Chapter 10, Pt 1 of 5

MY FIRST VISIT HOME

It was some time in the middle of October 1945, that we boarded from the London Docks,,the small ship called the “Empire Dynesty.” We named it “Empire the Tortoise” in the end because of its slow speed of about 10 knots. As the wartime security measures were still in force, our departure from London was a hush-hush affair. We were only about 70 to 80 passengers on board including the crew, and it seemed more like a small mobile hotel than a ship.

There was only one class, we all had to dine together and to share a small lounge. This simple fact made the voyage much more amusing and unforgettable. We were a motley crowd. There were some British Officers including a High Court Judge, who were returning to their posts in India. Also a few venturesome English ladies, who were going to join their husbands in Cairo and India. There were quite a few of us Indians from different walks of life, including a small group of pedlars from the East End of London.

The ship’s doctor was a Parsi young man working his passage home. He, himself, was the first to succumb to seasickness and for a day or two had to treat his patients while lying down in his cabin.

Then there was Miss Chandar, a dark complexioned, oval-faced tall young lady wearing a pale-blue silk sari and a red round mark on her forehead. She was not very pretty but was quite attractive and a marvellous singer. She often sang to us while we sat on the deck watching the enormous waves and the brilliant moon. Her clear melodious voice seemed to penetrate and become enchanting.

She had the Captain of the ship running after her for the simple reason that she was an orthodox Hindu girl and detested flirtation of any kind. She could not understand the humorous side of English people. The Captain was a middle-aged man, rather heavily built (he looked comical in his white shorts and tunic) and a proper tease. He would not leave her alone. If she was taking a stroll on deck, he would suddenly appear in front of her, bow low and whisper: “Miss Chandar, may I, oh may I hold your dainty hand just for a minute. Oh my dear, you are shivering, let me comfort you in my arms.”

Her face would go red and she would turn back at once and run for her life, shouting: “You naughty man, naughty man, go away.” And she really meant it.

One day the Captain resorted to one of his worst tricks. He peeped through her porthole while the poor thing was changing her clothes. We heard the shrieks from her cabin and laughed until our sides ached.

The Captain often invited two or three of the passengers at a time to his cabin to exchange jokes and to have some hot beverage (usually Ovaltine) with him.

“You do not know what you are letting yourself in for when you go up and take drinks with him,” Miss Chandar would say.” I tell you the man has no morals. In fact you cannot trust any of these Britishers. Now look at that man in the check sports jacket, sitting close to Mrs Baigent, embracing her and even kissing her now and again. She is not his wife, she is supposed to be going to join her husband in Bombay.”

Just then I caught hold of Miss Chandar’s hand and we went and occupied the two vacant chairs next to Mrs Baigent and her gentleman friend. They were showing some snapshots to each other.

“These are my two daughters,” Mrs Baigent was saying. “Aren’t they adorable. I have left them behind with my sister. My husband and I want the girls to be educated in England.” The gentleman in return, showed her a few snaps of his wife and children.

I winked at my companion and later when we were alone, I asked her what she thought about their conversation. “Well, I do not know,” she said, “it beats me to see how hypocritical these people can be. Those two behave as if they were lovers and yet they talk about their families to each other. They do need understanding.”

“There is no doubt about that, Miss Chandar,” I said.

Most of us passengers by now had forgotten the class distinction and tried to mix freely and play games together in that small lounge. The only person, who seldom came into the lounge and had so far remained aloof, was the tall and stately High Court Judge. He seemed determined not to mix with the common herd.

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