Chapter 12, Pt 2 of 2
RETURN JOURNEY, BOMBAY
We were five of us waiting for the lift that morning. In the front was a tall servant holding on to a mattress, which he meant to take downstairs. The two soldier boys stood talking to each other just behind him and then came myself and another Indian gentleman. The lift arrived and the servant with the mattress made an attempt to go in first (which was his due) but, to my horror, the soldiers pushed him aside. “Why?” I shouted, “why did you do that?”
They looked at me in amazement and stood still and silent.
“Go on, you take the mattress down first,” I said to the servant. He bowed and salaamed me in gratitude and when I mined round I saw my fellow Indian grinning at me. I could have given him a piece of my mind, too. The soldiers were at least decent enough to realise their mistake after somebody had the courage to point it out to them.
On the whole, we enjoyed our stay with Irene and Ravi Datt, in their flat. They had a baby daughter, an Ayah (nursemaid) to look after her and two other servants. Irene had Indianised her food completely. She wore Salvar Kamiz or a sari, enjoyed Indian food all the time and had no desire to mix with the British community in Bombay, though she always kept in touch with her parents, relatives and friends in Edinburgh, Scotland. All through the war she had sent parcels of various goods to them.
“Oh, yes,” she said, “I would always love my own home town best. I am longing to take my daughter to Edinburgh to show my parents. But I love mataji (mother-in-law) as well. She is very good to me. She often seems to show more affection towards me than to her Indian daughters-in-law. I am happiest when I am staying in the village ‘Khunkhuna’ with her. We often eat out of the same plate and also have a siesta on one charpai. She is so sweet.”
Irene’s only trouble was that she had not learnt the Hindustani properly though she was now trying her hardest to pick it up. She had certainly adapted herself to the new way of life very well.
Ravi Datt had first introduced Irene to me in the Lyon’s Corner House in Tottenham Court Road. I could see then that they were very much attached to each other and yet they did not disclose any secrets. Ravi Datt had returned to India several months before Irene went to join him there. He introduced her to his family and later asked their consent to marry her. They had a grand wedding after that. And now she was the mother of a child and well settled in her married life. What amazed me was that she didn’t even feel the heat of Bombay very much.
The much-awaited monsoons came at last. We saw the black clouds enveloping the sky all of a sudden, and then the downpour! It was unbelievable that those sheets of water were coming from the sky. Luckily we were indoors, watching this natural phenomenon through the closed windows.
It seemed as if we were not to enjoy the monsoons and the cooler weather of Bombay. We received a letter from Thomas Cook & Sons the next day that if we were ready they could find accommodation for us on the S.S. Andies, a large troopship, which was leaving for England on the 23rd of May. Of course, we were ready. We were not going to let that chance slip by. Irene and Ravi Datt came in the taxi with us to Bombay Docks. So, once again, I stood leaning over the railings of a large ship, which was about to carry me away from my mother country. Once again I waved towards the quayside and said farewell to my dear ones. I thought about my parents, relatives and friends whom I was going to leave behind. Many things crossed my mind. I thought about our predicament of belonging to two countries. It is like having two mothers to love and care for; we have heavier responsibilities than the people who belong to one country only.
I thought about the unrest over the Hindu-Moslem question in Punjab, what will happen? I shuddered at the thought of a war. I had seen enough horrors of it and now there was the fear of atom bombs as well. Oh, please God, let us have no more wars! Let us have peace and, prosperity for some years at least.
The ship gave the last sirens. I put my arm around Vijay and we both waved with renewed fervour. “I will come again,” I whispered to myself.