Am often told that I have embraced the British way of life “too whole heartedly”, and have excluded my own culture.
There are two reasons for it, the first is that my life in the UK has been the happiest I have ever had. I have had the freedom to do what I wanted to do, pursue the profession I have always wanted to and not had the fear of being ridiculed for what I do.
When I was about seven years old my father was posted to a different district , away from the town we have always loved in. This meant moving away from everyone and every thing I knew.The thought of going away with my parents, leaving my caring step grandmother, grandfather and the servants who were my support and company was hard. My parents and I were strangers, we have never spent anytime together. They didn’t know what I did all day, what my diet was and where and where I slept. I ate with my grandmother and step aunts and slept with one of them, may be the only constant in my life at the age of seven. I was heart broken but there was nothing I could do.
We arrived in a new town, where the accommodation and staff were provided by my fathers employer . Everything was new and frightening,I had no-one to play with or talk to. I have always been given a room of own, a rare thing in India; may be the western influence my father had ,has taught him that. though I was so lonely I would have loved to share just one room with my parents. I had my room with toys and an Ayah who helped me to wash and dress. And a school was found for me. It was a Convent run by Nuns. I can still see my uniform, a navy blue denim pinafore with short sleeved white blouse. White socks and blue shoes.I can till smell that fabric too!
It was nice to meet with children of my age, but the joy lasted only for a term, my parents life style was so lavish that my fathers salary was not enough to stretch to my school fees and it was the first casualty of their budgeting. They said they will educate me at home, and often justified it with “she is not really interested in education”. this was said so many times that I began to believe it, and if anyone asked me about school,I will declare rather grandly that i was not interested in education.
The cost cutting only implied to my education, we still lived lavishly, we had two cooks, one to cook western style foods and the other for Indian cuisine. There were parties every weekend. I still recall the huge tables laden with food and a lot of alcohol , all imported of course these costing a huge amount.
The home education consisted of my mother teaching me Urdu , and my father taught me the English alphabet. He was not a born teacher ,if one didn’t get something he would get very angry. He was an angry man who demanded perfection in everything. And then the beatings started. Father was a boxer in his university days ,as well as he was a rower and in the team at Cambridge. His slaps were so forceful that they sent me flying. Most of the time these beatings were the results of my mother telling tales, and mostly me crime was never more than being late for a lesson or playing outdoors in the afternoon, when my mother had her siesta, and expect me to lie down in the same room and be quite. She was very anxious that by playing out in the sun i will get darker and of course being a girl that doesn’t bode well for my marriage prospects. Often father will beat me if he has had a bad day at office ,or may be something to do. Once when some of their friends were staying with us, my mother accused me of chewing /twisting their toothpaste tube. I have not even been near the thing.I got a long session of thrashing, and then the friends said that it was them who have mutilated that tube to get the last bit out. I still feel the injustice of it all.
One thing I did have plenty of was books in the house. My mother wrote short stories and poetry in Urdu, so wherever we went she sent the servants out to find the local library , she read avidly and I was provided with children’s story books as soon as I could read. Father subscribed to the English/American magazines like the Life international, The Saturday Evening Post, and the Argosy and the LIliput. I could look at the pictures as soon as I read sentences I read everything I could lay my hands on.
I did have “masters” as they were called. Ordinary people who become self proclaimed home tutoring. They were not trained in anything but believed in smacking if you got anything wrong,I hated them and of course didn’t make progress; and this reinforced my parents claim that I was not interested in education!
We travelled from one town to another not staying anywhere for more than a couple of years. I missed my grand parents very much ,they were the only ones who were the “attachment” in my life. And then one day the news came that my grandfather had died. I remember that day, my fathers face when he opened the telegram. and refused to go . I didn’t understand the finality of death very well then but to this day I think of that day and wonder as to how could my father not go to his funeral. Perhaps he was so angry with him for the loss of his mother, for ordering him back from Cambridge and marrying him off, where as he wanted to marry someone else, but I couldn’t do it , when it came to my father ,i nursed him and payed the hospital bills and did everything that was expected of a daughter.
The expensive life my parents were living was not sustainable. By now I was twelve years old ,by now I was quite used to my own company,I stayed in my room and read, came out at mealtimes.In the evening I used to go and join the children of our servants and run around and play ball or hide and seek , and then it was dinner and bed. We always ate dinner at Eight PM and always a three course meal, a combination of Indian and western foods. I was a sickly child, I got malaria practically every rainy season and I believe I had measles three times, which must be a world record as you are meant to have immunity after the first bout. When I did have the ailments I used to be quite pleased, as every time my temperature went above 102F ,my mother will come and sit by my bed and put some cold compress on my forehead. The only time when she wasn’t finding faults or being cross with me.