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Updated: September 13, 2010 19:33 IST

Jane Austen lookalikes!

R. V. Smith
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Illustration: Tony Smith
The Hindu Illustration: Tony Smith

Like Ennie and Minnie who slept in a shell, Kitty and Betty were also two little ladies, except that they were not fairies who could fit into a shell. Kitty was blind and Betty a bit deranged. They wore Jane Austen-type clothes and hats and came to church hand-in-hand on Sundays from a Delhi convent, where they stayed. Betty was known as Miss Davies to the schoolgirls who found her funny at times. Kitty was quiet and intelligent and managed to control the mood swings of her companion.

They were born in the closing years of the 19th Century and lost their parents during the First World War. Since then they had been in the Convent – two teenaged orphans who the nuns had taken under their care. Kitty, however could not find a boyfriend who she could date with a view to marriage but Betty did have one with whom she would go out for dances once a week. Then World War II broke out and he joined the RAF as a pilot until news came one day that he had been killed in action in Egypt. The shock was enough to make Betty lose her senses.

Tracing people of that era who knew the two ladies, both short, fair and with bobbed hair, was difficult but one did manage to find someone who knew them since the 1930s. Miss Francis, an old spinster, was still in the junior classes when she came into contact with Kitty and Betty.

She recalls that their parents were Anglo-Indians who lived in Old Delhi's Civil Lines and attended St Mary's Church in More Sarai where Kitty and Betty also went since their families were distantly related. Came a day when the parents had to leave for England to attend a wedding but unfortunately they were killed when their ship sank in the Mediterranean. Since then the two girls became orphans.

As they grew older they started wearing clothes like the ones worn by their mothers in the 1860s-style. The old school tailor was able to stitch the kind of dresses they liked and people who saw them were quite amused by their apparel, for they seemed to have walked out straight from a Jane Austen novel.

The last 30 years of their lives were spent in the Jesus and Mary Convent, Agra, where they were assured of a quiet and decent life, away from the hurly-burly of the outside world. They made rare visits to the bazaar, holding hands and talking animatedly as Betty described the scene for the benefit of her friend – urchins trailing them, women stopping to stare at the two or other passers-by standing dumbstruck by their sudden appearance.

They generally bought pins, needles, handkerchiefs ribbons, thread, lace and toffees from the grocer before returning to the Convent, where they cared for the compound dogs and fed birds on bread crumbs saved from the dining table. Students wanting to improve their conversational English also came to them while the nuns continued to treat the two like senior girls who needed to be reprimanded from time to time for breaking the Convent rules and talking to strangers.

Kitty died first and then Betty, after crossing the biblical life-span of three score years and ten. One may never see the likes of them again.

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