XIX. THE CANKER OF
There were comparatively few Indian students in
England forty years ago. It was a practice with them to
affect the bachelor even though they might be married.
School or college students in England are all bachelors,
studies being regarded as incompatible with married life.
We had that tradition in the good old days, a student
then being invariably known as a brahmachari.
But in these days we have child- marriages, a thing
practically unknown in England. Indian youths in England,
therefore, felt ashamed to confess that they were
married. There was also another reason for dissembling,
namely that in the event of the fact being known it would
be impossible for the young men to go about or flirt with
the young girls of the family in which they lived. The
flirting was more or less innocent. Parents even
encouraged it; and that sort of association between young
men and young women may even be a necessity there, in
view of the fact that every young man has to choose his
mate. If, however, Indian youths on arrival in England
indulge in these relations, quite natural to English
youths, the result is likely to be disastrous, as has
often been found. I saw that our youths had succumbed to
the temptation and chosen a life of untruth for the sake
of companionships which, however innocent in the case of
English youths, were for them undesirable. I too caught
the contagion. I did not hesitate to pass myself off as a
bachelor though I was married and the father of a son.
But I was none the happier for being a dissembler. Only
my reserve and my reticence saved me from going into
deeper waters. If I did not talk, no girl would think it
worth her while to enter into conversation with me or to
go out with me.
My cowardice was on a par with my reserve. It was
customary in families like the one in which I was staying
at Ventnor for the daughter of the landlady to take out
guests for a walk. My landlady's daughter took me one day
to the lovely hills round Ventnor. I was no slow walker,
but my companion walked even faster, dragging me after
her and chattering away all the while. I responded to her
chatter sometimes with a whispered 'yes' or 'no', or at
the most 'yes, how beautiful!' She was flying like a bird
whilst I was wondering when I should get back home. We
thus reached the top of a hill. How to get down again was
the question. In spite of her high-heeled boots this
sprightly young lady of twenty-five darted down the hill
like an arrow. I was shamefacedly struggling to get down.
She stood at the foot smiling and cheering me and
offering to come and drag me. How could I be so chicken
hearted? With the greatest difficulty, and crawling at
intervals, I somehow managed to scramble to the bottom.
She loudly laughed 'bravo' and shamed me all the more, as
well she might.
But I could not escape scatheless everywhere. For God
wanted to rid me of the canker of untruth. I once went to
Brighton, another watering- place like Ventnor. This was
before the ventnor visit. I met there at a hotel an old
widow of moderate means. This was my first year in
England. The courses on the menu were all
described in French, which I did not understand. I sat at
the same table as the old lady. She saw that I was a
stranger and puzzled, and immediately came to my aid.
'You seem to be a stranger,' she said, 'and look
perplexed. Why have you not ordered anything?' I was
spelling through the menu and preparing to
ascertain the ingredients of the courses from the waiter,
when the good lady thus intervened. I thanked her, and
explaining my difficulty told her that I was at a loss to
know which of the courses were vegetarian as I did not
'Let me help you,' she said. 'I shall explain the card
to you and show you what you may eat.' I gratefully
availed myself of her help. This was the beginning of an
acquaintance that ripened into friendship and was kept up
all through my stay in England and long after. She gave
me her London address and invited me to dine at her house
every Sunday. On special occasions also she would invite
me, help me to conquer my bashfulness and introduce me to
young ladies and draw me into conversation with them.
Particularly marked out for these conversations was a
young lady who stayed with her, and often we would be
left entirely alone together.
I found all this very trying at first. I could not
start a conversation nor could I indulge in any jokes.
But she put me in the way. I began to learn; and in
course of time looked forward to every Sunday and came to
like the conversations with the young friend.
The old lady went on spreading her net wider every
day. She felt interested in our meetings. Possibly she
had her own plans about us.
I was in a quandary. 'How I wished I had told the good
lady that I was married!' I said to myself. 'She would
then have not thought of an engagement between us. It is,
however, never too late to mend. If I declare the truth,
I might yet be saved more misery.' With these thoughts in
my mind, I wrote a letter to her somewhat to this effect:
'Ever since we met at Brighton you have been kind to
me. You have taken care of me even as a mother of her
son. You also think that I should get married and with
that view you have been introducing me to young ladies.
Rather than allow matters to go further, I must confess
to you that I have been unworthy of your affection. I
should have told you when I began my visits to you that I
was married. I knew that Indian students in England
dissembled the fact of their marriage and I followed
suit. I now see that I should not have done so. I must
also add that I was married while yet a boy, and am the
father of a son. I am pained that I should have kept this
knowledge from you so long. But I am glad God has now
given me the courage to speak out the truth. Will you
forgive me? I assure you I have taken no improper
liberties with the young lady you were good enough to
introduce to me. I knew my limits. You, not knowing that
I was married, naturally desired that we should be
engaged. In order that things should not go beyond the
present stage, I must tell you the truth.
'If on receipt of this, you feel that I have been
unworthy of your hospitality, I assure you I shall not
take it amiss. You have laid me under an everlasting debt
of gratitude by your kindness and solicitude. If, after
this, you do not reject me but continue to regard me as
worthy of your hospitality , which I will spare no pains
to deserve, I shall naturally be happy and count it a
further token of your kindness.'
Let the reader know that I could not have written such
a letter in a moment. I must have drafted and redrafted
it many times over. But it lifted a burden that was
weighing me down. Almost by return post came her reply
somewhat as follows:
'I have your frank letter. We were both very glad and
had a hearty laugh over it. The untruth you say you have
been guilty of is pardonable. But it is well that you
have acquainted us with the real state of things. My
invitation still stands and we shall certainly expect you
next Sunday and look forward to hearing all about your
child-marriage and to the pleasure of laughing at your
expense. Need I assure you that our friendship is not in
the least affected by this incident?'
I thus purged myself of the canker of untruth, and I
never thenceforward hesitated to talk of my married state