The 'morals' inspector

huMOUR

Admittedly, the world I left behind when I went abroad was a world strictly of arranged marriages.

 Love was not rare, but it led inevitably to heart break, quickly morphed by the surprise package — arranged marriage! So, when I went to the UK for studies, the hidden fear was the white menace. The girls are very forward there, that was the prevailing thought.

Mindful of my inadequate English (having studied in Kannada medium all along), my father had put me in a ship that took all of 21 days to reach England; and my cabin mate to boot was Dom Moraes. Far better educated than me and an ardent seeker of feminine company, he was more out than in the cabin. My English went on limping — I was corrected by a cute librarian in London assaying me on the difference between ‘V’ and ‘W’. ‘V’ — front teeth jammed down the lower lip, and ‘W’ — like you want to kiss! 

However, within a year, I was good at speaking English albeit with a heavy Somerset accent. My landlady in London, who hailed from that country and was proud of it, was a godsend — I can’t remember how I reached her place facing a lovely garden called the Tooting Common. I called her Ma Coles, and she loved it. The only other permanent occupant was a war veteran whom I affectionately called ‘Prof’ for his fine war homilies, but he had dark patches when he was drowned in a hangover of shell shock, muttering to himself, oblivious of the surroundings.

Into that cloistered world came a girl. A Czech whom I had met at college with little English and plenty of war memories. She sought my help. Understandably for being alien, meaning non-white, I seemed to be the punch bag for all who sought succour. One must remember that Indians were rare during the post war years. London was not yet their second home as it is now. As the girl’s frequency of visits increased, there was a degree of tension. Ma Coles, who had considered me her private preserve, saw red and promptly wrote to father sharing her misgivings. 

Being very circumspect, father did not share the dire news with anyone but waited for an eye witness. And thus when his auditor was planning his first trip to England, my father could not resist sharing his fears with him and wrote to me. The import was that his friend was coming to London and I should meet him and show him around. I remembered the auditor as a constant at the Century Club Golf Course. Sartorial elegance and assumed accent did nothing to relieve his face — dominantly non-Caucasian. It did not take a second guess for me to realise why this august personality was sparing time for little old me. Obviously inspection.

By the time I had moved on to my post graduate studies in Manchester, I had settled down with a happy-go-lucky lot from all around the UK and Europe in a shared apartment. We were three men and four women. Having informed the moral inspector of my whereabouts, I had awaited news. He arrived at the train station in a huff, “What is this nonsense, Manchester? I have come only because of your father. I have to catch the evening train to London back.” 

We had arranged a grand reception. The formula was simple. Home away from home. Though we would have had all girls in sarees, there were no sarees available, and so, we had to make do with jasmine and incense sticks. With appropriate veena strumming in the background, men plied him with drink and women crowded round him, avidly listening to his interminable discourse on Hindu Philosophy!

The evening was a great success. Men were drunk and the women were drunk on Hinduism!

And, pronto, I got a great letter from father, full of admiration for the ‘enlightened’ life I was leading in a faraway land. Thank heavens for glad-eyed ‘morals’ inspectors!

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