Chapter 8, Pt 6 of 6
WAR TIME INCIDENTS
“She did not come home for the last forty-eight-hour leave she had, so her Dad and I went to see her in the camp at Aldershot. We found out that she was going out with a Captain, a very rich man, owning cars and spending no end of money on enjoyment and girls who consented to go out with him to various places of amusement. We came to know that he was a married man with an invalid wife.
“We brought Reena home and gave her a good talking to. If I know men, they don’t give these presents for nothing, I warned her. I don’t want you to be anybody’s mistress.
“She cried and insisted that she had done nothing wrong. She even threatened to leave home, but I remained firm. I even offered to help her pack her belongings. At that moment her father stepped in and everything was smoothed over and she promised not to see this Captain again.”
After a few months Mrs Clayton brought the good news to me one day that her daughter had found a nice young man at last and that they were engaged. Then she added: “Actually, Mrs Chowdhary, I happened to know this soldier through his parents and I gave him my daughter’s address so that he could write to her, and that really started their friendship.”
I smiled and said to Mrs Clayton: “So you are in truth trying to arrange this marriage. I thought it was only the Indian parents who did that.” Her face lit up with a smile.
“Well, we don’t really arrange them you know, we may drop hints and give suggestions, but we always remain behind the scenes.”
The war was going on, you saw servicemen and women everywhere. They were the privileged people and could do nothing wrong. They were accepted in most homes, and given the best food, lodgings and entertainment free. Even the colour- or race-bars towards them were temporarily lifted. Most of them looked proud and happy. Though I did meet one gentleman on the High Road during that time, who surprised me with his contrary views.
I had seen him several times before but didn’t remember his name though he seemed to know me quite well. He must have been one of my husband’s patients. We passed the time of the day and started talking about the horrid war and the air raids.
“Yes, and who makes these wars, the politicians do. The people who are paid to create troubles, it suits their interests. I have no time for them. I wouldn’t vote for any of them. They are all the same. They ruin the country. My employer said to me the other day: ‘Aren’t you joining up?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘and why should I? It is not my war, I don’t enjoy soldiering.’ My father brought me up to work for my living. He put me in a nice trade and I am thankful to him. I want to work, not to go and murder people. Why should I murder them? I told my employer that if they put khaki on me I will tear it off.” Then he came a little closer to me and lowering his voice he said to me: “don’t mind telling you Mrs Chowdhary, I tricked them in the end.”
According to my custom I came home and related this unusual encounter to my two helpers and it did raise a storm of anger.
“Who does he think he is?” protested Mrs Clayton, whose two young sons were serving in the army. “I suppose he is one of those Conscientious Objectors. If you ask me they have no conscience and no feeling for anybody. If there are any benefits to be had from the State they will be the first ones to demand it, and yet when it comes to fighting for the country, they want nothing to do with it. What would have happened if we didn’t go to war? We would have had Hitler and his army here. I wonder whether he would have liked that. What was his name, Mrs Chowdhary?”
“Oh,” I said, “I have forgotten it.” This was the first time I was not sorry that I had a bad memory for names. He seemed to have told me all that confidentially and I didn’t want to betray his trust. But there was no doubt we all thought him a selfish coward and a queer fellow.