Chapter 4 – Unwelcome Changes
It was soon after the Raja’s proposal word came to the London household Priya’s grandfather Ram Gopal who she’d never met had passed away. Because of Ram Ropal’s elevated position in the community the Indian newspapers gave full page reports of his life and accomplishments. A date was notified for his cremation at the burning ghats at which ceremony the eldest son would preside.
Humphrey London suggested the whole family pay their respects at the time of the cremation. Each family had profited by their mutual trade over the years and the London family understood and respected Ram Gopal’s religious taboos which prevented closer personal relationships. They felt it their duty to attend nevertheless. Beside that it was Priya’s grandfather and the London’s felt it appropriate they pay their respects for her sake too.
The written response, though couched in respectful language, was plain in its refusal of the London family request to attend. This ceremony was for family and their community. Others may observe from a distant place but no close contamination could be allowed. When Priya read that response her heart broke. She’d somehow hoped this event would allow her contact with a part of her family she’d never known, her Indian roots. It was now plain to her that could never happen and she retired to her room where she wept bitterly while anxious servants hovered by the door hoping to be summoned to comfort her.
However the London family did declare a day of mourning. Their business closed in respect and they stood at a distance with Priya observing the ceremony along with a huge crowd of the non-Brahman Indian community. This action of the London family was reported in the Marathi newspapers with enthusiasm and their reputation was further enhanced with the Indian community.
However there was a group in the English community who felt Humphrey had gone too far by standing with the crowd at that ceremony, and his action had in some way damaged the respect their subjects should have for the English as their rulers. Humphrey shrugged off the criticism, but from then on was highly selective in his choice of associates. The situation bonded Humphrey and his granddaughter even closer than before as she comprehended the magnanimous nature of this patriarch of the family. It was this spirit she determined to pass along to her children. She decided to put any plans of marriage on hold for the present and shared her wish with Humphrey who was glad to have her with him for a little longer.
The Rajah was informed and renewed his search for a suitable bride.
The arrangement between Ram Gopal’s continuing business ventures and London Shipping continued on for a while as if there’d never been any tension between the families.
As Humphrey was scanning through one of the local Marathi newspapers several months later he noted there was tension building in the Ram Gopal business empire. Some of the sons had broken with the autocratic eldest son heir to the empire and formed a rival business of their own. This was an unusual move in that era where the eldest son was not only the succession head of business, but also of the extended family. It was custom the extended family would follow his instructions even in the management of their own households. Warning bells rang in Humphrey’s mind and he summoned his eldest son to discuss its possible implications for their mutual business arrangements.
It was not long after that the Marathi newspapers reported there’d been a similar schism in the London Shipping family. The initial anger at this report was soon replaced with laughter. The London family had always been close. While the report may have been unbelievable they needed to set the record straight in a community that thrived on mystery and gossip. A family conference needed to be called to frame a response to the newspaper article. That conference determined reports were unfounded and this was passed along to the newspaper for a retraction.
However the newspaper continued to report on the supposed troubles in each family and justified this from first hand reports they’d received from those who were privy to personal information about the families, and this confirmed their previous reports had been factual.
An angry Humphrey confronted the editor of the newspaper threatening legal action and soon a mysterious package appeared at his home with no indication as to where it had come from. The coolie delivering said someone he didn’t know had paid him to deliver the package to Sahib London. The contents of that package so distressed this aged patriarch his heart went into cardiac arrest and a doctor was called.
He passed away that evening with documents of that package strewn around his bed and Priya at his side. His eldest son gathered the documents together and took them to his office to study later after the distressing event had been dealt with.
Priya was beside herself with grief and refused to be comforted.
It was only after the funeral attended by a majority of the English population of Bombay and a huge crowd of Indian well-wishers that Humphrey’s son settled down in his office to study the mystery documents found around his father’s bed. He gasped in surprise at what their contents revealed. There was treason in the London family. Messengers were dispatched and a date set for a family conference which was soon to prove the newspaper reports had been true.
As the documents were read at this family conference there was stunned silence all round. Proof was in their hands that both brother-in-laws had formed a secret alliance with the break-away group in Ram Gopal’s family. Since the formation of their rival company the London Shipping Line vessels had been carrying cargo for this new company but only a part of the cargo was billed to the company while the brother-in-laws received hefty gifts in return for under billing and refusing the cargo of their rivals.
Eyes turned to the brother-in-laws expecting them to deny any part of this and their wives shook their heads in disbelief. However there was no denial and they were immediately sacked from company employment and messengers hastily arranged to secure the ships they’d managed up to that meeting. The sisters were distraught. They collected their children and moved back to the London family compound where room was hastily made for them. Their husbands signed on with ships departing India that very day and their whereabouts were a mystery. Rumour had it they’d gone to the new English colony in Australia to build their fortunes further there.
With London family fortunes declining because of the war in the Ram Gopal family with its effects on overall production of goods to be shipped and two ships without captains while the remaining family scrambled to find suitable honest replacements Priya decided to look around for a way to help the family recover. She was offered management of the staff at the club which she gratefully accepted to pay her own way. It was her first day working at the club when the confrontation took place between Matilda Sheffield-John and herself.
To be continued.
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