September 08, 2013

David Cameron of Kolkata RIP

My Tribute

For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend David Cameron these days. He’s always been a bit of a go-getter, full of beans and brimming with ideas far ahead of his time. Not everything’s paid off. But at least David’s settled into a good home now.

I first met David and his wife Angela some 40 years ago. He was already famous in Calcutta’s Anglo-Indian community as an audacious sort of chap. Some even called him a lovable hustler. His children were my pre-teen companions — Rodrick, John and the pretty young sister, Maria.

David began as a teacher in a Christian school in Howrah. He graduated to become principal of St Thomas’ School at Khidirpur, right near the city’s dockyards. The letter ‘E’ defined David Cameron. Education was his profession, entrepreneurship his calling and anything equine his passion. Well before it was conventional wisdom, David realised the potential of schools as a business. In the 1980s, when past 50, he chucked up a good, safe job to run a start-up boarding school in McCluskieganj, near Ranchi.

When the school was up and running, David, the eternal wanderer, sought new pastures. He had a thing for horses and owned a few racehorses in Calcutta. Indeed, he was a regular at the races, especially on the New Year’s Day. The vast open frontiers of McCluskieganj gave him an idea: this was the perfect location for a stud farm.

It was a crazy dream — to breed racehorses in the middle of Jharkhand (then south Bihar). David’s ‘partner’ was a priest who owned the land where the stud farm was set up. After the priest died in a two-wheeler accident, David became the solo boss. He imported mares and brought in Midnight Cowboy, a legendary racehorse from Calcutta, as the farm stallion. An investor from Doha put in some money, with a plan to export colts to the emirates of the Gulf. Just outside sleepy Ranchi, in those soporific pre-liberalisation days of the 1980s, David Cameron was thinking big.

In 2010, all that survives of that stud farm is a large vegetable patch. The dream has retired, the dreamers have gone. Angela now lives in Perth, as do Cameron’s children, John and Maria. Rodrick, a horse-lover like his father, looks after the stables of the royal family of Bahrain. In his charge are not racehorses but free agents who go long distances, uninhibited by the horizon — just the way David Cameron lived his life.

Today, pushing 80 at the Mary Cooper Old Age Home in Calcutta, David must be counting his wild gambles and unusual schemes. Did his ambitions extend to being elected prime minister? I almost wonder.

[This article was carried by Hindustan Times | Tuesday, May 25, 2010]