HE'S MAKING A LIAR OUT OF KIPLINGZ
Rudyard Kipling held that "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet;" Nik Cavell, a former violinist and horse trader, is now energetically spending 150 million dollars of our money in a promising attempt to prove him wrong
THE TASK before R. G. Nik Cavell, director of Canada’s contribution to the Colombo Plan, is to prove that Rudyard Kipling was wrong when he wrote that celebrated phrase: “Oh East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Like other Colombo Plan administrators Cavell believes that East and West must meet if the world is to be saved from catastrophe.
An unusual job is nothing new to Cavell. Chronologically he’s been a theatre violinist, a straight man to a comedian, an Indian Army cavalry officer, a horse trader, a South African sheep farmer, a Cape Town journalist, a telephone company executive in Japan and China, a British Secret Service agent in Manchuria and the boss of two Ontario electronics companies.
Twenty-five years experience in the Orient and a dedication to the welfare of its people qualified him for his present post in the Canadian civil service. Now sixty, he stumps around with (he slightly bowlegged gait of the old cavalryman. His thatch is white, his beaky bespectacled face is drawn, his chest is racked by asthma and his stomach muscles, shot through long ago by Turkish bullets, are sagging. Yet he works doggedly, often seven days a week, and rarely leaves his office before seven-t hirty in the evening.
Today Caveil’s role in the Colombo Plan consists
of spending $150 millions of the Canadian taxpayers’ money on food, machinery, scientific instruments and technical advice that will help) the East shake off its poverty and strengthen the resistance of its teeming multitudes to Communist propaganda.
The Colombo Plan originated during a meeting of British Commonwealth foreign ministers at Colombo, Ceylon, in 1950, when they discussed the plight of South and South East Asia.
The average per capita income of 570 million Asians in these regions is $60 a year, compared wit h $1200 in Canada and the United States. The ordinary Asian’s diet of twelve ounces of cereals and starch per day yields him less than the 2,000 calories regarded by the West as a minimum for survival. The usual home is a grass, mud or tin hut devoid of sanitation. Nine yards of cotton pier year is all the average Asian can afford for clothing and furnishing. Eight out of ten are illiterate. The birth rate is rising so rapidly that by 1970 their numbers will have swollen to 720 millions, an increase equivalent to the piopndation of the United States.
Famine stalks them. Yet their lands are rich in natural resources. Before the war they produced one third of the world’s fats, three quarters of the world’s tea and all the world’s jute and rubber. Their handicap however, intensified in some coun-
tries by a rapacious wartime Japanese occupation, and in others by the economic stresses of defense production, has always been the lack of the scientific knowledge and equipment necessary to exploit the wealth in their soil.
At Colombo the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand joined forces to help the Asian countries within the Commonwealth— India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak. A few months later the United States joined and help was extended to Asian countries outside the Commonwealth — Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Viet Nam and Indonesia.
The six-year plan will officially end in 1957, but it will probably be renewed because it has become the fulcrum of Western cold-war policy in the East. The annual costs are shared in this way: United
Kingdom, $150 millions; United States, $100 millions; Canada, $25 millions; Aust ralia, $11.5 millions; New Zealand, $3 millions.
As director of Canada’s share, Reginald George Cavell (the “Nik” that he prefers as first name derives from an Italian maternal grandmother named Nicol ini) spends eight, months of the year in Ottawa preparing Canadian assistance programs, and four months in the East checking on progress and compiling lists of new projects. In Ottawa he occupies a modest office hung with maps and posters
from the East and directs a staff of thirty in one of the government’s temporary buildings. His unit is officially termed the International Economic and Technical Co-operation Division of the Department of Trade and Commerce.
Colombo Plan projects are cleared with the other divisions of Trade and Commerce to make sure they do not cut across Canada’s normal commercial relations with foreign countries. They have then to be vetted by the Department of External Affairs for political and diplomatic prudence. Next they must be submitted to the cabinet for approval and endorsed by parliament. Finally the Department of Finance watches every outgoing penny to ensure that it is spent in the manner for which it was voted. Delays which Cavell describes as “infuriating for a man brought up in competitive business” are inevitable.
At first he slashed at red tape. Later, realizing he could not cut through it any more effectively than other civil servants, he set about feverishly to untangle it. One of his staff says, “When he has a document on which he wants action he charges around Ottawa hanging onto people’s coat tails and nagging them until they sign.”
In his office he interviews Canadian technicians for Colombo Plan jobs, receives visiting Asian students and officials, confers with industrialists
who make the equipment Canada donates and prepares detailed plans of his projects for scrutiny and approval at cabinet level.
It isn’t difficult, says Cavell, to find Canadian technicians ready to work in the East. The jobs appeal to their sense of adventure. Most families, too, seem to settle there happily. Canadians are particularly liked in the East, he says, because they have a reputation for genuine altruism. The United Kingdom has a colonial reputation to live down and the United States has difficulty fending one off. (Recently Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s Prime Minister, described the proposed gift of American military supplies to Pakistan as “creeping colonialism.”)
In his relations with industrialists Cavell is at home. For twenty years he was an industrial boss himself. Many meetings with industrialists at Ottawa are to define the precise nature of Canadian equipment to be sent to Asia. There is much correspondence between Asian authorities and Canadian companies fulfilling Colombo Plan contracts and occasionally confusion arises through the use of different technical terms. Usually Cavell is able to straighten these matters out.
A Canadian hydro-electric engineering company making equipment for a dam in Bengal has been impressed by the clarity of technical correspondence from an Indian engineer on
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the site. The Indian, Cavell points out proudly, spent six months in Canada under the Colombo Plan and returned home with a thorough knowledge of Canadian engineering terms and practices.
Early last year a visiting Pakistani fell ill and an immediate operation was
required. Cavell arranged it. A few weeks later Cavell was sleeping in a bungalow on the North West Frontier of India. About three in the morning there was a thundering at the door. He opened up and for a moment thought he was about to be assassinated.
Six shaggy tribesmen with bandoleers round their shoulders and daggers in their belts seized him. But their demonstration turned out to be one of delight . They were the father and brothers of the student whose life had been saved in Ottawa by prompt operation and they had ridden two hundred miles on
horses to thank Cavell for his assistance.
Although the heat aggravates his asthma Cavell slogs up and down the Indian sub-continent tirelessly. Hume Wright, a young government statistician who accompanied him last year, says, "He gave me so much figure work on so many prospective schemes I hardly saw the country.”
Cavell was in Karachi when a Comet jet airliner en route to begin service with Canadian Pacific Air Lines crashed with a loss of all the crew. A few minutes later Cavell calmly took off in another Cornet. Once in bumpy weath-
er over central India he relieved a sick and prostrate mother of her squalling infant, changed its diaper and soothed it by dandling it on his knee to a croaky rendering of Hide A Cock Horse To Banbury Cross. On his way to an Indian railroad station his taxi was blocked by a crowd of strikers who wanted to beat up his driver for working. Cavell stood on the back seat and in Hindi addressed the crowd and persuaded them to let him proceed.
“He knows his Asians inside out,” says Hume Wright. “And they know he knows them. They respect him be-
cause he treats them neither as angels nor pariahs but as equals. Not many try to pull the wool over his eyes»”
In India one did try. Wright was puzzled by a faintly deprecating smile on Cavell’s face during a conversation with an Indian state official. The man was talking about his fine stable and offered Cavell a horse. With a grin Cavell accepted. Next morning at six o’clock Cavell set off on a horse which impressed Wright. When Cavell returned Wright remarked the Indian must have a fine stable indeed.
“He has no stable at all,” said Cavell.
“That was obvious from his conversation last night.” Wright asked, “But what about that horse?” Cavell replied, “It came from the police stables. I could tell by its manners. And didn’t you notice the lance bucket on the right stirrup? No horse comes from a private stable equipped with a lance bucket.”
Wright adds, “Cavell knew the Indian was only showing off. Yet he was indulgent enough not to call him on it.”
Cavell doesn’t foist ideas for Canadian help on the Asians, He tries to give them what they want. They want
so much he has to choose between their wishes with great diplomacy. He has another problem too. “The Asian,” he says, “is sensitive about taking charity.” Cavell points out that Canada’s participation in the Colombo Plan is motivated by self-interest. He was backed up recently by Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent who on his world tour stressed in speeches that Asian welfare was inseparable from Canadian security.
From 1951 to 1953 Cavell sent to India $15 millions worth of wheat. In the same period Pakistan received $10 millions worth of wheat, although $5 millions of this was not sent under the Colombo Plan. This wheat has been Canada’s biggest single gift. Next in size will be the gift of 120 steam locomotives to India, $11 millions worth in 1954 and a further $10 millions worth in 1955. These donations were urgently needed. But Cavell prefers the type of help which helps the Asians to help themselves. Here he has to step cautiously. Even though he rejects Kipling’s most famous contention about East and West, he recognizes that his basic dilemma is implicit in another, lesser known, Kipling verse:
The end of the fight is a tombstone white
With the name of the late deceased.
And the epitaph drear: “A Fool lies here
Who tried to hustle the East.”
Cavell has seen many examples of precipitous beneficence on the part of other countries. Seven jet aircraft were lost in as many weeks in Pakistan through the inexperience of pilots. A magnificent hospital laboratory proved useless in India because no Asian understood the instruments. A tractor station became impotent in Malaya as one after another the machines broke down and nobody knew how to repair them.
“You just can’t dump modern machinery into a primitive economy and expect it to work,” he says. “In Asia you must start at the bottom and work up.”
Projects Cavell submits to the Canadian Government for approval are designed to fill empty Asian bellies. The gift of wheat was an obvious act. But there were strings attached to it. The Pakistan and Indian Governments had to agree to use the proceeds from the sale of the wheat for developments suggested or endorsed by Canada, developments that would yield still more food.
To illustrate: After it had sold the
wheat through ordinary commercial channels the Indian Government proposed, and Canada concurred, that the money—known as counterpart funds—should be spent on a dam to the north of Calcutta in West Bengal. This, the Mayurakshi Dam, will eventually irrigate six hundred thousand acres of arid land and provide four hundred thousand extra tons of food a year, thus helping India to narrow the gap between the fifty million tons of nourishment she needs annually and the forty-five million tons she is getting. Canadian engineers are helping Asian engineers to erect the dam which will include a hydro-electric plant donated by Canada.
Last year when Cavell was visiting the dam site a Canadian engineer complained to him, “When am I going to get bulldozers, mechanical shovels and cranes? Here I am with hundreds of men with spades, and hundreds of women with baskets of earth on their heads, and a herd of donkeys. When do you expect us to get the darn thing finished?”
“All those men and women,” said
Cavell, “have been displaced from the land by rising water levels. If they weren’t given the job of building the dam they would starve. That’s why you’ll never get any bulldozers from me.”
“Then what about the people when the dam is finished?” asked the engineer.
“That’s been thought of,” said Cavell. “They wall be absorbed into a scheme for cottage industries powered by (he hydro-electric plant.”
Cavell’s policy is “to nudge the Asians along.” For figes Pakistan tribesmen have been using the shortbladed sickle in their harvesting and Cavell thought it was time they used the long-bladed scythe. But they wouldn’t look at the scythe. Cavell got in touch with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN which had a team of crack Austrian scythemen touring the East. He promoted a contest between the Pakistan sicklemen and the Austrian scythemen. The Austrians won easily. Without further ado thousands of Pakistanis took up the scythe.
Cavell’s work has given Canada an enviable name in the East. Last year Edward Ritchie, of the External Affairs Department, brought home many clippings from the English and nativelanguage press in Asia lauding Canada’s efforts. In the same party was J unes Sinclair, Minister of Fisheries, who stepped from a train at a wayside halt to inspect an ancient flour mill. The miller came forward grinning and without any knowledge of Sinclair’s identity he allowed a stream of grain to pour through his fingers. “Good Canadian wheat,” he said in broken English. “Best in world.” Last year when the Finance Minister of Ceylon was delivering his budget speech he made a passing reference to Canadian aid. The assembly, a notoriously undemonstrative body, rose and cheered.
He Wanted The Violin
The man who helped bring this sort of recognition to Canada knew practically nothing about this country until he was forty years along in a peripatetic career. His earliest recollection of his life is a glimpse of a wild pony in the New Forest of Hampshire, England, where he was born. Later he became agile at catching and riding these little animals which range the beautiful national park. In his teens Nik developed a dispiriting trait for the scion of a horsey family; he liked playing the violin. His father, an engineer, and something of a domestic despot, was shocked. He could see no respectable future for his son except in the Anglican Church. Cavell was packed off to a theological preparatory school.
The boy clung however to a vision of himself playing violin concertos in the Queen’s Hall. When he was sixteen he ran away to London. There he got a job in the orchestra of the touring company of the D’Oyly Carte Opera. For a year he was happy sawing out Gilbert and Sullivan. “Then suddenly,” he says, “I learned about women.”
She was a pianist. “You and I,” she said, “could make beautiful music together.” They became a duet in a Liverpool cinema. Cavell permitted her t° manage both their salaries. At the end of the first month she vanished, taking with her the entire kitty.
Cavell was then picked up by a red-nosed comedian who was looking for somebody to feed him gags. Together they went round and round that lusty northern circuit of hippodromes and coliseums where Charlie Chaplin and Gracie Fields learned their trade. T hey shared seedy theatrical lodgings with acrobats, jugglers and magicians.
The comedian found life a strain and took to fortifying himself. Sometimes he muffed his lines and desperately Cavell had to chase the laughs by replying to his own cues. Eventually the comedian couldn’t even crawl onto the stage. Cavell joined the unemployed.
Wandering through Manchester he saw a sign: “Tracer Wanted.” He
didn’t know a tracer from a trapezoid but he talked himself into the job. The boss led him to a desk littered with inks, mapping pens, dividers and other affrighting paraphernalia. Cavell gathered that he had to trace a complicated
machinery design. Inside ten minutes his tracing paper looked like the pelt of a Dalmatian dog. As the boss approached to see how he was getting on he grabbed his hat and fled.
Next he got a job washing down calico printing machinery on the outskirts of Manchester. Here a doting grandfather who’d been on his trail for months ran him to earth. Grandfather talked about a straight back and a good seat above a military charger’s hams. At grandfather’s expense Cavell was tutored privately for a commission in the cavalry.
Cavell reached India as a cavalry subaltern in 1912. Those were the days when the hill tribesmen covered themselves with grease at night and slid naked into the army rifle cotes under the noses of the sentries. Even though the rifles were secured to the racks with a chain running through all the trigger guards thousands were stolen. Cavell made many punitive raids against these audacious marauders.
In the First World War, Cavell served in Mesopotamia. In 1917 Turkish bullets shot his horse from under him. Then he was wounded in the
abdomen and hands. He was invalided back to India.
Unlike most Indian Army officers he had no private income. To meet his mess bills he says he “broke nearly every bone in my body” as a steeplechase jockey for Indian princes and rich European owners. He also began to horse trade and became known as “the Ghorra Wallah” (the horse dealer). Fascinated by India and her people he broke European custom by serving for seventeen years without taking a trip home. Every leave saw him departing into the hills with a string of horses for sale. He organized races in villages, matching his animals against the local mounts and drawing fees for the stud services of his stallions.
In Baluchistan Nik ran a pack of bobbery hounds, a motley collection of mongrels. The dogs gave his guests exciting chases after small game and served to publicize his horses. One of his regular clients was General Sir William Birdwood, the famous Anzac commander of World War T.
When the Twenties dawned Cavell was sent to command a remount depot. There was a world shortage of horses due to war losses. All India could get were savages cut from the semi-wild brumby herds of Australia. They were being broken by steady bucking and beating until they knuckled under. This method crippled and killed many horses and men. Cavell introduced a new system of training, based on leading by feeding. It worked and was adopted throughout the army. It was particularly successful with polo ponies and when the Prince of Wales played in India he asked for mounts trained by Cavell.
Cavell’s horsemanship was known to the then Viceroy, the Marquess of Reading. His Lordship was nervous in the saddle but acknowledged a steed as essential to the dignity of his office. Could Cavell, Reading asked, find a horse that looked “dreadfully fierce” but in fact was docile. Searching shiploads from Australia Cavell found just the nag. When broken it pranced and snorted and turned a wicked white of eye but it wouldn’t have thrown a tipsy sailor. The Marquess mentioned his horse to an equally reluctant horseman, his sovereign, and had it shipped to England. King George V called it Delhi and rode it in public till the end of its days.
Cavell developed blackwater fever in 1925 and was discharged from the army. Until 1927 he tried sheep farming in South Africa. “But it was incredibly boring,” he says. “I discovered that the wool grew on their backs whether I watched it or not.” He left the farm in charge of a headman and went off to Cape Town where he became agricultural correspondent of the Cape Argus.
A recurrence of blackwater fever prompted him to sell the farm, resign his job and enter a hospital for tropical diseases in England. While convalescing he met Sir Alexander Roger, who
owned patent rights for automatic telephones. Roger appointed him to his staff and on Roger’s behalf Cavell bought control of companies in France, Belgium, Poland and Portugal. Then he worked for two years establishing new telephone companies in China and Japan. He sold one telephone company to Chiang Kai-shek.
He turned his attention toward Manchuria in 1932 when the Japanese conquerors were leery of letting Europeans in. But they needed Cavell’s telephones so they gave him a visa. The British Secret Service plucked Cavell’s sleeve just before he left. He took time out from business and brought them hack some useful Manchurian intelligence.
In 1934 Cavell came to Canada and set up subsidiaries for his telephone company group. For sixteen years he stayed in Toronto as vice-president of Canadian Telephones and Supplies Ltd. He lived comfortably in Toronto’s Forest Hill Village with his wife and daughter and as a hobby bred hunters and judged at horse shows.
It Cost Him 818,000
As chairman of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, Cavell made many speeches advocating the very principles which were later incorporated in the Colombo Plan. When L. B. Pearson, Minister for External Affairs, committed Canada to the Colombo Plan there was a feeling in the cabinet that Cavell was a natural for the job of administrator. One cabinet minister said, “Cavell, you were the Colombo Plan before it was a plan.”
When C. D. Howe, Minister of Trade and Commerce, offered him the job, Cavell hesitated. It meant a drop from more than $30,000 a year he was earning in industry to a civil-service salary of $12,000 a year. But eventually he accepted.
Cavell usually works on Saturdays and Sundays but occasionally takes a week end off to visit his wife and daughter in Toronto.
Most nights Cavell can be seen puffing into Ottawa’s exclusive Rideau Club, disappearing into the washroom where he eases his asthma with an adrenalin spray, then scurrying across the lounge to snatch the last service of dinner at eight o’clock. He retires after dinner to a lonely Ottawa apartment. Since an old wound prevents him from playing the violin he sometimes relaxes by strumming a mandolin, playing symphony records, dabbling at a novel over which he’s been struggling for ten years or reading Bertrand Russell’s theories on symbolic logic.
More frequently he opens his bulging brief case and pores over the columns of statistics, specifications and memoranda which spell more Canadian succor for distressed Asia.
“There seems to come a time in some men’s lives,” he says, “when they get the urge to do something for somebody else. I never thought it would happen to me. But it did.” ★