East West Merger
Felicity Rani cast languid eyes over the street below. An assortment of people materialized and disappeared as she watched. The phool wallah paused to look in her direction, then made a vain attempt to enter the compound to be turned away with sharp rebuke by the Chokidar Ghurkha at the gate. He turned in her direction and gave salaam waiting for her approval.
Felicity Rani nodded in approval and the Ghurkha snapped to attention and saluted. She smiled and turned to see what other entertainment was available on the street.
Looking down at the old whitewashed church across the street she noticed Reverend Jacob standing at the front of his church looking hopefully for some of his flock to appear so he could perform rites of his profession and hopefully pocket a few coins to keep his family supported. The English Anglican priest had packed up and departed leaving him in charge. Felicity Rani made a mental note to visit him next day to pass a few coins for his survival.
Independence had come to India accompanied by migrations and bloodshed of gigantic proportions. Former colonial masters had packed up and departed along with the Europeans on vast estates and of course railways and businesses. Along with them Anglo-Indians who had the finances to do so fled to England, Canada and Australia. But all this turmoil was happening far from Felicity Rani’s little hotel in the hills in South India.
The railways had been primarily responsible for Felicity Rani Smith being seated where she was today.
Felicity Rani was the daughter of Humphrey Reed former station master at the foot of these mountains and his Indian wife Geeta. Reed’s grandfather had left the starving slums of London as a ship hand and on reaching Bombay realized this land had more potential for him to make a living than the city he’d left. By the time Humphrey’s father had reached manhood he’d joined the emerging rail networks and worked his way up to the position of station master. On retirement he’d developed enough political clout to engineer his son carried on his work at that same station.
Humphrey Reed grew up in a railway environment and looked forward to the time when his education was complete at the Anglican school and he’d join his father in railway work. He’d no other ambition. It was at his father’s station he began to notice the Indian assistant’s daughter Geeta.
Geeta was alarmed when Humphrey first showed interest in her. She’d heard lurid stories of Indian women who’d been taken advantage of by the Sahibs and left to fend for themselves when an embarrassing pregnancy eventuated. Their families had disowned them too. Geeta’s family were strict Hindus and it was unthinkable such a liaison should take place even though they were of the lower middle classes.
Geeta’s father was quite agitated over the situation too. He needed the job so couldn’t afford to displease his English superior, but he reasoned his family acceptance in the Indian community would be jeopardized by the liaison. Geeta was sent to a relative’s home in Madras where she could continue her education in a non-threatening way and be carefully supervised.
On completion of her education Geeta returned to her parent’s home. She was a fully developed woman now in her prime teen years. Her father began thinking of a marriage match for her. His sons had been married successfully and while he was relatively well off by Indian standards now the cost of the customary dowry would seriously affect his household.
He began to rationalize his previous taboo about a mixed marriage with the English and compare this with the practical necessity of his family finances. Having noted Humphrey’s son had a continued interest in his daughter he decided to watch for any untoward actions on the part of the boy while encouraging his daughter not to discourage him totally. After all, he reasoned, what happens to the girl after marriage is not a concern as long as family face is preserved.
It was not long before the Indian community had taken note of Humphrey’s interest in Geeta and tongues began to wag. This was the signal Geeta’s father had been waiting for. He approached Humphrey’s father feigning indignation and reminding him of the Indian custom which refused any marriage proposal to sons when the woman concerned had been seen with a man who was not of her family. Humphrey’s father understood the problem and offered to have his son forbidden from associating with the girl.
Geeta’s father was horrified. This was not the way his plan was supposed to work out and he stood fidgeting trying to think up his next course of action. He was glad when the whistle of an approaching train required his immediate attention.
But Humphrey’s father had understood the plot very well and was having a little private fun at his expense. He liked Geeta and thought she’d make a good wife for his son. After all their family fortunes were firmly centred in India now and he felt no attachment to the land of his ancestors. Why not welcome an Indian daughter-in-law he thought? His wife was equally taken up with Geeta and was in full agreement. They called Humphrey and asked what his intentions were in his relationship with Geeta. Nervously he expressed his love expecting a reprimand, but when he received encouragement instead was overjoyed.
So the next morning Humphrey and his father approached Geeta’s father and formally requested Geeta’s hand in marriage.
Geeta’s father was stunned! He’d spent a sleepless night trying to find a way out of the dilemma only to find the solution served up to him without any further intrigue. He feigned surprise and protested his family could suffer the wrath of the Indian community with such a merger, but quickly added it could be managed. But there was the question of a dowry. After all he was a poor man and could not afford the price of buying a Sahib son in law?
Humphrey watched as his father tried to restrain his mirth. “There will be no dowry required!” he murmured.
Geeta’s father made Namaste, salaamed, shook hands and embraced his future son in law in rapid succession.
Humphrey’s father finally cast restraint aside and laughed loudly.
There was rejoicing in both households that evening and the response from the Indian community was not negative as had been expected. Geeta’s father began thinking of how his family fortunes could be enhanced by the coming union.
To be continued.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2014 All rights reserved”