Chapter 10, Pt 3 of 5
MY FIRST VISIT HOME
“I suppose I must shake hands with you instead of embracing,” he said with a smile. “You look almost like an English lady.”
I changed the subject by drawing their attention to the luggage, which had to go through the Customs. It took us about an hour here, but I do not think I had to pay any extra charge.
Outside the docks, I was prepared to engage a taxi to take us to Santa Cruz, to Ravi Datt’s place. “It would cost fifteen to twenty rupees,” someone pointed out to me, “it would be too expensive.”
Perhaps it was, but I knew that Vijay and I could not take the train journey just then. The excitement of disembarking and the hot sunshine had almost exhausted us. So it was delightful to sit back and watch the new world around us.
The tall coconut trees with bunches of the green nuts hanging from them. The papaya and banana trees, their broad, green leaves swaying to and fro in the gentle breeze, the variety of flowering trees in full bloom. The menfolk going about their business in snow white shirtsleeves and ladies in their colourful saris and light Sandals. All kinds of traffic was passing by, motor-cars, trams, trolley buses, and also the stately looking victorias drawn by two horses and their sais (drivers) sitting perched up high swishing the leather whips frantically to guide the horses.
We reached our destination it seemed in no time. The servants, yes, two or three eager beavers came running out to help us with the luggage. They even offered to take my coat and the large handbag I was holding.
“No thank you,” I said, “I prefer to carry them myself.” How easy it would be to become lazy and spoilt here, I thought. I must not let that happen to me.
I still remember that first night in Santa Cruz. They fixed the mosquito nets around our beds in the verandah, yet after settling down for a while, I disclosed that at least two of the biggest mosquitoes I had seen so far, had managed to creep in with me. The blighters kept singing in my ear and pricking me now and then to take their refreshment. If I attempted to let them out, I might have invited a dozen more in, that were hovering outside to grab the opportunity.
So I suffered in silence. But I must have dozed off for a while because I remember waking up with the shrill unison cawing of the crows all around me. I lay quite still, and slightly puzzled, surely this familiar, very familiar multiple cawing was not a dream. So it was the real thing and I had come back to my Motherland. How swiftly those years had passed. I earnestly looked forward to going to Punjab and Montgomery where my parents, relatives and old friends were.
There was quite a reception party waiting for us at Montgomery Station. They almost carried us down from the compartment and loaded us with fresh flower-garlands.
There were tears of joy in all our eyes. I kept looking at my mother who had grown so much older and greyer in those thirteen years. They told me that, owing to the failing eyesight, my father had decided to wait for us at home. He embraced me fondly when we reached there. We had always been very close to each other and the long separation had not been easy to endure. It broke my heart to know that he could not see me properly; he was all right when I left him.
“But I can feel you and hear you my dear,” he said “and this makes me happy.” Then he turned to Vijay and shook hands with him. “How do you do young man, you are welcome here.”
He made a point of speaking to Vijay only in English. He had been a Persian teacher in a Government School and yet he had learnt Arabic, Hindi, Sanskrit and English in his spare time and had later matriculated in English.
According to Indian custom my elderly parents had now made their home with my brother Atamdev and his wife, my sisters and their children had also come there to welcome us. Atamdev had taken one or two rooms across the road to accommodate some of the family members.
Vijay and I were given a room to ourselves, but we were not left alone for a minute and were asked to simply remain seated on a charpai or chairs so that our relations and friends could come to see us any time they liked.
The front door was left ajar for them. And they came in twos and threes, mostly ladies in pretty saris or in salvar kamiz (like pyjama suits), their beaming eyes full of curiosity. You could hear one whisper to another: “How beautifully white she looks, her bobbed hair and upright carriage has changed her appearance completely. Would she talk to us? Does she remember her mother tongue? And what about the boy? He speaks just like an English child and yet he has black eyes and hair just like us!”