Chapter 1, Pt 1 of 2
I had mixed feelings of joy and sadness as I stood leaning over the rail of the Italian passenger ship, S.S. Victoria, which was about to leave Bombay Docks for Genoa. The last sirens had already sounded and the railings on each side of me were packed with passengers.
I looked everywhere for my cousin who had left our ship a few minutes before and was supposed to be among the people on the quayside. But he did not seem to be there. I waved just the same, and wished him farewell. I wished farewell to my dear parents, sisters, brother and other relatives and friends who had given me a grand send off at Lahore Station. I wished farewell to Mother India from whom I knew I was going to be separated for an indefinite period.
For a short while, the feelings of lamentation gripped my mind but they did not stay there for long and were pushed in the background by the stronger emotions of joy and relief. Because I knew that the separation from my old and known world was the first step towards the reunion with my beloved husband, Dharam Sheel, who had left for London soon after our marriage to do some post graduate studies for a year and a half. But he was now a junior partner to a general practitioner in Laindon, Essex.
The years of our separation soon after our marriage had been a long and trying time for me, during which my life had been very lonely and uncertain. Uncertain, because in those days whenever our men, especially those in professions, came to England for further studies, it was feared that they might get married again and settle down there permanently. This fear, of course, was not altogether groundless, because in quite a few cases these bigamous marriages did take place causing a great deal of suffering to the wives who were left behind.
But, as usually happens, it was the unfounded and malicious rumours, often involving the innocent and hard-working men studying abroad, which caused more heart-rending and distress than those few dreaded marriages which did actually take place. One could never trace the origin and the motives of these rumours.
I remember the time when I was staying with my parents in Montgomery, and as the date of my departure for England had been fixed, I was busy preparing various things. One evening I was sitting with my elder sister, Dayawati, on a charpai (strong bed) on the veranda. She was helping me to make a couple of blouses on a hand machine, which was placed on a table beside the charpai. We heard a lady come through the door (which was usually kept open) and go straight to my mother in the kitchen. She was there for some time, talking, nay, whispering something to my mother.
“I do not like that woman,” my sister said all of a sudden, “she seems a proper gossip to me. I wonder what she has told mother. I must find out.”
So she left me with my sewing and crept into the kitchen. They became silent for a while, then my mother blurted out in a shaky voice:
“Surinder’s mother (that is what she called her) has just been telling me that she has heard that my son-in-law, Dharam Sheel, has got married again in London and has two children from his English wife.”
My sister became furious. She turned towards the woman and told her off right and left. “You have no business to come and upset our mother,” she told her. “Especially now that my sister is getting ready to go to join her husband. He is a good man. How can he do such a thing?”
The woman left our house very sheepishly indeed. My sister then came and told me the whole story. I could see that my poor mother was upset. She had a sleepless night and the next day, for the first time since I had decided to go to England alone, she told me to think again before taking the risk.
“Do not go,” she pleaded. “I would worry over you all the time. If God willing, he would come back to you himself.”
I was very annoyed with her over that; I did not expect her to be so weak-minded. For my part, I had trained myself after much thought, not to believe or worry over these rumours too much. Nevertheless, those years had been full of anxiety, and now standing on board the ship which was to take me more than half way to my husband and a new home, I felt relieved and happy. I thanked my Creator a thousand times for His loving kindness.
We left Bombay Docks at 12noon exactly and soon after that I followed the other passengers to the Dining Salon to have my lunch. This first meal on the ship had to last me for nearly three days, because unfortunately I started feeling sea-sick on that very first evening, and was more or less confined to my bunk until we reached Aden.