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In love with Delhi, at ease with Delhiites

Connaught Place may be renamed Indira Chowk, and Minto Bridge is now Shivaji Bridge, but for old-timers like George Heatherley, whose family roots are entrenched in India of the British Raj as well as of the Princely States, the wonderful memories pull him back to Delhi year after year. R.V.SMITH strolls down the by-lanes of pleasant memories with him... .


GEORGE HEATHERLEY has been coming to Delhi every Christmas for the past 26 years. And that's not surprising because his family's links with Delhi go back to 1802-1803, when his ancestor, James Heatherley Jr. came here from Kolkata - then Calcutta. He was born in England and followed his father, James Heatherley Sr. to India.

George Heatherley, now 82, was born in Delhi and lived hereuntil 1954 when he migrated to England and then to Australia. Back in England now, to be with his children in the sunset years, his annual visits to the place of his birth, which began in 1976, continue. His wife Clemence, 79, accompanies him on this Xmas sojourn and they usually stay at the YMCA Tourist Hostel. The Heatherleys have been married for 60 years now.

What brings George Heatherley to Delhi year after year? "It's old associations," he says. Born and brought up in the old Skinners' house in Nicholson Road, which leads to Mori Gate, he has vivid memories of his early years when he and his siblings were "thoroughly spoilt by Aunt Jane (nee Heatherley) who was married to James Cousins Skinner, Rais of Delhi, on November 15, 1869. He was the grandson of Colonel James Skinner, the legendary Sikandar Sahib who built St. James's Church in Kashmere Gate in perpetuation of a vow after surviving the battle of Uniara - now in Haryana.

James Cousins Skinner presented a statue of Queen Victoria to the city, which stood in front of the Town Hall in Chandni Chowk for many years, until it was replaced by one of Swami Shraddhand in the 1960s. It was because of the Skinner connection that the Heatherleys lived in the now 200-year-old mansion built by Sikandar Sahib. That house has now been taken over by transport companies, but George Heatherley can't resist visiting it every year.

"After all I grew up in that place and went to school from there. It has a beautiful garden all around it and the two-storied house was full of relatives, some of whom had been around at the time of the Mutiny of 1857."

His father used to work with a German insurance company in Sadar Bazar, and a Mercedes Benz, then a rarity in Delhi, came every morning to pick him up and then drop him back home in the evening. Imagine a reputed German Company having an office in Sadar Bazar! The area must have been really posh then.

"In fact," says George, "Kashmere Gate, part of Mori Gate and Civil Lines had many British and Anglo-Indian families then. I used to go to Sidiqui's restaurant near Ritz for ice cream in summer and sometimes also for a meal.Many shops in the area were England owned, like Keventers and Alasia, later renamed Carltons. Christmas was a grand affair, and the Skinner's mansion had no dearth of entertainment to which all the high and mighty of Delhi were invited."

When George grew up and joined the Army he spent his weekends hunting or fishing. "There were Melville de Mellow (the great radio commentator ), Frank Anthony, the Anglo-Indian leader, A.E. T. Barrow, Secretary of the Anglo-Indian Education Board, Jim Sutherland of The Statesman, Austin Manuel, the lawyer. De Mellow lived near Exchange Stores and Manuel opposite him in the Civil Lines, near Maidens Hotel. Frank Anthony had an affair with Manuel's wife Olive and finally married her. Frank used to book a dak bungalow, where the friends collected for shikar and angling outings, and it was there that the love affair with Olive flourished. Delhi's surrounding areas were a hunter's paradise then because of deer, nilgai, partridge, groval, wildbear and, of course, fish," recalls George wistfully.

Georgehas his family history on his fingertips. His ancestor James Heatherley Sr. was the son of Baron Heatherley of Salisbury, England. A captain in the Royal Navy, he came to India in 1798, with his wife, son and daughter. Intending to start a career in Indiahe returned to England to wind up his affairs but unfortunately died there after an epileptic fit. His family was stranded in Kolkata. However, his son James Jr., then 14, started working in Fort William. Then he came to Delhi and proceeded to Bareilly for work, then to Moradabad and Meerut. For some time he was employed with Sir David Ochterlony, the famous British Resident in Delhi.

After retiring from Government service, James Jr. served the Nawab of Jhajar, whom hisson Thomas Heatherley also served. any of the Heatherleys held high posts in such States as Alwar, Bharatpur, Jaipur and of course Jhajjar. One of George's ancestors was Alexander Heatherley "Azad", a well-known Urdu poet who has left behind a complete "Dewan" of his ghazals, which George is trying to acquire. Most of the Heatherleys were accomplished in both Urdu and Persian.

A man with such deep roots in Delhi, which are much older than those of William Dalrymple and Mark Tully cannot but have a nostalgic attraction to it.

"It's the memory of old friends - Frank Anthony, Melville de Mellow, Sutherland, the Manuels and others that brings me back to Delhi every year," he emphasises.

He misses that ambience but many of the old places and houses are still there. "How can I forget it?" he asks.

He'll go back, and then from August will start planning his next visit to Delhi. When George Heatherley comes, can Christmas be far behind?

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