‘I want you to meet Annie’, my mother said that afternoon…
May, 1968. I hadn’t seen Mother since I left Karachi in December, to attend a family wedding. My father and I had taken a two-day trip from Gwalior, via Bhopal, to receive her in Bombay. She whisked me off to Breach Candy, where Annie lived, with one woman who cooked and kept house, in an economically furnished ground floor flat.
Annie was small and spare in her smart sari, with a shock of cropped curls. She was forty-one and single; she’d lived for a decade or so after partition in Karachi, and then in London. In the early ‘60s, she decided to return to India when an enormous novel she’d written was controversially received by Ayub Khan’s military government and she no longer felt happy in Pakistan. In Bombay she’d worked for a journal called Imprint, and had just moved to the Illustrated Weekly of India. Her conversation with Mother was probably about their mutual friends: it wasn’t easy in those days to travel between India and Pakistan unless, like us, you had a British passport. She took an immediate interest in my precocious reading habits. I’d grown up with women journalists – Mother was still managing a women’s magazine in Karachi, which was owned by my father’s sister, a Member of the National Asembly who was usually busy with politics. I was used to chatting to adults with literary inclinations; I’d met many artists and writers as a child and I didn’t consider them much larger than life.