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.
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