advise you, Twan Yang, put off your marriage till two years from now, when you will be old and
strong enough to be a husband and she would be eighteen and old enough to be a wife. Anyhow let me have a
look at her someday.”
So that day when Jetty and the girl came to visit me I took them to my sahib and told him. “This is the girl I
spoke to you about.”
When the sahib saw them he made them both sit down and asked Jetty whether Phuphulhamo was her friend
and really loved Twan Yang. Jetty, who was very smart and ready with her tongue, answered without any
hesitation that this was so. Then my sahib asked Phuphulhamo what she had to say about the matter, but she felt
shy to speak about such things to a big man and so said nothing. Thereupon sahib said in Tibetan: “Am I a lion,
that you are afraid of me? I am not going to bite you. You must understand that this is a very serious thing, this
business of marrying my son Twan Yang.”
Phuphulhamo did not understand him and did not follow his Tibetan language, but Jetty was quite clever and
not afraid to speak up, and I told her that she must speak loudly as master would not hear what was said in a low
voice. So when full explanations had been given, my master at last said to Jetty: “I am quite pleased with
Phuphulhamo and quite willing that Twan Yang should marry her as they seem to suit each other well. There is,
however, one thing and that is that both are too young. For this reason you must tell Phuphulhamo that if she
waited two years it would be better for them.”
Then I told the sahib: “Yes, sir, you are quite right, but how can she wait so long, and with whom will she
stay these twenty-four months? In that time her parents may force her to accept another husband, and so, sahib, it
is my only chance to marry her now.”
He answered: “My boy, if you marry her now, then you will be like a fish caught in a net. You will not be
able to escape again. The marriage life is not easy. Married life is one of happiness and of sorrow; one of
pleasure and difficulty all at the same time, and sometime you will come to understand all this well, by
experience. In the meantime I strongly advise you to wait two years more before you take this step which, once
taken, cannot be undone.”

Hearing these words, I felt that they were really true and I felt happy for the advice. So
I thanked my master for his kindness. Then we went upstairs again and I told my girl that
my sahib had advised us to wait two years before marrying and that she should do this if
she really loved me. She was willing to wait for me, but we felt the difficulty of finding a
place for her to stay and finding the money for her support during that period.
Later I explained these circumstances to my sahib and asked him whether she might not stay with me for two
years in my room, after which time we would marry. “No,” he said, “that cannot be done. Fire and oil can never
stay together without burning, and what you ask is impossible for that reason. The best thing for you to do, is go
and see her parents. Tell them that you ask for their permission to marry her after two years.”
I was quite willing to do what my master said, as I had to obey him anyhow. At that time I told Mr. Trin
Chen that I was going to marry a Tibetan girl from Darjeeling. Then he said I should never marry a girl from
Darjeeling, for these girls were always bad and would always deceive their husbands. When I objected and said
all wives were not like that, he replied “My boy what do you know about these things? You do not know
anything at all. Women are always bad.” He then told me a story to prove his point. Afterward I could only say,
“Yes. Mr. Trin Chen, this is a very fine story and a very terrible one, but my little girl is not like that at all,
whatever you may say, I will not believe that she is capable of such evil.” “All right,” said Trin Chen, “if you do
not believe me, you had better show her to me that I may see what she looks like and what her character is, and
that I may find out to what family she belongs.” So one day I brought her to my godown to show her to Mr. Trin
Chen, and Mr. Trin Chen saw that she was not bad looking and quite young like a green pumpkin.
When he was convinced that she was a good girl, he let her stay with me in the godown, and now the three of
us lived together in the same room. It was summertime and so we two slept together outside. But I did not tell my
master about this, because she had not really come to stay and marry me but would wait two years for that.
Sometimes she stayed with me and sometimes she went back to her adopted sister Jetty, and so things went on
for a month.
The girl’s coming to my room gave new comfort to Mr. Trin Chen, for whenever he wanted hot water to
wash his face or needed tea in the mornings, Phuphulhamo prepared it for him. He was so content that he began
to tell the story of his own wife, who had always been very good to him and very modest. He told us that he was
the son of a very big man with many houses and servants and that he once had possessed the sum of twenty four
thousand rupees. Then his life had been very easy and not like it was nowadays, for he had been a master instead
of a servant. Sometimes in the evening when his shoulder and spine would be very painful he would let himself
be massaged by Phuphulhamo. Then he would boast about himself and his former riches, and he spoke of all this
so often that Phuphulhamo got nervous hearing the same story so many times.
Now Mr. Trin Chen was an old man, and his opium smoking had weakened his body. It was difficult for him
to climb to the top of the building by the staircase and he had not sufficient money to give tips to the liftman. So
he felt that he did not want to stay in this house any longer. He secretly arranged to go and live in Chinatown,
and without telling me anything he put all his things together and one day when I was attending my master’s
office to serve tea at a Council meeting, he took all his things away and left our godown. When I returned I was
astonished to find him gone.
In the evening when my master came home, he looked very angry as I had not told him the secret of having
brought my wife to the roof. He was very angry with me for three days. This was because a friend had deceived a
friend. Mr. Trin Chen had told many kinds of stories to my sahib about me: that Twan Yang was gambling and
going too much to the pictures and had brought his wife to his godown. All these wicked things he told to my
sahib like a backbiter trying to separate the new couple by all means in his power. For three days my master
remained so angry that he practically did not speak to me at all, but on the fourth day it seemed as if he had made
up his mind and he told me to bring the girl down to him, as he wanted o say something very serious to both of
us. He told us that by our foolish work we had done something, which could be undone. If he sent Phuphulhamo
away, her life would be spoiled, and her name would be lost and I would be unhappy and she also. If he sent her
away and I went with her, we would both be very unhappy, without a place to stay, or work to do, or money to
earn. He said that there was, therefore, only one thing to do and that was to accept the situation.
Now that I had brought my wife to my house, I found I had no idea what it meant to live together as a married
couple like other people. I had no pots and pans to cook our food, and she had no clothes except those she was
wearing. I had also no blankets and lacked many other things: and, thinking carefully of what we would need, I
felt very worried and wondered how I could get all the money that would be required. I borrowed ten rupees
from my master and went with my wife to the market and let her choose what she wanted for the house, as a
woman knows more about these things than a man. The most important thing to buy first were two cooking pots
and a few plates. Then I also bought some rice, some cooking oil and some spices: and thirdly two pillowcases
and two bed sheets for both of us, for two rupees and eight annas, and one small box for her.
It was now at the end of the month and, as soon as I got my wages, I spent another twelve rupees, and I
bought two cheap saris for her, suitable for the summer, two petticoats and two jackets. Nearly all the wages I
earned now went to food, about sixteen rupees a month. Sometimes we went to the cinema, and from time to
time I still had to buy more things for the house. So my wages went, and as a rule I would have no money left for
the last four or five days of the month.
Though married life is very pleasant, yet I learned that it is very hard to live with a woman. For though it is
very happy that a wife gives every comfort to the husband, yet the husband feels like a prisoner. On one hand,
now that I was a husband, I had become very poor, on the other hand, the people now say that I was no longer a
loafer but properly married and I had a wife whom I could tell to work for me and to cook for me whatever I like,
for she was a good cook. This made me very happy. In our language we say that woman is to man what honey is
to the bee. My life was altogether changed. Formerly when I was not married I was free to do whatever I liked,
but that meant going too often to the pictures and being in the company of bad boys, and spending much money
and saving nothing, and having no visitors in my little godown: that is, no really good people. But now after my
marriage and after our life together as husband and wife, all her girlfriends came to pay us visits from time to
time, even from great distances. This meant extra expense to me, for it is our custom to offer tea to whatever
guests may come, and that would mean three annas to four annas for each visit. Then our food would be about
five annas in the morning and more or less the same in the evening, so I found that marriage was in no way a
means of saving money. I earned a little over twenty-five rupees and spent a little over twenty-seven. I could not
have lived as I had if I had habits costing much money. I am free from four bad habits. I do not smoke, I do not
take opium, I have never in my life drunk beer or whisky or other strong drinks, and I never chew betel. My
weakness is going too much to the pictures.
Sometimes we quarrelled, but that was only natural, and after our quarrels we were always happy again.
Gradually many people used to come to my little house. Some were my friends and they sometimes brought their
wives. Some came from Darjeeling, especially after my master and I had visited Kalimpong in the fall of 1938.
My wife had been wanting to go to Darjeeling to visit her mother, but I did not know how to send her there as I
had not enough money. Since my master had once spoken of going to Kalimpong, I thought I might manage to
take her along to Siliguri and send her from there to her parents. So one day I asked him if he could not go to
Kalimpong and he accepted the suggestion. Two of his friends accompanied us.
From Siliguri I sent my wife to Darjeeling by motor-bus, and we ourselves were driven to Kalimpong, where
we went straight to the Himalayan Hotel.
As soon as my master’s things were arranged, I asked his permission to go and see my sister and take her the
presents I had brought, for every moment I got more and more anxious to meet her. How happy was my heart in
knowing that I would see Mimila within a few minutes! When I came to her house I saw her sitting at the
window, and thought she would give me a happy welcome. But to my disappointment she did not recognize me
at all! I called to her and said, “Mimila, please quickly call your mother. I am Twan Yang.” Then her mother
came, and she recognized me at once, even though my own sister had not known me at all! I felt very unhappy
but Shakhang Achala was kind, and this consoled me a little. We had much to talk about since I had been away
for three years. I had to go back to the hotel for the afternoon, but around six or seven I was free to go home for
the night for we had arranged that I should stay at Shakang Achala’s. After my evening meal I sat up a long time
telling her all about my life in Calcutta and India, before going to bed.
Next day my master and his two friends hired a car to have a look at Kalimpong. When my master asked me,
“Where shall we go first?” I suggested the top of the hill of the St. Andrew’s Homes, which is the highest hill of
Kalimpong. When we had come to the middle of the hill my master said, “It looks like Switzerland.”
After we reached the Homes, the driver stopped his car near the church. I felt very happy to see it again and
to think of all the memories connected with it. Then the driver took us round the church to the playground. From
there one could see the roof of the Governor’s house at Darjeeling but not the town of Darjeeling itself. To the
north the snow mountains of Kanchenjunga made a huge picture high up in the sky, and below them was a valley
so deep that it was terrible to look down. Far in the direction of Darjeeling was the beautiful river Rangit.
At four o’clock that afternoon I took Mimila and her mother to the Himalayan Hotel to see my master. He
showed himself very pleased to see them. “Are you Mimila’s mother?” he asked. Shakhang Achala was
astonished at his speaking in Tibetan, and she replied that Mimila was her adopted daughter. Then my master
said: “My boy, Twan Yang, complains about his sister Mimila and says that she does not want to speak to him
and always looks darkly at him. Why is that? “Mimila’s mother replied in a very nice tone: “The difficulty about
Mimila is that she does speak to anyone. That is her nature. She does not even speak much to me. Further, she
has not seen her brother for so many years that she does not remember him. That is the matter with her.”
Then my master said to me, “Do not worry, Twan Yang! Perhaps she is too shy to talk with you, or she may
be a little stupid. Anyhow, she is younger and does not have the experience you have. It seems to me that she is a
good girl about whom you need not worry for the moment. Later on, when she grows up, she will think of you
and will understand.” I was glad of this explanation, which gave me a better understanding of Mimila.
After this conversation I asked my master to take a photograph of the whole family, and he did. Now during our
stay in Kalimpong there was always the same order of things. I would go to the hotel at seven in the morning and
would be busy till one o’clock. From one till three or four I was free to go home, then I came back till six and as
a rule had then finished for the day. My master told me that every morning I should note down what I had been
doing the day before, which he called keeping a diary. I did this, and also had plenty of time to see my old, good
friends of my childhood, some of them Chinese, some Tibetans and a few of them Nepalis. Most important,
ofcourse, were Bersi and Pursen.
One day while I was visiting Bersi, his father told me that I should perform the ceremony for the death of my
father, I was extremely astonished to hear this, so I asked Bersi’s father to tell me all about our national custom.
He told me so many things it was impossible to try and do them all. But for the really important part of this
ceremony I had to get at least two red Chinese candles, he said and then three or four bundles of white paper on
which to print money for the dead, and some fruit and rice and meat and finally a piece of paper on which the
names of the dead could be written. He said that he would help me. “This is very kind of you, sir, But when must
I do this?”
“You had better do it on Friday. That day will be lucky for it. But buy the paper first now, at once and give it
to us to punch holes in to show that it is money. The other things you can bring with you on Friday.”
I bought the necessary paper for a rupee and gave it to my friend Bersi, who sat down near the door to punch
holes in it. Then I went back to the hotel and told my master about all this. On Friday afternoon Bersi and his
father cut the fruits into small pieces, and on the piece of paper which I had bought, they wrote the names of all
the members of my family who had died, as many names as they could remember, for Bersi’s father had known
my own father and knew my family history. When everything was ready Bersi and Pursen and I went to the
market and sat down in a suitable place and put the paper money on the ground to burn. Then I knelt down in
front of the burning paper and called my father’s and my mother’s names, saying to them: “My dear father and
mother, I hope that you are happy in heaven. Today I have come in front of you to show myself and to present to
you this money and rice and meat and these fruits. From today on, please do not think of me any longer in this
world but try to find your own way to heaven, I am well here in this world, and you need no longer worry about
my poor conditions. Please do not appear to me in my dreams.”
While I was saying this I felt so strange and sad within my heart that I began to weep,
thinking of my father and mother. I suppose they must have come to see me while I was
remembering them, but I could not see them because they were spirits. When everyone
was finished, we returned to Bersi’s house and I thanked his father for having taught me
how to perform this ceremony. “This is the simplest way of doing it: much better than in
the monastery,” he said. “There you would have to spend much money, but our custom is
easier and less expensive and better. You should perform this ceremony once every year,
that would be very good in every respect, especially for your health and happiness.”
I went that night to my friend Pursen’s house where I slept with strange feelings, having to think all the time of
my father and the ceremony. At this time of the year it was very dark by six o’clock, and I sometimes felt a great
fear when returning to my sister’s because in this darkness it seemed that many ghosts or devils might be waiting
for me. I had heard that there were ghosts in this road, which frightened people passing by in the night. Once I
was sure a spook was following me, but it was just an ordinary woman. I told Mimila’s mother about my fears,
and she said that, although no doubt spooks exist and may be met, I should never be afraid of them. But
unhappily I was not brave enough to follow that wise advice. so I used to take my torchlight with me, which I
had brought from Calcutta, and I also bought a harmonica to play on to give me courage while walking in the
dark. Sometimes my friend Pursen would walk with me, and sometimes he would take me home to his house to
sleep, as on this night after the ceremony for my father.
My master’s two friends, who could take only a brief holiday, returned to Calcutta after three or four days.
But my master found plenty to do in Kalimpong. He went into a cloth-sellers shop to buy some Sikkimese
blankets, which we call den, and into several curio shops to buy Tibetan coins called tangas.
Then he went looking for some Nepalese books called Chanakya. All these things he found and bought. And
he examined with great interest and admiration a very fine thanka, or painting, of the Buddha, about ten feet high
and five feet wide, which Mrs. Macdonald offered him for about five hundred rupees, but he did not bur it. He
had more than a hundred such thankas at home. He also visited the Tibetan Monastery and the industrial school
and the leper hospital, and accompanied Dr. Knox on his rounds, and he renewed acquaintance with Mr.
Tharchin and with an old Swedish painter whom he had known twenty years before when he lived at Ghoom,
near Darjeeling. He took pictures everywhere. I went with him on these and other excursions and wrote about all
of them in the diary I kept. One night Mr. Joe Macdonald asked me to come and play to the family and do a tap
dance, so I went with my harmonica and also my accordion. The whole family were astonished and all the
brothers and sisters together danced to my music. Another time I went to Mr. Tharchin’s house and Mr.
Tharchin’s children sang a song to the tune of my music, it was atune I had formerly learned from him in church
and called a hymn.
Two days before we were to leave my mother-in-law came to Kalimpong from Darjeeling with two other
Tibetan women. I took her to my master, telling him who she was. They spoke together in Tibetan, and my
mother-in-law found out that she knew my master. She had seen him twenty years ago when he lived in Ghoom,
but he did not remember her. After some talk she left, intending to go back to Darjeeling next day. I took her
address in Kalimpong, and next day I tried to find her, but she had already left in the morning when I was at my
At last the time came for our return to Calcutta. Now, all this time my sister acted as if she had not heard me
when I asked her to do something, such as give me a glass of water. I felt very bad that she did not even listen to
her brother, who had come only for a very short visit to Kalimpong. I got up and took the water myself, feeling
that to have such a sister was for me the most useless thing in the world. But I spoke to Shakhang Achala about
my sister and her future. I told her not to be sad, for as long as I was there within reach, whether near or far, I
was always Mimila’s brother, her only brother in the whole world, and so if any trouble were to come to her she
must always let me know about it. My words gave her comfort because she knew that she would have a helper in
her life.
Now while I had been in Kalimpong, my wife was in Darjeeling visiting her mother. We had arranged that she
should stay there for six months. She had been eager not only to see her family again, but also to pass a long spell
in her own hill climate. Besides, the journey was so expensive that it would be senseless for poor people like us
to pay all the money for a short visit. But a week or so after my return to Calcutta, I was surprised to receive a
letter from her, written in English by a public letter writer.
It read as follows:
My dear husband,
I cannot stay any longer here in Darjeeling. The climate of the hill is very low and it is very cold nowadays. I
would be happy if you would kindly send me the train fare so that I may see you and the house again. I hope you
are well.
Your loving wife,
Since she had arranged to stay away for six months, I was at first unwilling to let her come back. On the other
hand, my life alone was somewhat uncomfortable, and this letter made me realize that I loved her and would like
to have her again near me. Then, too, I thought her life might be difficult because her mother was always unkind
to her. So I told my master that Phuphulhamo wanted to come home again, “What does that mean?”
He exclaimed, “Does she want money?” “Yes, master,” I admitted.
“No, my boy, I am very dissatisfied with your way of spending money. If you go on like that, what will
become of you? She has been bothering you to let her go to her mother for six months, and now she wants to
return after one month, you must write her a letter to explain that you do not agree and that a wife should obey
her husband.”
So I wrote this letter:
My dear wife,
I have understood well what you have written to me. I have learned about your feelings, that you wish to
come home now much earlier than we had arranged. Are you perhaps unhappy over there? If you do return,
please remember that there will be no second chance for you to go there again, and to live once more in your own
climate instead of in the hot temperature of Calcutta. Please think this over nicely and reply to me.
Your loving husband,
Twang Yang
After four days, I received another letter from her, as follows:
My dear husband,
You have meant well in instructing me about everything, but I am not a child that you should teach me like a
little baby. I am now grown up and a woman, and I know very well how to look after my own affairs. I asked you
to send me money so that I could come to Calcutta, but you have delayed and ask me hundreds of questions as to
why and how. If you do not know the difference of feeling for what is distant and near, then you simply know
nothing, but I know the difference of feeling between my own house and the house here. I wish to come down
and please send me the money as soon as possible, for my mother is unkind to me here. Send it as soon as
possible, as quickly as it can reach me by money order, without any delay.
Your loving wife,
I sent the money at once, and at the same time I wrote a short letter:
My dear wife,
I am sending you the fifteen rupees, which you need, but please do not bring any of your family with you,
because you know I would not like that. When you come down bring some honey from Darjeeling with you and
also some dry tea. Give my compliments to your mother and let me know the day on which you will arrive. A
postcard will do, and I will come to meet you at the station. With good luck for your journey.
Your loving husband,
Twan Yang
When I went to meet her train, l looked up and down the platform but could not find her. At last I saw two
Tibetan girls and a very dirty little Tibetan boy. I went up to them to ask whether they had perhaps seen my wife,
and when I came near I discovered that one of these girls was my wife herself. The dirty little boy was my
brother in law. When his sister told him I was her husband, he did not even show sense enough to smile or to
speak some nice words. However, I thought it might not be his fault because he might be too young to
understand and perhaps ignorant of polite customs. I felt great pity for him, after all he belonged to my family
and looked so poverty stricken. His face was covered with soot, his nose was running and he sniffed up the
mucus like a little baby. I asked my wife whether he had no clothes with him since he was so filthy and shabby.
She replied that he possessed only what he was wearing. I sighed for the poor little kid and immediately
determined to buy him some proper clothes.
The Tibetan girl with them was short and plump. My wife said she was friend of hers
named Dalaku.
Phuphulhamo’s unhappiness in Darjeeling was very terrible. This was her story: “When I reached Darjeeling, I
gave the five rupees which you gave me in Siliguri to my mother. Then I had nothing left to spend. Mother at
first seemed glad to have me, but when she learned that I had no marriage gifts, no jewelry or ornaments to show,
she became very angry. “You have married according to your own judgement and have chosen your husband
yourself. What has that husband given you? She demanded. “If you had waited and let me choose a husband for
you, you would have had lots of ornaments to wear.” “I did not marry for ornaments,” I answered. “I married for
love.” I felt sad when my mother spoke to me like that, but I did not think anymore about it.
“A few days after this conversation my mother went to Kalimpong to see you or herself, to know what kind
of son-in-law you were. She left the house in my care and also entrusted me with fifty rupees to look after during
her absence. She herself put this money in a trunk and told me to guard it carefully. Two days later I had to take
some money from that trunk, but when I opened it I found the fifty rupees gone. I was terribly afraid. There was
a servant girl in the house, an orphan called Khando. When she heard of the loss, she began to weep and said that
mother would beat both of us for this. On October 20 mother came back from Kalimpong. The servant girl told
her immediately about the money, and she not only got angry but also accused me of having stolen it. She also
suspected my father, who had separated from her and lived apart. One of us two, father or daughter, must be the
thief, she said. That very day she beat me in the street before many people in a most miserable manner and told
all other women that I was a thief. Some of them said that it could not be true; others said that she should not beat
a daughter who was married and belonged to her husband. To this my mother answered, “You people have no
right to interfere.”
“After this she took me to the police station and reported everything, how the money had been stolen, and
that I was the thief because she had given it to me to keep it for her. Then she had my father brought to the police
station. The police inspector carefully questioned all of us, and at last said that he did not believe my mother’s
story. The case was dismissed.
“When we came home my mother tried to beat me once more, but I told her, “You should first find out who
really has stolen the money and only beat afterward. Without knowing who the thief is, you have spoiled my
name and cast it into the streets before the people.
You ask a magician who is the real culprit. He will tell you the truth and get the money back for you. You
have only to consult one.”
“At the moment when I said this, I happened to be looking straight at the servant girl, Khando. Her face
changed colour. She looked afraid. I felt that she must have stolen the money. Indeed, a little later, as soon as we
were alone, she confessed to me and begged me not to go to a magician. I immediately reported this to mother,
and she asked Khando to hand back the money at once. But this girl had given the money to someone else to
keep for her. At last it was found and given up, but of the fifty rupees ten had already been spent. Mother felt
satisfied that she had got back so much of her money, but she did not apologize for what she had done to me, so I
did not like to stay any longer with her.”
“All right,” I said when she had finished her story. “I certainly did not like your mother myself. When I saw
her in Kalimpong she did not even speak properly to me, and she looked very proud.
Later on when my wife and I were alone, I asked her why she had brought not only her little brother but also a
girl friend, when I had asked her particularly not bring any of her family with her. She said she had brought her
brother Tendup because he was unhappy at home. His mother did not treat him well and she thought he might be
happy with us. “All right, that is one thing,” I said. “But you have also bought a girl friend. Am I so rich that I
can look after several others?”
“No,” she said. “She is only going to stay for a few days. As soon as she finds a job as an ayah she will take
it.” “That sounds fine,” I said, “But is she really looking for work or only saying so to amuse herself in Calcutta?
Anyhow, you seem to have done just what I told you not to do. But all right, let them stay.”
“That is very good,” said my wife. “But I have not yet told you that another girl is coming tomorrow. Her
name is Pasang and she an uncle here. But she will stay with us a while.” When I heard that I would have to look
after so many people, it gave me a headache. Looking after Phuphulhamo was already a heavy load on my
shoulders, but to be responsible for three more paralysed me. But what could I do? Women are like that.
How happy I felt when at least one of the guests, the girl Pasang, actually left after four days! Now there
remained only Dalaku and the boy. What we ate each day, my guests ate too, so that the expenses were double.
And I bought my little brother-in-law some clothes and made him entirely new, lifting him out of his old
Then at nine o’clock one December night while Tendup was still with us, a knock came at our door and
someone called out “Sister Phuphulhamo, Sister Phuphulhamo, are you there?” Tendup opened the door and
found three dirty, hungry looking youngsters from ten to thirteen years of age. All three were Sherpas and spoke
Nepalese, and they were the friends of my little brother-in-law, and former neighbours of my wife in Darjeeling.
They not only looked but proved to be very hungry, so we shared the food we had among all of us. After dinner
the boys told me they had run away from home and come all the way by train four hundred miles without paying
any fare. They had come to try and find some work and to see some sights. The biggest of the three had been
working in a shop in Darjeeling, but had lost his job, he had only a mother left. The second was an orphan who
led a miserable life in Darjeeling. The third, whose name was Lakpa and who still had both parents, was reading
in school and had foolishly run away. There was nothing for it but to give them shelter for the moment. I made
the three of them sleep on a mat in one big blanket and for some days I kept them in my house and helped them
see the sights of Calcutta. During the daytime they went to the Jadu Khana or Indian Musuem and the Zoological
Gardens. I gave them each four annas to spend. In the mornings and evenings all three helped my wife with her
housework. For the moment they were like my children. I told my master the whole story and brought the boys to
him. He bought clean clothes for all of them, and after a good bath they looked quite nice in their new suits. In
the meantime we had written to Lakpa’s mother, and she wrote, “Please send my son back. I will pay all your
expenses. He has got to go to school.”
After a few days the boys themselves wanted to go back. My master gave me the money for train fare for all
three and something extra to buy food on the way. I took them to the station myself and bought three tickets and
put them in the train to make sure they really went. They all were very happy to return, proud of their new
clothes and content at having seen the wonders of Calcutta.
I had also told my master about the girl Dalaku and asked him whether among the memsahibs he knew there
might not be one who needed an ayah. Then I found out that the girl had fits every one in a while. I took her to
Dr. Cunha’s dispensary and he said she suffered from epilepsy. Of course, I knew then that I could not help her
find a job as an ayah. If she had a fit while she was carrying a baby in her arms, the child could certainly fall and
might even die. This was altogether too dangerous. It could be much better for her to marry, I told her. Then she
confessed that she already had a husband, but he was a drunkard so she had run away from him. She stayed with
us for four months, and then I sent her back to her parents in Darjeeling, where she finally married again as I had
advised her.
Meantime I had done all I could to make a good boy of my little brother-in-law, Thendup, but his fate did not
allow him to learn. The reason for that was as follows:
One day I thought I would make the boy learn some English just like I had learnt from my master, and he was
willing to study and soon learnt the whole alphabet by heart. But when I went further and gave him a lesson with
full sentences he did not make any progress and would not reply correctly. Then I slapped his face to teach him
to give better attention. He at once began to cry, and his sister felt unhappy and thought I was not good to him.
He told this to all the people on the roof and said that I was a bad brother-in-law and was beating him. Of course
I don’t like to beat anyone because I know to well what it feels like, as I remember too may beatings I got when I
was young. However by beating him once in a while he might learn, and by not beating him at all he would learn
nothing. When I was young my father used to say that without beating no copper can be made into a pot. I told
him that, but he altogether forgot how nicely I treated him, much better than my own sister. Yet, this unlucky
little chap had no common sense and wanted to go back to Darjeeling and so I let him go back with Dalaku just
before the Chinese New year.
My Godown was empty once more. After a week, however, I got another guest, a Tibetan
Boy, Mingmar, whose wife died in the Campbell Hospital. While he was staying with me I received a letter
from Pursen in Kalimpong. He wanted to come to Calcutta to work. He was uneducated and jungly and did not
know anything in particular, so I thought that it would be very difficult for him to obtain any work in this city.
However I answered that he might come. He would at all events see the sights in Calcutta. My master gave him a
friendly welcome because he knew that he was my friend. After staying with us for two months he returned to
Kalimpong. I had other guests from time to time, some making a longer and others a shorter stay. The people of
the hills love traveling and adventure, and are always anxious to come down to see the wonders of Calcutta,
though often they find only disappointment and misery there.
A few months after our marriage, my wife and I were quarrelling one day. She was often very stubborn and
refused to listen to me, but whatever she said I was supposed to believe, even when she told lies. When I found
there was no other way, I beat her to teach her her place and make her learn the difference between wife and
husband. Then she made such an outcry that I only got more angry. Some neighbors came running to see what
was happening, and she cried out to them, “My husband is beating me for nothing”.
An Indian woman shouted at me, “Son, what foolish work are you doing? Do you know not that she is with a
I was dumbstruck, and the stick fell from my hand to the floor. I at once understood that if this news was true I
should not fight with Phuphulhamo. The old woman began to console my wife, making out that I was stupid and
a fool, the worst boy in the world. I could understand that because women always side with women. But I did
feel that my wife had been very foolish not to tell me about her condition. I left the room to kill my anger by
being alone.
I was happy to become a father, but I was also worried about what would happen to a girl who bore a baby
when she was just eighteen years old. I realized that I knew nothing about these matters. I would have to ask
many things from women who had already had children, to teach me what to do and what not to do. I learnt first
of all that a pregnant woman should be very careful of her food. She likes to eat all kinds of sour things such as
mango, lemon juice and pickles. People have the superstition that if a husband does not give the expectant
mother what she likes to eat, the baby will be born a stutterer or stupid. They also say that the baby inside, also
eats what the mother eats. This made me laugh, but also surprised me very much, I now found out that I had still
much to learn about married life. I told my master this news. He heard it with surprise, but also showed pity at
the idea of my wife having a baby so early in her life. “Twan Yang,” he said, “you are already half a prisoner but
now you will be a complete prisoner of your wife and baby. What you must do is go to the doctor in the Eden
Hospital to have your wife examined. But first go to Dr. Cunha to hear what he will say.” All this I did, and we
continued to pay regular visits to the lady doctor at Eden Hospital for the rest of the nine months.
During this time I had as my guests Phuphulhamo’s sister Lanjo and lanjo’s Burmese husband. Lanjo did all
the housework and made my wife comfortable. This was just what Phuphulhamo needed, someone to do the
heavy housework.
When my wife’s turn approached, I quickly telephoned dr. Cunha. After a short time an ambulance came
which took her to the hospital. My master gave me a letter to the big doctor of the Eden Hospital, Major Fisher.
We had to wait some time before Phuphulhamo could get a place. The hospital was full of women crying.
Their husbands were waiting outside, worrying and thinking and praying to God to keep their wives alive. I was
in exactly the same position, thinking, “When will the baby come and what will happen to my wife? At half past
six I had to go home and leave her. Next morning I found that the baby had not yet been born, and my wife was
suffering terrible pain. She told me that she was going to die, that I had better take her home again because she
could not bear so much pain alone in this place.
“Look, my little girl,” I said to her, “it is not only you who suffer. I see here many women, some of them
worse than you. But this is a place with special nurses, who will treat you much better than you could be treated
at home. Do not worry, everything will go well, you must be patient.”
The nurse told me that my time was up. Then my wife began to weep again, seeing me go, and this moment
was very miserable because both of us had the same fear, that perhaps we would not see each other again. The
whole day I was in a very sad mood and my food had no taste for me at all. In the evening my sister-in-law and I
went again to visit Phuphulhamo. I saw her just at the moment when two nurses wheeled her in a little carriage to
the birth house. She was crying when she saw me but what we could nothing. After some time she was brought
back again, but the baby had not yet been born. I was not allowed to see her again and had to return home.
When next evening we came back, I heard to my great grief that my wife had given birth to a dead child. This
was a terrible moment for me. I went inside and saw my wife lying quietly, no longer suffering pain for the first
time in many days. She tried to smile and said: “All the others have their babies with them. Why has my baby not
been given to me by this time?” I told her that the nurse had said the baby was ill, that they would give it to her
very soon and she should be patient. She might have suffered a great shock if I had told her the truth. For me the
important thing was that my wife was alive.
Early next morning I rose feeling very sad. I went out with some fruits to the hospital and took there the
death certificate of my dead child from the office. There were three of us. I wanted to bury the baby, as it is not
the custom to cremate the body of a little child. I was so anxious to see how the baby looked that I opened the
bundle. The baby looked exactly like my wife, with a flat nose, but the face and eyes were like mine, and it was
as yellow as I am. I had to weep when I saw this little face of my first child. The baby weighed ten pounds, a
really big child. It was a girl, and I had already thought of a name, which I kept in mind in memory of her.
Lhamo, which in Tibetan means “Goddess.”
The burial ground was at a great distance from the hospital, several miles away. It would have been very hard
to walk all this distance carrying the dead child. So I hit upon a plan. I wrapped up the baby in paper. I had
brought with me a small bottle of scent and I poured this over the parcel so that it had a nice smell of roses and
no one would think I was carrying a dead child. Then I took a taxi. If it had been known what I was carrying,
there might have been the most terrible trouble on account of the laws of the government. Perhaps a driver might
allow it if he were paid enough, for I asked one driver and he said that he would take me for six rupees. So
instead of this, I walked some distance away from the hospital with my sad bundle and took a taxi without saying
anything to the driver and without his knowing that there was any danger. I told him to take me to the bridge, and
from there I walked the remainder of the distance, and I was charged only fourteen annas instead of six rupees.
The cemetery was a public one for the Hindu nation, and anyone could be buried there if the land rent was paid.
So I did this. I had to pay two rupees.
In the evening I went to see my wife and told her the truth. I asked her not to worry
about it because it was so much better that she was alive and the baby dead than the other
way. When she heard this she promised not to worry. She said that, God willing, we
would still have many babies. So I was happy to find that she understood properly. I had
now to take good food to her, which would be easy to digest and would strengthen her
blood and body and help her to recover from her weakness. So in order to save her I
ordered a chicken to be killed everyday and brought her chicken soup. But this I
continued only upto six days, after that I gave her mutton broth. Then my wife began to
tell me that she wanted to come home, as the life in the hospital was unpleasant. She still
had a temperature, but I took her home after six days instead of ten, because she insisted
so strongly and cried so hard that I could not do otherwise. At home she soon became all
right with the help of her elder sister, Lanjo and everything went on well and happily as
It is God’s will that people should meet each other. Take, for instance, my master and myself. He was from
Holland and I myself was from the Himalayas in the eastern world and had Chinese blood within me. That a man
from Holland and a boy from the Far East should meet in India is rare. That this happened to me must have been
the fate of my last life, and this fate placed upon me by God must have ordained that I should work in the same
house with my Dutch master for years and years, and that I should write a book. It must all be God’s work. Only
in that way can I understand us being together in this life like a father and son though my master had no son and I
no longer a father in this world. I think in a previous life I must have done something good to my master, that in
this life he should have been so kind to me and almost adopted me, making me very happy. I always say that it
was like a new life, as if I had been born again.
I have already told how my master took me in hand and taught me English and how he asked me to write
down an account of my past life like the many life stories of Tibetans, which he had in his files. Now I want to
tell how we worked together until Mr. Van Manen Sahib began to think of my story as a real book that might
someday be published.
Up to this time I had not written down many details of my childhood. One morning when I was with my
master a bird flew in to the room through the window. When I saw that bird I suddenly remembered something. I
said, “Master, do you know that when I was a child I once killed a bird when I ran away from home,” and then I
told him the story of my young wickedness and when I was telling this I remembered some of the difficulties of
my life during childhood. Then I began to remember several other stories and I told these in short detail. He was
very interested and told me to write down the headings of these stories, which I did. Later, in the afternoon of the
same day, I took my chair close to a table and sat down, and, carefully thinking of my younger years, I tried to
remember what I had dine, with whom I had played and what had happened to me. After this I wrote several
pages each day, trying to find suitable words from the dictionary or asking for them from my master. These
words I would write down in a book and learn by heart, and so I wrote gratefully one chapter after another. In
comparison with my former writings these new writings were in much better English and more correct, and in
this way I filled several hundred sheets. These my master would copy out again in his own handwriting,
correcting the spelling and the grammar and changing the words, when necessary, but not changing the story,
only correcting it and making it fit to be read.
It took my master a great deal of time to understand each chapter as I had meant it. Not only that my spelling
was bad, but often the writing itself was not clear and he had to ask me again and again what I really meant. This
was because once I began writing, my thoughts would follow me as the shadow of a bullock cart follows its
wheels. Then I had to hurry up to write down such thoughts, and through quickness the handwriting would
become very bad. Later on I learned to use a typewriter, and then the letters would be at all events clear. The
spelling might perhaps still be wrong but that could always be corrected.
My master engaged a Bengali typist to copy the manuscript, and this typist could also write shorthand. I
found that it was easier for me to tell my story by mouth than to write it out by hand, and so from the second part
onward the chapters were taken down from my dictation. This enabled me to remember more clearly and to
describe more accurately my observations. Also, in writing, I often could not spell a word and then I would leave
it out, but there was no difficulty in pronouncing the words while dictating and so the spoken stories are more
The English descriptions were not so difficult for me because I was accustomed to draw pictures, and it was easy
for me to recall the picture of anything in the memory exactly as it happened and then try to describe it in words.
I wrote each page three or four times, for I always added something new when I read over what I had written,
and I remembered fresh things or I made changes because I saw that I had spelled the words badly or used the
wrong words. Besides, whenever I thought of something that I could not write down in English I was in the habit
of asking my master and he then would write on a piece of paper such words as I needed, like “conversation” and
“exaggeration” and all such other words which I was told were taken from the Latin and which were so difficult
to me.”
Before I began writing my book I did not know anything about the books that people like to read. I could
speak only a little pidgin English, and up to 1936 when I came to work with Mr.Van Manen Sahib I knew as
little of books as a wild animal. My language was as unpleasant to the ear as a mixed medicine; for I had, in
reality, no proper language of my own as other people have from birth to death. My speech was the language of
the lower classes who never speak to high people. It contained no polite and fine words or respectful expressions
either in Tibetan or in any other language I knew. My English and Punjabi were all pidgin, but Hindustani I
spoke a little more correctly as I had been using it for six years. Nepali I had spoken from childhood. My Chinese
was very restricted, and I knew a little Gujarati and Bengali. Tibetan was a little better, yet as a speaker of
Tibetan I was of no use to my master. My life had been as varied as the languages I talked, and my master and I
began to think this narrative of the wanderings of a Chinese boy in India might contain some things not found in
other books, which would be of interest to readers. I know quite well that I was not the only boy who had a
difficult childhood and not the only son of a foreign nation who had come to India. On the other hand, I did not
believe that many Chinese boys like me had suffered such miserable unhappiness or come from the Himalayas to
this great prison house of India to be a servant or travelled to so many different places, met so many different
people and learned to know so many different customs of the country. I had followed many religions, from
Confucian to Christian, and from Christian to Sikh, and from Sikh to Hindu, and from Hindu to Mussulman and
from Mussulman to nothing again, and then back to Buddhist. The whole story of that I put in my book, and that
was about the relation between masters and servants. In India there are some masters who do not know anything
at all about the private lives of the servants, whether they are married, or still have their parents, how they are
housed, and what money hey have got. This is because such masters do not look upon their servants as humans
but only as beings who are kept to work and must be paid. In the same way there are servants who do not love
their masters but only their monthly wages. It is very rare that masters trust their servants completely and treat
them as members of their family and know all about their lives, the lives of simple folk. Perhaps some Europeans
do not like Indian servants to talk freely with them because they look upon them as being uncivilized and wild.
But that would be wrong. It is like the saying of Shylock, the Jewish merchant of Venice, who asks, Christians
have eyes, have the Jews no eyes? Christians have a stomach, and so have the Jews, God has made them all alike
as human beings. But many Europeans do not understand that in matters of happiness and sorrow all people are
the same. And so masters and servants are like talkers and mutes the first can speak as much as they like and the
latter can say nothing.
In our real hearts we servants very much like to be in a house as belonging to the family and to be able to love
our masters and to do their work because we like them. Unhappily such relations are rather rare to find. So I
wanted to write my book to make people understand these things and show how we small people must think
about the sahibs and how the sahibs must think of the small people as of one kind with themselves with the same
feelings. Some servants may feel happy receiving big wages but it may not be so happy for their masters to pay
them if the work is done badly. And some servants might even feel quite happy to receive smaller wages,
together with kindness, without being treated like slaves or like typewriters which after having been used are put
aside and closed.
These were the feelings I had about my book. Even though I thought that some readers might not like the
stories of us small people because they had no love for us, or because the English was too silly, yet the writing of
this book occupied me many a day and filled my thoughts by day and night for two or three years. I told my
master, “Sir, if you are willing to publish this book, I shall be glad. Let people know the lives of the simple
people in India, but kindly let the story remain as I have written it and do not add to it or change it to make it
beautiful, for then it would be no longer my story, and if it is made into a European tale it will no longer be the
story of a Chinese boy.” So I asked my master only to edit the story in such a way that the language and spelling
should be corrected and made suitable for English readers.
Now my master had many visitors, who helped my education by teaching me many new things, and nearly all
of them were invariably kind and friendly toward me and took an interest in my book. All these visitors always
had the same things to do. First of all, they had to look from the windows to see the view of the river and maidan,
the fort, the Victoria Memorial, the Ochterloney Monument and the Indian Musuem, all the important things to
be seen from these windows. Next they looked round the rooms, at the many books and at the collection of
Tibetan curios like a small museum, the many musical instruments of the lamas, and the images. Then they
would speak with my master about all kinds of things. As these visitors were as a rule authors themselves, it was
natural that he should discuss books and book writing with them, and that would at once lead to the book he was
helping me to write. After discussing it my master would tell me to play my mouth organ to them and to show
them the pictures I had drawn and the parts of the rough draft of this book.
A very big part of my master’s library consisted of books on Tibet. Many of their authors came to see my
master to talk with him because he knew so much about Tibet himself. I have thus very often seen authors and
travellers whom few people have met. Britishers, Americans, Germans, Frenchmen, Italians and others. For
example, Ronald Kaulback, who wrote two volumes on his adventures in Tibet, one called Tibetan Trek and the
other Salween, and his friend John Hanbury-Tracy, who wrote The Black River of Tibet, both came to see my
master. Another famous visitor was the late Sir Francis Younghusband, who had written many books on Tibet
and other parts of Asia. He read some chapters of my book and said that it was very interesting, and that it should
certainly be published. He also told my master that he himself had published a similar book of one of the Indian
soldiers under his command. That gave me great hope. This sahib was then very old and had been the head of the
British Mission that went to Lhasa in 1904.
Still another author on Tibet was Mr. David Macdonald of Kalimpong, who wrote Twenty years in Tibet, and
whom I have mentioned in the early part of my story. His son, John Macdonald, who had been my master when I
was a little boy, and who was with one of the Mount Everest expeditions, often came down to Calcutta and
usually saw my master. Another gentleman who came to see my master and spoke to hin in Tibetan was the
American Mr. Theos Bernard, who had been in Lhasa and knew Tibetan very well indeed. He loved the Tibetans
like one of ourselves and wrote a book about Tibet and the lamas called Penthouse of the Gods. He was very
much interested in my book as was another American gentlemen, the Consul, Mr. Groth.
Toward the end of 1938 Prince Peter of Greece visited my master. I did not know that he was a real prince
until my master told me. When I opened the door to him, he gave me his card on which I saw the words “Prince
Peter of Greece”. He was strong and tall of body and still a young man, with blue eyes and light hair. He spoke
beautiful English and talked to me after conversation with my master.
“What are you, Chinese or Tibetan?” he asked.
I thought that to answer people like that I should say, “Yes, Your Highness.” But I wondered on the other
hand whether it might not be wrong to use these polite words in the wrong manner, and I felt afraid that if I made
a mistake in speaking he might feel dissatisfied, so I said, “Yes, sir, I am a Chinese boy.”
In reply he smiled at me and asked me for a part of my book about which my master had spoken to him. He
read a part with interest and said that it was not bad at all. Then I was told to show him how I could play my
harmonica. I played the French national song, the Marseillasie, and I know that he liked it because he clapped his
hands and cried “Bravo”. But, the visitor who was most surprised and pleased to hear me play the Marseillaise
was the French Governor of Pondicherry, who also came to visit my master.
In Calcutta there was a great man called Sir David Ezra, one of the richest and most famous men of the city.
For two years he was the president of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal. One day he came to have with
Professor Levi, who was a professor of higher mathematics in the University of Calcutta, and lived in the same
building as my master, on the same floor on the other side of the landing. My master was also invited to that tea
party, and when the party was over Sir David and Lady Ezra, with one other lady all came over to my master’s
flat to see his books and to admire the view over the river from the windows. When this party entered I made a
big salaam. My master explained that I was his Chinese servant, and one of the memsahibs asked my age. Then
they began to converse among themselves and I left the room, but I heard my master speaking about me and my
book, and later on he called me to show the illustrations I had made. I knew this sahib as I had often seen him
before in the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, and so I did my best to do my duty very politely and be very clean
and not to spoil my master’s name. I went to sit down in the small room next to the larger one and heard them
talking about me. My master said, “Do you know that three and a half years ago this little fellow Twan Yang
didn’t know how to read or write a letter? He has progressed enormously.”


Now Mr. Van Manen Sahib had told me that it would be well to bring my book up to my twenty-first birthday,
and that time was near at hand. In the summer of 1940 my master decided to go with Dr. Cunha to Kalimpong
for a week’s visit, so once more I had a chance to see my birthplace.
As soon as I had unpacked and put everything in order for both masters, I went to see my sister. But she did
not live in the same place as before. In great haste I went about asking people where she lived, until I found my
friend Tse Chang, who at last could guide me to her house about two miles distant from the market. But the
biggest piece of news was that my sister had married and had even become the mother of a baby, now two
months old. I was much agitated in mind hearing all this, asking myself what kind of man she could have married
and whether marriage at her age could be happy for her.
When at last I arrived there, I found a little house surrounded by Indian corn and fruit trees, with some cows
grazing near. I learned that all these belonged to my sister, and at that moment I thought she was indeed a lucky
girl, luckier than I. But I realized that a woman needs these things when she has become a mother and must
remain at home. My sister made me welcome, and I think she must have felt very happy but she did not show
any sign of surprise. I, on the other hand, was very surprised to see that, even though two years had passed and
she had become a mother, she had not changed at all and still looked like a child. She welcomed both of us and
gave us some tea, and we sat for a time chatting happily. I found that her husband was a boy I had known for
many years. He worked in the Industrial School as a painter. Before we left I put one rupee in the hand of my
little niece, as is the custom.
During this visit to Kalimpong I found that the whole town had much increased and improved. There was
now a big cinema hall. There was electricity all about the bazaar and in many houses, and in many places one
could hear the radio speaking, while many people now had a telephone. Not only wooden houses were now being
built, but houses of cement nearly like those one sees in Calcutta.
My master always allowed me to use his camera as much as I liked, and I wanted to take some photographs
of the swinging cane bridge over the Malli River and of the old Nepali man, Rai Baje, described earlier in this
story. We started at ten o’clock, after having put lots of petrol in the car to satisfy its appetite. When we had gone
far enough, I saw from a distance a new suspension bridge in place of the old cane bridge which had made me so
dizzy. There was a policeman standing on guard near the bridge who told me that no European could cross into
Sikkim without a passport. For me and people like me no such passport is required. I very nicely asked
permission from the policeman to allow us to go to the other side of the river for a few minutes only just to take
some photographs. Then he understood very well that he would afterward get some tip, so we all crossed the
bridge very carefully, and I took a snapshot of my master and Dr. Cunha standing in the middle. On the Sikhim
side, we looked round a little, and then my master asked me to show him the house of Rai Baje. But it was still
quite some distance, and the road was rather difficult, so after all we did not go there. I said to my master, “We
will meet him in Kalimpong during market time and then you can see him.”
Every morning quite early I used to take a walk to get back my hill legs. On Friday, coming down a hill, I slipped
and fell into a pit dug to build a house. When I stood up I felt as if I had no arm at all on the left. It hung loose
and the wrist was bent. A milkman who came by lifted my arm for me and pulled my fingers trying to replace the
muscles, and then I started to walk quickly to Tse Chang’s house. My white suit had become muddy all over and
everyone looked at me as if they were laughing but did not know how I felt. I was holding up my left arm with
my right hand and suffered horrible pain all the way.
Finally someone stopped me in the road and asked,” Is it a fracture?” and ran quickly to get a taxi for me,
showing at the same time his strength and his pity. I knew that he was the father of one of my friends, and a
lawyer in the kachahri. So I came at last to the hotel and showed my arm to my master. He called Dr. Cunha,
who examined it and told me that it was a fracture all right, but happily a simple fracture, which need not leave
any bad results. Then I was sent to the hospital, where the doctor set my arm and put it between splints in a sling,
so that I could return to Calcutta on Sunday. He ordered me to keep it carefully all the time.
Next day was a Saturday, the big market day in Kalimpong, and my master wanted to go there to see Rai
baje, so I took him down to the market in a car. The two spoke together and then my master and dr. Cunha went
on round the bazaar but I stayed near the car and with the help of Tse Chang took a few snapshots of Rai Baje.
On Sunday the time for our departure from Kalimpong had come. But I felt that I first should go to see my sister
and bring her to the hotel to present her to my master. When she and her mother heard that I had broken my arm,
they both began to worry and wanted to know all about how it had happened. I told them not to worry, as in
Calcutta it would be properly looked after. Then I said that my master wanted to see my sister before we left and
I asked her mother’s permission please to let her come with me. So she came, leaving the baby under the care of
her mother. Everyone stared at us when we brother, sister, walked together in the streets of Kalimpong. She was
wearing her best clothes and all her ornaments, which give to people the joy and contentment of showing that
they are not in want. She wore golden ornaments and looked richer than I was.
My master and Dr. Cunha were very glad to see her. The doctor said that we looked exactly alike, but he also
said that my sister had an incipient goitre and that it could be cured by tincture of iodine. I felt very happy that
the doctor had given this warning but now the question was whether this medicine could be found in Kalimpong!
I enquired and found that it was not to be had there, but only in the big cities. While we were talking, we took
some snapshots. At last Mimila said good-bye and I took her back to her house.
Then I brought Migmar and Bersi, my childhood friends, to see my master. He spoke pleasantly with them
and then gave each of them a rupee and was much amused at seeing the actual faces of these partners in my
wickedness of former years. Bersi was now married and the father of a child.
The journey back in the train, from Siliguri, was a hard one for me, for I was completely useless on account
of my arm. The driver who brought us to Siliguri, and who had been my good friend for a week, came into the
train and helped arrange everything for me. When we returned home, my wife came weeping down the stairs and
began to ask me many questions why and how I had broken my arm. She showed herself so sad about this and
her love so true that after this day I learned to have an altogether deeper feeling for her.
So the short visit to Kalimpong brought me this happiness or whatever you call it of greater love. I had to
break my arm for it, but it didn’t matter, for by the kind treatment of Dr. Cunha my arm healed perfectly again
and became as well as it ever was before.
When my master and I be-gan to collaborate in earnest on the writing of my book, we decided that I should bring
my story up to my twenty-first birthday. But this did not include an event which brought me immense happiness,
the birth of my baby daughter Doma, on November 7, 1940, a few months after I became twenty-one. And I also
feel I have to add a final chapter to round out my memories of my beloved Dutch master to whom I owe so
After more than three years of concentrated work, the book manuscript was finally completed and lay on our
hands, the joint work of author and collaborator, of my master Mr. John Van Manen Sahib and his boy Twan
Yang, whom he taught to read and write. A duplicate of the final version of Part 1 was being submitted to
American publishers by Mr. Thomas Whittemore, who had taken the trouble to carry it with him by air on his
return to the United States. How anxiously we awaited his report, for the European war made communications
extremely slow.
At last a letter to Mr. Van Manen Sahib from Boston dated October 4, 1941, saying, “The manuscript with
which you have entrusted me has been served to several publishers and has only now found an enthusiastic
reception with Asia and the Americans. Mr. Richard J. Walsh, the head of this magazine and of the John Day
Company, says, however, that before he can definitely accept the manuscript for the publication he must see
further instalments, because it has been his experience that such manuscripts begin very well in youth and peter
out soon after. As I am now leaving for Turkey I am turning this whole matter over to Groth. He will write you
as I am writing now, begging you to find some way of sending Mr. Walsh the second instalment of the
On reading this letter, my master said, with a broad smile, “Twan, you are lucky! Now finish the drawings so
that we can send the three volumes to America by sea.” At the exhilarating news we burst into a laugh. Drinking
hot coffee, we talked and laughed and joyfully shared our enthusiasm, tossing our cups. “Here we drink to our
success,” he commented exuberantly. We dealt much upon publication and the way in which authors get their
royalties, and, learning from him that in future I would get a lump sum of money from my book, I was thrilled by
the word “money.” It was good to be able to think that I would do this and do that.
“Master, in case we do get some money from the book, I mean when it is accepted by the publishers, the
income of the book is yours, because you need money to go to Kalimpong and settle down there,” I said. At these
words he laughed somewhat wryly. They sounded finer than he had expected to hear from me. He laughed and
his smile lingered, not in mockery but as the sign of a gay and gratified heart.
“That is good of you, Twan, but I wonder if you really mean it,” he said, peering at me through his horn rim
“Yes, of course, master. It is you who put things straight and persuaded me to write the book. I have no right
to say I wrote it,”
“I deny that statement, Twan,” he contradicted. “Without your brain and your zeal in putting your story
down, we could never have collaborated, so you are the author, not I.” He laughed again. He was proud of the
work and proud to tell his friends that it was at last completed and now a publisher had even found it interesting
and it would probably be published in America.
“Then I must add one more word, master, if you say I am the author of this book,” I said audaciously. “I
should like to dedicate this book to you, master. How would you like it, if I say, To my beloved master Johan
Van Manen, who taught me to read and write,” or should I say, ‘I dedicate this book to one who has rendered me
great help. Twan Yang?
“That’s very fine, but I do not know if you will ever have the chance to publish the book if you do not finish
the pictures,” he said.

What a happy day that was! But ala! My master never had the chance to see our story in print. He did not
even know for certain whether it ever would be published.
The war had made things rather difficult for my master. He had many thousand rupees in Holland as I
understood, but when Holland was taken by the Germans, he soon had to spend all he had in India. I did my best
to be economical, but the household expenses remained more or less the same. He had to pay bills for this and
that, for club dues and books he had to buy. I could see he was worrying and unhappy. I think during this time
his friends came to his help and thank God he was not out to any humiliation, and there was no dearth of food in
the house.
One evening, when things were going on like this, I had told my master emphatically that since he had now
retired from his office work, it would be a good idea for him to leave Calcutta and settle in Kalimpong. It would
be so much better for his help and less expensive. He only nodded and said it was nice of me to think of such a
plan and he smilingly added that he would think it over. Then one day I was told to prepare for the journey to
Kalimpong. “We’ll see if we can find a cottage or bungalow for rent,” he said.” Why not buy or build one
master,” I asked, “and save the rent? I know one of your friends would help you,” he decided that anyway he
would choose a quiet place where he could study and write, and complete his Tibetan dictionary, at which I had
seen him work for years. During this week we spent in Kalimpong, we could not find any suitable cottage or land
but Mr. Tharchin, my old friend there, said he would look out for something.
After some time, we heard of a house situated on the hilltop overlooking Kalimpong, and it was exactly the
kind of house my master wanted to live in, beneath the shadows of the Himalayas. He ordered me to pack all his
books and make a list of them, so that at any moment we could move. But that was not to be.
It seems only the other day that the books were being packed, and we were hoping soon to leave for
Kalimpong. As was often our custom, I played a game of chess with my master, and later we had a delicious
meal at the Chinese restaurant at Park Street. Then I took my master to the Swiss Club, where his friends invited
him to join a game of bridge. Thus he spent the evening of the 15 th of March, 1943, in that friendly company,
staying till late in the night. It was at two am that I brought him home and bade him good night. I left him sitting
near his table with a volume by Jack London in his hand.
Early next morning I was shocked to find him still sitting in the same place, but panting heavily and in some
horrible distress. He lifted his head at the noise of the creaking door. “I am sorry to call you, Twan,” he
murmured. “I-I cannot move my leg, Twan. Something has gone wrong with it.” His despairing look meant that
he could not do without my help. “Twan, help me to the bed,” he said as I rushed to help him, my entire body
trembling in one terrified emotion.
“Is it paralysed, master, or is it rheumatic pain?” I asked. “Looks like that,” he replied, taking a deep breath.
Slowly, and with great difficulties, I brought him to the bed, while he staggered and held my shoulder with
his left hand, the other dangling by his side. Both his right arm and right shoulder with his left hand, the other
arm dangling by his side. Both his right arm and right leg seemed to be useless. There in his bed he lay,
exhausted and breathless, as if he had been climbing mountains. Notwithstanding my utter dejection, I smiled at
him and said softly, as one might to a child,” It’s nothing, master! You’ll be all right in a day or so.” But I knew
that it would take time and patience, since to recover from a stroke is not an easy thing. Never before had I seen
such a pathetic face. At my words he wept and sobbed like a child. In his weeping, there was some invincible
motive, something he could not express. “I want to, oh something is wrong here,” he muttered, and pointed his
finger to his head. “Here! Here! And he touched his temple. The, for a time he rested calmly, without talking or
looking at me.
When I saw that he was not speaking or murmuring, I called out to him, “Master, master! Shall I call the doctor
and Mr. Muuse?” He interrupted by a gesture of the left hand. With quivering lips, he said,” I want you. Twan, I
want you to call the lawyer.” “Mr. SK Ghose?” I asked. He nodded.
I left the room, rushing upstairs to call his friend Mr. Muuse first. Tem minutes later when I returned, he was
asleep, breathing heavily. Mr. Muuse summoned the doctor, and together they decided to take my master to the
hospital immediately. When I called the lawyer to tell him that my master wanted to attend to something in the
presence of Mr. Van Aken, the Dutch Consul, Mr. Muuse, the lawyer’s voice interrupted me to say that this
matter could be attended to later when my master found that he could do it at ease. That is how it happened that
my master died without leaving a proper will.
It was before dawn on the morning of the seventeenth of March, in the hospital where he had taken him that
my master silently bade good-by to me and to the world. With a heavy, sorrowful heart I clung to his cold body,
sobbing, at the same time praying to God to give him happiness in the Kingdom of Peace, where the dead rest in
calm and beatitude. As I stood there alone in this bare hospital room and stared at all that was left of him, the
thought came that my master might be gazing at his own useless body from the spiritual world. To me, he looked
like a saint; his tranquil appearance reminded me of some great Chinese philosopher. “Hatred is not conquered
by hatred, Twan, but by love. This is the spirit of an understanding mankind,” so my master used to say.”
Everyone of us, one day, is destined to perish and go to that unknown region of Divine Spirit. Death is not an
unhappy thing. It means that one has no more to worry and to fight the battle of life, with lust and craving,
Surely my master had lived to serve mankind. Now he lay dead, and my tears fell on his quiet face as I knelt
to kiss his forehead, for this was the last time that I would see him.
At last came the light of day and with it the nurse. Placing her slender hand on my shoulder, she said, “I think
now we should inform his relatives,” she paused. I was ashamed to show her my tear-stained face, but I had
gathered courage to tell her that he had no relatives in India, only friends. “Could you show me the phone?” I
suggested. Covering my master’s face, I followed her and did what I should have done long before.
By eight o’clock there came the mourners. Mr and Mrs. France, Mr. Muuse and Mr. Van Aken, the Dutch
Consul and a few other acquaintances. Mr. Van Aken patted me on the shoulder and took me outside. “What
time did he die, Twan?” he asked. “It was about four, or it could have been about five, sir,” I told him. He looked
at me sympathetically, trying to make me understand that this way was better than for my master to have lingered
on with pain. For these mourners there was nothing much to do, but each one tried to give me some consolation.
Then they departed to arrange for the funeral.
“What is there left for me to do now?” I asked myself. I was tormented at the thought that I had no longer any
master to serve. Who would tell me what to do? Who would soothe me my pain. A new responsibility seemed to
have fallen on me. Thinking of home, I felt that I had no home, for I feared I would soon be evicted from my
present quarters. How would I maintain my wife and child? Fear haunted me, and anxiety followed like the
shadow that follows the wheels of an ox wagon.
At the door, my distressed wife met me with tears pouring down her cheeks, and buried her head on my breast.
As the mother wept, the little one wept, too, not knowing why. At last I took my daughter in my arms and kissed
her. “Why must you cry, father?” she said in a curious tone. Getting no reply from me, she asked her mother,
who blurted out, “Because, Doma, because your grandfather is gone.”
“Grandfather gone? Is he gone very far away?” “Yes dear, gone for good. He is dead now!
Doma had loved my master, and he had loved her, too. He used to take her in his arms and dangle her,
singing some stall tune to make her happy. Now she knew, vaguely, what ‘dead’ meant.
“Tell me, Twan, how did it all happen? She asked. “How did he die?” her grief for him overwhelmed her as
she sat there on the couch, scarcely looking at me.
After I had answered her question, we sat for a while in silence. Then she handed me a piece of white paper,
which ended with my late master’s signature. Then she handed me a piece of white paper, which ended with my
late master’s signature. It was something like a will, and concluded, “Requesting Dr. Sivakomu to give Twan
Yang as much as she wishes and to have his manuscript published.” But it was not legally written, for every will
should have a government stamp and bear signatures of witnesses to the fact that the will was written in their
presence and is not false, but this will bore no stamp or signatures of high official witnesses.
Dr. Sivakomu knew nothing of the way in which such things have to be put straight, and she found she could
not take the responsibility for my master’s affairs, except that she gave me all his clothes and also his silver
watch and some of the old stamps which he had collected for years. “I think it would be wise if you gave his
books to some library and his Tibetan curios to some museum,” I told her.
But she was released from the burden by the Dutch authorities. They also took the will or scrap of paper,
making me sign on it to say that I had no regret in turning it over. I was quite willing to do this, since it stood
without any value to me. The Dutch authorities said they would communicate with my late master’s sister, Miss
Charlotte Van Manen, in New York. As the days passed, I found that all the joy and happiness had begun to leak
out from my life. Here I was, with a lovely little daughter and an unhappy wife to take care of, and I was now
jobless and helpless. I felt like a true orphan, and my wife, too, had no relative who could support us. We were
left desperately in quarantine, as if we were suffering from a malignant disease.
It was at the end of March that I was told Mr. France had offered me a job manipulating a paper-cutting
machine. Though I wondered if I would be efficient for such work, I accepted with delight. I was disappointed,
however, at the sight of the factory in which I was to work beside the droning and rattling machine that printed
playing cards. Working here in this noisy, stuffy factory was like working in a prison.

I had to come and go at a regular hour, and for the first time found myself drudging away without a free hour
to rest or to talk, from morning till dusk. But what better could I do, since my education was not good enough for
me to have an office job, with a chair to sit on and a table to rest one’s elbow? As the days passed, I saw that my
strength was being consumed, and my lung was becoming weak and tired with this new tiresome job. On the
other hand, I told myself I should not forget to thank God that He had given me a place and that I was a working
man and not a vagabond.
My wife and I looked at each other in painful silence. “Oh, I wish I had known he would die so suddenly! I found
myself saying.
“Did he leave us any? My wife asked in a low voice. “No, my dear, fate is against us.” Placing my hand on
her shoulder, I made her sit down. “He did his best by gestures to indicate what he really wanted to do for us, but
the lawyer insisted this thing could be done later on, when he would be able to speak and be better in health.
Now, here we are, with empty palms and plenty of worries!”
“Then we are doomed! She exclaimed wrathfully. She was bitterly disappointed. I had often told her that he
would not leave us without something, because even his friends knew his wish, and I had dreamed of how I
would someday do this or that for her and for our children. We all have such rosy little dreams, even when we
have little else to please us. But now how fatuous that dream of a legacy sounded! “All I can say is that he was
wishing very much that my book be published, so that we could have the money,” I told her. “he was worried
about us, especially when he knew that you were again pregnant. But he could not make us understand his last
words. He only made queer sounds.
As my wife listened she realized that at least he had not forgotten us and was glad that he had thought of her.
Yet it was pitiful to me to see her in such a depressed state of mind. I could see that she had more anxiety about
the future than I did. “Now what is going to happen to us!” She cried bitterly. What could I tell her? At last I
said: I do not know what is going to happen, but I hope God will not be so unkind as to throw me on the street. I
am sure I’ll get some job. At least I must do something for this stomach of ours!
After some time, I went downstairs to my master’s old room, to hand over the key to Mr. Muuse. In his
presence, I took out my two violins and the music book and my manuscripts and my drawings and the books I
kept there to read, and the typewrite my master had given me, and my Christmas gifts, including the Irwin movie
16 mm projector, and removed them all to my room.
It was at the end of March that Mr. France offered me the job at the paper-cutting machine. With the advent
of my new career, I had to find a new home, too. It was a room in the slums, on a very crowded street in the heart
of Calcutta, known as Temple Street. Never was there such uncleanliness! Throughout the day, till late at night,
except that we had to pay our rent of twelve rupees to the landlord every month. This meant that we had to worry
because my wages were not enough to pay out so much, and at times there was a dearth of food in the house.
So I toiled day in and day out in the factory, sweat drenching my clothes, stomach growling for food, body
wanting rest to soothe its exhaustion. By and by, I found I could no longer bear it, very often in my distress; I
wanted to join the Army and be a soldier, or a sailor in the Navy, leaving my wife and child to take care for
themselves. But I could never do that when I knew that my pregnant wife needed me to guide her through her
In this wartime, too, everything became more and more expensive. I was compelled to sell one of my two violins,
but I kept the better one, determining that I would never, under any circumstances, lend or sell it to anybody. I
now needed money so badly I was also compelled to sell off the movie projector, with its many reels and films,
and the screen. I also had to sell some of my good books, and my room looked empty. I felt sad to have done
this, but now again I had a little balance in the post office. Winter was approaching, and we needed clothes.
Between us, husband and wife, there was so much to worry about, yet at times I forget the future and played a
small tune on my violin, while the little intelligent daughter began to hum and sing, thus making us gay and
One day I was surprised to find my friend Chong Sing at my door. It was my late master who in 1942 had
introduced me to this half Chinese and half Burmese boy, the son of a well-to-do Burman of Mandalay. His
father had been killed by Japanese bombs, and Chong Sing had come with other Burma refugees to Calcutta in a
transport plane, and after that had been taken care of by his patriotic Burmese fellows. When he was first brought
to me by my master, I treated him like a brother, and for some months helped him to play the violin. After a
while he had joined the Burmese Navy.
Now, here he was back again in his sailor’s uniform, looking very smart and intelligent. What good English
he spoke now! He took me to a group of his friends and introduced me, telling them that I had been loved by my
Dutch master and had written my life story, which was going to be published someday. He also introduced his
sister U-lang, saying that she too played on the violin. It was good to meet a musician who could talk about
“I must give up my work, Chong Sing. I cannot go on with such small pay,” I commented in disgust.”
“No, Twan you must not” he answered thoughtfully.
“First try to get a job elsewhere, and then resign. See. I have told my friend Lee to look for a job for you. He
is working in the Quartermaster Department of the U.S. Army, at Howrah.”
Never before had I heard such sound advice from a friend. Certainly he was right. But from the inner heart, a
voice was saying, “Submit your resignation and be independent. Be your own master and do things at your own
choice, not at others’. Then you will be free from the chain of drudgery, but at the same time you must take the
consequences.” Though I heard this voice at every turn, I could never venture to act on it. I was waiting for better
days to come. From now on, after my duty I often went to see Chong Sing, and we had a lovely time with
accordion and mouth organ, since Chong Sing knew to do jitterbug dances. Still I continued to toil day in and
day out. All the vitality of my youthful life was consumed by this paper cutting machine. When the day’s work
was done, I felt dead tired, and the blood was running feverishly in my veins. Something told me that I was not
made to work like this, being physically weak. I ought to have been doing something different. Be an artist, or
musician, or clerk, or, if not, be somebody’s personal servant! I hated to toil at such mechanical work hour after
hour. I wan a man like any other man, but surely I was not built to be yoked up like a vigorous beast, whether I
liked it or not. Swearing every moment that I would never do this kind of work if I got a chance at anything
better, I nevertheless had to go on till the sound of the gong allowed me to return home, angry and irritated.
Meantime, apart from this suffering, ambition grew in me, like a newly planted tree that shoots up its leaves. One
afternoon, I received an airmail letter from South Africa. It was from my master’s good friend Mr. Edward
Groth, formerly American Consul in Calcutta, to whom I had written of my master’s death. After thanking me
and paying tribute to my late master, he reminded me that the publisher had told Mr. Whittemore he must see the
final volumes before deciding whether to print my book.
The thought of sending the manuscript now became my only dream. To send by air would cost more than I could
afford to pay. But how to forward it? I even feared that my manuscript would be utterly destroyed, for now
Calcutta had become an important target of the Japs and it was being bombed.
How could my manuscript be kept safe?
I decided to confide my troubles to Mr. and Mrs. Bake; for next to my deceased master, these Dutch friends
of his were the most true and humanly kind persons I had ever known. They were famous musicians, and yet
Mrs. Bake had once asked me to come with my violin and play violin and piano
duets with her, and thus learn music. For a long time now, because I had to work hard in the factory to fill our
stomachs, I had not been free to go and play duets though my heart yearned to study Beethoven and Schubert,
and to listen again to a good symphony of Mozart or Tchaikovsky,
as I had listened in the old days to the symphony orchestra at the winter concerts conducted by Professor Sondre,
because Mrs. Bake had so kindly offered me a ticket.
“Well Twan” Mrs. Bake said sympathetically when I had explained everything to her, “I think I will write to
Mrs. Gertrude Sen about the book, and I am sure she will help a lot more than we can do. She is a great
American correspondent who lives here in India, and she knows how to deal with such things. We shall probably
be seeing her very soon, and I will take one copy of your story with me and show it to her”.
I appreciated her words more than I knew how to say, and the hope grew that in the time to come I would
write another autobiography and send it to America.
Meanwhile, in the factory I was daily losing strength, and I felt sick and lazy. I often stayed home, feeling ill,
but not knowing the cause of my ailment. Not only did I lose my weight and energy, but my wages as well, since
every leave I took resulted in cutting down my wages. When I drew my pay, I scarcely received what a coolie
would draw, and I was ashamed to accept it. Then, as I still did not go regularly to attend my duty, I was warned
by my employer to do better otherwise I would be discharged. In spite of his sharp words, I had to stay back,
falling sick again, and at last, when I was examined by the doctor, I was given some tonic and calcium for my
weak lung, and was told that I needed rest and medical attention, or my health would deteriorate beyond
“Health is more important than work and this miserable hour, I won’t go to work, no matter whether they
discharge me or not,” I grumbled at my wife.
She looked at me sympathetically. She could see that I was not pretending. She could say nothing but to
moan and curse her Karma.
Now, at last, it was time to take my wife to hospital. The expected child was born, and amidst all the
anxieties, I felt hilarious joy to become the father of a son. After ten days, I brought my wife home, and did all
that an anxious husband could do.
Obviously, by this time, I had withdrawn nearly all my savings from the Post Office Savings Bank. I had to
spend money on this and that, besides medicine and nourishing food for my convalescent wife, and I also had to
pay the nurse I had employed for the time being. Little by little, my last savings were exhausted. When I told my
wife, she gave me an incredulous look. “How did you spend so much?” she said angrily.
“I don’t know”, I answered nonchalantly. “Money seems to go like water”. Eventually, however, I told her
that I had spent the money carefully and that she should disabuse her mind of any idea of my being loose or
I grew quiet. What was the use of quarreling? At last, feeling compassion. I said: “I am sorry. I know how you
feel. But what can I do? Even if I had asked pardon of my irritated boss, he would not have accepted me.” She
looked impassive, absorbed in her own bitter feelings. As she still sat there impervious, I implored here to
understand my miseries. Sensing my regret, she turned to give a sad look. It was an individual understanding
between man and wife. “Now, tell me, what are you going to do? There are debts to be paid.” There was a
change in her voice. Instead of being stern and scornful, it implied sympathy with her unhappy husband, who by
this time had lowered his head, repenting that he had made a great mistake.
“Now what is there to look so sad about, as if you have lost your whole future?” she said. “The only thing
now to do is?”
“To sell my typewriter, I guess” I said reluctantly. But then I shook my head. “No, not my typewriter. No
matter what happens, not that”.
“Well, then,” she said, and, coming close to me, she placed on the table the fifty rupees’ worth of gold ring
and the gold bangles which had cost a fortune.
I was surprised. For a moment I gaped at her dumbfounded. “What do you mean by that?” I at last demanded
“We have to live by some means, don’t we?” she said. “We don’t want to beg or take a loan from anybody”.
Since she had become the mother of two children, she wished to maintain our dignity and self-respect.
“But we should not be put to the disgrace of selling off your trinkets” I told her “What will the neighbors
think of you? I will go tomorrow to see what we can do. Remember, Mr. Van Manen Sahib said we could get
something from my book. I must send it somehow to the publisher in America.”
I often had heard that people in distress, when they find that they cannot look after their wives and children,
commit suicide, and sometimes the wife runs away with someone else because her husband cannot maintain her.
There rang in my ear a word called “divorce” wife and husband each trying to better themselves. This new idea
ran riot in my mind. No! It could not happen to us!
“You would not leave me- I mean” I began, but could not finish.
“Twan! What has come over you! I am astonished at you!”
“Well, people say when a husband cannot look after his wife, ‘Let’s get divorced’. You know I am jobless
now”. How foolish it was of me to speak like that, how mean and low minded. She was angry to hear me.
“You talk as if we are not loving each other. You talk as if you have no responsibility to see to our troubles
and the children. Shame oh you!” she declared. I felt shame. I was wrong. The devil was with me.
“I think it would be advisable for you to go up to Kalimpong and stay with my sister there”.
“And you?” she asked dryly.
“I don’t know. I may join the Navy,” I murmured.
“You want o join the Navy!” she exclaimed in horror.
“They say they are taking lots of young men, and I should do something, shouldn’t I?”
“No, not that sort of job! I would not allow you. And I wouldn’t go to stay with your sister, either. I hate the
place and I hate the sister of yours”.
“Well, anyway, you cannot stay here. The Japs are coming and bombing. It’s unsafe,” I told her emphatically.
She began to sob and cuddle her little baby. I took our little daughter in my arms and held her tight, but my
heart was heavy to think of a jobless father and an unhappy mother and innocent children looking on, trying to
understand what had happened.
In these circumstances, I did not know whether to laugh or cry when the postman brought two airmail letters, one
from Africa and one from America.
“From whom have these letters come?” my wife said, offering me a cup of tea, and gazing at the foreign
The Africa letter was from Mr. Groth, advising me to send him my manuscript through the American
Consulate. The other letter was from Miss Van Manen in New York. She wrote about her brother’s death, and
added that she had heard from Mr. Groth about my book, and was in touch with the publisher. “I will try all I can
to get your book published,” she wrote, “but there is a paper shortage in America, and many publications are
postponed until after the war. Let us hope that this war won’t last much longer”.
I felt some encouragement that many kind friends were trying to help me publish my book, and I began to
have faith that someday I would climb the stairs to happiness. Soon after this the American Consul very kindly
took my manuscripts to send to Mr. Groth by diplomatic pouch for forwarding to America. This made me very
happy, but still, being jobless at the moment, how was I to live and feed my children?
Thinking that I must do something. I bought paper and drew and painted pictures, and so prepared handmade
Christmas cards, and sold them to the bookseller in the market; for owing to the war difficulties, Christmas cards
were hard to get. There was good profit, and I was happy that I was doing something to keep us alive. In my
daydreams I saw myself publishing my book, and writing more stories, and decorating the walls of my room with
my own paintings. I had a house full of books, and I listened to an imaginary symphony. How good it would be
to have such things come true!
Thinking of money, I also tried to solve the crossword puzzles, but I never won a prize, because I made so
many errors.
“Give up gambling like this. It is not paying,” my woman grumbled. “Imagine how much you have
squandered already in fees. I wish you had bought something for your children with that money you have
She was right, but she did not know that I was trying my utmost to bring the mountain down, to make it
easier to climb on. The poorer we poor people are, the more avaricious and greedy we become. Money, which is
what seems so essential to every one of us. However, it is not an easy task to make one’s pocket sound with
jingling coins. The next week I brought home another Illustrated Weekly of India. “You see that”, I said,
showing my wife result of the crossword puzzle. “I made only two errors. If I had had any money to send my
answer, we would surely have been given some prize”.
“Now you blame me because you had no money to send it!” was her ill-tempered reply. “But you must have
had money to play at the billiard room and go to the pictures.”
“That’s silly of you to talk that way. I did not go to the pictures on my own accord. When a friend insisted,
what could I do?” I knew she was jealous and wanted to go to the picture house herself, since it was a long time
since I had taken her to a movie show.
“Anyway, here is a letter came this afternoon,” she said, handing it over to me. This
time it was a letter from Mr. Walsh, saying he liked what he had seen of my life story and
was hoping he would receive the rest of the manuscript soon. As soon as he received it,
he would give me the final answer.
“DID HE TELL YOU WHAT SORT of job it was?”
“All he said is that you should come to the billiard room without fail as soon as you arrive home. For all I
know, this may be a pretense in order to have a game of billiards with you”. Without reply, I left the house. At
the end of a game of snooker, Chong Sing told me that Lee had finally spoken about me to his officer, and that I
should go with him and learn more about it. “These days,” explained Chong Sing, “there is work to be found.
The U.S. Army want lots of new men to work in the Quartermaster Department, if one knows to speak English”.
When Lee came, he told me I should go with him following morning to the Hindustan Building, so he could
recommend me to the American officer of the Quartermaster Department, who recruited new workers according
to their experience and qualification. Though I was afraid that I had little chance to be one of the lucky men, I
went as arranged. “This is the man about whom I spoke to you, sir,” Lee said to his officer.
“Your name?” the foreigner asked in a pleasant voice.
“Twan Yang”.
“You speak English, do you”? the American asked.
“I do, sir,” I said with a shiver.
“Can you speak Hindustani?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Can you type?”
“No, sir.” I said no because, though I knew a little, I did not think it was enough.
I was so afraid he would not accept me I had to control myself to stop the shaking of my legs. How to prove
my qualifications? From my pocket I produced the letter from Mr. Walsh and Mr. Groth. After studying these
letters, which were a kind of testimonial, the officer gave an encouraging, whimsical smile.
“You will be fit for a warehouse man same as Lee,” he said.
“Thank you, sir, thank you,” I said. Lee’s face, too, was broadening with a smile. He was proud that his
promise of aid had been fulfilled. The officer handed me a note.
“Show this chit to the officer in charge at the Howrah Warehouse of the Quartermaster Department. Your pay
will be one hundred and fifty rupees. Will that suit you?
I did not know how to express my joy when I heard that I was really accepted, and was to start work next day
with the big pay. How astounding it sounded!
“Now we much thank God and be happy that I am employed,” I said to my wife on reaching home that
evening. For the first time since the death of my beloved master, light and happiness seemed to brighten the
Week after week and month after month I worked here in this new place, with zest and zeal and a glowing
faith in my future. Certainly the feeling came that if I lost this job I would never again get another like it. But at
this moment I was living in America; at least it felt like living in America to be working with American people
and to receive such handsome pay. At the end of three months I was given an increase of twenty-five rupees.
With this big pay and much comfort in the house, life indeed began to shine. God was kind, and we were happy.
Surely my luck was blooming like an orchid! For the first time people regarded me with a certain human respect
they could see that, though I had no formal schooling, I was a man of different caliber. They heard my music and
saw my paintings, admired my games and although I kept things at a certain distance, with dignity, I easily made
new friends. Nor did I ever boast about it, yet in my heart I was happy and proud of the idea that thousands in the
world would read my story if ever my book should be published.