An admixture of humanity

One day, we were invited to spend the day with a visiting maharajah from India. This we did. He was a charming unassuming man, with whom I talked at length, without having to utter “Your Highness” every five seconds. He was a very busy man, on his way to Sydney. A few weeks later, he flew to his country estate in England. Following that, the Singapore Indians received, entertained, and rerouted to the Maharajah an attractive lady (described as a socialite) from Sydney. Three months later, the same lady was repackaged on her way home, all with great style and décor. How the wealthy lived.

One Indian we came to know was not so nice. She told my wife, when she learned that we had been married in a civil ceremony, that we were not married in the eyes of God; and that we had to be married in a church … Now, here was something; a descendant of someone escaping the discrimination of caste by taking up Christianity was now propagating prejudice of her own. But then, we could excuse her by accepting that she had been typically brainwashed.

We were also befriended by a most attractive and charming member of a leading Arab family, partly because (he said) he and I looked somewhat alike. There the resemblance stopped – I was a poor mouse treading water and he was a wealthy dynamo. We were introduced to his family, but he also saw us alone.

One night, he took me to the flying club, and it was interesting to see how the wealthy Asians were mobbed ingratiatingly by the expatriates, all of whom seemed to be living in wealth. Yet few put their hands in their pockets in reciprocity. At two o’clock in the morning we were about to move off when our friend saw a car behind us (a fair distance from the clubhouse) with two men sitting in it. Believing it to belong to a friend, he went to investigate and out came a young Englishman and a Chinese.

The latter wore the clothes favoured by police detectives (it seems silly for detectives to be so readily identified). There were raised voices; the Englishman shouted that he was a superintendent of police. I said, “No, you are not,” and pushed him through the hedge. The Chinese pulled out a gun, my friend intervened, apologised, handed over his card, and peace returned. Both the Englishman and the policeman had obviously recognised the family name, and there was no reference to the hedge.

… … the Englishman was far too young to be other than an assistant superintendent, and a brand new one at that. An Englishman could not be lower than that rank, being recruited straight out of school at that level. I could start at no higher level than inspector, even with the same qualifications. Anyway, what was he doing at that hour of the morning in that car, with the detective? We did not follow up that question – we thought we knew.

My family and other relatives apparently knew where I was, although I had made no effort to contact them. A pariah (outcast) was a pariah and that was that. Hence, I was very surprised one afternoon when an uncle turned up at the door with my step-grandmother from Ceylon. I had seen her once when I was five. How nice for us all to meet …

… … It was at this time that I was invited to the office of a senior Ceylon Tamil diplomat. After exchanging pleasantries, we talked about my past and my present plight. I hoped he might offer me a job, perhaps his daughter’s hand in marriage. The custom in our community was for a father with a spare daughter to offer a bright young man an overseas education, in exchange for marriage. Usually, the marriage ceremony took place, the bride returned to Mama (hence no consummation or coupling), and the bridegroom was packed off to his studies.

Some years later, he would return to fulfill his obligation to his financier and to his own wife, work and save, and start on the circuit as financier or dowry-giver himself.

Well, I hoped in vain. Anyway, what would I have done with my present wife? A pragmatist crosses only one bridge at a time. My host then counseled me about familial and community standards and obligations and we parted. I did not know what it was all about. It was like advising a man about adequate house insurance, after the uninsured house was in flames. Sometime later, I learned that he was married to an Englishwoman who was now in England, and that this guru was living with an Indian lady. I guess he meant well, but on whose instigation had he put himself into such a silly situation? On the other hand, “there is no better surgeon than one with many scars,” as the Spanish saying goes.

(These extracts from my memoir ‘Destiny Will Out’ bring out aspects of some people in power and authority, and their lifestyles.)