An Acceptable Compromise
Next day Bill was marched to the office again. He stood to attention and saluted. Then waited patiently for the officer to speak. His commanding officer continued to stare at the papers on his desk, then looked up and smiled.
“There’s a possibility information supplied to me is not accurate. I’m not sure of that so I’ve decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. I hope you’ve given some serious thought to a proper English marriage. Not good for a bachelor to be let loose with those women outside tempting you. My wife has been looking at the background of some of the young ladies recently arrived from England and I think we have some suggestions you’d be interested in. Now no more fuss soldier, get back to work as provisions are beginning to run low while you’ve been on holidays. No more talk about a discharge either. Your family had been with the army for generations and they’re appalled at your behaviour, you’ve been a good soldier and are in line for promotion not discharge so smarten up.”
Bill saluted. “With respect Sir, I’m married and I’d like a discharge as I’ve served my term and am entitled to the choice of a discharge. You see sir, the army cannot accept my Indian wife and I see no other way out.”
The officer rose angrily. “You would get a dishonourable discharge soldier!”
Bill shook as he thought of how much this would disappoint his parents. “Yes Sir!” He said quietly.
The officer sat down bewildered. This foolish soldier was prepared to give up promotion, career and respect for an Indian woman? Obviously, he’d overplayed his hand. His was a company of soldiers who’d not been in India for long enough to understand language and culture of the people they oversaw. Bill had been assigned to them as one born in the country who was totally familiar with customs and languages. While they had Indian translators this was one of their own who could bridge the gap and make the provisioning work to budget. The officer knew he was innocent, the charges had been made against Bill by a businessman who didn’t get a contract because he tried to bribe long ago. It had been investigated and Bill cleared of the charges, but the case had been resurrected to make it appear as a current charge. He came to a decision.
“You will not be given a discharge, this company had you assigned here because of your skills with language and custom. You are a servant of the crown and will do your work while you are needed here. You will continue to live outside the Cantonment area as we cannot accept your Indian woman here as a wife what you do outside is your business. If you do your work well you will be promoted as this was already in the pipeline. When you can be replaced with someone of your skills you will be given an honourable discharge from the army, though I know that would be a great disappointment to your family. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes Sir, first I’d like to thank you for your kindness in accepting my marriage situation. By arresting me so openly in the bazaar businessmen will not be anxious to work with me fearing the wroth of the army. You will have to remove that fear from them if I’m to do my job Sir.”
The officer now saw how foolish it had been for him to attempt to play his card that way. “What do you suggest soldier?”
“Sir someone of rank Indians know will have to deliver me to the bazaar and walk around with me while I do my work so these people know I’m accepted and it’s safe to deal with me.”
The officer broke into a hearty laugh then stopped as he saw Bill’s face. “You’re serious? That incident would mean that much to them?”
The officer shook his head. “I’ll never understand this country!” He banged the bell on his table and his PA made a hasty entrance. “Get my car!”
He turned to Bill. “I’m afraid you’d never fit in if you ever thought of going back to England soldier. Better plan to spend the rest of your life here.” He shook his head making a mental note to send his children to England for their education. This man was a lost case.
As the two of them trudged around the bazaar with an anxious detail of sepoys watching from a respectable distance the commanding officer saw faces light up as Bill appeared on the scene with the Bara Sahib in tow. Their friend was back in grace it seemed and all would be well for business with the army. Word reached the family simultaneously and they rushed to watch from a distance, Manoj appeared to give many salaams and Bill not fully understanding the full extent of Manoj’s duplicity gave his friend a welcome salaam in return.
Shanti watched from a distance with her father and mother. She’d make sure Bill Sahib was given a realistic introduction to Manoj’s character that evening. He was her Sahib husband and he knew much of their culture, but he’d obviously need to have guidance from her. Such is a woman’s lot she thought.
That evening she laid it on him as they retired after dismissing the servants. She was surprised when Bill told her he was aware of her half-brother’s questionable nature, but he was family nevertheless and should be treated as such. Shanti felt the indirect rebuke keenly and sat silently thinking about this unusual man she’d been married to. That kind of forgiving spirit marked him as neither English nor Indian in her mind. She sighed, it would be such a challenge to make him over into her image, the image of her ancestor Shivaji. Then as she thought about it further perhaps she wanted him just the way he was, knowing and yet innocent at the same time.
Bill looked at his wife fondly. He admired her spirit very much it complemented her beauty. He thought of sounding her out about his desire for their future life. It would not be here on this dusty Deccan Plateau if she agreed, but it would be far from her own community and the language she loved. He was born in North India and had been fascinated since childhood by their hill leaves up in the Himalayas, the Far Pavilions. He’d love to be a tea plantation owner up in those hills and bring his children up far away from the heat, dust and politics of the plains. So, he turned to Shanti and asked her if she’d be willing to make that sacrifice, leave family and friends to share life with him there.
Shanti turned it over in her mind slowly. She weighed the pros and cons and turned to look at her Bill Sahib husband. At that point, she suddenly realized this was not an arranged marriage this was one of her choice. She chose him, and she would follow him wherever he’d go.
“Hai,” she said softly moving her head from side to side in acceptance.
Bill Higgins was promoted soon after the arrest event and the old complaint files destroyed. He served the army for a further two years before a suitable replacement was found, then he was granted an honourable discharge. The officer and his troop moved on.
During that time a child was born, a girl who they called Anita. Ranjana was overjoyed at the arrival of her first grandchild and spent much of her time at Bill Sahib’s home in Pune with the grandchild.
Mahaveer produced twin sons with his new wife. Relations between Manoj and his father continued to deteriorate and Bill seeing that running sore in the family suggested Manoj join the army facilitating a good positioning for the future through his contacts. It was only prior to Mahaveer’s death and the plan of a suitable coming funeral ceremony required by Indian custom that a restoration between the two took place. By that time Manoj had a successful army career of his own and a family.
Bill and Shanti moved to a tea estate in North Eastern India where Bill managed the estate and eventually became the owner. With the blessing of Mahaveer, Ranjana moved with Bill and Shanti to the tea estate where she spoiled her grandchildren with approval of proud parents until her death and return of her ashes to her beloved Maharashtra.
The grandchildren were active participants in the Congress movement which eventually culminated in independence for India. They made their mark as prominent citizens of the new country and participants in the new political order.
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