Chapter 12, Pt 1 of 2

RETURN JOURNEY, BOMBAY

About thirty of our dear ones, family members and friends, stood at the Lahore Station on the morning of the first of May to say farewell to us. They once again loaded us with fresh flower garlands and embraced us again and again (not much kissing is done there) with damp eyes and the usual sad expressions. I had taken a quick trip to Montgomery a few days previously to say farewell to my dear father who was unable to come to Lahore.

We started off punctually for this two days’ train journey to Bombay in a small “Ladies Only” compartment. There was no dinning-car attached to the train and no corridors, so you had to wash, eat, sit and sleep all in that small space. The only way to stretch your legs was to get out and take a stroll on the large junction stations where we found some very elaborate restaurants as well.

Of course, there was no shortage of food anywhere. As soon the train stopped, whether it was midnight or early morning, the stallholders and hawkers were there on the platform to tempt you with all kinds of delicacies and at meal times the behras (waiters), in their red and white uniforms, would come rushing in to take your orders and were ready to bring you a variety of hot dishes on a tray.

Nevertheless, we were dead tired by the time we reached Bombay the third morning. We took a taxi to Mayfair Buildings in Churchgate Street, where Ravi Datt and his wife, Irene, were now occupying a flat. They had prepared a room for us and we were received with a warm welcome.

Oh, but the heat of Bombay seemed terrific at that time. The ceiling fans were going day and night in all the rooms and yet we felt sticky and uncomfortable.

Vijay and I walked to Hornby Road, a very busy shopping-cum-business centre, about a mile away from the flat, almost every day. We were tempted to stop on the way just outside a Parsi Temple under a large shady banyan tree. Most of the worshippers were sitting on the benches, meditating while their eyes were fixed on the small flame burning inside the temple. They keep it burning, all the time. On the other side of the temple a barrow boy was selling some cool refreshing drinks, my favourite one was the fresh sugar-cane juice.

Hornby Road was full of noise and bustle with motorcars, buses, trams and other vehicles going about at full speed. We first of all paid our routine visit to Thomas Cook & Sons, to enquire about our passage, then we were free to walk round the Army and Navy Stores, Whiteways and other famous shopping centres. We also made a habit of going into “The Ideal Restaurant” where we would sit on the balcony and enjoy cool drinks, watermelon slices and fresh iced mangoes, along with a large plate of potato crisps.

One day we took a taxi to the famous Crawford Market, the entrance to which was almost blocked by the boys waiting with baskets in their hands to walk round and carry the shopping for you.

We engaged a small boy for the purpose and went inside. Just near the entrance, on the left- hand side was an array of prodigious flowers of almost every variety, colour and fragrance. Then on the other side, you saw the huge fruit stalls, with cherries, strawberries, plums and, of course, the huge melons, peaches, fresh dates and other varieties of Indian fruits. A little further up a whole row of stalls were stacked with mangoes of different species and sizes. A brisk business was being carried on there. We feasted our eyes by walking through the poultry, meat and fish sections, the vegetable part and many other kinds of stalls.

Our boy-coolie walked behind us, balancing the fibre-shopping basket on his head. We gave him a few annas and pleasant smiles after he had placed our goods, complete with baskets into the taxi, and left him standing and waving his thin brown arms towards us. He couldn’t have been much older than my own son.

In the courtyard of the Mayfair Buildings, on a charpai, under a shady tree were sitting the two gate keepers, whose tall and sturdy, handsome Pathans (from Frontier Province) who fitted that position very well. They came forward at once and carried our baskets to the lift. No trouble was too much for them.

I noticed that there were a few British soldiers staying in the adjoining flat to ours. I often came across them while waiting for the lift but, strangely enough; they seemed quite different from the English young men I knew in our Essex area. I tried to get a smile out of them but didn’t succeed; and one morning I had rather an unpleasant encounter with two of them.

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