1. RUMBLINGS OF THE STORM
This was my first voyage
with my wife and children. I have often observed in the course of this
narrative that on account of child marriages amongst middle class Hindus,
the husband will be literate whilst the wife remains practically unlettered.
A wide gulf thus separates them, and the husband has to become his wife's
teacher. So I had to think out the details of the dress to be adopted by
my wife and children, the food they were to eat, and the manners which
would be suited to their new surroundings. Some of the recollections of
those days are amusing to look back upon.
A Hindu wife regards implicit
obedience to her husband as the highest religion. A Hindu husband regards
himself as lord and master of his wife, who must ever dance attendance
I believed, at the time of which
I am writing, that in order to look civilized, our dress and manners had,
as far as possible, to approximate to the European standard. Because, I
thought, only thus could we have some influence, and without influence
it would not be possible to serve the community.
I therefore determined the style
of dress for my wife and children. How could I like them to be known as
Kathiawad Banias? The Parsis used then to be regarded as the most civilized
people amongst Indians, and so, when the complete European style seemed
to be unsuited, we adopted the Parsi style. Accordingly my wife wore the
Parsi sari, and the boys the Parsi coat and trousers. Of course no one
could be without shoes and stockings. It was long before my wife and children
could get used to them. The shoes cramped their feet and the stockings
stank with perspiration. The toes often got sore. I always had my answers
ready to all these objections. But I have an impression that it was not
so much the answers as the force of authority that carried conviction.
They agreed to the changes in dress, as there was no alternative. In the
same spirit and with even more reluctance they adopted the use of knives
and forks. When my infatuation for these signs of civilization wore away,
they gave up the knives and forks. After having become long accustomed
to the new style, it was perhaps no less irksome for me to return to the
original mode. But I can see today that we feel all the freer and lighter
for having cast off the tinsel of 'civilization'.
On board the same steamer with
us were some relatives and acquaintances. These and other deck passengers
I frequently met, because, the boat belonging to my client's friends, I
was free to move about anywhere and everywhere I liked.
Since the steamer was making
straight for Natal, without calling at intermediate ports, our voyage was
of only eighteen days. But as though to warn us of the coming real storm
on land, a terrible gale overtook us whilst we were only four days from
Natal. December is a summer month of monsoon in the southern hemisphere,
and gales, great and small, are therefore quite common in the Southern
sea at that season. The gale in which we were caught was so violent and
prolonged that the passengers became alarmed. It was a solemn scene. All
became one in face of the common danger. They forgot their differences
and began to think of the one and only God--Musalmans, Hindus, Christians
and all. Some took various vows. The captain also joined the passengers
in their prayers. He assured them that though the storm was not without
danger, he had had experience of many worse ones, and explained to them
that a well-built ship could stand almost any weather. But they were inconsolable.
Every minute were heard sounds and crashes which foreboded breaches and
leaks. The ship rocked and rolled to such an extent that it seemed as though
she would capsize at any moment. It was out of the question for anyone
to remain on deck. 'His will be done' was the only cry on every lip. So
far as I can recollect, we must have been in this plight for about twenty-four
hours. At last the sky cleared, the sun made its appearance, and the captain
said that the storm had blown over. People's faces beamed with gladness,
and with the disappearance of danger disappeared also the name of God from
their lips. Eating and drinking, singing and merry-making again became
the order of the day. The fear of death was gone, and the momentary mood
of earnest prayer gave place to maya./1/
There were of course the usual namaz/2/
and the prayers, yet they had none of the solemnity of that dread hour.
But the storm had made me one
with the passengers. I had little fear of the storm, for I had had experience
of similar ones. I am a good sailor and do not get sea-sick. So I could
fearlessly move amongst the passengers, bringing them comfort and good
cheer, and conveying to them hourly reports of the captain. The friendship
I thus formed stood me, as we shall see, in very good stead.
The ship cast anchor in the
port of Durban on the 18th or 19th of December. The Naderi also
reached the same day.
But the real storm was still
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The famous word in Hindu philosophy which is nearly untranslatable, but
has been frequently translated in English as 'delusion', 'illusion'.
The prayer prescribed by the Koran.