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 upon him.
I believed, at the time of which I am writing, that 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 them to return to the original model.
But I can see today that we feel all the freer and lighter for having cast off the tinsel of ‘civilization.
‘ Onboard, 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 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 the 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 was 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 his 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. There were of course the usual namaz and he 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 the experience of similar ones. I am a good sailor and do not get seasick.
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 to come. ~ RUMBLINGS OF THE STORM –
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