19. THE CANKER OF UNTRUTH
There were comparatively
few Indian students in England forty years ago. It was a practice with
them to affect the [role of] bachelor even though they might be married.
School or college students in England are all bachelors, studies being
regarded as incompatible with married life. We had that tradition in the
good old days, a student then being invariably known as a brahmachari./1/
But in these days we have child-marriages, a thing practically unknown
in England. Indian youths in England, therefore, felt ashamed to confess
that they were married. There was also another reason for dissembling,
namely, that in the event of the fact being known it would be impossible
for the young men to go about or flirt with the young girls of the family
in which they lived. The flirting was more or less innocent. Parents even
encouraged it; and that sort of association between young men and young
women may even be a necessity there, in view of the fact that every young
man has to choose his mate. If, however, Indian youths, on arrival in England,
indulge in these relations quite natural to English youths, the result
is likely to be disastrous, as has often been found. I saw that our youths
had succumbed to the temptation and chosen a life of untruth for the sake
of companionships which, however innocent in the case of English youths,
were for them undesirable. I too caught the contagion. I did not hesitate
to pass myself off as a bachelor, though I was married and the father of
a son. But I was none the happier for being a dissembler. Only my reserve
and my reticence saved me from going into deeper waters. If I did not talk,
no girl would think it worth her while to enter into conversation with
me or to go out with me.
My cowardice was on a par with
my reserve. It was customary in families like the one in which I was staying
at Ventnor for the daughter of the landlady to take out guests for a walk.
My landlady's daughter took me one day to the lovely hills round Ventnor.
I was no slow walker, but my companion walked even faster, dragging me
after her and chattering away all the while. I responded to her chatter
sometimes with a whispered 'yes' or 'no', or at the most 'yes, how beautiful!'
She was flying like a bird, whilst I was wondering when I should get back
home. We thus reached the top of a hill. How to get down again was the
question. In spite of her high-heeled boots, this sprightly young lady
of twenty-five darted down the hill like an arrow. I was shamefacedly struggling
to get down. She stood at the foot smiling and cheering me, and offering
to come and drag me. How could I be so chicken hearted? With the greatest
difficulty, and crawling at intervals, I somehow managed to scramble to
the bottom. She loudly laughed 'bravo' and shamed me all the more, as well
But I could not escape scatheless
everywhere. For God wanted to rid me of the canker of untruth. I once went
to Brighton, another watering-place like Ventnor. This was before the Ventnor
visit. I met there at a hotel an old widow of moderate means. This was
my first year in England. The courses on the menu were all described
in French, which I did not understand. I sat at the same table as the old
lady. She saw that I was a stranger and puzzled, and immediately came to
my aid. 'You seem to be a stranger,' she said, 'and look perplexed. Why
have you not ordered anything?' I was spelling through the menu
and preparing to ascertain the ingredients of the courses from the waiter,
when the good lady thus intervened. I thanked her, and explaining my difficulty
told her that I was at a loss to know which of the courses were vegetarian,
as I did not understand French.
'Let me help you,' she said.
'I shall explain the card to you and show you what you may eat.' I gratefully
availed myself of her help. This was the beginning of an acquaintance that
ripened into friendship, and was kept up all through my stay in England
and long after. She gave me her London address, and invited me to dine
at her house every Sunday. On special occasions also she would invite me,
help me to conquer my bashfulness, and introduce me to young ladies and
draw me into conversation with them. Particularly marked out for these
conversation was a young lady who stayed with her, and often we would be
left entirely alone together.
I found all this very trying
at first. I could not start a conversation, nor could I indulge in any
jokes. But she put me in the way. I began to learn; and in course of time
looked forward to every Sunday and came to like the conversations with
the young friend.
The old lady went on spreading
her net wider every day. She felt interested in our meetings. Possibly
she had her own plans about us.
I was in a quandary. 'How I wish I had told
the good lady that I was married!' I said to myself. 'She would then not
have thought of an engagement between us. It is, however, never too late
to mend. If I declare the truth, I might yet be saved more misery.' With
these thoughts in my mind, I wrote a letter to her somewhat to this effect:
'Ever since we met at Brighton
you have been kind to me. You have taken care of me even as a mother of
her son. You also think that I should get married, and with that view you
have been introducing me to young ladies. Rather than allow matters to
go further, I must confess to you that I have been unworthy of your affection.
I should have told you when I began my visits to you that I was married.
I knew that Indian students in England dissembled the fact of their marriage,
and I followed suit. I now see that I should not have done so. I must also
add that I was married while yet a boy, and am the father of a son. I am
pained that I should have kept this knowledge from you so long. But I am
glad God has now given me the courage to speak out the truth. Will you
forgive me? I assure you I have taken no improper liberties with the young
lady you were good enough to introduce to me. I knew my limits. You, not
knowing that I was married, naturally desired that we should be engaged.
In order that things should not go beyond the present stage, I must tell
you the truth.
'If on receipt of this, you
feel that I have been unworthy of your hospitality, I assure you I shall
not take it amiss. You have laid me under an everlasting debt of gratitude
by your kindness and solicitude. If, after this, you do not reject me but
continue to regard me as worthy of your hospitality, which I will spare
no pains to deserve, I shall naturally be happy and count it a further
token of your kindness.'
Let the reader know that I could
not have written such a letter in a moment. I must have drafted and redrafted
it many times over. But it lifted a burden that was weighing me down. Almost
by return post came her reply somewhat as follows:
'I have your frank letter. We
were both very glad and had a hearty laugh over it. The untruth you say
you have been guilty of is pardonable. But it is well that you have acquainted
us with the real state of things. My invitation still stands, and we shall
certainly expect you next Sunday and look forward to hearing all about
your child-marriage and to the pleasure of laughing at your expense. Need
I assure you that our friendship is not in the least affected by this incident?'
I thus purged myself of the
canker of untruth, and I never thenceforward hesitated to talk of my married
state wherever necessary.
= = = = = = = = = = =
One who observes brahmacharya, i.e., complete self-restraint. (See
*Chapter 7, Note 2*.)