My Jeeves and Cochin parties

Philip John

My Jeeves – Xavier

I was very fortunate to have had Xavier as my man Friday. He was probably just as young as I was. He was raw when he came to work for me, and his repertoire of cuisine was limited. He stuck to western food in the beginning which was a lot simpler than the very elaborate, masala impregnated Malayalee food. My mother was a working woman and cooking was not her passion so I did not come away with memories of the great dishes she made. That came as a great relief to Xavier, and later to my wife. Indian wives usually live under shadow of their mothers-in-law and their cooking. Everyone’s mother was a ‘legendary’ cook according to their loving sons!

However, growing up in Tiruvella, Kerala I remember my grandmother’s table had the choicest of Malayalee dishes. I don’t think she cooked but supervised the cooking as most ladies of that era did.

I am delighted that I am now back in Cochin enjoying and appreciating Malayalee cuisine like never before!

Xavier, kept my one-bedroom apartment tidy and clean. He had an arty bend and good aesthetics. He made my bed, saw to it that I had fresh towels, and in fact was fully in charge of my wardrobe. He would take out my office wear the evening before. He knew my tastes and we clicked remarkably well. Even when I had a trip to the tea gardens which could be 3 or 4 days, he would pack my suitcase accordingly. Of course, all this was wonderful but it spoiled me for life. It has taken the better part of 50 years (my entire married life) to unlearn some of the ‘bad’ habits I picked up because Xavier saw to it that ‘Master, didn’t have to lift a finger for anything’. He was there to do my thinking and my doing!

He told me once that he knew the famed South Indian vocalist Yesudas, growing up. Yesudas, is a world renowned singer of Carnatic and Film music. Xavier was also interested in Theatre and would tell me of taking part in local theatre productions. Whenever, I went on Stage, Xavier did my make-up, no one else!

He did all the shopping for food. He bought my veggies, meats, fruits, everything. And he wrote the accounts in a notebook, which he brought to me from time to time.
Whether, I gave him Rs. 50, or 100, or 200 the bottom line would always read – Balance Owing to Me!
Incidentally, Rs.50 in the early sixties could buy food for a couple of days. Today, it would get you half a Mango!

Xavier had one bad habit and that drove me crazy. What irked me was not that he frequently put that book under my nose, but he did it at the most awkward of times, such as when I had a guest for lunch. I would ask him to bring some more Prawn curry to the table, and he would say, “Finish! Master not giving money”. The taste of the great dish I just had would vanish as I mumbled some excuse or another.

Despite this indiscretion he was so valuable to me that I would overlook it. However, he continued the same method of squaring up his accounts even after I got married (at the end of 1969), and ended up crossing swords with my wife.
I realised that the arrangement of staff you have as a bachelor cannot be carried forward into married life. Or at least seldom!

Anyway, Xavier was pleased with the gratuity he got and wisely took Driving lessons and before long he got a job with Carritt Moran as a Driver, which was quite a few steps up the pecking order!

He soon became the Boss’s driver and I used to exchange pleasantries when our paths would cross. Over the years we continued to be appreciative of one another as long as I was in Tea!

Fancy Dress Party

Cochin was informally formal. That meant that while there was a façade of informality the undertone was formal. No one threw ‘wild parties’.

Richard Warren and I colluded to break the ice and organised a fancy dress party. We turned Richard’s house, No.2 Napier Street into a Fairy-tale Castle.

The invitations went out as usual via printed card but it was clearly stated that it was a Fancy Dress Party and that the hosts expected the guests to arrive in costume. I don’t remember specifying a theme but people did turn up in a variety of clothing. John Tatchell of Pierce Leslie, and John Paulet of Carritt Moran, turned up in nappies replete with feeding bottles, though everyone knew what they were sucking was anything but formula milk!

Tom Pierce was dressed as an Arab Sheik. Satyanath came as the wealthy tycoon, dressed in his satin dressing gown and smoked cigars all evening. Sudha Satyanath, looked beautiful as Cinderella.

Group picture at the party

Richard was the King of the Castle, and I was dressed as the Wicked Witch. The guests were received by guards and soldiers downstairs. Page boys greeted them as they climbed up to the first floor terrace which was decorated with lights as a Fairyland, where the King and the Wicked Witch awaited them!

After a few drinks no one cared who was wearing what, everyone had a good time and most guests, both men and women, were reluctant to leave!

The Cochin crowd got to know that the JT guys were not only hardworking but also fun loving. The JT team work hard, play harder was the sound that went out!

I hated selling first at the Auctions. Apart from having to deal with an uncertain market, it also meant waking up super early to get to the Auction Room around 8 AM. Have driven straight from a party and walked onto the auction podium to sell Tea. I don’t think the Sellers would have been too pleased but prices did not suffer!

12 Responses

    1. Hello Philip John,
      Absolutely fascinating. Xavier, was lifelike. Pity the tribe is now extant taxon. We can reconstruct this refreshing history before we become extinct. Kudos.
      M. Ravindran

  1. Fascinating flashback Philip! Loved the costume party photographs, cannot imagine an evening like that today! How come Madhav and Saroj were not in costume?

  2. Fantastic, Philji….The photographs of those days as well as the events…outstanding and brilliant. Amazing that you have conserved them well.

  3. Philji, your stories are the best of a more gentle and innocent era of the past. Work hard and play hard was the mantra which lead to many a success and more enduring life.

  4. Ashok Batra
    Philip, Xavier was a God Send for us , Hr had just retired from Carritts when I was transferred to Cochin in early 2002 and I employed him as our personal house driver , till we left in end 2006 , he was such a great help , we toured all over the a south with him, great guide and regaled is with his stories , All our guests who visited us used him and he was so helpful in running our home as well as helping at parties , cooking, shopping etc . Solved all our hassles from house repairs , gas requirements and more – always dedicated . When we left fixed him up with Le Colonial.

  5. I have just been sent a link to your blog, Philji, and have read all 32! Wonderful reading -great to catch up with the life at the time.

    Keep it coming!

    Best regards,
    Viju Parameshwar

  6. Hello Philip,
    Connecting after a long time. I M.Unni from Chennai. I read your blogs thanks to my brother Mr.M.Ravindran, planter and author of the book An elephant kissed my window. Your blogs are so interesting. Pl.continue.

    Do you remember the years we used to meet often? You and Vijay Swaminadhan came to register Tamilnadu Tea Brokers Ltd. Sadly, Vijay is no more with us.

    Where do you live in Cochin? We must meet next time when I am in Cochin.

  7. Dear Philji,
    Lovely, insightful stories.
    A colourful peek into the yesteryears of your life. And so well written too.
    Thanks for sharing.

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