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Olden day sahibs

Statesman News Service |

Mr Mcleod was an old-world sahib of Delhi and his friend in Agra (where he went every November to build the “Altar of Repose” for Phoolon-ki-Id) was Mr Webb. The latter fondly called him “Langra Sahib” because of a permanent limp due to a war-time injury. But like him Mr Webb too was dressed in khaki shorts, half-sleeved shirt and stockings, with a sola-hat on his head. Mr Webb used to live near the Neharwali kothi, so named because it was built on a stream that was part of the Delhi-Agra Canal. Later he shifted to the vicinity of the YWCA, where existed Fantasia, a one-time abode of the Anglo-Indian official and writer J F Fanthome.

Also cycling down from that area was a moustached Rajput Sirdar, shirt tucked into breeches, wearing riding boots and a starched turban with a silver-headed cane under his armpit. Webb was quite fair, though sun-burnt, of medium build with an aquiline nose, light blue eyes and hair parted at the side as per the style of the 1930s. He was a confirmed bachelor and spoke Hindustani with ease. He frequented the shrine of Shah Abul Ullah on Thursdays after most of the devotees had left. “Kya jalwa tha kal raat ko! (What an aura there was last night!)” he would remark. Then followed a discourse on Sufism.

A contrast to Webb was Alexander Sahib, who came every Sunday to buy mince and groceries, cycling all the way from Saunt-ki-Mandi. He was an incredibly thin man, wearing a full-sleeved shirt, broad-bottomed trousers, held apart with clips, a tie with a fancy pin and a small sola-topee to fit his head. Alexander looked like an emaciated incarnation of Sherlock Holmes, a long cigarette stuck between his thin lips.

Then there was Mr Hines, tall, fair, slim as a reed and always accompanied on Sunday mornings by his pretty wife and son Kenneth. He had been in the RAF but met with an air accident as a result of which his intestines were so badly damaged that he could hardly eat solids. But the irony was that he was a very good cook and continued to make tasty week-end dishes for his wife, son and their acquaintances, Sir Henry Gidney and the hunter Cyril Thomas.

When Hines died, Mrs Hines went away to England with Kenneth. Alexander too passed away but Webb’s whereabouts became a mystery. He also must be dead now, unless he survives as a centenarian, still enjoying the Thursday qawwalis and going into mystic raptures.