Chapter 10, Pt 2 of 5
MY FIRST VISIT HOME
This was a sore point with us and a few British passengers were planning to bring him down to earth. They called a secret meeting in which Mrs Sinha and myself also joined. After some lively talk, we decided that Mrs Nichol, a smart, middle-aged lady with a merry twinkle, should use her influence on the mighty Judge and save him from his isolation.
“I will do my best, folks,” she said, “but I do not want to get too involved in this affair.”
She did her best and we all watched with goggled eyes, this new drama on our small boat. To start with, she gave more attention to her dress and appearance than before. She purposely brushed passed the Judge at the slightest pretext. She gave him a bewitching smile, then walked away from him.
Sure enough on the third day, we found them sitting side by side on the deck, deep in conversation. A look from Mrs Nicholas eyes told Mrs Sinha and I that she had every hope of succeeding in her plans. Then the Sunday came, and lo and behold, we saw them entering arm in arm into the lounge. Mrs Nichol looked radiant and triumphant. And well she might be.
The Judge turned out to be a good sport and we enjoyed his company. But now and again poor Mrs Nichol would whisper to Mrs Sinha and I: “my dears, I really do not know what I am going to do with him when we reach Bombay. I will have to work out some plan to disappear from the scene completely,” she said.
We reached Port Said but were not allowed to go ashore. From out of the blue appeared a host of large and small trading boats manoeuvred by dark-skinned Arabs, wearing their traditional red fezzes with their tassels fluttering in the air.
They seemed to be in a terrific hurry to sell their wares. A few thick ropes were thrown towards us in the hope that we would hoist up and examine the variety of goods they had packed in the baskets tied to the other end of the ropes. It was by no means peaceful straightforward trading. Oh no. In fact, we had to be quite expert hagglers to attempt to buy anything from them. Nevertheless, they did a roaring trade. All kinds of purses, shopping bags, sandals and even wristwatches were bought by the passengers.
Soon we were nearing Bombay. The climate became hot and sticky and each one of us started preparing for the end of the journey. One of the Indian pedlars, a middle-aged, grey-haired man, startled us by suddenly appearing as a new man. He had dyed his hair and beard jet black the previous night. We wondered whether the main purpose of his visit to India was to get a new bride for himself. After all, he was entitled to have four of them.
Miss Chandar now behaved more like an orthodox Hindu girl than before, and the relationship between Mrs Nichol and the Judge seemed rather strained. We entered Bombay Bay at about nine in the morning, though to us it seemed like midday, with the fair amount of heat and the brilliant sunshine. I had to carry my winter coat on my arm, a cumbersome and useless article it seemed just then.
For a short time we stopped a little way away from the docks. This was tantalising since we could watch the crowd waiting on the quayside and yet were not near enough to recognise them properly. I noticed three gentlemen standing together, waving towards us.
“Who are they mummy?” my son asked.
“I am not quite sure,” I said, “but I think the youngest one is Ravi Datt, your uncle Ravi, who was in England until a year ago, but he looks different, darker in complexion, stouter and slightly shorter.”
People did not seem so dark when I was here last, I reflected. Or is it because my eyes have got accustomed to looking at the white people most of the time, for thirteen long years. But I said to myself, it is good to be back among my brown people. I am one of them.
Then slowly we moved quite close to the quayside and the excitement, the noise and the frantic waving of hands increased to a pitch. Miss Chandar had quite a reception party to welcome her. She walked down the gangway looking like a princess loaded up with garlands of fresh marigolds and other flowers. She was too preoccupied to say goodbye to us. I wondered whether she would have to declare her seven wristwatches. My friend Mr Sinha pondered over this matter also. Then she came and whispered in my ear: “Miss Chandar will get through all right, her father seems to have influence.”
Soon my son and I joined Ravi Datt and two of my brothers-in-law, one of whom hesitated as how to greet me.