Excerpt for Daughter Of A Diplomat by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

I thank the Almighty God for guiding me through the completion of this Book, Daughter of a Diplomat. All glory and Praise goes to Him.

This book is dedicated to my parents, John and Flora Wilfred Santosham.


For all of us, school and college days have a lot of exciting memories. They are packed with a variety of experiences which are special for each one of us.

This little book in your hand is a compilation of such memories, of a young girl. But you will find it to be rare and unique, because it is written by the Daughter of a Diplomat. She will take you to different countries in the Continents of Asia, Europe, Africa and America. Her experiences were special also because they start from Delhi in the early days of Independent India, moving on to strife-torn Nepal and onwards to Pondicherry and Ceylon. Then it is over to the post-World War II Europe, before moving to Africa in the apartheid days.

From the days following Gandhiji’s assassination in Delhi, the story goes to Nepal, with the author’s journey up the Himalayas, as she is carried for days by coolies to reach Kathmandu. Later, in another trip to Kathmandu, she flies in the King’s Royal Plane! Two long ship voyages are described in detail, as also a coral-viewing trip in a glass-bottomed boat which meets with a mishap.

You will find yourself right in the middle of some historic events, with the author’s father playing important roles: like in the Nepal King taking refuge in the Indian Embassy, merger of Pondicherry with India, officially announcing the liberation of Goa while in Africa, and closing down of the Indian Embassy in Southern Rhodesia. Once the author herself, then a collegian in Africa, was directly involved in an apartheid incident. She testified alone in the court there, and won her case.

In the memories recalled in this book, there were many interesting experiences. When they had just arrived in Salisbury in Southern Rhodesia, the author and her mother were interviewed by the local Press. Next day the newspaper reported it under the title, “Welcome to Flower and Peace from India”, because her mother’s name was Flora and the author’s name, Shanthy, which means Peace!

The author’s education in different countries in different languages and syllabuses was also a fascinating experience. This even involved, for her college field work, frequent drives in a jeep across thoroughfares in Africa, driving the jeep all by herself!

Through all these, she enjoyed close encounters with many eminent people. To name a few: Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi, many Presidents/Prime Ministers of countries including Rajendra Prasad and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru of India, many Ambassadors, Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, famous pop song singer Tony Brendt, dancers/actresses of the Indian screen, Kamala Laxman, Padmini and Ragini, the famous mathematician Shakuntala Devi, and others too.

Thus life as a Daughter of a Diplomat had its glamour and also challenges, including the yoke of protocol. Throughout these, the author enjoyed powerful parental influence which gave her strength all the time. The life of her parents was a Journey of Faith, full of sacrifices. Their outlook was based strongly on the value of faith in God and in education. Her mother helped her in all situations, until the latter was suddenly called to her heavenly home, while on her way from Guyana in the West Indies to Madras for the author’s second confinement.

In her home, Christian values and virtues were stressed. Prayer and God’s guidance were resorted to always, especially for making critical decisions. On one occasion, the author’s father, who was then India’s High Commissioner in an African country, dared to refuse a directive of the host country’s government. When he faced this situation, he retired to the privacy of his room for a few minutes. Then when he came out he conveyed his refusal.

This book, though compact, will take you through all these, and much more ! For me, it was a very interesting experience indeed, to go through the entire story minutely, to edit and assign sub-titles. I am sure that everyone will enjoy going through the rare experiences described by this Daughter of a Diplomat. They will also get enlightening glimpses of some important historical events. Who knows, this book may inspire other daughters and sons of Diplomats to also come forward and share their memories, which would each be unique in their own way.

I wish God’s blessings upon the author in all her interests and involvements, and also upon her near and dear ones, for many years to come.


Senior Deputy Director, Ahmedabad Textile Industry’s Research Association

Research Advisor, Ahmedabad Management Association

Family Photograph, 1963 (Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia)

Table of Contents

Foreword Ratna Prabhu Monsingh


Chapter 1 My Family

Chapter 2 Nepal: Father’s First Diplomatic Posting

Chapter 3 Nepal to Madras, for Education

Chapter 4 Stay with Grandmother in Vellore

Chapter 5 Schooling in Madras

Chapter 6 Merger of Pondicherry with Indian Union

Chapter 7 My First Sea Voyage (1956)

Chapter 8 My Splendorous Life in Germany

Chapter 9 Across Europe by Train, Ceylon bound by Sea

Chapter 10 Ceylon, the Emerald Island

Chapter 11 Over to Africa

Chapter 12 Goodbye to My Diplomatic Passport

Chapter 13 My Father’s Retirement and a Terrible Tragedy

Chapter 14 Rare Memories of a Diplomat’s Daughter


Madras Chennai

Ceylon Sri Lanka

Nyasaland Malawi

Northern Rhodesia Zambia

Southern Rhodesia Zimbabwe

Salisbury Harare

Embassy Highest government office represented in a foreign


High Commission Highest government office represented in

a Commonwealth country

Ambassador Highest government official representing his country in a

foreign country

High Commissioner Highest government officer representing his country in

a Commonwealth country


Shanthy Pragalsingh


My journey as an Indian diplomat’s daughter was unique and exciting. It began when India had just gained independence from the British, with the Indian Foreign Service in the incubation process. Simultaneously, many geo-political changes were also taking place globally. It was unimaginable that my father could enter the Indian Foreign Service, in spite of belonging to the minority Christian group. He was just a clerk in the Government Accounts office, and was offered a very challenging diplomatic posting in Nepal, which marked the beginning of his diplomatic career that spanned twenty years across several countries. Even today the Indian Foreign Service continues to be one of the most prestigious and coveted of government services.

As a diplomat’s daughter, I was highly privileged to travel widely with my parents, and to live through some historical events of those times. In the course, I had the opportunity of meeting and interacting with Heads of countries like Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governor Generals as well as prestigious dignitaries of various countries. Needless to say, for a growing young girl, it was a lifetime opportunity of varied interesting experiences including striking long lasting friendships with people of various nationalities. Before plunging into the main story, I will give glimpses of a few of my experiences here. I shall relate them in detail later as my memoir proceeds down the timeline.

In 1947 we were in Delhi when India gained independence from the British. We were also there in 1948 when the Father of the Nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was shot down by Nathuram Godse. I was 5 years old then, and was witness to all the turbulence that followed both these events.

In Nepal where my father had his first diplomatic posting, the Indian Embassy was at walking distance from our home. One Sunday, my father was walking home after clearing some pending work at the office. He was shocked to find King Mahindra, the King of Nepal, his family and his entourage seeking refuge in the Indian Embassy as they tried to flee from the Ranas who were opposed to the monarchy.

In 1954, my father was posted to Pondicherry which was considered to be a foreign posting, as Pondicherry was then under French rule. Mr. Kewalsingh, the Consul General and my father as Vice- Consul were instrumental in the country reaching a milestone, that is, the smooth merger of Pondicherry with the Indian Union. Later when we were in Germany, we were witness to the remnants of World War II. Within a span of 2 years we saw the metamorphosis of Deutschland as a reconstructed modern country, though as a nation, the people were still reeling under emotional and other kinds of turmoil.

During my father’s tenure in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, Prime Minister Bandaranaike was assassinated and his wife Srimavo Bandaranaike took over as the Prime Minister. Problems of the Tamil Tigers had just begun and my father had to deal with this very sensitive issue.

My father’s assignment in Central Africa was quite a challenge as he was in the Indian Foreign Service in the Central African Federation comprising of Northern Rhodesia (the present day Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (the present day Zimbabwe) and Nyasaland (Malawi). At that time Central Africa was under the rule of the British. We saw the emergence of Independent Zambia and Malawi. With the support of the Government of India, my father closed down the Indian Commission in Southern Rhodesia, in protest against the then Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia , Ian Smith’s extreme apartheid policy and his intention to unilaterally declare independence with a government dominated by Whites.

During the period of three years’ stay in Central Africa, I had met Prime Minister Kaunda. Notwithstanding the fact that he lived in a hut, he had risen to become the Prime Minister of the country, catapulting him into the sprawling official residence.

Studying in various countries, particularly in a German medium school, which meant studying all subjects like Math, Science, History, Geography and even French in German, interacting with international students and getting exposed to many cultures were other unique and invaluable experiences that broadened my outlook to life and shaped it.

A description of these experiences is covered in the pages that follow. My family background and some details of the later part of my life will be interwoven with the narrative. I have also drawn vital information regarding our younger days from my younger brother, Dr. Mathuram Santosham’s writing as well as from my elder brother Dr T V Santosham and these have helped kindle my memory.

I must also mention here how I was inspired to write this book. In 1997, my husband and I located to Singapore for about four years as our son-in-law, Pradeep, was travelling most of the time. Our daughter, Preeth, needed our assistance in looking after their three young children who were born in succession. At the end of this sojourn, we attended a farewell dinner where our hosts , Audrey Harte and her husband, were very excited to listen to my experiences as an Indian diplomat’s daughter. They encouraged me to compile my experiences in a book. The seed that was thus sown that day took root over the years resulting in this endeavor. Another impetus for this project came from my friend, Adele who was working for the British High Commission in Singapore. I would ride with her to a Church-based Bible course when she would share the problems that she had faced in her diplomatic life.

Diplomatic life provides one with exciting perks that include meeting Heads of States, visiting various countries and enjoying a luxurious life style. However, it all comes with challenges such as adapting to various cultures, coping with foreign languages, adjusting to various schools, colleges and varied systems of education, and constantly bidding farewell , often to your own close family members and friends. Though diplomatic immunity is provided, family members are also bound by protocol which constrains them from freely expressing their inner feelings and thoughts,often resulting in stress. But then, it is this combination of benefits and constraints that makes diplomatic life so exciting, challenging and colorful. Thus my urge to write this book was further strengthened. I thank God for giving me this opportunity, and I seek His guidance to complete this book.

Chapter 1


Psychologists say that adults can remember incidents from their younger days, even when they were as young as 2 and 3 years. Unfortunately, my memory goes back to when I was around 4 years old. It is also believed that there are three ego states in every human being: as a parent , adult and child ( PAC). All of these have a profound effect as they shape a person’s attitude, nature and have a bearing on his or her life in total. In my case, I believe that my experiences as an Indian diplomat’s daughter had a strong influence on me as they helped me to cope with varied situations and relate successfully to different types of people in my life.

My father Wilfred Santosham, son of Abraham Santosham, hailed from Madurai, and had three brothers and three sisters. He lost his father at a very young age. As the eldest son, he took on the responsibility of educating his brothers: Mathuram Santosham, who became a doctor, Eddie Santosham, a lawyer, and Davsingh Santosham, an engineer. Each one of them made a mark in their fields. My father could not pursue professional education. However, he completed his M Sc in Mathematics and took up a job, though still very young, due to force of circumstances.

My mother Flora Harris, the youngest among her five siblings, also lost her father at an early age. He was the Headmaster of Voorhees College in Vellore, and I believe he lent support to the famous Ida Scudder during the founding of the prestigious Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore, one of the renowned hospitals in Asia.

My father was tall, dark and handsome with wavy hair while my mother was fair, tall and beautiful with long, straight hair. I have heard from many sources that both she and her sister Sophia were known as Princesses of Vellore.

My father’s brother Dr Mathuram, known to us as Willie Uncle, and my mother’s brother Vincy Uncle were friends, and they brought up the proposal of marriage between my parents. Being practical, my father told my mother during their first meeting that he was only a clerk in the Accounts General Office and was earning a meager sum with very little hope of going up the professional ladder. In spite of this candid confession of a bleak future as well as having many other good offers for marriage, my mother accepted my father’s proposal, and they were married in Vellore. They started their journey together with Christ as their constant companion, trusting that He would protect and guide them through their life. Their romance lasted until my mother died in 1969 at the early age of 51. After her death my father strongly believed she was with him in spirit and would guide him through the remainder of his life.

They had three children, Viji in 1940, then me in 1942 and Mathuram in 1944. All of us were born in Vellore at No 7, Jackson Street, in my maternal grandmother’s house. It is amazing that all the deliveries were conducted at home with the help of a midwife. My elder brother was a breach case but the midwife maneuvered the baby skillfully without any complication. I remember my grandmother mentioning how Dr Ida Scudder, a missionary and the founder of CMC, Vellore, would walk across from the Officers Lane to our residence to see my younger brother, Mathuram, when he was born. It is amazing that today this same brother, known as Dr. Mathuram Santosham, is arranging funding of CMC Vellore through many research projects under the aegis of the World Health Organization (WHO).
I have very little remembrance of my early days in Madras (now called Chennai) but I have often heard my parents talk about their life in that city and about their stint in Bangalore.

My father was posted in Delhi in 1947. We lived there during the initial stages of the Hindu–Muslim riots and my mother would be worried till my father returned home safely from work. She would pray fervently and request us to pray for him as well. On one occasion, I remember looking over the parapet of our house and seeing a pregnant woman being stabbed in the riots that had erupted. I don’t remember who was Hindu or who was Muslim, but I witnessed fires of hatred and resentment, with emotions running high and a complete absence of rationalism. In retrospect, it was a country in which nationalism had been at its peak, a country where both Hindus and Muslims had fought in unison for independence from the British. Had such a country as this lost focus of its goals, I wondered. One act of partition had eclipsed everything that India stood for, a nation that had a rich history etched around it, with the early civilizations leaving their mark on this ancient land handing down priceless collections of art and traditions.

India, a land of milk and honey, attracted invaders. It is ironical that 95% of the Muslims in India are descendants of Hindus who were converted during invasions. Having the same desires and aspirations basically, they had co-existed peacefully for long. Yet, upon the insistence of one man, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the British partitioned India, and Pakistan was born. India got its Independence on 15 August 1947 and jubilant cries of Jai Hind (Victory for India) reverberated across the country as the tricolour was hoisted high with pride. Sadly, it was a time of mourning for persons like Gandhiji and Nehru. India had gained independence from the British but had succumbed to political pressures.

I distinctly remember the day Gandhiji was assassinated. One of our play mates , a 7-year old, innocent Muslim boy, came running and exclaimed joyfully “Gandhi is shot, Gandhi is shot”. Obviously, this little boy was simply repeating what he had heard adults remarking. I wonder whether he really understood why he was rejoicing. It was later that I realized how one act of a politician could sow seeds of hatred. I often wondered what type of citizen the young boy would turn out to be.

My parents were extremely upset and fasted that day. But, oblivious to the gravity of the situation, we children ate and slept peacefully. Gandhiji, a great man who won independence for India through Ahimsa (a means not used by any country to gain independence), was shot down with a gun by Godse. I wonder what triggered so much hatred in him to gun down a man who stood for Ahimsa and had achieved so much for India. Hundreds and thousands of people walked to the cremation ground in silence to pay homage to the Father of our Nation .

My father walked with my elder brother Viji as a mark of respect for a selfless man who had sacrificed his life for the country which he loved so dearly. I remember my mother mentioning later that she had attended the preliminary hearing of Godse’s trial in court. She could enter the court with her photo identity pass, which I still possess.

The situation in Delhi grew tense and dangerous. So, my mother and the three of us were sent to Vellore to be with my grandmother. The dry heat was so unbearable that at the Delhi station, I started bleeding heavily through the nose. My father had to place some ice on my nose till the bleeding stopped. My father remained in Delhi. Later we heard from him about the ravages of the riots. He was witness to the bloody bodies strewn on the roads, as he cycled every day to work through these streets. Though we had gone through some traumatic experiences in Delhi, the city held great significance for our family in some ways. For, it was here that we stayed together as a family over a considerable length of time. And it was here that one of the officers for whom my father worked was greatly impressed with him and offered him a posting to Nepal.

Chapter 2


My father’s first diplomatic posting was to Kathmandu, Nepal, where he stayed from 1949 to 1952. The journey to Kathmandu was arduous and very dangerous. Thankfully, my father had the support of my mother and grandmothers when he accepted the offer. This decision was a turning point for our family. My father always believed that when God gives you an opportunity, you should never let it go. For, an opportunity once lost may be lost forever.

Nepal was considered to be the abode of the Gods. For many years it was known as a secret and unknown country. It was in the 1950’s that the country had taken up the challenge of modernizing itself, shedding its 11th century mindset. It was during this period that my father took up the posting in Kathmandu.

Nowadays, Nepal has become an attraction for tourists, particularly for mountaineers aiming to climb Mt Everest. At one time Nepal was a haven for the hippies, but later, restrictions were imposed in 1989 to curb the hippie culture. Politically, the country was going through difficult times, with the Indian government supporting the monarchy which was strongly and even violently opposed by the Ranas.

When my father was posted to Nepal, the Indian Ambassador Mr CPN Singh wrote to the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, that sending a Christian at that point of time may not be advisable. But the Prime Minister’s reply was: “Wilfred must go.” Being my father’s first foreign posting, it was a challenging one. He was going to a very difficult country that was experiencing difficult times. His boss really did not want him there and he was going there as Registrar, a fairly junior position. All odds were against him, but with a firm faith in God, the conviction of the Prime Minister of India and my mother’s rock solid support, he took up the challenge with a sincere prayer in his heart.

Though the Ambassador, Mr CPN Singh had initially objected to my father’s posting to Nepal, it wasn’t long before he began to depend profoundly on him. My father was a great strategist and a shrewd analyst. So much so, the Ambassador would often bypass senior officers like the Defense Secretary, Colonel Catoach and First Secretary Mr. Gupta and assign responsibilities to him. Noteworthy is the fact that these gentlemen also came to respect my father’s diplomatic acumen by and by.

Journey to Kathmandu

My father had to join duty immediately. This meant that my young mother, at 31 years, had to travel separately with the three young children aged 5, 7 and 9 years. With complete trust in God and the assistance of a domestic help, Michael, we all embarked on the long and gruelling journey. There were no commercial planes available then, and we had to take multiple modes of transport to reach our destination. We first travelled by train for two days to reach Calcutta, then by another train to go to Patna. From there, we took a narrow gauge train and arrived at Raxaul, which was the last border town on the Indian side. A 4-hour ride by bus took us to Birgang, which was a town in Nepal in the foot hills of the Himalayas.

My father came all the way down from Kathmandu through the mountainous area to Birgang to meet us. For our journey up the mountain, my elder brother and I were carried by four men in a dandy, a triangular shaped wooden contraption with two poles attached on the sides for the men to carry. My younger brother and my mother were carried by eight men in a palanquin, which was a status symbol. My father was on a pony though at other times he often preferred to walk the distance.

The rugged tracks were precipitously close to the edge of the mountain, and it was terrifying to look down the valley. These men who carried us were fully drunk as this perhaps gave them the strength and courage to go through the perilous journey. On the way there were many bridges which were broken due to rains, and we had to get down and wade through the water. Finally when we reached Kathmandu, we were totally exhausted. On the whole, it had taken us one week to reach Kathmandu from Madras.

In Kathmandu

In Kathmandu I was overwhelmed with the beautiful quarters that the Government of India had allotted to my father. In retrospect, I can vouch that though I have traveled to many countries including Switzerland, I don’t think I have ever seen nature in its full glory as I did in Nepal. You could see every shade of green, and flowers in a riot of colors growing in abundance in the wild. I specially remember the wild roses which were in a beautiful pink while the cascade of flower-decked creepers spread a sweet fragrance, and not a single leaf was visible on them. From the balcony of our house we had a breathtaking view of the Himalayas and the snow-capped Everest peak. I remember sitting often and watching its serene beauty.

My mother maintained a beautiful flower garden in the front of our compound, and a sprawling vegetable and fruit garden in the backyard. She grew every vegetable you could think of: cabbages, cauliflowers, carrots, potatoes, turnips, chives, maize, sugarcane, strawberries, etc. The list could go on and on. We also had huge Bomlimos trees which bore humongous fruits of the citrus variety.

Recently, I visited my brother in Penticton in Canada, when he told me that all the fruits and vegetables my mother grew were due to her own efforts with the help of just two Nepalese women gardeners. Very often, my mother would send baskets of vegetables to the Nepal royal family and they would reciprocate by sending us baskets of luscious fruits grown in the royal gardens. Though I was quite young while in Nepal, I have vivid memories of the place.

We had many friends there from the diplomatic circle. The children of the American Ambassador were our playmates. Once when we visited them, the hostess served us with scooped loose jacket orange pulp in a chilled orange skin bowl. I have not had the pleasure of having it again any time.

The Indian Ambassador in Kathmandu, Mr CPN Singh, had a grandson, Bublu. Often, a car would be sent for us to go over and play with him at his residence.

The Ambassador

The Ambassador’s residence was a beautiful palace (Sithal Nivas). It had majestic buildings with huge pillars, ornate rooms and sprawling gardens. I always looked with awe at the huge perfume bottles displayed at various places in the palace. Every room had a unique décor that created a tasteful ambience.

Often we would meet the Ambassador in his office, which was located in his residence. He himself was from an Indian royal family. He had a very guttural voice which was the result of his relatives trying to poison him to inherit his wealth. Providentially, because of overdose he escaped from the jaws of death but his vocal chords were affected. Even in his busy schedule he would find time for us. I distinctly remember the adult conversation he would have with us. As it is said, great men always find time for everything and everybody. Mr. CPN Singh was one of the greatest diplomats of his time, and played a historical role when he represented India as Ambassador to China at a very crucial time. I feel privileged to have memories of having interacted with him.

Encounters, Experiences and Observations in Nepal

The Nepalese worshipped snakes. Cobras were seen in plenty in our garden. One cobra used to visit our house regularly, and our servants would feed it with milk. My brothers and I used to be fascinated watching this ritual with great interest. One day much to the horror of my mother, my brother Viji and I were mesmerised watching a wild cobra hissing with hood spread out. She desperately called for Michael, our Indian help, who quietly and deftly pulled us out from there.

Monkeys were also worshipped ardently by the Nepalese, Nepal being home to them. Once when we had gone for a picnic, my mother was guarding our food while we went off for a walk with our father. When we returned we were amused by a most amusing sight. My mother was reading the newspaper and, sitting opposite her pretending to read the newspaper was a monkey. Hordes of monkeys were also sitting around her. My mother was so engrossed in her reading that she had no idea of being surrounded by our four-legged friends! Luckily, we had a bunch of bananas which my father threw at them. It was enough to disperse them as they happily charged at the fruit leaving us unharmed.

Another exciting experience in Nepal was spotting wild animals very close to our residence. Often there were warnings of wild tigers roaming or appearing near human habitations. Jackals carrying away infants into the woods and never being found was a very frequent occurrence in Kathmandu. The cheetah, the fastest and the most dangerous of the cat family, was also sighted often in the vicinity of our house.

Holi, the local festival of colors, was celebrated in a big way in Nepal. I remember the Embassy staff storming our house once and smearing my father with colors. The women got together and poured a thick green fluid over my mother. The color stuck to her skin and it was days before she could wash it off. We children enjoyed these festivities and would try to dodge to escape being smeared with colors.

One incident that I remember is a fall that I had, gashing my knee so badly that I had to be carried to the only available hospital. Since the wound was deep, the doctor informed my mother that he had to stitch it up. On hearing this I was petrified. On top of it, he was going to do the procedure without any anesthesia. I screamed with pain, which made the doctor even more nervous. Even now I have the mark on my knee.

There was no church in Nepal. Father Sharp and Father John, two priests from Delhi, were invited twice by my parents to conduct the Worship Service in our house. An altar was set up and many diplomats and their families attended the Service. I am amazed that Father Sharp and Father John undertook the tedious journey to Nepal all the way from Delhi to conduct the Service and administer Holy Communion.

Royal Wedding

Royal weddings were spectacular and were always a time for great festivities in Kathmandu. We were invited for one of the royal weddings, and elephants were sent to our house for us to join the procession. Unfortunately much to our disappointment, all three of us were down with fever and were not able to go. However, my parents attended the ceremony. During the procession, the Royal Couple would throw gold coins for the poor to pick up.

Political Turmoil

Some politically stirring events happened during my father’s tenure in Nepal. On a Sunday, my father made a routine visit to the Embassy to check the official mail. A great commotion in front of the building took him by surprise. Shocked and dismayed, he found that King Tribhuvan with his entourage was present inside.

The actual events unfolded in the following manner. Wanting to escape from the Ranas who were bitter enemies of the monarchy, the King had fled the palace and sought refuge in the Indian Embassy premises. The Indian government strongly supported the monarchy due to which the Indian diplomats were exposed to grave danger arising out of constant conflicts and disturbances. With the safety of the King, his entourage and the royal family being one of the prime responsibilities of the Indian Embassy, my father was given charge of it. Before the Ranas could capture the King, he had to take a lightning-quick decision to provide security and accommodation to the King, his entourage and the royal family. In consultation with the Ambassador, the royal convoy was led to the Ambassador’s residence where top level security was organised. Within a few hours, my father also arranged for all essentials and royal paraphernalia such as carpets, beds, food, drink, fruits, nuts, etc. to be flown in from Delhi.

What was surprising that day was that the Crown Prince Gyanendra, who was then a 3- year old boy, had been left behind in the palace with a group of caretakers. Surely, the Ranas would not be so heartless as to kill a toddler, even if they despised the monarchy. In fact, they crowned this toddler, all of 3, as the King.

Later Developments in Nepal

In November 1950, King Tribhuvan fled from Nepal to Delhi with the help of the Indian Embassy. His grandson Gyanendra, who was crowned King at the tender age of 3, occupied the throne until he returned to Nepal on 18 February 1951 and took over the reins once again. Later, we heard that King Tribhuvan died in 1955 in Switzerland under mysterious circumstances. Gyanendra became the King once again only in the year 2001. Thus he was crowned twice, once for three months as a boy of 3 , and again in 2001. His reign lasted until the royalty was massacred in 2008. Monarchy was then totally abolished in Nepal and he was stripped of all royal responsibilities.

My father had to travel to distant places within Nepal often, and many times had to face the wrath of the Ranas. God was his protector. Once the car in which my father used to travel normally was very badly stoned by agitators. However, the Indian Intelligence had tipped the concerned people who had wisely put him in another car with heavy protection and brought him home safely. Till he reached home, my mother and we three children sat in a stone- like silence, trembling with fear for his life and safety. At one time my brother Mathuram and my mother had to be escorted back home in a car with a motorcade of army men accompanying them with rifles.

Oh, for the beautiful Nepal

My memory of Nepal is as a beautiful country, rich and verdant in natural beauty. I often feel how wonderful it would be to visit it one day. Would I be welcomed by the same pristine and divine beauty? Recently, we met some Nepalese who have migrated to Chennai. While conversing with them, we got a very gloomy picture. We heard that though monarchy has been abolished in Nepal, the cost of living has shot up , jobs are hard to come by and life in general has become very hard for the common man. I regret hearing this of Nepal, a country I hold close to my heart. I would have always loved to carry the image of a beautiful country in which I spent a significant part of my childhood.

(My brother, Viji and I being carried in a Dandy through the Himalayan Mountains)

(Mr CPN Singh, the Indian Ambassador)

(The Royal Invitation)

Chapter 3


It would’ve been a dream come true, if only we had good education facilities in Kathmandu. However, there were neither good schools nor good tutors. My parents were constrained to take the most difficult decision of their lives: sending my elder brother and me to India, which seemed to be the only option. Now I am a mother and grandmother myself; I often think how heartbreaking it must have been for my parents to part with their children, a 7 and a 9-year old. I also wonder how both of us agreed to leave our parents at such a young age with our peon Ratanlal, a Gurkha. I vividly remember my parents and my younger brother Mathuram standing at the foot of the mountains as we were carried away by four men in a dandy while Ratanlal, with his kukri (Nepalese sword) tucked in his waist for protection, walked alongside.

Journey through the Mountains

The path we traversed was very narrow; if one of the men carrying us slipped, we all were sure to go tumbling down the valley, a virtual abyss. As we proceeded, we saw a group coming in the opposite direction, a group of twenty people carrying a huge American car. Yes,… carrying, not driving! Those days, there was no other way of transporting a car. I don’t distinctly remember how they managed the feat in that narrow road, but it must have been a very difficult maneuver indeed.

The men who were carrying us had their own way of taking breaks. Because of the extremely strenuous nature of their job, they would halt overnight on reaching a guest house. They would slaughter a cow, feast heartily even as they downed some locally made hard drinks. This would give them the strength and energy to carry on with the journey the next day.

I remember my brother holding my hand tightly throughout our journey lest we fall down the valley. He would also sit perched in such a way that would give me most of the space in the dandy. In difficult stretches, because I would refuse to walk even a short distance, he would volunteer to walk so that I could travel comfortably. My father would try to talk to us over the phone whenever we reached a guest house for overnight stay. But, the telephone lines in 1949 were so poor that we could hardly hear him. I can imagine what kind of a nightmare my parents must have had.

During one of our stays in the guest house, we had an electrifying experience. Right in front of the bungalow, a wild mongoose and a snake were fighting. My brother and I watched it with our eyes almost popping out of our sockets. We also saw a leopard sitting majestically on a rock on the other side of the valley. In the night we heard strange noises of wild animals.

Throughout our journey, the loyal Ratanlal closely guarded and protected us. My father had given him a good sum of money for emergencies. He could have easily got rid of us on the journey through the rugged mountains and run away with the money. But he was so faithful that he kept a close watch over us all the way. Because of this one loyal Gurkha, I have great respect for the entire Gurkha tribe and shall remain grateful to them all my life.

Down on the plains, we proceeded through our journey in many modes of transport . We crossed the Hoogly River by boat and travelled by train to reach Madras after almost five days. We were totally exhausted. To face all such ordeals, I learnt from my parents, even at that tender age of 7, to totally depend on God.

Chapter 4


From Madras I went to Vellore to my maternal grandmother’s home while my brother Viji went to my paternal grandmother’s home in Madurai. I think this separation affected him immensely. He has often expressed to me that he had nightmares of losing me during the journey from Nepal to Madras. I don’t distinctly remember much about my feelings at that time. At the age of 7, I am sure I must have been traumatized too. Very often people have asked how my parents had the heart to send us like that. Often I thank God for the faith my parents had in Him and the importance they gave to our education, for which they made various kinds of sacrifice.

My grandmother was widowed while very young and lived all by herself in a big house. She was a slim, tall lady with a straight gait and wore Konrad sarees (a type of hand-woven saree). She loved Cuticura facial talcum powder and always carried her favorite cobra skin handbag whenever she went out. I remember her generous nature. In those days rickshaws were pulled by humans and not with the aid of a cycle as they are these days. My grandmother would feed many rickshaw pullers with ragi gruel, rice, curry and buttermilk. She was always ready to help the poor.

My grandmother raised goats, cows, chicken and turkey in her backyard. I have even seen a calf being born in her cowshed. She made Theratipaal (a sweet prepared with the first milk of the cow after the delivery of the calf) and distributed it among all her friends and relatives.

My grandmother’s house had ornate pillars and an open courtyard inside the house, with a garden of fruits and vegetable trees (this concept of a garden within the house is catching up with the younger generation nowadays). She grew a soapnut tree in the garden: the leaves were used as feed for the goats and cows whereas the nuts were soaked in water and used as detergent, especially for washing silk sarees. When it comes to the sheen and freshness that the silk fabric obtained after a wash, this humble soapnut could easily give the most modern detergents a run for money.

The All Saints Church was near our home in Vellore. I accompanied my grandmother to the church every day in the morning for worship. The church bell would ring to alert us that it was time to leave for church. Incidentally, this was also the church in which my mother, as a young girl, used to play the organ during Sunday Service. During Christmas, my grandmother cooked turkey. She would make a variety of Palaharams (sweetmeats) at home. It was her practice to make the cake dough at home and send it to the bakery for baking. She would distribute cakes and other goodies to her neighbors. For her, religion, language or caste did not make any difference. The neighbors in turn reciprocated during their festivals. I have enjoyed the best biryani that our Muslim friends gave us as much as the delicious Pongal, Vadai and other snacks that our South Indian Hindu friends shared with us during their festivals. In fact, I would get especially dressed during the Navaratri festival and accompany my grandmother to friends’ houses and enjoy the takeaway bags with chundal, a specialty distributed among guests during this festival.

My grandmother owned lands in a village called Adukamparai. From there she received her quota of rice, ragi and wheat, which she would store in a huge barn inside the house itself. The banana bunches and mangoes were left there to ripen. Often my friends and I would raid the barn and feast on the fruits.

Our visits to Adukamparai were most enjoyable. I loved watching sugarcane being crushed for making karupatti, a crude unrefined form of jaggery. We would sit inside a hut on a coir cot and be served with Nungu (Palmyra fruit) and tender coconut water along with its inner, tender pulp. Very often I would enjoy munching on the sugarcane directly.

Visit to Kathmandu in Style

During my Vellore days, once an exciting event took place. My grandmother told me that my brother and I along with my cousin sister, Lalithakka, would be visiting our parents. We were to fly from Delhi to Kathmandu! Lalithakka was doing her Ph D in Organic Chemistry and the purpose of her trip to Nepal was to collect data for her research on Pigmentation in Flowers.

This time we surely traveled to Kathmandu in style. We flew in the King’s royal plane and enjoyed royal treatment. At this point I must give some details about the royal plane. This was in 1951 and it was a small Dakota aircraft. The pressure in the cabin would keep fluctuating and because of the air turbulence outside, the plane would drop several feet every now and then. The air hostesses were very kind and made special effort to keep us comfortable. This journey was really a remarkable luxury compared to the arduous journey on the harsh mountainous terrain we had made previously. We had a great time indeed.

In Kathmandu, it was lovely to be united with my parents and my younger brother, Mathuram. I envied him as he stayed with parents, but was happy to be back home. The happy time, however, was short lived.

Mathuram – Also to India

I heard that my parents had tried sending Mathuram to a hostel in Nepal. But I believe he had refused even to eat or bathe there. Finally, they had to bring him back home. However, keeping his education and future in mind, my parents decided to send him to India. My mother flew with him to India, and went to my paternal grandmother’s house in Madurai where Viji, my elder brother and Eddie Uncle , a bachelor then, were also staying. My grandmother and uncle showered their love on both my brothers and ensured they were as happy as they possibly could.

It was time for my mother to fly back to Nepal. All three of us felt miserable to bid goodbye to her.It must have been heart breaking for her too to go back to Nepal leaving my brothers in Madurai and me in Vellore. I often wonder whether it was such tension that caused her premature death, at the early age of 51.

My grandmother not only helped me gain an insight into Indian villages but she also instilled in me great religious values which I cherish till date. I believe before she died she had mentioned to her friends and relatives that the only regret in her life was that she would not be present at my wedding. I often think fondly of all the efforts she made to see that I did not miss my parents. I missed her presence and blessings very much during my wedding. I am sure she would have loved meeting my husband, Pragal.

A Nostalgic Visit to Vellore

We celebrated my father’s birth centenary in the year 2011. Our family comprising of my brother Viji, his children Peter and Ruth, nephew Vasanth, Pragal and I went to Vellore to visit my grandmother’s home. We visited the All Saint’s Church in which my mother had not only played the organ but had also got married. We also visited the college in which my grandfather had taught and my mother had studied. All these brought back lovely memories, filling me with a pleasant nostalgia.



My Father’s Transfer to Pondicherry

One day when I returned home from school, my grandmother told me that she had received a letter from my mother to say that my father had been transferred to Pondicherry as Vice Consul. Though this posting was within India, it was considered to be a foreign posting since Pondicherry was then ruled by the French. My hopes started soaring high. How wonderful that soon all five of us would reunite as a family and stay together in Pondicherry! But my dreams were shattered.

Though India had gained Independence from the British, Goa and Pondicherry were under Portuguese and French rule. Pondicherry followed the French education system which was obviously different from the Indian education system, and so my brothers continued to study in Madurai. Since my grandmother with whom I was staying was deteriorating in health, my parents decided to admit me in Vidyodaya Girls High School in Madras, and I had to move to a hostel. However, studying in Madras meant that my parents were only a short distance away which was a great consolation. Thus I studied in Vidyodaya from Class 5 to Class 9.

Very often through newspaper reports, I would get news of the problems in Pondicherry as well as the threats and dangers my father was facing. Being in a hostel and away from the family made it very difficult and scary for me. Miss Appasamy, our Headmistress, would often call me over to her office room and cheer me up while reassuring me of my father’s safety. As for my stay in the hostel, I enjoyed it thoroughly and I have very pleasant memories.

Since Pondicherry was close to Madras, my parents would visit me often. My uncle and aunt, Dr Santosham and Susheela Aunty, would often drive me to Pondicherry for weekends. Every time I went back to the hostel, my mother would pack up marshmallows and chocolates for my friends. Even after Pondicherry became independent from French rule, it remained a free port for French goods. I remember my mother would get chiffon sarees from France with lovely cocktail prints.

It was during my schooling in Vidyodaya that I learnt Kathakali dance from the renowned maestro, Gopikrishna, a task master as well. I also learnt to play the piano. Though I did pass three of the Trinity College exams, I gave it up because my teacher was so strict that I lost interest in learning. My father was very keen I should learn to play an Indian Instrument. A teacher was identified to teach me Veena, an Indian string instrument. Unfortunately the teacher left, and I could not continue with it.

Performing before Nehruji & the Russian President

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India, along with Khrushchev, President of Russia were visiting Madras. Along with some other girls from school, I participated in a dance program organized in their honor. Nehruji came over and congratulated our performance. Needless to say we were thrilled. On that day when the band played the National Anthem, they started on a wrong note. Nehruji was so upset that he just shouted on top of his voice, “Stop it “. There was pin drop silence for a while before they started again. That day I realized the importance of the National Anthem. I felt a deep sense of patriotism.

Vidyodaya Re-visited

I must mention here that, decades later, when I became the Dean of Kothari Academy for Women, I was invited by Vidyodaya School as Chief Guest for one of their functions. I felt very proud to be honored in my own school which held lovely memories for me.

Chapter 6


Pondicherry has a very interesting history. It was colonized originally by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, followed by the French in 1816. The French ruled here for 138 years. The neighboring cities, Yemen, Karikal and Mahe were also under French rule. So these cities came under my father’s jurisdiction as well.

My father joined duty at Pondicherry during a momentous period in the history of Pondicherry. The freedom movement in the country was very active. While the Indian government wanted Pondicherry to be a part of the Indian Union, the French government resisted it. Mr. Kewalsingh and my father were actively involved in all aspects of getting independence from the French. It was widely believed that my father’s life was exposed to danger, and thus he was advised to carry a gun with him when he traveled. But he refused to do so. However, two security guards with rifles were always posted in front of the house.

Our Home & French Cuisine

My parents moved into a beautiful house situated very close to the beach. It had huge rooms and enormous French windows and doors. I always enjoyed my visits to this house. I remember our family visits to the Club (Circle de Pondicherry) which still exists. While we children played around, my father enjoyed his tennis sessions. He, Mr. Kewalsingh and other government officials would meet here and take many important political decisions which shaped the future of Pondicherry.

We had a butler who cooked excellent French food. One of his delicacies I distinctly remember was a chicken dish. Skillfully manipulating with his hand, he would remove the bones completely from the whole chicken and pack it with a special filling. Then he would stitch the stomach up, roast the chicken and finally present it like a ‘live’ chicken, sitting with eggs around it. He would serve it with Consume soup followed by Petiteberre pudding. My mouth waters even now after nearly 60 years. I remember tiger prawns also as one of my favorites when I visited Pondicherry. As it was available in plenty in Pondicherry, it was often on our menu. The French loved frog legs, and so the butler would often persuade us to have it. But much to his disappointment I never tried it. Later in life on the insistence of our good friend, Mr. Premraj, I tasted it in Singapore and really enjoyed it. I then regretted refusing it in Pondicherry.

Aurobindo Ashram

We were often guests of Mother at the Aurobindo Ashram. A lady of French origin, she had started this institution which attracted not only Indians but foreigners from across the world. Many rich people used to come to the Ashram seeking peace. She often gave us private audience and invited us to many of the functions of the Ashram. Needless to say, she became an international figure. Later in my life I met people throughout the world who were amazed that I had actually known and met Mother.

Nehruji & Daughter Indira Visit Pondicherry

My early memories of Mrs. Indira Gandhi were when she accompanied her father Nehruji to Pondicherry as a young girl. Mr and Mrs Kewalsingh had organized a party in their honor. Young Indira looked very charming, draped in a Kanjeevaram Saree with a string of jasmine flowers adorning her hair, probably to identify herself with South Indian women. Though I was very young I was impressed with her charm and the way she took care of her father. This was my first introduction to Mrs. Gandhi. Later in life I had many opportunities to meet her.

Historic Merger of Pondicherry with Indian Union

One day when my parents had gone to the beach for their customary early morning walk, my father noticed French soldiers alighting from ships and entering the shores of Pondicherry. Realizing that it was a strategy by the French government to take the Indian army unawares, my father rushed to the office. After discussions with Mr. Kewalsingh, both of them briefed Nehruji about the situation. Soon army units were dispatched to overpower the French.

My father’s fluency in Tamil coupled with his acumen for diplomacy enabled him to negotiate effectively with the Indians and the French. Finally, Pondicherry was merged with India as a Union Territory. It was a historical occasion for the country. Yet again it was all done without any bloodshed. The government took over the establishment with effect from the 1November 1954.

Mr. Pierre Landy, the representative of the Government of France as well as Chief Commissioner Designate, Mr. Kewalsingh, signed the instrument of transfer on behalf of the respective governments. The French flag was brought down and the Indian tricolor flag was hoisted in the presence of the Prime Minister of India, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru. My father was the second-in-command and was virtually a backbone to the establishment during those turbulent times. In appreciation of his achievement, Mr. Kewalsingh was awarded Padmashree, a high honor given by the Government of India. With all grace, he made it a point to tell Nehruji, “I could not have even lifted my pen without Wilfred Santosham.”

Photographs of my father appeared in the newspapers. I felt very proud of him as well as my mother who had stood by him giving him rock-solid support through the days when he worked round the clock under life threatening situations. In 2013, my brother Mathuram brought me newspaper cuttings containing photographs and the article on the merger of Pondicherry with India, with my father featuring in them.

Pondicherry Re-visited Years Later

Recently I visited Pondicherry with my family and experienced very pleasant, nostalgic memories of all the good times we had there. The first house which we had stayed in had been converted into a restaurant. Our second house was next to Mr. Kewalsingh’s house, the Consul General’s office. This had been converted into the government office of the Pondicherry government.

(Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s visit to Pondicherry, with my mother seen in the background)

(Historic transfer of Pondicherry from French to the Indian Union. Consul General for India, Mr. Kewalsingh receives the Document from Mr. Pierre Landy, the French Representative. My father, the Vice Consul, looks on)



One day in Vidyodaya, I was summoned by Ms. Appasamy, the Head Mistress of the school, to her room. With butterflies in my stomach, I entered wondering what was in store for me. However, the sight of my parents took me by pleasant surprise. To top it, there was good news which I could not believe. My father told us that he had been posted to Washington, USA, and that my brothers and I could accompany them. I was overwhelmed with joy and could not believe that this was happening to me. Shortly our family travelled to Delhi, the headquarters of the Government of India and awaited the finalization of our t ravel arrangements. During this period my father taught all three of us to play Bridge. I was 14, my younger brother 12 and elder brother 16 years old. I have always been thankful to him for teaching us to play this intelligent and skillful game of Bridge at such a young age.

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