Noorzia and Titali lay on mats in Matildas bedroom. They’d done that for a couple of weeks during Matilda’s illness administering local medicines during the night along with drugs to help her sleep. Matilda was often in sweat as the body released toxins with the help of these medications. They bathed her often to keep her body clean. Women of the hills were expert in natural remedies for most sicknesses and knew how to mix different herbs together to deal with illness. Their efforts had promoted Matilda’s steady recovery.
Checking to see Matilda was asleep Titali returned to her Mother’s side and whispered the events of the evening. She cried silently for a few minutes then returned to the story. Noorzia listened carefully cradling her daughter in her arms each time tears flowed. While listening she thought of all the possibilities this could lead to. Little did they know the motherly Matilda had been awakened by Tatali’s distress and was straining to catch each word. She couldn’t understand it all but realized it concerned Reg and Titali and caught the word shadi. She began to fill in the blanks she’d not been able to hear and her heart went out to the girl. She knew the pitfalls and heartaches those who’d given way to their heart had experienced in mixing of cultures. But she loved this family. Who cared about culture if people were meant for each other? She remained silent listening as best she could, then the drugs kicked in and she was soon asleep again.
In the morning when awake Matilda waited for the women in turn to bathe and refresh themselves for the day. Then when Titali was out of the room she beckoned to Noorzia. “I’d be very happy to have Titali as a daughter in law,” she whispered.
Noorzia sighed realizing the conversation had been overheard. This would complicate matters. “Memsahib Matilda you know a lot about our culture, and I love you for your kindness to my people, but you don’t understand the trauma such a marriage would cause your family and ours. We’d be discriminated against from all sides and our grandchildren would suffer the most. This is not wise. We need to send Titali away.”
Just then Titali returned to the room and noticed Matilda’s distress. Her instinct urged her in that direction. Noorzia held up her hand to stop her.
“I will care for Matilda today daughter. You can supervise the servants for us as they realize you have delegated authority to do that now. Act wisely. I know you understand what I’m saying.” Titali glanced at Matilda sympathetically then obeying her Mother she left the room.
Noorzia spoke. “The Colonel would be very unhappy if he found out about our secret, I advise you not to talk with him. We will remove Titali as soon as Shireen returns, and I explain this problem to him.”
Matilda rose weakly from her bed. “The Colonel loves Titali as his own daughter and I know he’d have no objections. He’d be very sad to see Titali taken away though he’d respect Shireen’s wishes. He looks on Shireen as a brother rather than officer under his command. The children knowing what’s ahead should be given the option of deciding whether their love for each other can transcend that discrimination.
Noorzia sighed but did not answer. She began to busy herself attending to Matilda’s needs. In her heart she yearned for a better world where cultural bias was not a complicating factor. Nothing would please her more than to see the two families united through marriage.
By the time the men returned from their itinerary Matilda had recovered to the point she could walk around the bungalow taking over responsibilities again. Whenever Titali visited the Colonel’s bungalow she was accompanied by Noorzia now and it was obvious contacts with Reg were supervised. Reg retreated into himself and his unhappiness was so visible servants began to whisper something had happened between the two. They were on the alert to find out what had happened to change things so dramatically.
On her husband’s arrival Matilda took him aside and explained the situation. He went to his son’s room and spent the morning in discussion with him. A position had opened for a colonial administrator in one of the districts in Bengal and it was his for the taking if Reg wanted it. At first the Colonel was angry at his son’s lack of enthusiasm over the opportunity but understanding the reason for it he decided to give him time to grieve. There was no urgency in getting there as the one handling that administration wouldn’t be moving for three months.
At the same time on his arrival Shireen had been briefed by Noorzia of what had transpired weeks ago and how she was handling it. She mentioned in passing that from the Cartwright’s viewpoint they were quite supportive of a marriage between the two, but it was Shireen’s decision and they’d respect that without it affecting their personal relationship. They understood the issues arising from such a match as it would affect them all and they were prepared for the fallout.
Shireen was angry. He didn’t know who to be angry with as the Cartwrights were friendly and supportive. Reg had been honourable through it all, his daughter had been obedient, but he was angry anyway. He was angry at himself for developing such a close relationship with the English as it had probably bought this issue into play. Perhaps he should return to his valley? But he enjoyed the work he was doing and there’d be no satisfaction in scratching earth for a living now even in those pristine valleys. He snapped at Noorzia to try and shift the blame elsewhere but immediately apologized when he saw he’d hurt his life companion. He went for a walk to clear his head as he had to decide what to do quickly. He went to the stables and poured his frustrations out in the ears of his favourite horse. His horse whinnied in sympathy and his anger subsided. He returned to his bungalow and called Titali. She entered the room respectfully but fearfully. He felt an outpouring of love and sympathy for his daughter.
“Daughter do you know what is likely to happen if you marry this boy even though he is a fine gentleman and I believe him when he says he loves you and will protect you. Do you understand how this will affect the both of you? You will be discriminated against by the English and the people of India.”
“Do you love this man?”
So, I will leave this decision to you daughter as it’s your life. You don’t know our ancestral valleys as you’ve grown up on the plains so would probably not be happy to marry and settle there and after thinking things over I don’t know where you’d be happy or who you’d be happy with. Of course, we’d help you choose if we sought interests among the plains people, but you are not a Hindu or a Moslem either. What would make you most happy daughter?”
“Making you happy with me would be my greatest happiness Father.”
“Do you want me to consider Reg’s proposal daughter?”
“If you’d be happy with him as a son then I’d be happy to have him as a husband Father.”
Shireen was silent for a moment. “I’d accept him daughter but think carefully before I say yes because your life ahead will not be smooth.”
“I know the problems that lie ahead but I’m prepared to meet them Father with your blessing.”
Shireen headed for the Colonel’s bungalow to talk it over with him then perhaps if the two men thought it for the best they could call Reg and Shireen would question him thoroughly before giving final clearance to the proposal.
The Colonel confirmed he’d be happy with a plan to merge the families in marriage. Yes, there’d be those among the English who’d make waves and complain to authorities and if that became an issue the Colonel would be happy to take his retirement and engage in business instead. Shireen indicated that should that happen he’d be willing to work under him in whatever business the Colonel chose to engage. The Colonel made it plain that only a partnership would be considered in that event. So, it was decided a marriage between their two children would take place. Shireen requested permission to talk with Reg first. The Colonel looked up in surprise.
“I thought you knew. I’ve sent him to Mussoorie on an errand. Thought that might brighten him up while we settled this problem. I didn’t want him to be present should you decide to send Titali back to your relatives in the valley. That would have really broken his heart to see her go.”
To be continued.
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