Priya

Crawford Market Bombay vintage photograph

Chapter 6 – Fortunes Restored

James Humphrey London sat in his office and surveyed reports with satisfaction. Business had turned around and they were heading for prosperity again. They’d experienced a lean year with two ships out of action while a careful search was made for men of good character and reputation to take over command of these ships for the family. It was hard to find men of that calibre.

James had seen to it he was substitute father to his nieces and nephews whose fathers had robbed from the shipping line and fled to Australia. Their presence was now confirmed there as ships making the long journey from England to Australia called at the port of Bombay on their return journey. One such ship was in the harbour at that moment and James searched his appointment list for an appropriate time to meet the captain as a courtesy.

James’ sisters and their children felt bitter shame for the disloyalty shown by the husbands. Young nephews were expected to learn shipping business as part of their education and they worked hard to try and live down the shame they felt for actions of their absent fathers.

He stretched; then reached for one of the sweet meats and the limbu pani drink just delivered by one of the servants. His mind went back to those turbulent times a year ago when all political skills learned from his father Humphrey were tested to the limit. Through intermediaries he’d negotiated with the two factions of the Ram Gopal family and reached an understanding. Both were now competing for the chance to ship their goods on the London shipping line and with all ships now back in service fortunes were on the mend.

This had been a sober lesson to James London. He realized that to have all family fortunes tied to a single business they were vulnerable when a crisis developed in that particular trade, so he’d bought into a carriage business and found to his delight his sisters, abandoned by their husbands and now having children old enough to care for themselves were handling that business on his behalf extremely well.

He was proud of his family and their individual accomplishments and wished his Mother hadn’t died so long ago. Growing children in the family had missed out on attention a grandmother would shower on her children’s children. He remembered her final years on that pain racked bed. After English physicians had confessed they hadn’t remedies to prevent her death Humphrey had turned to Indian medicine in the vain hope this would revive his beloved wife. But all they could prescribe was opium to deaden the pain as her end drew near.

James then turned his mind to Priya and her future. He was getting enthusiastic reports on her performance at the club but that somehow did not seem fit for the child of his departed brother. He needed to establish her future. Of course marriage was to be contemplated, but in the interval she should have something to do which better reflected her capabilities and status as a member of his family. The club had offered a familiar environment to take her mind off the grief of her Grandfather’s death and that had been helpful.

Without his knowledge two things were to happen that day which would further impact the returning peace and stability within the London family.

Priya was surprised when one of the waiters at the club told her a relative was waiting outside the club to see her urgently. She told them to send them in thinking of course that it was one of the London family members. Her surprise increased when the waiter told her it was impossible for them to enter, and when she pressed them for an explanation the waiter looked embarrassed and beckoned her to follow him. Once they were outside he pointed to a tall Indian standing by the gate.

Priya turned to the waiter with a puzzled look.

“Who is this?” She queried.

The waiter replied in English so the one standing by the gate couldn’t understand him. “It’s your uncle Memsahib!”

He seemed surprised she didn’t know and hastened inside to report this unusual meeting to the rest of the Indian staff who rushed to the windows to take a look. This was noticed by those who were attending the club for the day and they too pushed their way to the windows to see what was interesting the staff.

But to their disappointment they saw Priya talking with an Indian man at the gate, and assuming it was one of the suppliers to the club they returned to their activities shouting to the staff to get on with their business.

Priya’s uncle after exchanging the normal preliminaries in Marathi wishing her good health and fortune got down to business. He was to open a lodging home for higher caste travellers and needed someone to manage it for him who understood management and people.

Was she a vegetarian? Did she observe the rituals Hindus are expected to follow in the home? He asked her a lot of personal questions making Priya increasingly uncomfortable and insisted she’d need to be purified ritually of the contamination she had living with a Christian family who he observed would not follow Hindu ways.

Priya was becoming increasingly alarmed as the demands continued. Finally she interrupted her Uncle.

“Are you telling me you accept me as a member of the Ram Gopal family?” She probed.

Her Uncle was shocked at the question.

“Oh no! You could never be part of the family your mother left. That’s quite impossible! You’d live in the hotel and manage it according to our customs and we’d pay you well for it. I’m approaching you not as a family member but as a potential manager for our lodging home. We’ve heard of your exceptional skills with people. We need someone who understands us and can deal with the sahibs when necessary on business matters.”

Priya stood looking at her Uncle for a brief moment. She had some of the same blood he had and yet he wouldn’t give her that family acceptance.

This was the second rebuff she‘d received from her Mother’s family. Once in being excluded from her Grandfather’s funeral celebration and now this! She’d make sure there’d never be another chance for them to attempt to destroy her feeling of self-worth.

By way of contrast the London’s had been so accepting from the time of her birth and this experience made her realize just  how much she loved them and felt loved in return.

She turned sadly without further word and retraced her steps to the comfort of the club where she felt acceptance. Her Uncle exhaled in frustration and shaking his head turned to leave.

Down at the docks another event had unfolded. One of James London’s nephews was working on the maintenance of their ships when a gruff but familiar voice behind him arrested his attention. He turned quickly and came face to face with his father!

“What are you doing here, you’ll be arrested!” the boy stammered.

The man laughed and his companions laughed with him.

He gripped the boy by the shoulder and pushed him while the ship’s maintenance crew looked on with interest.

“You are my son and I have my own ship now. I need you! Looks like the London’s are training you well!

Go round up your Mother and the rest of the family and do not tell your Uncle James you’ve seen me or you’ll suffer for it! Go now! These men will be watching every move you make so don’t try and fool around with me.

“My Mother will not come with you,” the boy said weakly.

“Then bring your brothers, it’s the men of the family I need to help me with my business. Better the girls stay where they are I suppose.”

He laughed and pushed the boy. “Go!” He commanded.

One of the men laughed as he saw a small boy working with the ships maintenance crew run off. “You sure frightened that fellow!”

Little did they know that boy would soon be reporting the event to James London.

To be continued.

 

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2013 All rights reserved

 

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Mags Corner says:

    Family sure takes a back seat with the Ram Gopal family. I felt sorrow as I read about Pryia and her uncle and again when he went to the boy. Looking forward to more great reading sweet Ian. Hugs

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    1. Life can be cruel. In a story you can make a happy ending but not in real life.

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  2. jstansfeld says:

    You and Eric had an interesting exchange in which you compared the West and the East. I don’t know how my observation below translates into business corporations and their business exchanges but on an individual level I offer the following observation. If you ask an Englishman is he can do something he will mostly likely disparage his abilities; an American will give you a straight, or perhaps slightly inflated response, an Indian will tell you that he can do whatever you ask- no exceptions. Cheerio, Jane

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    1. Actually your comment probably refers more to our generation in both England and Australia. We were taught not to burden people with opinions about ourselves unless it was a light hearted self put down which everyone appreciated and could laugh over. My daughters were raised in the US educational system and I can remember her showing me her CV when she was applying for a new job. “You know all that?” I asked surprised. She then re-educated me. I have to admit that when I interviewed people as job applicants I was not impressed with someone who disparaged their abilities and that was a count against them in the interview. I preferred someone who could say “I’m your man!” But of course that had to be backed up with evidence that they did have the capacity from work they’d successfully accomplished in the past and it could be demonstrated. I think both England and Australia are quite different to our day now with the huge migrant intake from many parts of the world accompanied by the shift from gen-x to gen-y+

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  3. Families are the worst, that was my first thought.

    You are telling this story so well Ian. I cannot wait for the next chapter.

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    1. You’ve inspired me. I’ll now sit down and create another chapter. lol

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  4. borika45 says:

    I felt for Priya at the discriminatory behaviour of her ‘uncle’ . It reminded me of how I felt as a refugee comingto Australia many many years ago. Can’t wait to get on to the next episode.

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    1. We humans are not very kind to each other are we Barb.

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  5. Eric Alagan says:

    Aha, I see where you’re coming from Ian, and it makes perfect sense. I didn’t see it because for me, it’s a given that the (Eastern) public generally knows how the cookie crumbles.

    My take on China is this: Mao destroyed much of Chinese knowledge and intellectual heritage. What we’re witnessing now, are the new generations of Mao educated public grappling to find ancient equilibrium. This coupled with the advent of the internet, makes it all messy.

    But we witness that wisdom in governance. Every president who spends ten years at the helm sees himself as part of the continuum – not for them the egoistic monuments of self.

    In the 1970s, when Deng Hsiao Ping was asked about protecting Chinese interests in South China Sea – he reportedly said, future generations will be more intelligent and would know how to best resolve that issue.

    Says much, I reckon.

    The current theatrics are distractions. They’re power brokers because Beijing tells us they’re power brokers. But are they really. That said, even during ancient times, warlords who crossed the line were routinely put to the sword.

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    1. Thank you. That was helpful knowledge to store away.

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  6. Eric Alagan says:

    Hello Ian,

    I’ve been in corporate business all my life but, ever the student, I’m intrigued by your question – what is the difference between Western and Eastern thinking when it comes to business?

    Please share because I know of several ‘minor’ differences but wonder whether there’s a single major divide.

    Cheers,
    Eric

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    1. The difference is not in the substance, but in the knowing. Every Indian knows what is going on behind the business and political scenes and their insights are very accurate. But in spite of a very active press in the west very few of the public know what is going on behind the scenes in both business and politics. Occasionally the press exposes some western business scandal but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Another issue is the attitude of a knowing public. An Eastern knowing public will be very careful about dealing with a business/political scandal as it may effect their lives when the ruling class pay back. In the west when the normally ignorant public realize they are being ripped off so some one can make money they hound and destroy without fearing for their safety. That’s why the current exposures and shaming of power brokers in China at the moment is so surprising to me. Perhaps you can enlighten me on that?

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  7. Eric Alagan says:

    The Ram Gopal family are all business. I’ve met such people during my business trips to India. I wonder whether they conduct ‘ritual’ cleansing before they touch or spend ‘tainted’ money from people viewed as less.

    James’ brother-in-law would be easy to handle. I suppose James, like all business people of old, have muscle behind him – and I don’t mean lawyers.

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    1. James has muscle as you well know and will be quick to use it. lol. Do you know the difference between Eastern Thinking and Western thinking when it comes to business? Every one in the East knows what the game is, In the West only a few know what the game is. But the game is exactly the same! You raise an interesting point about the ritual cleansing when handling money. Most of the higher castes I knew had someone else actually handle money. They handled the bank balance. But your question is a good one because in old times money was hidden around the house in a secure place or carried with them in their undergarments. I’ve had one of the business class produce Rs 45,000 out of their undergarments to buy a car from me. Wealth still has to be kept in such a way that the tax people cannot trace and tax. rotfl

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  8. billgncs says:

    looking forward to the next set

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    1. Thanks, this has been a fun series to put together. I lived in Bombay (now Mumbai) for a few years.

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