XIII. IN LONDON AT
I did not feel at all sea-sick. But as the days
passed, I became fidgety. I felt shy even in speaking to
the steward. I was quite unaccustomed to talking English,
and except for Sjt. Mazmudar all the other passengers in
the second saloon were English. I could not speak to
them. For I could rarely follow their remarks when they
came up to speak to me, and even when I understood I
could not reply. I had to frame every sentence in my
mind, before I could bring it out. I was innocent of the
use of knives and forks and had not the boldness to
inquire what dishes on the menu were free of meat, I
therefore never took meals at table but always had them
in my cabin, and they consisted principally of sweets and
fruits which I had brought with me. Sjt. Mazmudar had no
difficulty, and he mixed with everybody. He would move
about freely on deck, while I hid myself in the cabin the
whole day, only venturing up on deck when there were but
few people. Sjt. Mazmudar kept pleading with me to
associate with the passengers and to talk with them
freely. He told me that lawyers should have a long
tongue, and related to me his legal experiences. He
advised me to take every possible opportunity of talking
English, and not to mind making mistakes which were
obviously unavoidable with a foreign tongue. But nothing
could make me conquer my shyness.
An English passenger, taking kindly to me, drew me
into conversation. He was older than I. He asked me what
I ate, what I was, where I was going, why I was shy, and
so on. He also advised me to come to table. He laughed at
my insistence on abjuring meat, and said in a friendly
way when we were in the Red Sea: 'It is all very well so
far but you will have to revise your decision in the Bay
of Biscay. And it is so cold in England that one cannot
possibly live there without meat.'
'But I have heard that people can live there
without eating meat,' I said.
'Rest assured it is a fib,' said he. 'No one, to my
knowledge, lives there without being a meat-eater. Don't
you see that I am not asking you to take liquor, though I
do so? But I do think you should eat meat, for you cannot
live without it.'
'I thank you for your kind advice, but I have solemnly
promised to my mother not to touch meat, and therefore I
cannot think of taking it. If it be found impossible to
get on without it, I will far rather go back to India
than eat meat in order to remain there.'
We entered the Bay of Biscay, but I did not begin to
feel the need either of meat or liquor. I had been
advised to collect certificates of my having abstained
from met, and I asked the English friend to give me one.
He gladly gave it and I treasured it for some time. But
when I saw later that one could get such a certificate in
spite of being a meat-eater, it lost all its charm for
me. If my word was not to be trusted, where was the use
of possessing a certificate in the matter?
However, we reached Southampton, as far as I remember,
on a Saturday. On the boat I had worn a black suit, the
white flannel one, which my friends had got me, having
been kept especially for wearing when I landed. I had
thought that white clothes would suit me better when I
stepped ashore, and therefore I did so in white flannels.
Those were the last days of September, and I found I was
the only person wearing such clothes. I left in charge of
an agent of Grindlay and Co. all my kit, including the
keys, seeing that many others had done the same and I
must follow suit.
I had four notes of introduction : to Dr. P. J. Mehta,
to Sjt. Dalpatram Shukla, to Prince Ranjitsinhji and to
Dadabhai Naoroji. Someone on board had advised us to put
up at the Victoria Hotel in London. Sjt Mazmudar and I
accordingly went there. The shame of being the only
person in white clothes was already too much for me. And
when at the Hotel I was told that I should not get my
things from Grindlay's the next day, it being a Sunday, I
Dr. Mehta, to whom I had wired from Southampton,
called at about eight o'clock the same evening. He gave
me a hearty greeting. He smiled at my being in flannels.
As we were talking. I casually picked up his top- hat,
and trying to see how smooth it was, passed my hand over
it the wrong way and disturbed the fur. Dr. Mehta looked
somewhat angrily at what I was doing and stopped me. But
the mischief had been done. The incident was a warning
for the future. This was my first lesson in European
etiquette, into the details of which Dr. Mehta humorously
initiated me. 'Do not touch other people's things,' he
said. 'Do not ask questions as we usually do in India on
first acquaintance; do not talk loudly; never address
people as 'sir' whilst speaking to them as we do in
India; only servants and subordinates address their
masters that way; And so on and so forth. He also told me
that it was very expensive to live in a hotel and
recommended that I should live with a private family. We
deferred consideration of the matter until Monday.
Sjt.Mazmudar and I found the hotel to be a trying
affair. It was also very expensive. There was, however, a
Sindhi fellow-passenger from Malta who had become friends
with Sjt Mazmudar, and as he was not a stranger to
London, he offered to find rooms for us. We agreed,and on
Monday, as soon as we got our baggage, we paid up our
bills and went to the rooms rented for us by the Sindhi
friend. I remember my hotel bill came to ?3 an amount
which shocked me. And I had practically starved in spite
of this heavy bill! For I could relish nothing. When I
did not like one thing, I asked for another, but had to
pay for both just the same. The fact is that all this
while I had depended on the provisions which I had
brought with me from Bombay.
I was very uneasy even in the new rooms. I would
continually think of my home and country. My mother's
love always hunted me. At night the tears would stream
down my cheeks, and home memories of all sorts made sleep
out of the question. It was impossible to share my misery
with anyone. And even if I could have done so, where was
the use? I knew of nothing that would soothe me.
Everything was strange-the people, their ways, and even
their dwellings. I was a complete novice in the matter of
English etiquette and continually had to be on my guard.
There was the additional inconvenience of the vegetarian
vow. Even the dishes that I could eat were tasteless and
insipid. I thus found myself between Scylla and
Charybdis. England I could not bear, but to return to
India was not to be thought of. Now that I had come, I
must finish the three years, said the inner voice.