My only link with Oak Grove was the fact that, back in the 1920s, my mother and her four siblings had all been educated there.
I admitted as much when I presented myself at the gates to this ancient but prestigious school in 1979, some 91 years after its establishment in 1988.
To my pleasant surprise, this somewhat tenuous connection proved a more than adequate passport. The staff of both the boys’ and girls’ schools were delighted to show me around, and to point out to me the plaques bearing the names of distinguished old boys, including that of my uncle, Roland Watson.
Roland was the fourth member of his family enrolled at Oak Grove. The first was his elder brother Trevor, who related to me a poignant episode, when he sat on a parapet in the school grounds, watching his classmates below set off for a school vacation.
One of the boys had stopped to look up and wave goodbye. In doing so he had stepped too far back and fallen off the road to his death. When they found him, Trevor wistfully recounted, his mouth was still full of the toffee bar he had been chewing.
This incongruous detail had somehow lodged in my mind, to the point where I wondered whether the hapless youth had obtained his toffee bar from Jharipani’s only other landmark, which vanished many years ago.
This was a restaurant opposite the school gates, owned by a German couple, the Ungeforans, who sold Beck’s beer at twelve annas a bottle.
Next to attend Oak Grove was Trevor’s sister Zena, who in her day had been head prefect – or whatever they called them in those days – of the girls’ school.
Zena was followed by my mother, Holly Watson, who also in due course became head prefect. And in Holly’s footsteps eventually came the youngest of the Watson progeny, my uncle Denzil.
But Holly’s tenure was cut short when, much to her dismay, her parents, living in the small railway community of Tundla, in the Firozabad district not far from Agra, had her transferred to another school, closer to home and to their watchful eyes.
My mother had never understood the reason for this. She had been supremely happy at Oak Grove, the veritable apple of her principal’s eye.
What she had not realised was the fact that it was precisely the care and devotion her principal had lavished on her that had aroused the suspicions of her mother and father, Tundla railway guard Arnold Gordon Watson and his wife Kathleen.
The explanation for her abrupt departure from Oak Grove had only come to light many years later, when I took my mother to see an amateur theatrical production of “The Killing of Sister George”.
“The Killing of Sister George” is a 1964 play by Frank Marcus that was later adapted into a 1968 film directed by Robert Aldrich.
Although it is strongly implied that George and Childie are lesbians, and towards the end it is suggested that Mercy could be as well, this is never explicitly stated.
Marcus intended the play to be a farce, not a serious treatment of lesbianism, but because there was so little material at the time about lesbians it became treated as such.
My dear, innocent mother had never heard of lesbianism, but suddenly – through watching that play – the pieces began to fall into place and she broke down, weeping, as she reconstructed the whole sorry tale.
Obliged to explain to me this abrupt and sorrowful mood, she related that although she had loved her principal dearly it had never occurred to her that there was anything untoward about the woman’s behaviour.
It had therefore come as a shock when, shortly after my mother’s removal from Oak Grove, the principal committed suicide.
– Peter Moss
Peter Moss shared this write-up on September 12, 2017 on e-mail.