Chapter 2, Pt 2 of 4
MY FIRST HOME
I was given a week’s grace to recover from my long voyage before taking on any household duties. Now and again, Sheel took me round in the car to give me some idea of the district. We went up Langon Hills and while standing in the “Crown” meadow I saw the picturesque scenery around me. Sheel told me that from there, on a clear day, one could get a glimpse of Southend Pier on the one side and the River Thames and Tilbury Docks on the other. The township of Laindon was sprawled beneath us in a radius of about three to four miles.
I noticed many of the isolated bungalows, miles away from the main road and also from the railway station. Sheel told me he often had to go to those places, to walk sometimes one or two miles up and down the hills to do his duty. It was in the wintertime when the paths became slippery and treacherous that he felt the strain of doing these visits.
Coming down the hills we passed an attractive young woman riding a saddle less carthorse and her habit was dirty and partly torn, but she seemed to be oblivious of her attire or sitting position, and was proudly enjoying her ride. She gave an enthusiastic wave and smile to Sheel. “That was Miss Chataway,” he pointed out. “She is the owner of a large farm and the castle-like house on top of the hills. Do not judge her by her present attire which makes her look like a rough type of woman, she is not that, she is well-read and well-spoken and if you met her in a London restaurant or a theatre, wearing her expensive clothes and jewellery you would not recognise her.”
Down in Laindon we went to Honeypot Lane, a very deceptive name for a lane, which was unmade and had a terribly rough surface. I learnt that in winter months the lane was invariably waterlogged and impassable, and that he often had to accept lifts in pony-carts to visit his patients at the other end of it.
During this first week of grace, I not only looked around but did a great deal of thinking as well. I realised I had to start a completely new life in an unfamiliar country, climate and surroundings. Though I had read and heard many things about the British people and held them in high esteem, particularly their women folk, yet the fact remained that I had never come in close contact with them before.
I observed also that the nearly five years stay in England had changed Sheel in many ways. Why, to start with, he would not even speak to me in our mother tongue though the reason for this, he told me afterwards, was to accelerate my practice of speaking English. However, he had mostly mixed with the English people, got accustomed to their way of life and valued their sense of humour, punctuality and smartness. He liked the various styles of dresses worn by the British ladies and the bobbed hair seemed to have a great appeal for him.
He had changed his eating habits as well; for he was vegetarian no more though I noticed he still did not allow beef to be brought into the house.
Under the circumstances it seemed obvious that if I was to gain my proper position in his heart and home, I had to change in many ways. Up till then I was not in the habit of obeying anybody and was by nature a wilful and undisciplined person. My parents had never exercised much control over me, and my schoolteachers (they were women with nun-like manners and courtesy) had been unable to subdue me in any way.
But now I was ready to capitulate completely and to go to any lengths to secure Sheel’s love and confidence. I tried to eat whatever was cooked in the house, but it is surprising how difficult it is to change one’s eating habits. I could not relish meat, fish or even eggs for a long time. Sally tried to disguise these foods by mixing them with potatoes, and making fish or meat rolls, but I could detect them at once and would declare that they had some fish in them. Then Sheel would grin and make another excuse. No, it was not fish, it was salmon. He naturally took advantage of my poor vocabulary of the English language.
Before long, he started dropping hints that I should change my dress. “Sari,” he said, “is very attractive for evening wear but it is not practical for everyday use in this country. Besides, it is best not to make oneself conspicuous in Laindon. We will meet Miss Butcher in London one day,” he went on,” and she will help you to choose a dress and a coat from one of the famous stores in the West End.”
I pricked up my ears on hearing the name of a girl. “Who is this girl, Miss Butcher?” I asked at once.