Chapter 10 – Kharma
Priya sat deep in thought at the club office. Her dinner appointment with Uncle James last evening had unsettled her. While a marriage proposal from the Rajah had momentarily caused her to think of a time when she’d no longer be within the confines of the London family support environment it somehow hadn’t driven home the fact she was approaching the top end of marriageable age. The sudden death of her Grandfather had pushed that idea into the back recesses of her mind but now she felt an aching in her heart. It was wonderful to be part of the London family but she felt there was something more she was missing out on.
Uncle James had focused on the need to plan for the future of the coming London family generation in their conversation, and he’d mentioned some potential plans for Priya’s future too. It was exciting, but it was something she felt the need to share with someone who’d be her alter ego, her other self! Something was missing in her life and she couldn’t place her finger on what that was. She felt herself sinking into depression.
This was not the London way! She got to her feet and forced herself into the day’s routines.
But patrons could sense things were not the same with their normally vibrant favourite club manager Priya. Sharp eyed Matilda noticed it and called her over motioning her to sit down. Matilda tried to draw out what the problem was but Priya didn’t know what was causing her depression either and after chatting for a few minutes excused herself and moved on to greet other patrons.
Priya’s mind turned to the rest of her conversation with Uncle James. He’d be meeting with the unusual group from Ratnagiri at that moment she mused. For some reason that brightened her mood and she regained her cheerful disposition.
That evening she discovered the meeting with the Ratnagiri group had gone well. James London had prevailed on them to stay a few more days while they worked out a business arrangement. They’d gone to the docks close to where the London ships berthed and secured a building which would make an excellent warehouse. It would the family’s first venture into wholesale marketing and James was quite excited at the prospect. Times were changing. The family needed to diversify their business investments further.
The carriage business was doing well under management of the two now divorced sisters and their growing children. Then James pressed the question again. Would Priya manage this new venture on behalf of the family, and perhaps later be interested in taking it as her legacy from the family?
She was overwhelmed. Then while she was considering how she should respond a servant announced the arrival of the Ratnagiri group. Priya glanced at her Uncle in surprise; usually they dined alone with James’ family in the evenings.
James smiled at her reaction. “I wanted you to be part of our negotiations this evening Priya,” he said quietly.
They headed for the banquet room. James family would not be dining with them that evening.
People were reintroduced as Priya joined them for the evening meal. There was a spirit of optimism in the room as they dined and talked of the future. They were very thankful for Priya’s help in getting them into the club for lunch the day before and mentioned her kindness over and over. However the one who was most effusive in his praise was one Juan Perera. He was the one who’d spoken to her at the club in the Konkani dialect and now was totally focused on Priya and doing his best to engage her in conversation. This was of course observed by the rest of the group who glanced at James with knowing smiles. James tried his best not to smile in return as he noticed Priya seemed to warm to this stranger she’d only met the day before. But it gave him an idea.
Finally when the meal had been taken James got down to business. The London family would care for warehousing and distribution and would take all the products the Ratnagiri group could send. The group would work with land holders in Ratnagiri and incorporate their products shipped to Bombay, but James would only deal with the present group financially.
He announced Priya would be in charge of the Bombay operation, but wondered if Juan could be spared to work with her in facilitating the inward stock arrivals leaving her to deal with oversight and distribution.
The Ratnagiri group looked at Juan suggesting it would be in their interests for him to accept and Juan stammered his acceptance.
James looked at his niece. “Would you do this for the London family Priya, no one else I know in the family could do it as well as you?”
Priya paused momentarily to deal with surprising developments which would affect her life. It would be difficult for her to leave her club work as she’d a genuine regard for each of its members, but this was a great opportunity. Was this karma, the expression or consequence of natural acts? She’d often thought deeply on this subject. She glanced at Juan who sat on the edge of his seat looking hopeful she’d say yes, so she did, to the delight of all.
The venture was a success from the beginning. Tears had been shed when Priya announced she’d no longer be able to be part of the club administration but all were well-wishers and she was made an honorary member of the club. The club became her welcome diversion when the pressure of business became too great, and patrons observed a very close developing attachment between Priya and Juan. This made them happy and they hoped she had finally found her sought after alter ego.
The working arrangement between Priya and Juan was even better than James London had anticipated and he began to look forward to the inevitable time when Juan would approach him to ask for permission to marry his niece. But Juan held back. He was not sure of his acceptance in English society as his ancestry traced back to Portugal roots through their colony at Goa. He longed for acceptance but was aware of disapproving attitudes toward the Portuguese who at times in history had been enemies of Great Britain. He’d not experienced any discrimination, but was always on his guard.
Finally an exasperated James London confronted him. “You are obviously head over heels in love with my niece Priya, and from my observation she shares the same feelings about you! What is the problem in asking her to marry you?”
To the surprise of James Juan burst into tears! He poured out his feelings of insecurity and the desire not to in any way cause Priya alienation from her beloved family and community.
James placed his hands on Juan’s shoulders and looked him in the eye.
“You foolish man! You’ve earned the respect of everyone I know in Bombay through your honest and hardworking ways, and we as a family would welcome you into our clan. Go, right now, and ask my niece to marry you!”
That evening a happy couple arrived at the London compound and a family gathering of all not travelling was called to celebrate the occasion of their engagement.
The word spread like wildfire in Bombay and was met with general approval and joy.
James London was surprised one morning to receive a visit from the Major and his wife Matilda. They explained how Priya had saved them from embarrassment and turned the Major around to start a more compassionate lifestyle. He’d modified his drinking habits and the Major’s household was now a very happy place to live and work. He and Matilda had even found pleasure in each other’s company for the first time in their marriage. They wanted to do something to show their appreciation for his niece. James was aware of the story of the Major’s foolish past life and the change that occurred since Priya’s intervention. He nodded and listened.
It was decided to ask the club management to allow the facility to be the venue of a marriage between Priya and Juan. A pandal would be erected on the club grounds for that purpose. Management struggled with the Major’s suggestion that leading Indian community leaders be invited to attend the celebration along with the English community in spite of the Europeans only rule, but when a significant group of power brokers in the English community supported the request they grudgingly gave in. Some from the higher Indian castes accepted much to the dismay of traditionalist Hindus. Club management would arrange for caste sensitivities to be cared for by seating them in a separate area while their own cooks would prepare food in utensils that had never been used for cooking meat. This was stated clearly in invitations passed out.
On the wedding day Priya looked at the assembled guests hoping against hope members of the Ram Gopal family would be there to share her joy. Club servants who she’d sent to check came back with the report none of them were present. But they also told her the wholesale business she managed for the London family had been so successful it had seriously affected their business and her cousins now running their rival businesses had moved to Poona and Surat. Only the aging members of the family remained in Bombay and most were too sick to attend. Priya sighed in resignation, but brightened as she anticipated her happy future.
Years went by and other members of the rising generation of London family had been mentored by Priya into the wholesale business. They were eager to be tested in management. It was then James London made a suggestion to Priya which surprised Juan and her.
Someone needed to organize a regional distribution point in the emerging powerhouse James foresaw Singapore would be in future. It would be a place where products would be gathered from the South-East Asia region and shipped through London Shipping Lines to Europe. Did Priya feel the younger generation could take over from her in Bombay and would she feel this was something that would be a challenge for her formidable business and cultural skills?
After carefully considering this proposal, and the suitability of the younger generation of London family to take over Bombay operations Priya and Juan agreed to transfer to Singapore and build an extension of the London family empire there.
Then to their surprise James who was now growing old informed them he too would be handing over the reins of power to his son who he’d been mentoring for some time to take over management of family affairs.
The Singapore venture would be fully owned by Priya and Juan and start-up costs gifted by the London Family. The London family would get their income from the Singapore investment through charges for shipping goods they carried. The only commitment the family sought was a guarantee no other shipping company would be used. This was to be legacy from the family in memory of James’ dead brother who was Priya’s father.
Priya clung to her Uncle in gratitude tinged with a feeling of sorrow in the realization she’d be separated from the only family she could remember. That separation she realized would slowly impact as they were away from each other’s company for long periods of time. But many of younger generation was undergoing a similar transition. Some had already left India to seek their fortunes in other parts of the world, Europe, America, Australia, Hong Kong, and hadn’t been seen for years.
Priya stood on the deck of the London ship with Juan at her side as it moved away from the dock in Bombay where a huge crowd had assembled to bid her bon voyage. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she waved until they were no longer discernable in the distance.
Then she dried her eyes. Memories fade, but the trunk loads of journals she’d faithfully kept from her childhood would be there to ever refresh her mind to the kindness of the London family as she grew and matured in their loving embrace. She had the family and their treasured memories with her through these beloved journals.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2013 All rights reserved”