My story

I was born on 14th July 1952, at St. Philomena’s Hospital in Bangalore, India. My parents, David and Doreen; my sister, Anne; and my brother, Michael, were living in a small, semi-detached house on Bore Bank Road in Benson Town in the Cantonment. At the time of my birth my father was in between jobs as a teacher, and earning his living by doing carpentry and giving private tuition in English.

A couple of years after I was born the family moved to Rishi Valley, a residential school in Andhra Pradesh, run by F. G. Pierce. My early schooling took place there, until, in 1959, my father was asked to leave but was taken on by the British Council to train teachers and write textbooks for schools in Madras. We moved to Madras, and while my father settled into his new job and searched for suitable accommodation, the rest of us went to live in Kodaikanal, a resort in the Palani Hills. Anne was enrolled at the Presentation Convent there, and we idled away the time stealing pears from local orchards.

On our return to Madras, in 1960, we moved into an ancient house right opposite the village temple in Thiruvanmaiyur, a few miles south of Adyar, which itself was on the outskirts of Madras. The only way to get to the village from the city was to travel by jutka. Today Thiruvanmaiyur is a sprawling suburb of Adyar, unrecognisable.

Mike and me in Thiruvanmaiyur

  • Growing up

    My brother and I spent the next year or so at home being tutored by our mother, but not much tutoring or learning went on. We were content to spend our days waiting for the bell to go off in the school next door, and for our village friends to arrive in our garden to climb the fig tree and play games with us. Occasionally we went along to swim in the sea not far away.

    In 1961, after a visit to England — the first time my family had been back for 11 years, and my first visit ever — my brother and I were sent to get a taste of boarding school life at Sandur Residential School in Bellary District. This small school was run by an ex-teacher from Rishi Valley, and a good friend of the family, Ms Mahalakshmi. Our few months there gave us a chance to experience life away from home and to get some practice in ‘formal learning’.

    Early in 1962, both of us were enrolled at the Lawrence School, Lovedale, one of the leading boarding schools in the country run by K. I. Thomas. We made many lifelong friends at this school.

    My brother and I left Lawrence in 1968, having successfully completed the ISC examination, and in January 1969 we were sent to the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology to study for our A Levels. I chose to do courses in English, Social Studies and Geography, with no idea as to where these would eventually lead me. Having completed my A Levels I went to live in London for a while and also to take another A Level in Hindi. I subsequently returned to Cambridge, met and married Penny Barton, a nurse at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, had a daughter, Kate, and returned to London to study for a BA in South Asian Studies.

    In November1975, carrying all our worldly possessions, Penny, Kate and I boarded a train at Victoria Station and set off overland for India.

    Sandur, 1961. Ajay Ghorpade, The Yuvarani of Sandur, Raju Apte, Ms Mahalakshmi, Mike, Doreen, me. November, 1975.
    On the train from Zahedan (Iran) to Quetta (Pakistan).
  • Living in Neel Bagh

    We spent two years living and working in a remote rural area of Karnataka, at Neel Bagh, a school that my parents had started in 1972. I taught and developed teaching materials for the school, and started my writing career. Penny helped my mother to run a small free dispensary for the children of the school, and gradually developed this into something much larger.

    After two years at Neel Bagh, we returned to the UK, where our daughter Claire was born in 1977. In 1979 I completed a PGCE at the School of Education in Leicester, and then took on a two-year assignment wit h Action In Distress (later ActionAid) as their Chief Education Officer. My job was to start rural schools in NGOs all over India, develop materials, train teachers and recruit and train additional Education Officers to assist me with my work. I travelled all over India during this time, while the family were based alternately at Neel Bagh (supervising the building of our house) or in our apartment at Bangalore.

    In 1981, after a brief holiday in the UK, we returned to live and work permanently at Neel Bagh. Our son, Tim, was born there in 1982.

    Penny continued to run the dispensary, while I concentrated on my writing as well as managing the school and Trust affairs. The Neel Bagh Trust now had three schools under its umbrella; Neel Bagh, Vikasana (near Bangalore) and Sumavanam (near Madanapalle).

    My father died in August, 1984. We continued to run the school and the Trust till 1987, but by this time the writing was clearly on the wall! What with having to face a tight financial situation and with too many fresh bureaucratic and administrative hurdles to overcome we reluctantly decided to return to the UK. The school was handed over to the Krishnamurthy Foundation (Rishi Valley).

    Neel Bagh, 1975.
    Penny treating a patient.
    Bapatla, Andhra Pradesh, 1981. ActionAid sponsored child and his grandmother,
    at a Leprosy Colony.
    Neel Bagh, 1981.
    Our house under construction.
    Neel Bagh, February 20, 1982. Kate, Penny and Claire with Tim. Neel Bagh, March 1984. Visit to the school by Dame Peggy Ashcroft and John Dalby.
  • Going back to England

    The family returned to England a few months before I did. Penny secured a job with the RMBI (Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution), running one of their Retirement Homes in Sindlesham, Berkshire. Fortunately, the job came with a three-bedroom house, so we had a roof over our heads. On my arrival, I continued to write many new series for Oxford University Press, India and from 1989 for OUP Pakistan as well. (See the section dedicated to Books.) From time to time I returned to conduct workshops for teachers; I was also able to visit India as a volunteer Project Manager to supervise youngsters from the UK whom I had helped to interview and place at NGOs in India under the GAP (Group Activity Projects) scheme.

    Today we are still in Sindlesham. Some years ago Penny gave up her job at the retirement Home and has concentrated on developing her Homoeopathy and Reiki practice. I continue to write, but am committing myself to writing of a different kind; books for children, in the sub-continent, but unrestricted by the curriculum!

    Our family is spread over the world and we have five delightful grandchildren, so it is a great incentive to travel.

    August 2009. A family visit to Sandringham Palace, Norfolk.

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