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Karachi

 

I arrived at the railway station about ten minutes before Sneh's arrival. She looked tired which was no surprise, she had just crossed the Sind desert. A most inhospitable place at the best of times. Apart from expressing pleasure, no affection could be shown. This was India in the 1940s. As soon as we closed the door at the hotel she threw herself into my arms and said "I can't live without you". I reminded her that the time would come when I would have to fight in Burma and that it would then be impossible to meet. She just said "Oh! Don't talk like that". When faced by a problem she just refused to give it recognition. I said "You were very lucky to get away.' 'How long have you got?" "You should be pleased to see me". "You know that I am". "Then stop wasting our time together by asking silly questions".

I explained to her that life at Mauripur could be more difficult because we were a relatively small unit and left her to have a sleep while I went back to the station to ponder just how to handle the new situation. 'Pick' laughed and said lucky "B******! When are you bringing her to the mess?" 'Don't forget that I have been asked to look after you. Some guardian he was! I went to the adjutant and asked him if I could have a long weekend break in the middle of the week. He grinned at me and said that I could have it the following week as flying would be stopped for refurbishment of the engineering dept: Sneh was delighted but the next day a Bombay paper arrived on an incoming plane. On an inside page there was a report that Sneh had vanished and neither her studio nor her family could give any explanation.

I was horrified and asked her what was going on. She smiled coyly and said that she couldn't live without me. This was hopeless. She had left the film in midstream and no one had any idea of where she was. We managed to get hold of a few more Bombay papers. The obvious conclusion was that she had been kidnapped. The film community in the Western world latches onto the latest gossip however wild and unlikely. In India it was ten times worse. She had been kidnapped by a Maharaja! (not altogether unlikely in those days). Then some film pundit in Bombay announced that she was honeymooning with her husband Flight Officer Sparkes of the American Airforce! Whew! A few day's grace! There is no such rank as 'Flight Officer'. The Americans probably looked for a 'Sparkes' of some denomination and the R.A.F probably said something that included 'Damned Americans'!

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The Americans, were in 1943, enjoying a rosy period since they had just appeared in India and India was trying to get rid of British rule just as the Americans had done. I had been well received on the film sets. Ergo. I must be American! The situation was far from humorous. I was in great danger of being accused of crimes that could well bring disaster. Sneh had already insisted that I had a 'bodyguard' as well as the driver whenever I was being ferried to and from the bungalow. (Which, in any case was out in an area of bounds to members of the armed services).

We would have married before but the ceremony would prove that we had not been married. Today we would call it 'Catch 22' There was nothing for it but we would have to find a magistrate who would marry us. We set out for Hyderabad Sind and sought out the head Magistrate. He listened to us with great sympathy and promised complete confidence but pointed out that it was beyond his powers. In any case I would need the written permission of my commanding officer who would have to refer the request to Air Headquarters India. We were trapped. Hyderabad must be one of the most arid spots on earth and we left it with mixed feelings.

Hyderabad in the 1940s
Hyderabad

On our return we found that the story was in the Karachi papers and the jig was well and truly up and she was, once more, being followed in the streets. I gathered myself to face the C.O. Thank goodness he had heard nothing about the situation. He was such a decent type that I hated to add to his worries and my 'blind eye a la Nelson' episode must have been fresh in his memory. There was nothing for it but the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He listened with growing incredulity. "Well, I had better meet the damned woman!" I swallowed my annoyance at hearing Sneh referred to as a 'Damned woman' and suggested bringing her to dinner. He was still looking at me as though he could not believe what he was hearing. To break the silence I said "Shall I mention it to the mess steward Sir?" "The mess?' 'Good God no, we had better eat in my quarters."

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We arranged for the following evening and I apologised that Sneh was a vegetarian. I made my exit feeling that things were not looking too good. At the appointed time we were shown into his dining room. There was a table laid for three but he was not there. There was nowhere to sit so we stood like a couple of lemons until he arrived a few minutes later when I introduced them and we sat at the table as the bearer served the first course. There was no awkward silence, Sneh took care of that. Before too long he was telling her about his wife and children and that his wife had been unwell recently. She hung on his every word and I found myself a bystander with the two of them chatting away like old friends. It was quite astonishing. She had completely taken over. She told him how much we loved each other. "I just cannot live without him!"

At this point my embarrassment knew no bounds. She was carrying him along with her. He was eating out of her hand. To cut matters short. My log book hides the story. My flight to Allahabad was the only entry of my service with No21 Ferry Command. She actually had him arrange my posting to No 23 Ferry Command, Santa Cruze Airport, Bombay! I still can hardly believe it but my log book does not lie. Just what sort of a woman he thought that I would be bringing to meet him I have no idea but he surely could not have imagined (any more than I could) posting me back to Bombay. I was both proud and ashamed of her. I truly believed that she could not help charming anyone she met to the extent that it was a deadly weapon. Could I accuse her of flirting with him? Was it flirting? She took a genuine interest in him and his troubles and appreciated that he was a thoroughly nice man which he was. So nice, in fact that he said that it would not be necessary for me to take on any flying duties before I took up my new appointment at Santa Cruze in about fourteen days time.

It was neatly arranged so that we would just have time to fix up accommodation in North Bombay. The Bombay papers were delighted. It was all so romantic! Her studio read the riot act but the film in making, was more than compensated by the publicity. I was now in deep deep trouble, if the truth came out and there seemed nothing that could be done. Meanwhile I was recovering from bouts of (what was described as) undulant fever and spent my first days with No 23 Ferry Command in hospital after which I was granted two week's sick leave. Naturally, this was spent at the bungalow in Poona.

 

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Edward Sparkes 1998-2002