Horizon at Sandy Point

Thursday, September 29, 2016

And that was your father...

I met my husband's father in late 1981 or early 1982. Khanta and Adrienne Ganase were on one of their regular visits to Khanta's home country. At the time, they were living in Kenya where Khanta was chief engineer at Kenya Airways. Over the preceding 20 years, Khanta had built his career and international reputation in aviation.

Before the parents came to Trinidad, I had met older brother Rikhi on our first date, a party that seemed to have been put together by someone using the opportunity presented by an empty house to invite everyone. Rikhi sailed in with an entourage of BWIA colleagues and sailed out again. So much for "you must meet my brother!" I met the three sisters, Indra, Vidia and Nadine, and brother Carl the doctor, on their various vacations to Trinidad.

Young retirees: mid 1980s at the new house in Draguignan

Khanta and Adrienne, Draguignan 1988
Khanta and Adrienne, c 1992

Eventually I met youngest brother Kris who came to do a graduate internship with the BWIA engineering department, and lived with us for a short time. I mention all this because even though Khanta Dhanook Ganase was born and grew up in Arima, Trinidad and Tobago was always primarily a vacation place for the family who were taken away in the early 1960s: to Ghana, then to Kenya. The three eldest boys were sent to an English boarding school in Reading as soon as they reached double digits. After high school, all were sent to university in France, the youngest boy opting for England.

Khanta had left Trinidad for the first time to join the RAF just as World War 2 was ending. He met the French girl Adrienne LeComte in London where she worked with BOAC.

Khanta, RAF, c 1946

Khanta and Adrienne c 1949

Later I heard the story of the “French woman of Arima” who arrived by boat, expecting to marry Khanta whom she met while he was serving England in the war. She stayed with his mother learning to use a coal pot and make dhalpuri while he fended off the cousins who had arranged a marriage. He was handsome, a war hero, dashing in a uniform. They were an outstanding interracial couple in rural Arima. Then he built a house near the Piarco airport. And Adrienne commuted to jobs in Port of Spain where the children were in primary school.

By 1962, when - as the story goes - he fell out with someone in authority at BWIA, he went to work with an airline in Nassau in the Bahamas. Eventually, he moved the family to west Africa via London where the eldest boys were registered in boarding school. He was in Ghana for the bloody coup (1966) that toppled Nkrumah. Then he moved to Kenya where East African Airways (the airline run jointly by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) was headquartered. He was on duty in 1976, through the daring rescue of Air France hostages at Entebbe by an Israeli force.

By then, EAA had a fleet of16 aircraft (including DC-3s, DV-9-30s and VC10s) that operated the  domestic network within the three member countries, and international services to Europe. In 1977, the partnership dissolved with Kenya the first to set up its own airline. Khanta remained with Kenya Airways until he retired in 1983.

Michael Dolsingh, a BWIA veteran and global aviation financier had this to say about Khanta: "What a pillar of BWIA and other BOAC incarnations (East Africa Airways) Mr Ganase was, not only for the role he played in developing regionally-domiciled aviation, first in West Africa, then from his second African roost Nairobi. He served as a valuable Engineering and Maintenance resource for East African Airways, the forerunner to Kenya Airways, still a substantial carrier and now a public-private partnership, with KLM. Those of us who are passionate about Air Transportation, and about its integrity and sustainability in the 3rd World - in the face of formidable 1st World competition and global integration -  owe a debt of gratitude to pioneers like Mr Ganase." Khanta's aviation legacy includes sons Rikhi and Kris, both aviation engineers, and grandson Stephan a pilot.

For my part, I have lived for 35 years with the son who rejected the career path in engineering for one in the arts, photography; rebeled against the regimen of boarding school and organised religion, Catholic and Hindu; turned his back on jacket-and-tie social conservatism; married and remained in Trinidad and Tobago; who cultivated the father's wandering streak and absorbed his hard-headedness. Happy-go-lucky but determined to get what he wanted; stubborn even when rigidly wrong, the father lives in the son.

Draguignan, 1988, the family except Vidia

Khanta Ganase, Adrienne and their seven children, 2014 Santa Cruz
Khanta and sons, two aviation engineers, one photographer, one doctor, 2014

My husband claims he has no memories of growing up close to the father, separated as they were through the boarding school years. Still, he talks of being the teenager - during sixth form years in Nairobi - called upon to help service the family car "pass the 3/16, the wrench, the nose beak..." He remembers the songs his father would put on the record player on Sunday afternoons: "You have your Beatles, Rolling Stones, all that noise, now is my turn..." And he learned to sing "Prabhu ji me-de-ah..." while fixing Dad's scotch with one ice, matching his intake, several times until he would start to sing; the signal he had been waiting for. "Dad, may I borrow the car?"

And the questions: "Who you going out with?"
"What does her father do?"

By 1984, Khanta and Adrienne were living in the south of France, he was retired, she completing her term of engagement with the French Embassy. They welcomed the eldest grandson to Draguignan in 1984. In 1988, the growing family spent Christmas there. In between, there were always visits to Trinidad. 
Always smiling he was: one of Adrienne's favourite photos, taken in 2014

The last time Khanta was in Trinidad was 2014, the year the eldest grandson was married. 
Since then, he was in and out of hospital – a fall, then a worsening prostate condition – and finally, just to be able to sleep without pain. It’s ironic that the last drug administered might be morphine, named for Morpheus Greek god of dreams. Do we dream as we slip into the deep night? Do memories float unbidden to consciousness, so that we mutter the names of parents, children, comrades, “mammy”?

Khanta died in Draguignan early on Sunday, September 18. He was 94. 

He is survived by his beloved wife Adrienne; and children: Indra (Pierre Lorette), Rikhi (Annamaria Sampson); Ranji (Patricia Wong Chong); Vidia; Carl (Isabelle Chagneux); Krishen (Nathalie Hervé); Nadine (Xavier Huguet); grandchildren: Nelika (Iain Watson), Orion (Leah White), Kiran, Naomi (Loic Grabenstaetter), Sanjay, Anjani, Stephan, Ketan, Morgan, Mona, Anaelle, Ravi, William and Simon; and great-grandchildren: Brennan, Nathan, Rowan and Thea.
Khanta with Anjani and eldest grandson Orion, in Draguignan 1988