Not now, but some day
(( Bombay , India , ca. 1871))
Jack de Montfort and his family, on leave in Bombay , had become the houseguests of General John Cotswold and his wife, Helen. On their first evening, they were taking an evening stroll in a public park frequented by British and Europeans. Lhasa , of course, was along as a ayah. Jack's two daughters, Miriam and Saya, were dressed in cute little outfits of English style, which they didn't like. Of course, they got a lot of looks, since Miriam was Anglo-Indian and Saya was of Dravidian descent. The two girls were walking but still wheeled about in strollers. They were too young to know anything about racism but they were not too young to know what frowns, from other people, meant.
Jack, Lhasa and the Cotswolds let the girls walk on their own, some, and followed their pace. Often, the girls stopped to investigate some interesting bush or plant, and at length, they sat on a public bench and treated the girls to some ice treats sold by an Indian vendor who looked at the family with as much puzzlement as the English, for Dravidian descendants- Untouchables- were the lowest of the low, even for Indians.
Presently, the girls were doing one of their favorite things- sitting on Jack's lap and picking at his pockets. He usually had something in a pocket for each one. This time, he'd arranged to have a miniature doll for each. Jack already knew that if he had a gift for one, he must have a gift for the other. And, the gifts must be equal. Usually, it was two of the same item. This time, it was two miniature dolls of Queen Victoria . When they looked at the dolls, both girls exclaimed, at the same time, "Ranee Veekootoreeyah!" This was the cause of Jack's first real laugh since he got the news of Lottie's death. "Yes, my little ones, my precious ones, Ranee Victoria!" He laughed aloud and Lhasa smiled- she rarely exhibited emotions- and the girls laughed with him. The Cotswolds chuckled, as well. Helen Cotswold sort of missed her own children, who were grown and gone out on their own.
"May I hold one of the little angels?" She opened her arms and looked at them, saying "Would one of you little angels like to come to granny Helen?" She looked forward to being a grandmother.
Saya extended her arms to Mrs. Cotswold, and Jack handed her over. She gave Helen a solemn look, held up the doll and said, "Ranee Veekootoreeyah!" Mrs. Cotswold laughed and patted her, touching her on the nose, which made Saya trill with laughter. There seemed to be an immediate bond between the two. "Oh, that she were my granddaughter!"
"Well, ma'am," commented Jack, "I see no reason why you can't be at least an honorary grandmother."
"And myself an honorary grandfather?" commented John Cotswold.
"Yes, of course." He looked at Miriam, then pointed to John. "Granddad! Miriam's granddad........"
"Grandad," repeated Miriam. She waved the doll at him. Jack gave her over to John, and she seemed quite at home in the general's lap. She started poking in his pockets. He gave her a small looking glass. "Grandad!" she trilled.
Jack, looking on, sighed. How like Parvati she looked, he thought; she had the same skin tone and the same large, dark eyes. It was a lot like having Parvati looking at him through those eyes. He had largely, he admitted to himself, forgotten about Parvati when Lottie had been in his life, but now, with Lottie gone, he saw Parvati more and more in some things that Miriam did.
He glanced at Saya, who apparently had begun looking for pockets on Helen's outfit and was puzzled that she couldn't find any. Helen picked up her purse. "Purse," she said. She held it up and repeated it: "Purse."
"Purse," repeated Saya.
Helen opened it and drew out a similar small looking glass, which Saya trilled to get her hands on. She was a smart girl, though. She held the doll with one hand and held out the other to receive the tribute. Thus, the Cotswolds started a relationship with the girls. They, eventually, called John "Grandad," and they called Helen "Granny."
They got up to walk some more, and after a few minutes, the girls, who were walking, saw some other girls- some English girls their age, and walked over to them. The communication between Miriam, Saya and the other girls seemed friendly but Jack, to his amusement, could see that the other girls' parents were looking alarmed to see their own children playing publicly with "natives," especially an Untouchable. Playing with the servants' children in the privacy of home was one thing, but playing with "native" children, dressed as English girls, in public, as if they were equal to English children, was another thing.
There was some conversation between the mother and father of the English girls. The mother was gesturing to their own girls and their own girls' new playmates. She looked alarmed. The father seemed loathe to do anything but finally she persuaded him, it seemed to get up and walk up to Jack.
"Good evening, sir. Are those your ayah's children?" He gestured to Miriam and Saya.
"Good evening, sir. Jack de Montfort." Jack held out a hand. The other man, looking kind of embarrassed, took the proffered hand and replied, "James de Wit."
"Those girls are my daughters. That's Miriam, and that's Sayankala, or, as we call her, Saya."
"Are you............ married to.............?" He gestured to Lhasa , who was calmly keeping an eye on the girls. The Cotswolds were watching the conversation with some amusement.
"No, sir. She's their ayah."
"I see. Is your wife a............contract wife?"
"Miriam's mother was a native wife, but she died of blood poisoning. I have been, since then, married to an Englishwoman and been made, again, a widower. My wife was coming back from England and her ship wrecked in a storm. All aboard were lost. Sayankala we adopted when we found her on our doorstep. My late English wife, Lottie Hawthorne, loved the two children as her own."
"Hmmm.............. Are you, sir, in the military or the civil?"
"I am a Captain in the First Battalion of the Fifth Khyber Rifles, stationed in Ali Masjed, right outside the Pass."
"Oh, well, it must be quite an experience."
"It is interesting. And yourself?"
"I'm with India Survey."
"I see. You know Lieutenant Colonel Diggins?"
"Yes, I do; you do?"
"Yes, I've met him."
"Ah, look, Captain, my wife there is uncomfortable with your, ah, girls playing with our girls. Ah, skin color, and all that bother."
"Yes, I understand. What do you think?"
"Children are children. I'm sure there's nothing wrong with your children." He looked around. "I'm probably expressing what's on the mind of everyone here, that is, how are native children in this park, playing with English children?"
Jack looked around. Indeed, a lot of people were staring at them. He sighed. "Very well, but someday the people whom we call natives will not suffer to be treated this way. Oh, and those are my daughters in every way. Their last name is mine; they are legally adopted. They are English citizens."
"I'm sure you are right, but I think it best you not press it just now."
Jack nodded. Not now, he thought but some day. He, himself, walked over to the girls, who were trilling to the other girls, the other girls returning the same as they showed each other their toys. He gave Mrs. de Wit a look then knelt down and called the girls.
"Come, my angels. Supper time."
They paused and looked at him. Lhasa came up and said something in Tibetan. They looked at their new friends, trilled something, then walked to Lhasa and Jack.
Jack smiled and thought he should learn Tibetan. He picked up both his daughters and showed his affection for them as he walked away. The whole park, it seemed relaxed. Mrs. de Wit was speaking to her girls and Mr. de Wit was standing and looking thoughtful.
The Cotswolds had, of course, seen it all. They knew the conventions but were sympathetic to Jack. Children were children, and his had got into their hearts.
As they walked back out of the park, John Cotswold said, "You did the right thing, Jack. We sympathize with you and the girls and Lhasa but conventions of behaviour are among the most solidly entrenched."
"Yes, sir, for now, but some day, things will change."
They paused at the gate to the park, and Jack noticed that Lhasa , the always dignified, imperturbable Tibetan of noble family, was intensely staring back into the park and muttering something. "What is it, Lhasa ?"
"Sir, I prayed that the Buddha may reward them as they deserve."
Jack shuddered. He had the uncomfortable feeling that the people in the part, or, at least Mrs. de Wit, had been cursed.
Jack de Montfort and family, on leave