Thursday, November 17, 2016

CYPRIAN FERNANDES: House of Braganca (6)

Hot blood, cold showers and protocol
The first time he saw her at the swish Equator Club in Nairobi, not far from the Kenya Cinema at the bottom of Government Road, he was mesmerised. No, he was utterly stunned like he had been whacked over the head with a long-necked bottle of Tusker. While he was not unconscious, he was in a daze. He quickly reached for his glass of single malt and had really good swig at it. In this moment, he said to himself, I will need another… quickly and purely for medicinal purposes. 

I have got to get back to my senses, he told himself. But, as we all know, there is no cure for the love bug. It is a kind of madness that strikes at the brain and causes enormous eruptions in every cardiac –related department of the brain known to man and animal alike. The birds and the bees and every living element on this earth suffer the same pain at one time or another, I suspect. But was this love at first sight, just a twinge of lust or something else? The answer did not come to Ferdi immediately. On the other hand, he is made of sterner stuff and, instead of pursuing the lady in question, thought he would find sanctuary in a cold shower at his house.

He had gone to Nairobi’s exclusive “Europeans only” nightclub with a bunch of youngish society types associated with Government House and the upper ranks of the Colonial Civil Service. On the first day he presented himself to start work at Government House His Excellency Sir William Severon  Randall-Scott had after a long chat convinced Ferdi to use his actual name “Ferdinando” and let it be known that he was actually a full blood Portuguese. “I have already heard about your little to-do with Ferguson. In fact, the community is buzzing with the news that there is a highly placed coolie at Government House. That will most certainly not do,” he had been told rather firmly, almost like headmaster disciplining a child. The Governor had explained in the interests of official decorum it was proper “for only white men to be seen in the company white folk in public and in private.” Ferdinando could, the Governor explained, visited Goanese establishments and clubs and socialise “only in an official capacity” with the lower class Goanese people. It was not necessary or appropriate to pose as “one of them” to achieve his mission in Kenya. “You represent one of the great allies of his Britannic majesty’s government and we should wave that flag with honour and gratitude,” the Governor had said.

“On the other hand,” the Governor had said, “it is important that our Goanese subjects are made to feel special and valued. Which they are, indeed, as they are our most trusted allies in whose hands the wheels of the British Civil Service in East Africa are well oiled, kept in ship-shape condition and run well to the credit of His Majesty’s Colonial Service. Always remember, however, they are after only our servants. But valued servants, as I said.”

“I have sent Bill Jones our Head Clerk to explain to Ferguson that you were only pulling his leg.” The Governor had said.

A couple of days later, Ferdinando had a drink with William Rogerson, the visiting Colonial Office envoy and he raised the matters arising in his mind about the directives given him by the Governor.

Rogerson was quite precise, even a little brutal: “We must each of us know our own place in the scheme of things in His Majesty’s Government,” he said quite firmly. “You should not find that too difficult. After all, you are Portuguese, a people famous for sailing, navigating, discovering new worlds, colonisation and, of course, slavery. You guys have been in the business of master-and-slave for nigh on 500 years now. Surely, you must know the drill by now.”

For the next couple of days, Ferdinando appeared lost in maze of his mind, almost a prisoner of that maze full of questions, doubts and conscience. For a start, he could not get out of his head the memory of those wonderful years growing up in Goa. 

Yes, the Goans treated him and the rest of his family as some kind of royalty but he grew up with so many young Goan boys and girls. He understood the different lifestyles, the caste and class systems and there were social barriers that were never to be crossed, or crossed for the entertainment or gratification of the master class …. But, but, he counted so many of the young Goans as his friends, he told himself. The Goan nobility, the fewer that were considered, noble were made welcome at his mother’s table and they broke bread and few wine bottles together. His head continued to spin in that maze in his head.

Several weeks later, after a round of golf at the holiest temple of the European settlers in Kenya, the Muthaiga Golf Club, he found himself in the company of a group of British senior civil servants who were on secondment to Kenya. The group had found themselves a quiet corner, quite a distance from and even out of earshot of all the belligerence that was going on at the other end of the bar. The Muthaiga Golf Club was, after all, the settlers’ temple of sin, sex and matters never raised in public.

There was Michael Moore of the Treasury, Jim Morris of the Legislative Council, Andrew Darton of the Ministry of Agriculture, Hamish MacPhelan, Provincial Commissioner of the Northern Frontier District and an assortment of other civil service types.

MacPhelan was raving on about his head clerk, Jacinto Mascarenhas, who virtually ran the Northern Frontier District (NFD) on his own but in MacPhelan’s name. “I trust Masky implicitly (that’s what I should call him, for short, he had told me). He pours a decent glass of Scotch, cooks fabulous curries and if he was not a coolie he would make a fine Provincial Commissioner. And, what’s more, he has got my back at all times!”

“Do you socialise with your Goan clerks?” Ferdinando asked.

“Of course, the NFD is nothing but sun and more sun, dust and more dust, camel and more camel, more tribal skirmishes and more tribal skirmishes and the nearest white man to Marsabit, where we have our headquarters, is more than a day’s ride by camel. Mind, it is only a drink and a meal and office chit-chat. We each know our place in the scheme of things. I love these Goanese chappies but I would not trust some of those other brown skins, especially the shopkeepers!”

So, that’s not so bad, Ferdinando thought with his thumb and forefinger massaging the dimple in his chin.

Moore of the Treasury went one better: “I encourage all my young Goan employees. I have helped six of them with scholarships to universities in Britain. I think they are a damned good investment for our future in this country.”

Darton of Ministry of Agriculture agreed, emphasising his enthusiasm by somewhat boisterously thumping on the table. Darton was rather famous in these parts for discovering the cure for various diseases afflicting the humble potato. Without any children of his own, he wanted to someone to carry on his great work. He said he found that someone in a Goan boy called Teotinio Almeida. “He has just finished high school but he is a bit of a diamond in terms of his intelligence, diligence and dedication. And, he loves the potato. So I got him a full scholarship to my old alma mater Angharad University in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is going to be someone special in the agriculture business.”

"What's more, " MacPhelan said, "they shower us with presents, alcohol, gold chains and what not. It is a religious thing I think."

Morris from the Legislative Council was a little subdued on the subject. “You should never invite them to your club or to your home even though the Governor has one or two of them to a Garden Party honouring a British special holiday or His Majesty. You, of course can be their guest of honour but protocols must be observed at all times.”

MacPhelan chirped in: “Sport is OK, but never invited into the club. Good thing they don’t play rugby.”

“What about sex?” Ferdinando asked somewhat timidly.

“Never!” came the resounding chorus followed by a lot of nudge, nudge, wink, wink. "Lots of farmers wives for that," someone was heard to say!

So, he thought, it is going to be OK to be Goans, talk to Goans, eat and drink with Goans and do anything else as long as it was official business. And he must not invite any of them to his house , office or club.

So, what am I going to do about her? Ferdinando asked himself.

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