I arrived in Germany, end January 1952 to study Engineering. Before joining college, it was mandatory to serve apprenticeship for some period in a factory. So it was that I was brought to the flat in Nuremberg by a lady named Mrs. Muller, belonging to the personnel department of Siemens, the company with which I was to do my apprenticeship. A middle- aged lady, hair already greying and showing clear signs of hard work put in, greeted us. She was going to be my landlady for the next 6 ½-odd years of my stay in Germany. Her name – Mrs. Walburga Luber. I only knew a few German sentences as a result of the language classes I had taken in London, prior to coming to Germany. Neither Mrs. Luber nor Mrs. Muller spoke any English. Well, the relationship had already begun, unknown to both of us.
Mrs. Luber came from a small village in Bavaria, a very simple hard-working lady, with minimum formal education, no makeup or any fancy attire. But a heart of gold! Unfortunately for her, she was married to a grumpy, angry man, who always had a scowl on his face- during the time that I spent with them, I never saw that man even smile, leave aside laugh. He used to work with the railways, being employed as a lathe operator (turner), a job I believe he was doing quite efficiently. To add to Mrs. Luber’s woes, she had a son, a few years younger to me, an arrogant, abrasive, abusive lad who thought no end of himself.A very demanding chap, he had traces of racism and a superiority complex in his mind. Needless to say, I never got along well with either of the father/son duo, but for whatever reason, I was not asked to quit.
In the early weeks, I was served dinner in a separate room, but then one evening I was invited over to join the family for dinner. I picked up the language pretty fast; the main reason perhaps being that almost no one spoke English at that time not even the fellow apprentices save one, who was always posted with me in whichever department I worked in such was the foresight of “Papa” Siemens, when the company planned my training apprenticeship, if you choose!
Along with my progress in German, my interaction with Mrs. Luber grew, and she was very happy to have someone with who she could chat. I don’t remember when but one fine day we were addressing each other by our first name. She was “Wally” to me and I was “Yogi” to her, a name given to me by my German friends.
Wally literally did everything for me which any mother would. Apart from packing my lunch box, she would wash and iron my clothes, stitch buttons and do any other sundry jobs. And of course, she would scold me whenever I strayed. Once, I was assigned to work in the transformer division of the company. That aforementioned German boy, Ernst Schell was of course with me. As an aside, let me tell you that Ernst is now not only a dear friend but is considered a family member by us and vice versa. With us was a Swedish boy who smoked like a chimney; cigars only. Being a non-smoker, I could not understand or appreciate this. He then challenged me to smoke a cigar during the lunch break saying he would give me the princely sum of one deutsche mark (a DM in those days was worth measly 88 paisa in Indian currency!) if I could manage to smoke one in the given time 30 minutes to be precise, less of course the time taken to gobble up lunch! Challenge accepted, he bought a dark cigar and I sat down in the garden adjoining the dining area, armed with a bottle of lemonade to wash down the taste of tobacco! I started inhaling and puffing real hard because I wanted to show him that I too could smoke. No big deal I thought, till suddenly, I felt a burning sensation in my fingers holding the cigar. When I checked, I found that the entire underside of the cigar had burnt through because of my vigorous puffing. I did not know that the cigar has to be turned every now and then so that it burns uniformly! Well, the Swede and Ernst were having the fun of their life at my plight. Anyway, the Swedish boy sportingly gave me the one DM for having won the bet. But what followed then got me the dressing down of my life from Wally.
As soon as the lunch break was over, Ernst and I headed for our department. Suddenly I was feeling giddy and had nausea. We both quickly went to the washroom where I threw up. After putting my head under a running water tap, I felt slightly better. But I felt giddy again, so both Ernst and I sat on a bench outside. I must have cut a miserable figure, because just then the secretary to our departmental manager who was passing by saw me and asked Ernst whether I’d had had one drink too many?!! I was furious. She thought that I did not speak / understand German whereas I was fluent in the language by this time. What upset me most was the fact that I never drank any alcohol during my entire stay in Europe – about 7 ½ years – and she thought that I was drunk! Well, evening came and I headed home. As soon as I entered, Wally came to greet me. I don’t know what she saw in my miserable face but she certainly realised that something was wrong. And when I narrated her the story, all hell broke loose – I got the dressing down of my life. She scolded me just as my mother would have done. My joy over having won the bet of one DMark went up in smoke and since then I have not been a betting man, not at least over smoking a cigar!
And so the years flew by. In between, I had to go to Berlin for four months for some training, but I continued to pay her the rent and she retained my room. In any case, she did not want to have a new paying guest. I graduated in 1957 and had to go to Berlin again, this time for about 10 months. I again retained my room because I loved Nuremberg so much that whenever I got a chance, I came down even if it was just for two days. Then in April or May of the following year my father came to Germany and asked me to return to India. I pleaded with him to let me stay for just one more month in Nuremberg so that I could spend time with all my dearest friends.
The day arrived I had to catch a train to Marseilles from where I was to sail to India. Wally came to drop me to the station we were travelling by a street car. We both were in tears when we parted.
Our correspondence continued and I obviously visited her whenever I returned to Germany on business. Then one day, that Mrs. Muller – Inge is her name – visited me in India. I forgot to mention earlier that we were very friendly with each other, too and she was just like an elder sister to me. Inge knew Wally very well and often dropped by to say hello. So, while shows with us and we were chatting one day, she asked me if I remembered the day I departed from Germany. Of course I did! She then told me something that moved me no end. It so happened that after bidding me goodbye, Wally was returning home. As luck would have it, she boarded the same street car which we had on our way to the station. The conductor had noticed us earlier and now, seeing her sobbing uncontrollably, came up to her and asked softly, “Frau, was that your son?” To which her reply was,”he was much more to me than my son.”
Some more years passed, when one day I received a letter from Inge. Enclosed in the envelope was a newspaper cutting – an obituary announcing the death of Mrs. Walburga Luber. Old memories came alive and tears flowed naturally. My own mother was no longer alive and now my German ‘mother’ was also gone. In the obituary, I found just one line missing – Beloved Mother to her Indian Son, Yogi!!
My pen cannot write anything more. Wally, this heart is still beating for you.