Chapter 1: My First Visit to London
It is like an acquired taste. To me, it seemed impossible to see East and West meet socially and culturally. At that time, I could never imagine and now, it’s evidently before me. A fantasy has turned into a reality.
In sixties, I was a visitor in an alien land and now, I am a citizen of the same land, partly my homeland; permanently the homeland of my offspring!
This land has given me so much; financially, socially, culturally and morally. It took time as it was a natural process to go through; these days, they call it transformation.
I was very keen to see England, and a person who has never travelled in a foreign country, feels all the more interested and excited. It was all due to the kindness of Bha Ji, my elder brother, Malkiat. If he had not come to England, my desire would have remained unfulfilled. In India, the profession of a teacher at a polytechnic college is hardly enough to fulfil the needs of the family. Financially and morally, I have to confess, Bha Ji (brother) had helped us a lot.
This ridiculous incident had happened a day after my arrival in UK. Along with Bha Ji and his friend Subash, I had seen a pub for the first time. Drinking beer at such a place has its own charm. The atmosphere was intoxicated. The bar maids were pretty and ever smiling. One of them was slim and blue eyed, and had long black hair. I felt that I should continue drinking and gazing at her. Perhaps I was doing so. That’s why, Bha Ji had said that it didn’t behove gazing like this. I felt that I had landed in a fairy-land. Instinctively, the words escaped from my lips, “Well, Bha Ji, I have seen this heaven by grace of you.” Those were the days, late sixties and early seventies, left far behind and now things are quite different, both here in UK and back at home, in India.
“Never mind as the layers of this heaven gradually get unfolded, you will get to know” said Subhash addressing me. Bha Ji, first lightly laughed, and then looking upwards at the ceiling said, “When we, too, came here, we had this very misunderstanding to start with.”
I couldn’t help asking, “But, nothing is there to be misunderstood? You, yourself say that this is the daily life of a common manual worker; In India, it is beyond even a judge, barrister or professor to visit such a place every evening.” I wanted to go to the bottom of the matter, for my own information and knowledge. I was very curious indeed.
Subhash gulping half of the jug-like glass said, “You have a very short time for your visit and to understand all these things, you need a long time. Just as sugar cane juice, buttermilk, curds, salads and vegetables are very ordinary things for rural farmers like us, but residents of cosmopolitan city just yearn for them; in the same way, this beer and the bar provide glimpses of the cosmopolitan life. They keep the labourers yoked like the bullock of an oil mill. At the root of all these things, there are imperial interests.”
I felt somewhat emotions pouring out of his expressions being a communist person.
Subhash tried to make me understand but the matter was still not clear to me.
Then Bha Ji began to say, addressing Subhash, I don’t know why? In fact, we could not learn to adapt ourselves well in this alien land, and I suppose, this is the main cause of our sense of depression and lonesomeness, even occasional.”
At that time, words like sadness, home sickness and loneliness seemed to me, very strange and uncommon, merely unbelievable. I thought to myself that it amounted to rubbing shoulders with death while enjoying all luxuries. Where is the lonesomeness and what type of depression is there? They are leading a luxurious life, having televisions, nice cars and glory of majestic life, like Sheiks or Nawabs. Within myself, I was comparing the life of UK with the rural life of India of that time. My global knowledge was very confined indeed. Unlike these days, that was a nostalgic time. Somehow, a sense of innocence was obvious in general life. Generally, people were lot more transparent, than these days
We emptied our glasses and were about to get out to return home. I noticed that same pretty bar maid was still filling glasses, smilingly and invitingly.
On our way, Subhash said to Bha Ji, perhaps you may remember, When editor of ‘Love-Link’ Gurbux Singh from India had stayed with us for a couple of days, he then, said to us “Friends, forget about the past and dreaming about the future. Learn to live in the present. You seem to live still in the past and unnecessarily, worrying about the future. When people settle in foreign lands with families, they never ever returned to their native lands! Just wait, time must come for equality and diversity, and one day, you must feel this country as your own. This country will be a future home land for your children. It is better that you develop kinship with the people of this land. Tomorrow is always better than Today.”
“Yes, I remember it very well. It is very true, but everybody cannot be so far-sighted.”
During the first week, I felt somewhat bored. Bha Ji returned home at six in the evening and children at four. Immediately after their arrival, they probed the fridge and then cling to the tv or went upstairs to their own rooms. I would try to mix-up with them, but they would not show any inclination. As such, in spite of their presence at home, I felt all alone. I wondered to see them changed in a few years. In India, they were not that much self-centred.
I, always, impatiently, waited for the week end because on that day, Bha Ji took me for an outing somewhere or the other. He took me sometimes to visit some friend or relative and at other times, to see some new places. Once it was the day of Sunday, slightly warm and sunny. Though it was the month of June, the sunshine was like that end of February in India. Bha Ji and his wife resolved to show me the seaside. I was very happy. I had never seen the sea before, like most other people in Punjab. I had seen the sea on the cinema screen only, and once, I had depicted the sea beach in one of my stories, merely on the basis of it. But this Sunday, I was going to see the real sea. We were going to be accompanied by Subhash and his family as well. Bha Ji and Subhash were fast friends and still they are. Such friendship can only last if you think alike and have common characteristics; lifestyle, hobbies and interests.
We reached the seaside after a journey of about an hour and a half by cars. The waves of the blue water were advancing towards the beach as if to say ‘welcome’ to the visitors. The children of our two families began to indulge in fun and frolic. My sister-in-law and Subhash’s wife also followed suit. When the children grow up, the mothers behave like this. Then they do not feel the need of following their husbands, that’s what I experienced at that time. We, three, began to walk along the beach. To me, it seemed as if there is some festival of the white people. Bha Ji was telling me the properties of the sea water that if we take a bath in it, our bodies absorb several minerals through the pores.
“Then you must be coming to this place at regular intervals?” I asked.
“No my friend, since we came to England, we have come here for the second time and this time, only because of you. We do not have that much of leisure and it is also a matter of interest,” Subhash tried to explain.
“Just as, living among the English people, we have not been able to mix up with them socially or culturally, in the same way, living beside the sea, we have remained far away from it,” said Bha Ji casting a glance over the sea.
“Why don’t you mix up with these English people?” I just asked.
“The main reason is language and secondly, may be a lack of communication due to different culture. Sometimes, we wish to get closer socially as well as emotionally and then feel, as if these people are not desirable for this sort of social cohesiveness and wish to stay away from us, perhaps that’s why we are compelled to be confined within the boundaries of our own communal groups. Somehow, we, Asians have failed so far while West Indians have succeeded to a great extent.”
“Why?” I had asked surprisingly!
“I can’t give you an exact answer. It could be due to the same language and religion. We can read and write English, but are not good enough to communicate because of different accent.”
The water kept advancing towards us and people sitting on the beach, were shifting their places and drifting towards the bank. Some beautiful ladies who had put off their braziers, and were lying prone on the sand got up, and covering their breasts with towels, moved far away when water advanced underneath them, and again, lay on the sand at some distance. An Indian woman was bathing with her sari on, and it was sticking so tightly to her body that despite the sari, she looked bare bodied. I could see hardly any coloured face, may be one in hundred!
“Well friends, we, too, must enjoy little swimming.” Bha Ji seemed curious to play with the sea water.
“Leave it, having never ever taken any swimming lessons, I am scared, and also feel somewhat shy.” Subhash expressed a mode of double mindedness.
In the meanwhile, a white woman looking like a chiselled statue, past beside us and began to advance ahead. Her waxen body, due to massage and sun tan, wore a hue of copper.
“Look how fond are these women of keeping their bodies in shape,” staring at her body, said Bha Ji.
“Really, her body did not have an extra ounce of fat.”
“Here, look at our women; they have their stomachs like swollen mass of dough, and loose flesh are hanging,” said Subhash comparatively.
“The state of our men also is the same as compared to our women. That’s why we feel shy to take off our clothes.” Bha Ji paused a little and then, pointing to an Indian man sitting cross-legged, he said, “Look at that man displaying a pitcher like abdomen, as if he were holding a big watermelon on his thighs.”
“Hay, we do not look that much bad; come on, come out of your clothes. OK? I am not going to ask you, too frequently.”
They jumped into the water. I, too, wanted to follow them, but felt shy because of long knickers. They tried very hard to drag me but pretending to be cold, I kept standing at a distance.
After half an hour or so, they came out and Bha Ji said “It’s really a delectable experience and we used to fight shy for nothing.”
“A negative approach towards life or you may call it excessive inferiority complex, is not a good thing or healthy attitude. What additional physical merits have these white people as compared with us, except the white skin?”
When we looked at the watch, it was already four o’ clock. Subhash, feeling thirsty, expressed a desire for cold beer. Then Bha Ji suggested that after reaching home, we would drink at the neighbouring pub.
Travelling back, I felt, hearing the conversation, that Bha Ji’s grievance had been removed to a great extent. He displayed neither a shade of depression nor that of mental loneliness. Rather it seemed that he was feeling his tree of life to strike roots in the soil of this environment. His soul seemed to be an age mate of his children.
Having been home we, three, reached the pub near a park. We had hardly got our glasses filled and taken seats in a corner, when a group of mischievous looking young white guys came and deliberately, sat beside us with an intention to make trouble. That was apparent from their movements.
After sometime, one of them asked, “Got light?”
“Sorry, we don’t smoke …,” replied Subhash briefly.
“But you do drink….!” And they started laughing aloud.
In the meanwhile one of them, wearing a red t-shirt belched aloud and then asked Subhash “Where you come from?”
“Rainham,” again Subhash gave a brief reply.
At this, all of them began to laugh again.
That man wearing a cunning smile on his lips repeated his question, “I mean what country you come from?”
“Lets leave it; they are not that much ignorant. The rascals are bent upon making trouble for nothing. Better we go home and drink there. Also, we are bit tired today,” saying this Bha Ji got up and we two, followed him.
Returning home, Bha Ji poured big pegs of whiskey and then started recounting the same incident to his wife.
“I always tell you to drink at home, if you must. What is there in pubs and clubs?” retorted his wife hearing the episode.
“Daddy, you were three, all young and fit. Why didn’t you give them a few blows?” said Pappu.
“You scoundrel, is it not enough that we are back home, safe and sound in one piece, and you have not been obliged to carry us home ?”
“And other thing, we thought that we have to show the Kew Garden to your uncle; that’s why we wanted to remain wholesome till tomorrow,” Subhash shared a joke like conversation, with Pappu.
“Dad, you should give a reply in the same language, one understands.”
“Police would have taken their side, not ours,” Bha Ji answered Pappu’s question.
“No dad, all the police officers are not the same. Trust me, some are honest and impartial.”
“Yes some, not all.”
“Still, better than Indian police….”
“Shut up you white man.”
“Not white man, you may call me ‘made in UK,” and with a tongue in cheek, he disappeared into the kitchen.
Though, I had learnt many things about England as compared with the past weeks, but every day, there was something new, for me to learn. What this garden is, I was curious to know. At length, I asked Bha Ji, “What this Kew Garden meant?”
“This garden contains flowers, plants and trees which have been brought from foreign lands, not adapted to English climate.”
“But then, how are they growing or planting them here?” I wondered.
“They have built huge glass-houses at a very high cost. The plants receive the sunshine and humidity created through steam pipes. In this artificial man made climate, they can grow tropical plants according to the need and nature of the plants. Many trees looking like mangoes, and I don’t know what countries they come from, are made to maintain their existence but, do not seem to be flourishing or fruiting as in their natural lands.”
In the evening, I noticed that Bha Ji was not intoxicated; yet consuming the whiskey from his glass, he resumed, “In this country, you may come across several other persons like me and Subhash. We are, all, just like the trees of the Kew Garden. We have tried hard to strike our roots in this soil and environment, but feel, as if we are rootless to some extent. May be because of alien roots! Sometimes I feel, we merely living or existing physically or you may say materially in this land, but actually, mentally and emotionally we reside back home. Story of our children is entirely different,” he gulped the whole peg in one go, and then shifting his pointed finger from children towards me, he resumed, “No matter, we could not learn to strike our roots in this foreign climate or environment; our children will, certainly they will, I can assure. With the time, we may be able to, perhaps one day, changing with the time and circumstances…………matching the lifestyle and attitude with our offspring. Now, we should accept this reality that our children will never ever go back to the lands of their forefathers. And it is equally true, that this will be their homeland.”
“It’s a fact. History is the witness, “said Subhash.
Assuming their state of intoxication, ladies asked from the kitchen “Shall we start serving dinner now?”
“Just about fifteen minutes. Only to pour the last one,” said Bha Ji.
“What about you? After retirement, would you like to return or to stay here with children?” I could not help asking.
“Well to me, it seems more people like us and you, in near future, will make UK their homeland, and we are no exception. Of course, we also, are going to live and die here,”
“Bha Ji, but, what will happen to your agricultural land, and that beautiful house?” I asked worriedly.
“There, what ever we have made or possess, shall remain for you and your family. That home will be no more than a holiday home for us, and who knows if one day, you too, decided to settle here, then, God knows who will benefit from our house and land!”
Person residing inside Bha Ji made me very emotional. My eyes watered with reverence. Simultaneously, a sense of meanness pleased me inside as if I have won a lottery.
Dinner was being laid on the table. So much was running in my mind. The very generous nature and lively attitude of Bha Ji, my elder brother, made me wonder beyond expectations.