the 9th of June 1996
When I came to
Rabindra Nagar that Sunday morning it thundered and rained
once again as if the monsoon had started already. But, of
course, beginning of June was much too early, the monsoon is
due quite predictably around the beginning of July every
year in our part of India.
Elizabeth carried a lovely thin blue and white cotton
shawl around herself and looked queenly. She beamed at me.
Unfortunately, though, she had bad tooth-ache. I could see
her lower right cheek being swollen. As on and off Elizabeth
had been complaining about slight tooth-aches, I was not
very sure how serious it was this time. Generally speaking,
I can feel that she aches more or less all the time all over
her body. She is a sick lady. And it is unbelievable how she
manages to disguise her aches by will-power, meditation, and
sheer mental work.
Later that afternoon, when Elizabeth had thrown all
her covers away (it had become quite warm again), I saw for
the first time after many months her feet again. Their
swollen-up disfiguration made me cry. No, Elizabeth will
never be able to walk on them again ...
She was willing to be distracted from it all and turn
to things which had been taken out of a box by Bahadur. I
was looking with Elizabeth through a photo-album. Photos of
Elizabeth (when she was beautiful, and young, and so utterly
vulnerable to my eyes) with for instance Dr. Sarvapalli
Radhakrishnan, the second President of India, with Mr.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, with
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and, of course, with the Dalai
Lama when he was young. They passed through my hands as they
had not been fixed into the album.
was a photo of a group of young people, all in swimming
suits, near a lake. Dagmar could make out her mother, not
her father, though. "This must be Hungary?" She
questioned. "Yes. 'Vegetarians'. Parents' friends, they
used to go around with them," replied Elizabeth.
"And who is this gentleman?" Dagmar wanted to find
her father ... "This is the ... O, did I tell you the
story that the Britishers did not want to allow us to land
in India when we first came? We had perfect travelling
papers. But we wore chappals (sandals) and dresses made of
hand-woven cloth." Dagmar asked indignantly,
"because of your looks, your landing in India was
jeopardized? You must tell me that story, please Elizabeth.
I will put the album aside and listen only. Please tell me
about your landing in India. And the gentleman in that
Elizabeth started, "from Egypt
- because we stayed in Italy for three-four months -
we went by boat, an Italian ship. O, I did not tell
you. We already had hand-woven cloth. A friend of mother's
in Hungary was fond of weaving and mother disclosed to this
friend (and this friend only) that we had intention to go to
India. So the lady wove some cloth for us. Two lengths of
cloth for dresses. 'You must wear my hand-woven cloth', she
said. You remember those 'vegetarians' in the photo? Their
were followers of nature, sandals in summer, bare feet, the
same as the Franciscan fathers were wearing.
So, at Bombay port, two tall officers, ruddy
complexions, looked us up and down. Our strange clothes
caused extra suspicion. Then talked with one another in
English. We did not know a word of English.
Before this, on board the ship, during our travelling
between Egypt and Bombay, my mother followed her 'nature
cure'. She continued her exercise at four a.m. on the roof
of the ship, of course. So, the few Indians who were
travelling on the ship (most of the travellers were English
people) were mysteriously attracted to us white-robed
figures. They would come up and put flowers at mother's
feet, and say ... 'Gandhi, Gandhi, Gandhi.'
There was an Indian family travelling. An elderly,
well-groomed lady, a very modern young lady and a Sardarji,
who was the husband of the young lady. He was bringing her
back from Paris where she had studied to become a doctor.
Now for him my mother's behaviour (the early morning
exercise, the hand-woven cloths, etc.) was also strange and
he dared to introduce himself and talk with her. He spoke
German, mother spoke German, so they could communicate. And
by chance, mother showed him the letter Tagore had written
to her, that we are welcome to Santiniketan.
Now in the line of people wanting to disembark
through customs at Bombay port, this family was standing
behind us. The Sardarji could hear the officers talking
between themselves and understood, of course, because he
understood English. Not to let them (mother and me) get
down, keep them on the ship for two days and send them back
to where they came from. You see, it was the time of
Gandhi's salt movement.
So the Sardarji requested mother to speak on our
behalf. We said 'yes', because we could not speak English.
So he stood in front of us and told them, 'gentlemen these
are not dangerous people, they are invited by Tagore, they
are artists and, besides that, nobody can be sent back, who
has valid travelling documents and who has a representative
of his country in India.' Hungary had a Consul General in
Bombay and we had Hungarian passports. The Britishers
But then they said, how to contact the Hungarian
Consulate, as the day was Saturday, the next Sunday. Only on
Monday there would be a chance to do so. So where would they
go, what would they do until then. Then the Sardarji said,
'I will take care of them.' Unfortunately, I have forgotten
his name. He said, we would stay in the same hotel where he
and his family would stay. Now, the work was left for
immigration people to get in touch with the Hungarian
So, we were allowed to leave the ship. Yes, we also
had to take our luggage. We did not have much luggage."
But Dagmar was determined to find out about the gentleman in
the photo: "How did it happened, though, that you took
a photo of this gentleman?"
And Elizabeth cried: "the man was the Consul
General! We followed the appointment on Monday at eleven
o'clock the Sardarji had made for us. We were accompanied by
one of his servants as a guard and to show us the way. The
Consul General stayed in that old Hotel 'Majestic' opposite
the Bombay National Museum. Between the museum and the hotel
there was a large space (for parking and transport) which we
had to cross. When we were coming towards the hotel building
through the gate there was a gentleman standing on the steps
of the hotel.
And as we were getting close, he came down the steps
and walked straight towards us. Then he greeted my mother by
her Hungarian name." Dagmar said surprised,
"really? So he must have known her?" Elizabeth
continued, "my mother was thunderstruck. Even I was
shivering. She asked him, how do you know me? And he
answered: O, I have seen your photo-graph. All in Hungarian,
of course. But where could you see my photograph? Asked my
mother. On my brother's dressing-table, he answered."
Trimurti at Elephanta Caves
island a few kilometres off the Bombay Coast)
Dagmar laughed incredulously, "so the brother of
the Consul General of Hungary to India was an art
connoisseur?" And Elizabeth said, "a writer and an
art connoisseur. My father and that gentleman were friends.
And even I remembered then suddenly that I was riding on his
knees as a small child."
Spontaneously Dagmar came forth with, "so
actually you were all kind of friends. This is what I call a
beautiful coincidence!" And Elizabeth replied,
He immediately invited us to stay for five days in
that hotel, and he would show us Bombay, and he would take
us to the Elephanta Caves ..." Dagmar said, "gosh
your life really is like a fairy tale."