Matthew looked out the window of the Taj Mahal hotel at Mumbai Apollo Bander and tried to imagine what life would have been like in 1911. It was called Bombay at that time, but the name had reverted in tribute to goddess Mumba Devi benefactor of fishermen in the original seven islands which had over time been welded into one mega city. The Gateway of India was in his direct line of vision as his eye swept the Arabian Sea to the West. This giant structure had been built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary and it was an imposing sight standing high at twenty-five metres.
He recalled stories his grandfather had told of growing up in India, he called it Bharat Mata, Mother India, lovingly referred to as he told of a by-gone multi-layered society with transplant masters “The Raj” on top of a fractured sub-continent. His Great Grandfather had been an officer in the British army who after a final term of service in Malaya had decided to migrate to Australia. But memories of India were to forever remain in Grandfather’s mind and heart and he passed these memories in story form to his own children over time.
There were tales of Maharajas and Maharani’s with gold plated jewel encrusted thrones. There were the snake charmers, performing bears and pet monkeys. There was a multiplicity of gods, some frightening and some benign. Matthew had listened spellbound as grandfather told story after story while they sat on his front veranda in the swinging seat. Grandfather had died while Matthew was in his teens, but those stories were indelibly implanted in his mind.
This was not Matthew’s first visit to India. He smiled as he recalled Cora’s reaction when he casually mentioned an interest in visiting some of the places Grandfather had mentioned during his father’s transfers to different cantonments in India. Of particular interest were the hill stations where they were permitted brief respite during oppressive hot seasons. There was Shimla and Mussoorie with the backdrop of the “Far Pavilions,” the Himalayas. There was also Nigari Hills in South India when great Grandfather was stationed in Madras on the South-East coast. Then Poona Cantonment where Great Grandfather had spent most of his India service. He’d wanted to see it all.
Cora had vetoed the plan at first. She’d heard enough of those stories herself, after all she’d sat on that veranda a few times when she and Matthew were courting during High School days and heard some horrifying tales. Burning human bodies at the burning ghats close to where people bathed in sacred waters, cobras stalking those who inadvertently killed their mate. The cobra was reputed to see a photo of the killer in their dead mate’s eye and had gone in pursuit and final revenge. There were tales of dacoits who robbed on the lonely country trails, gods who were only appeased by blood sacrifice. No thank you!
But Cora had to live with her dejected spouse’s sad face and finally yielded. On that visit she fell in love with India. For Cora it was a new revelation. She’d not travelled overseas before. Grandfather’s stories had just been stories but the reality was of deep interest. The kaleidoscope of cultures as they moved from North to South, the glamor of traditional costumes in each place, the unexpected greening of the whole country after monsoon rains with cascading waterfalls in hills and mountains. The faint remaining hint of grandeur in abandoned Maharaja palaces. She needed this positive stimulation to get her out of depression after many attempts to have a child of her own.
On the other hand, Matthew had been disappointed. This was not the India his Grandfather had described at all. Oh, there were hints of it in the shabby Victorian buildings in major cities, once the sole possession of the British but now encircled with concrete human filing towers in congested neighbourhoods. The cities were now vibrant business centres with an elite class of neo rich and upper middle class forming their own gated communities to keep an escalating population explosion of the have-nots at bay. Tiger path signs in the hills were only reminders of now gone terrors when villagers would run for shelter at the appearance of a striped monster and elephants were now to be seen only in protected areas. The human was now the destroyer! Even snake charmers, animal shows and magicians were commercial entities along with those traditional tourist sites that were free to view in the past but free no more. Beggars were run by syndicates for profit now too!
Poona was disappointing. There were things to see there of historical interest but the glamor of a military outpost had been replaced by an appendage city not quite ready to re-join the bustle of the old traditional city adjoining. However, it was there on Main Street a short auto rickshaw ride from Blue Diamond Hotel Cora had discovered a foreign missionary wife shopping for supplies. She was invited to have coffee with this new acquaintance at Kwality restaurant while Matthew searched vainly for the old bungalow where Grandfather had spent most of his growing up days. The Missionary was British and she was overjoyed to talk with another foreign woman. They swapped stories of their life in Britain and Australia and in the process Cora discovered the woman was involved with a group of Indian women who arranged adoptions for those abroad looking for a baby they could not bring into the world on their own. Cora’s interest was aroused! They swapped addresses and contact numbers, neither expecting the other would follow up on that contact.
Later in the afternoon when Matthew re-joined Cora at the Blue Diamond Hotel she reported on her chance meeting and her interest to visit the mission and learn more of what they were doing. Matthew was only half listening as he simmered in his frustration not finding Grandfather’s bungalow in spite of following several leads all morning. That is until Cora mentioned adoption. That suddenly had his full attention. He stared at her suspiciously. Cora had been through major depression after the loss of her third baby and he thought it was not in her best interests to follow this lead. He dismissed the idea out of hand, but Cora persisted, and Matthew could never resist it when she was enthusiastic about something.
So it was next morning a surprised Missionary Wife found her new found friend at the door with a reluctant husband in tow. By the end of the morning an enthusiastic Cora was back in town with Matthew and their new friend looking at babies for adoption and beginning to understand the maze of regulations and officialdom in two countries that would need to be negotiated in order to make possible a successful adoption. Obstacles were enormous, and Matthew wanted none of it. But Cora had seen some of the babies being currently processed for adoption and fell in love with them all. She was unable to have a baby of her own it seemed, this was the solution.
Well that was a long time ago mused Matthew as he continued to gaze over streets below with rapidly moving boat traffic close to shore. Months negotiating that adoption had been horrendous and it had almost drained their savings. Cora had made two quick trips to India in the interval to deal with issues personally and eventually it had all worked out. He remembered the day the two of them waited anxiously at Sydney airport to receive the accompanying Indian adoption agency woman and their new baby. Matthew waited with a sense of foreboding. Should he have been more insistent it was not a good idea? Would it really be what Cora needed to continue her current enthusiastic outlook on life? Cora on the other hand was ecstatic? But when Matthew first caught sight of Anita those two hearts united.
The door to the hotel room slammed shut and he turned. “Is that you Cora? Oh, you’re not here anymore are you? Habits are hard to break!” Cora had died after a long running battle with cancer six months previously.
Anita moved over to her father’s side and placed her arm around him. “I miss her too Dad.” She whispered softly.
She tugged on his arm to turn him toward the door and he paused to look at her. She was a young pretty woman of twenty-one now and this trip was her chosen birthday present. She’d never been to the country of her ancestors and was curious to see it all for herself. Her Australian accent and smart Western outfits had taken most Indians she’d spoken to since their arrival off guard. The accent and clothes didn’t seem to fit with her obvious ancestry. She’d sensed a reserve she hadn’t expected and it puzzled her.
“Come,” she coaxed. “I want you to meet someone!”
Matthew glanced toward the door and saw a tall handsome young Indian man standing there uncomfortably. Matthew straightened up suspiciously. Was this someone looking for a ticket out of the country and using his precious daughter as the object of his hoped for emigration? He’d heard some sad stories about foreigners caught up in that trap.
Anita spoke again. “This is Suresh, he’s a teacher just like me. He’s booked in on the floor one level down and is here from London with his parents. He’d like us to join his folk as guests for dinner this evening. Do you think we could do that? I know we have a full day tomorrow as we have to be up early to take the Deccan Queen to Pune.”
Matthew relaxed. Obviously Suresh didn’t need a ticket out of the country to fulfil his dreams. He’d already done that. Matthew nodded his head in agreement and Anita clapped her hands.
“I’m going to check out a few places around the city with Suresh while you rest up for tomorrow Dad. Can you believe it? Suresh was adopted and taken to England about the same time you and Mom adopted me so we have a lot in common to talk about.”
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