Father’s Day – June 21, 2015

DaddyOThe family of my father, Edgar Samuel Lewis, who’s pictured alongside, were the Athams of Kabul, Afghanistan. 

They were scions of Afghanistan’s ancient Kakazai tribe and had fled to India in the mid-19th century as a result of persecution by a warring faction. There, in the Northwest, they converted to Christianity, and – as was the custom in the Anglican Church of Northern India – they were given English surnames: the family legend has it that the clergyman who performed the ceremony baptized the newcomers with the surname Lewis since the reverend himself was a Welshman.

30 January 1888 – 25 June 1950

Daddy was the eldest child of Judge George Lewis of Hoshiarpur, Punjab. He was educated at Bishop Cotton Public (i.e., ‘Private’ in U.S. parlance) School in the sub-Himalayan hill-station of Simla, a popular summer retreat from the heat of the Indian plains to the south and at that time the summer capital of British India.

After graduation Daddy joined the British Indian Civil Service and was eventually posted in Delhi as the District Magistrate (D.M). He rose to become a highly respected Government servant – and eventually the first Indian Deputy Commissioner of the Capital. For the record, the Deputy Commissioner and his Chief were always Englishmen during the British Raj.

Daddy received many awards while in Government service: On 23 February 1920, he was given the War Medal for his valuable services rendered during WWI (1914-1919); on 12 May 1937 he received the King-Emperor’s Coronation Medal; and during WWII (1939-1945) when he was Deputy Chief Press Advisor and Censor of the Government of India, he was made an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the New Year Honours List. [Daddy’s seen below when he was D.M., Delhi – Right Hand corner in D.J. – at a Viceregal Banquet held in The Viceroy House on 19 March 1940: click on the picture to enlarge it to full screen.]

At Banquet 001

Banquet Seating 001 Viceroy Guests Partial

 Daddy was an incorrigible practical joker – even into his 50’s – that belied his role, first, as a Sessions Judge in pre-1947 Lahore, Punjab – now in Pakistan but then part of British India; and later on in the capital New Delhi, as a senior government official. Looking back to his school days in Simla he was invariably brought up before the Headmaster, who was British, for some infraction or other (usually innocent, but ha-ha funny and never mean.) By the same token, he was invariably let off with a wink-and-a-nod reprimand to never do it again – whatever it was!

Daddy was well-built with very broad shoulders and stood about 5’10” high in his socks. He was an all-round sportsman as well as a shikari (huntsman) of note. He very soon excelled in tennis. Indeed, during his long tenure in the Capital he was often sought after as a double’s partner.

But there was one invitation he could not refuse – from the longest-serving Viceroy of India! His Excellency the Marquess of Linlithgow asked Daddy to join him on weekends for tennis, and if there were no political or other forces affecting civil life in the Capital, that partnership became fairly routine. Daddy’s own favorite partner was one of his younger brothers, Eric, and eventually the two Lewis siblings became the Champion Doubles Tennis Players of the Punjab.

With the US Tennis Open just around the corner in New York, I’m being reminded of the fact that when I was a youngster, I witnessed Daddy’s commanding performance in tennis matches on the Roshnara Club grounds in New Delhi – he was one of the Club’s founding and Executive Committee members who enjoyed playing there with his many pals, both in public and commercial life.

After Tennis 001

Since he was ambidextrous, he could return the ball with equal facility into his opponent’s court by switching his racquet from one hand to the other with aplomb. It was a delight to see, particularly in doubles matches, where those on the other side of the net were rarely able to anticipate his next move. [He’s seen alongside après a tennis game.]

Daddy’s other consuming passion was hunting, and each year during the season he and his buddies (including the legendary British hunter and naturalist Jim Corbett who wrote “Man-Eaters of Kumaon”) would invariably head for the hills – literally! – as the Terai was their usual destination. A belt of forests located south of the outer foothills of the Himalayas, the Terai was teeming with wildlife and at first the favorite sport was to bring back a tiger or two for displaying the cured furskin(s) in ones living room or man-cave. But after a while, Daddy was the first among his friends to declare an end to the slaughter. He, therefore, took to the camera instead of a rifle to ‘shoot’ pictures of animals in the wild, and to the pen for contributing articles on jungle life to the Indian and foreign press.

Unfortunately, on one of his forays into the Terai jungles, Daddy contracted an illness that eventually proved to be fatal. I was studying at London University, when I received news from my mother end-January 1950 that all was not well with Daddy. His shikari friends had foregathered at our New Delhi home to wish him well on his birthday, January the 30th, and to swap yarns and exciting anecdotes about their past hunting experiences.

Thereafter, Daddy’s condition worsened. With the onset of the hot weather, my elder bother, Misbah, and our worried mother checked him into the Willingdon Hospital, where soon after he went into a coma from which he never recovered. Daddy, that Prince among Men, passed away on 25 June 1950 in the early hours of that morning. He was buried in the York Road Cemetery. This Father’s Day appreciation of mine is dedicated to his memory 65 years after he left this world a far better place. _______________________________________________________________________

Two of Daddy’s ‘specialties’ were his command of the English language and concomitantly his musical knowledge and appreciation of grand opera.

  • First, his constant companion on his office desk at home was Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary – the revised edition with a Latin and foreign language supplement published in 1959. I still have the tattered volume in my den and still use it when, say, a Latin, German or French phrase escapes me. On Daddy’s retirement from Government service, a farewell party was thrown for him at the Roshnara Club. There, Delhi’s Chief Commissioner, Sir John Thompson, was the one to give the toast: He reminisced that his first contact with Edgar was in the Secretariat; it transpired that during his work there, his curiosity had been aroused by some very lucid, logical, effective and well-written notes in one of the recent case files. Thereupon, he enquired about their author and was told that the gentleman was none other than the illustrious son of his old friend from his own Hoshiarpur days, Judge Lewis. He concluded before the assembled guests and well-wishers that Mr. Lewis Junior was one of the most diligent, capable and popular members of the Civil Service.
  • Second, another old volume in my den bears the title, Opera at Home: The Fourth Edition was published by The Gramophone Co., Ltd, London in 1928 and dedicated to the imperishable memory of Adelina Patti and Enrico Caruso. The inscription inside reads simply E. S. Lewis June 1929.
    ESLsignatureOpera at Home has been my bible, especially when listening to Daddy’s many old 78’s and LP records that I brought over to the USA in 1975. [For listening to the 78’s I bought a special convertible turntable here that, while not perfect because of the scratchy back-ground, still gives me pleasure to hear some of the great operatic voices of all time.] They include my favorites of Beethoven’s Fidelio, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (with Joan Sutherland), Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, and Verdi’s Il Trovatore (conducted by Herbert von Karajan). Without doubt, Enrico Caruso was Daddy’s tenor of choice followed by coloratura soprano Amelita Galli-Curci – both Italians! He couldn’t get enough of listening to them in the evening in order to relax after a tough day spent in the hurly-burly of public life during a period of political unrest in India’s Capital. 
  • A chip off the old block has been Misbah: My older brother not only became his regiment’s tennis champion while serving in the Indian Army as a General, but to this day as an octogenarian retiree in the northern hill-station of Dehra Dun loves to load his record-player with discs of operatic performances by the great tenors – and is even heard bellowing out their well-known solos while taking a morning shower!

CODA: I can’t help leaving my readers without Enrico Caruso having the last word, uh, song. Here’s a YouTube clip of his performing the perennial favorite “Santa Lucia” first recorded on 20 March 1916, just under a century ago: Santa Lucia – enjoy listening to the best tenor of ’em all!

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

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