Life and other things

Thinking Aloud 5

These blogs are accidental, I didn’t set out to write them, I have had fragments of memories flash back now and then, I will say something about it and forget it and get on with life. I wasn’t , and am still not looking for sympathy, people say am rational, I certainly am an optimistic and happy person with no axe to grind and England certainly has been wonderful to me.

I have lived a very happy and secure married life, brought up children who are confident, happy and successful and in happy relationships, so obviously my past has not been detrimental to me. I have got what I wanted to. A long and successful career, loads of friends and a long and happy married life.

A chance remark by a lovely journalist set me thinking about my parents and then came the flow of memories. Clear as day ,and when I sit down to write( am not an accomplished writer , I have to make an effort to write, but this has been like the proverbial flood gates).

And you know what, this has suddenly made me confident! Looking back on my life , to think what I did and how I survived ;makes me feel I can do anything.

I am quite timid, or there are things I have felt unable to do. Firstly I have always had that fear in back of my mind that am not good at anything ,that am going to fail. To compensate for this I keep trying to learn , since coming to England I have done my nurses training, plus A and O level in English literature and biology with A and B grades, various diplomas in the field of nursing, and also a diploma in feature writing. But don’t think my performance has been that good in any of these things. The fear of being criticised and being a failure is somehow never far from my mind.

For example I have been driving with a clean license for many years, but only locally, My Late husband loved driving, he did the long distances all the time. He never allowed me to drive on the motorway,I was quite happy with the status quo. That hidden fear you see, that I might not be able to cope . Now that am on my own ,I still dont!

I will take the train for long distances, it is no hardship, but I just want to say that the scars of your childhood trauma embed deep and you never quite get rid of them completely.

So the children’s remand home was a kind of jail, with communal eating and sleeping ,and as my father was not willing to take charge of me and I was underage ,I was committed to a Vigilance Centre in Bombay for three years. This was comparatively a smaller place , the head of it was an old Parsi lady. And there was a social /case worker who came three times a week. Our life was very regimented.

Up at 6am, queue up for the washroom and then for prayers, which were non denominational. We stood up and sang devotional songs to an Entity without giving Him a name. Then sit on the floor in a line for breakfast. We had a rota ,everyone worked in the kitchen and in serving food, and we took our own plates or the silver platter known as Thali and washed it and stacked them neatly. Then we had an hour of teaching of rudimentary English and some Hindi ,and then we all worked on whatever craft we were learning. I opted for embroidery, very fine thread work, on fine Voile, counting threads and making designs with silk thread. It was very laborious but satisfying work. The centre took commissions from the Industry and was paid per garment, the money was used for running the place ,but we got a tiny bit as pocket money which was used to buy things like soap and toothpaste etc. I embroidered Saris, long borders and the end bit, it took me a month to complete the six yards of it, working all day , and would get something like Rs 2, or tow pence!

In the evening we were allowed to listen to the radio, which was perched very high and was only switched on to one station, the official All India Radio. Only a staff member could switch it on ,and it would be for two hours. Which was our leisure hour. It will go off at 9pm and lights off at 9.30, we had our roll of bedding we spread on the floor and slept . As we did exercise in yard too plus our allocated chores we used to be quite tired and just slept until the warden woke us at 6am. When I look back at it , it was simple but secure life . I had made friends and i somehow felt safer than I did living with my parents at home which is sad.There was no fear of constant criticism and made to feel inferior .

The social worker though was a remarkable lady, she was a Gujrati Hindu , married woman with two young children and a very close knit family. The first glimpse I had of an educated,independent woman with principles and a very strong social conscious.

She somehow took a liking to me ,and decided to take me under her wing. She bought books and decided to teach me English, i could read a bit but have never done any writing in English, though I could write in Urdu. I used to have two sessions a week and with her help I could write short sentences. We were allowed two days away with family if we had any . Some girls did ,I didn’t, this lady though took special permission and took me to her home . They lived in a very nice area of Bombay, known as Marine Drive. Their apartment faced the sea and the beautiful walk. It was a huge place where she lived with her husbands family. Both her in laws, and her brother in law and his wife . That was the first time I saw a happy family, where there was mutual respect and affection and they extended it to me. A Muslim girl of no fixed abode , and they treated me like one of their own. This became the norm and for the next year I regularly spent the weekends with them. I have always believed that there are far more good people in this world than the other sort, it is just that we don’t hear enough about them.

By now I was approaching my 18th birthday fast and it was time to ask my father to take custody. My social worker wrote a number of letters and heard nothing from my parents. The only other alternative was to get me a job, but with no formal qualification I could only get a job as a domestic servant. So she tried a last push and obtained a court order for my father to come and visit.

The trustees of the centre, mostly fat rich women who were allegedly trying to be “socially conscious ” and used to take us inmates to do domestic work and pay pittance! I have been to one such household where they were having a party for 30 people and I was charged with washing up. India didn’t have dish washers ! I still remember after every one has partied and stuffed themselves we were given the left overs to eat and charged with washing a pile of dishes and pots and pans. I remember sitting on a little stool, surrounded with piles of grease and limited amount of water, trying to wash up , my fingers swollen with the cleaning stuff which was ash and crying in that filthy greasy water which surrounded me. I could not see ay future for myself and perhaps that was the only time in life that I was gripped with despair and sadness. So being a domestic servant was something I dreaded. In India , a woman/girl who has left her parents/husband for whatever reason is considered fair game, In domestic service it was a well known fact the males of such families took full advantage of such situations.

I was dreading my future.

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