Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON
One of the funniest examples of family-related geography took place when I was fourteen years old, in my second-last year of boarding school at St Joseph's College, Darjeeling – the school famously known by its compass orientation, North Point.
I should point out that there is a substantial age gap between my three older siblings and me – Keith, Michael and Brian got a head start of fifteen, twelve and ten years respectively. Because my brothers were in boarding school, I only saw them for three months each year. By the time I was six years old, each of them had left the family home, Keith and Brian to join the merchant navy and Michael to become a fighter pilot.
Keith then lived in England for a while before moving to Australia, where he eventually took on Australian citizenship. Shortly after I started Year Ten, Keith returned to India on holiday, travelling on an Australian passport.
As Brian just happened to be in Calcutta at the time, it was decided that he and our mother would travel to Darjeeling with Keith. But because Keith was now a ``foreigner’’, he had to get special permission to visit Darjeeling, and the necessary paperwork was completed without a hitch. Once they arrived in the beautiful Himalayan town where my school was situated, it was decided that they would spend a day or two extra – which in turn meant that Keith had to apply for an extension.
While I was in class one morning, Mum and Brian accompanied Keith to the official who would review his case. They explained they just wanted a couple of extra days because they were spending as much time as possible with me while I was at boarding school. Very efficiently, Keith was given permission and the necessary paperwork was completed.
As Mum, Brian and Keith got up to go, the official very politely stopped Mum. He wanted to know if he could possibly ask her a ``very personal’’ question. Mum, who was never flummoxed by unexpected roadblocks, told him to go right ahead.
Clearing his throat, the official cut to the chase. ``Madam,’’ he said, ``how is it you have one Australian son but your other sons are Indians?’’