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.
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 meat, 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 was exasperated.
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
I was very uneasy even in the new rooms. I would continually think of my home and
country. My mother's love always haunted 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.