Chapter 10, Pt 4 of 5
MY FIRST VISIT HOME
I recognised many of the old faces though they were greatly changed, much darker and older looking.
One lady started taking her tunic off as soon as she entered our room. She placed her hands on her bare stomach and blurted out: “My dear I have been waiting to see a good doctor for a long time. Nobody seems to diagnose my stomach trouble. I have suffered agonies.” She prostrated herself on the charpai all ready for me to examine her.
“I am sorry I can’t help you because I am not a doctor,” I said smiling.
“Not a doctor! Why I heard that you had got the highest London degree and were helping your husband there.”
“Yes. I do help my husband but he does the doctoring,” I said.
Poor thing, she felt most disappointed.
My father, a tall, slim, upright man was now in his eighties with thinning grey hair and beard. He had a room to himself and followed a strict routine. The cataract in both his eyes was un-operable and so he had stopped worrying about it. He knew the town so well that he could still carry on his long walks with the help of a stick. He had given over the full responsibility of finance and other affairs to my brother and he trusted him completely. I here was a great bond between the father and son and the usual arguments and loose talk of the womenfolk of the family were ignored by both of them.
“You see I am too busy to be bothered with the household affairs now,” my father told me.
“Too busy!” I couldn’t understand him at first.
“Yes,” he went on. “I have to get through so much during the day, I set a target for myself and the time goes all too quickly.”
So he was still a man of action. His time now was fully occupied with prayers; he looked radiant, full of peace and goodwill for mankind.
“I am proud of you,” he said as he sat propped up on his charpai wearing his white homespun dhoti and kurta (loose shirt with long sleeves), his rosary placed quite near him. “Yes,” he went on, “you have enhanced our reputation over there. You have made friends with English people and are doing your duty in that foreign land. It is very important to do one’s duty without thinking too much of oneself. One must do it as a servant of God. You wouldn’t praise a postman who, while on duty delivering letters, thought and acted to suit his own convenience or took bribery; it is the same thing if we gave too much importance to ourselves in the course of our lives.”
“By the way,” he said, smiling and changing the subject. “A Pundit told me the other day that I would live up to ninety. I am very pleased. I want to live that long to fulfil my ambition of spending so much more time in prayers.”
I watched him with awe. He was divinely happy, full of optimism and with a real aim in life. His prayers were very simple, no intermediary, nothing in front of him and yet his complete and sincere faith did everything for him.
I wanted to sit with him for hours, to support his frail body as he used to hold me when I was a child, but no, he would politely say to me: “My dear, you must go and sit more comfortably in the baithak (drawing-room), you are not used to roughing it.”
“But we work very hard in England, pita ji (father),” I said to him. “We had to, during the war years.”
“Yes, I know that,” he said. “I admire the courage of English people, they deserved to win the war.”
My father’s food had to be prepared especially, because he had very few teeth left to chew anything with. One day I had a bright idea of preparing the good old English dish of mashed potatoes for him. I went to a lot of trouble in doing that because it wasn’t easy for me now to squat on a mat by the open fire to do the cooking.
He ate them without any comment.
“Did you enjoy those mashed potatoes?” I asked afterwards.
“Well, I had them because you prepared them, my dear, but to tell the truth I don’t like potatoes. I would much rather have carrots, turnips and other vegetables.”