Chapter 2, Pt 1 of 4
MY FIRST HOME
It was about three in the afternoon when the English skies were grey and it was drizzling with rain, that our boat train steamed on to the platform of Victoria Station, London. Instinctively, and with a palpitating heart, I looked out of the window to get a glimpse of Sheel among the beaming excited crowd standing in wait for our train. Mrs Mojomdar’s words, “He might be greatly changed” kept ringing in my ears. But surely he cannot change in looks so much, I thought. True, he had had his short moustache removed since he came to England, but I had received a few snapshots of him since, and I did not think I should have any difficulty in recognising him.
We stopped, and the great rush started. I felt rather envious of Mrs Mojomdar for having two Bengali friends (she called them brothers) to come to receive her. She minded my luggage while I started searching the platform for my beloved husband. Quite by chance, I was stopped by a very well dressed and well-spoken Indian lady (an aunt of my cabin-mate) who asked me if her niece had come on our ship. Without stopping to think, I told her the truth that her niece had gone to Germany with a gentleman friend. When I related this to Mrs Mojomdar she was greatly amused, but reminded me that I had done some mischief. I admitted my fault.
I did not find Sheel on the platform after all, and this made me feel worried and very downhearted. My companion consoled me by explaining that he could not have known the exact time of the arrival of our train and that if I had sent him a cablegram from Paris, everything would have been all right. She then escorted me to the taxi stand and asked one of the drivers if he knew where Laindon was and how to get there. He simply shook his head and said he had never heard of the place.
“What shall I do with you now?” demanded my friend, with a dry twinkle in her eye.
I made my decision quickly and told her that I would go with her to her lodging and from there send a telegram to Sheel. The idea of telephoning him did not occur to me then. I do not think I knew the right number or had the courage to use a telephone, the instrument with which I had to become thoroughly familiar later on, and which now haunts me like a shadow.
Our happy reunion took place at Mrs. Mojomdar’s lodgings when Sheel arrived there in his small car at about five in the afternoon. It was a silent and undemonstrative event; the Indian tradition of no kissing and cuddling in public was strictly observed. He smiled, held my hand and told me quietly that we had to get along soon because he had the evening surgery to do.
My eyes were moist and I had the deep feeling of gratitude when I said “Goodbye“ to Mrs. Mojomdar. Her help had been a godsend to me and I knew I would not be able to repay her in any way. One can seldom do that, I reasoned, and the thing to remember is not to miss an opportunity of giving a timely help to somebody else.
Sheel and I talked very little to each other during that drive together to Laindon. My heart was too full for speech, and I just silently luxuriated in the comfort of being close to him. Driving on the arterial road when we were only about a mile or so away from Laindon, Sheel drew my attention towards the steep hills in front and told me that that was Laindon, the place where my new home was going to be.
Sally, the young Welsh maid of medium height, brown hair and penetrating grey-blue eyes, came out to greet us in the back yard where we had stopped. She helped Sheel with the luggage and then ushered me into a small but fairly well furnished sitting-cum-dining room.
“York Villa,” that first home of ours, was only a small one. It had no bathroom and Sheel used to take his morning bath, which he rarely missed, in a zinc tub in the scullery. He managed to do that without splashing any water on the floor. It took me a long time to learn this technique of taking a bath without spilling a drop of water around the tub. We had no electricity and used gas for cooking and lighting. The W.C. was in the yard just beside the back door, and it astonished me to find the primitive bucket sanitation there.
Sheel had been in “York Villa” only a few months before I came and had had spend much time and money to make it reasonably convenient and comfortable. He told me that Sally had helped him in doing most of the interior decoration. I could see she was a hardworking girl: doing something or the other until about 9 o’clock at night when she came into the sitting-room with a bundle of mending and listened to the gramophone records which Sheel was very fond of playing. She picked up the tunes of two or three Indian songs very well and used to hum them during the day while getting on with the housework.