IN THE TIME OF FRANK MORAES, TOO

Sunday Express - - FRONT PAGE - T J S GE­ORGE

Love in the time of cholera ended up with love win­ning; au­thor Gabriel Mar­quez wouldn’t have it any other way. Strug­gle in the time of corona is not that eas­ily re­solved be­cause petty in­ter­ests are in­volved. Don­ald Trump called it “Chi­nese Virus” although, in 2018, he took the ir­re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sion to fire the US Govern­ment’s en­tire pan­demic re­sponse chain of com­mand. Some of his coun­try­men are col­lect­ing firearms. Their rea­son­ing: The virus cri­sis could lead to law and or­der prob­lems with loot­ing and rob­bing spread­ing ev­ery­where. Amer­ica al­ways is Amer­ica.

The way we re­spond to cri­sis sit­u­a­tions sums up our per­son­al­ity, both as in­di­vid­u­als and as a na­tion. When emer­gency sit­u­a­tions stem from tragedy, the best of men are tested be­yond their han­dling ca­pac­ity. I have seen some of them do­ing their best to cope with prob­lems even when they knew they were not suc­ceed­ing.

The fa­mous Times of In­dia edi­tor Frank Moraes was caught in a fam­ily tragedy he could do noth­ing about. The dis­tin­guished M Cha­la­p­athi Rau found him­self pushed from the pin­na­cle of glory to a bot­tom­less pit.

Frank Moraes was the ul­ti­mate gentle­man, very proper in his in­ter­ac­tions with oth­ers. Cub re­porters would receive the same cour­tesy from him as the Prime Min­is­ter would. He faced em­bar­rass­ments of­ten for var­i­ous rea­sons, but he tack­led them with care and tact. When he be­came the first In­dian edi­tor of the Times of In­dia, one of his first tasks was to have lunch with the new owner, Ra­makr­ishna Dalmia. Moraes spoke no Hindi, Dalmia spoke no English, so an in­ter­preter man­aged the con­ver­sa­tion be­tween the edi­tor and the pro­pri­etor. Food was a big­ger prob­lem than con­ver­sa­tion and the oblig­a­tory lunch be­came a labour of ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Frank Moraes’ son Dom put it this way: “Dalmia was served his veg­e­tar­ian repast in sil­ver dishes. My fa­ther re­ceived his in earth­en­ware uten­sils, later bro­ken in the court­yard out­side in case they pol­luted Dalmia’s caste. My fa­ther no­ticed this. It was an in­ci­dent he never for­got.”

It was not the only un­for­get­table in­ci­dent. Times of In­dia’s prop­erly Bri­tish man­age­ment had ar­ranged for the dark-skinned Goan that was Moraes to eat his lunch in his own cor­ner of the of­fice, away from the Bri­tish ed­i­tors who formed the bulk of the writ­ing staff and who had a din­ing room com­plete with ta­ble linen and uni­formed but­lers. Some en­joyed the pomp, but the younger Bri­tish ed­i­to­rial hands saw it as racial dis­crim­i­na­tion and threat­ened to re­sign if it con­tin­ued.

As he put up with all the go­ings-on, Frank Moraes main­tained his el­e­gant smile, never giv­ing a hint that his per­sonal life was im­mersed in tragedy. He had mar­ried Beryl for love. It did not take long for Beryl to lose her men­tal bal­ance. Was Frank’s long ab­sences in Burma and be­yond as war cor­re­spon­dent a fac­tor be­hind this calamity? All we know is that Beryl could turn vi­o­lent. She would chase Dom around the house with a kitchen knife. Dom as a boy usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied his fa­ther to the Times of­fice and we thought the fa­ther was train­ing the son. In fact it was a case of their man­ag­ing their pri­vate tragedy. Even­tu­ally Beryl was com­mit­ted to a Ban­ga­lore asy­lum where, after many years, she died un­known, un­re­mem­bered. By chance, it fell to me to in­form Dom who came and su­per­vised the last rights of his mother.

For all his ex­te­rior calm, Frank Moraes was crushed within. His de­pen­dence on the bot­tle in­creased. By now, luck­ily for him, he had joined the In­dian Ex­press. Lucky be­cause, when it be­came ob­vi­ous that he was no longer in a po­si­tion to func­tion, Ram­nath Goenka de­cided to take care of him.

Eng­land was Moraes’ dream coun­try and Goenka sent him to Lon­don, with ar­range­ments for his lodg­ing and com­forts. The care and up­keep pro­vided by a hu­mane pro­pri­etor con­tin­ued un­til Moraes died in Lon­don, aged only 67.

Cha­la­p­athi Rau was not that lucky. Leg­endary friend of Jawa­har­lal Nehru, he was the face of the Na­tional Her­ald which was once an in­te­gral part of the free­dom move­ment. He devoted his life to the Her­ald. PostNehru In­dia treated him cru­elly. Indira Gandhi handed over the Her­ald to Yash­pal Ka­pur, de­scribed as a Nehru fam­ily re­tainer, which is eu­phemism for ser­vant.

When ser­vant turned into boss, the boss that was Cha­la­p­athi was re­duced to a ser­vant. Sum­mar­ily dis­missed, too proud to seek help from friends, Cha­la­p­athi roamed the streets, un­recog­nised, un­til he per­ished, un­known.

The time of cholera and the time of corona are not as heart­less as the time of in­hu­man­ity.

The way we re­spond to cri­sis sit­u­a­tions sums up our per­son­al­ity, both as in­di­vid­u­als and as a na­tion. When emer­gency sit­u­a­tions stem from tragedy, the best of men are tested be­yond their han­dling ca­pac­ity. I have seen some of them do­ing their best to cope with prob­lems even when they knew they were not suc­ceed­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.