talking about the benefits of seawater, which he said, was
enriched with all kinds of minerals that could easily be soaked
up by the human body through the pores of its skin.
must be coming here every two months or so?" I asked.
"No way, yaar.
Ever since weíve come to England, it must be our second or
third time, really. Thereís hardly any time for such things.
Besides, itís also a matter of choice." Subhash had
we havenít been able to assimilate with the White people
despite living among them, in the same way we have been so near
the sea and yet so far," Bhaji said, running his eyes into
the far distance as though he was measuring the length of the
The tidal waves
were rushing in towards the shore and people sitting upon the
sand were slowly stepping back. A few White women, who were
braless, were lying face downwards. When the water came rushing
in, covering their breasts with the towels, they moved further
inland and then lay sprawling upon the sand all over again. But
it seemed as if the water was chasing them around, teasingly.
woman was bathing with her sari on. Her wet sari clung so
tightly to her body that, despite her clothes, she appeared to
have been stripped naked.
letís go in for a swim." It appeared as though a desire
for playing with the waves had surged up inside Kulbir Bhajiís
be. We havenít ever done that. Itís quite
embarrassing." Subhash had voiced his dilemma.
meanwhile, a statuesque white woman went swirling towards the
waves, breezing past us. The sunshine had given her wax-like,
oiled skin the same glow as copper.
how these women love to sculpt their bodies!" Bhaji said,
staring at her body.
doubt, she didnít have an ounce of extra flesh on her.
at our women. Their stomachs are like lumpy dough. And their
thighs, sagging." Subhash suggested, by way of comparison.
comparison, our men too figure nowhere. We are no exceptions.
Not without reason do we feel embarrassed while removing our
clothes." Bhaji stopped in the middle of a sentence and
then, looking at a Gujrati sitting upon the sand, he added.
look at that manís pitcher-shaped stomach. Itís as if heís
sitting with a huge watermelon between his thighs. Doesnít he
look somewhat like Mahatma Buddha?"
look that obnoxious! Come on, letís remove our shirts."
right. You arenít going to say it everyday!"
Both of them
jumped into the water. I was quite keen myself but as I was
wearing long knickers underneath, I became a little
self-conscious. They invited me repeatedly but, on the pretext
of feeling cold, I kept standing upon the shore.
half an hour, feeling a little cold, they too emerged out of the
it was really wonderful! We just keep feeling self-conscious
without any reason."
deep-seated inferiority complex is also bad. After all, whatís
so special about the Whites except their skin?"
It was already
four in the evening. Feeling thirsty, Subhash expressed the
desire to have some beer. But Bhaji suggested that we return
home and go to the pub in the open park, close to the house.
On our way
back, I got the impression as though Bhajiís complaint had
largely been redressed. He neither showed any signs of
loneliness nor sadness. It seemed as though he felt his
life-tree had sprung roots in this very soil now. It was as if
he had become a soul-mate to his own children.
three of us went to the pub in the park. Filling up our glasses,
we had barely settled down when a group of White mischief-makers
came and parked themselves next to us. It was apparent that they
were in a mood to create trouble.
time, one of them turned his face towards us and asked,
"Got a light?"
donít smoke." Subhash was quite laconic in his response.
do drink." And all of them burst out laughing.
meanwhile, one of them, who was wearing a red T-shirt and
appeared to be a body-builder, asked Subhash, "What is your
Subhash was as brief as possible. On hearing this, all of them
The same White
man repeated the question, a crooked smile on his lips.
go home and drink. As it is, weíre tired today." With
these words, Bhaji got up to leave and so did we.
Going past the
counter, we wound our way out. The barmaid with black-hair
smiled at us and said Ďbyeí as well. She was the same woman
whose charming smile had bowled me over on the first day. But
today, I couldnít even get myself to respond to her Ďbyeí
and her smile, too, appeared somewhat lukewarm to me. I felt as
though her smiles had no special meaning and that it was more of
a habit, really.
As soon as we
got home, Bhaji poured out large pegs of whisky for us. And then
he started narrating to Bharjai the incident at the pub.
say that you should drink at home, if you must. Whatís so
special about these pubs and clubs?" said Bharjai, on
hearing him out.
daddy, there were three of you, and fairly young, at that. Why
couldnít you give them a few slaps?" Pappu piped in.
isnít it enough that we came home on our own, And you didnít
have to carry us from there!"
thought, we have to show Kew Gardens to your chacha,
tomorrow. So we should be in one piece until tomorrow, at
least." Subhash told Pappu in half-jest.
had learnt about a good many things in England by now, there was
always something that threw up a new surprise every time. Now
what was this thing called ĎKew Gardens?í I was rather
curious to know more about it.
decided to ask Bhaji as to what these ĎKew Gardensí were.
gardens you find those species of flowers, plants and vegetation
which are not native to the English soil."
have they managed to nurture them here?" I was completely
spent a lot of money and built a huge glass-house there. The
plants get plenty of sunshine and warmth. The steam in the pipes
running through the glass-house makes it humid inside, somewhat
like the monsoon in India. In this kind of controlled climate,
they have managed to grow all kinds of crops, including sugar
cane, cotton, maize, banana and thousands of other varieties.
Efforts are made to create the climate most suited for the
plants and trees. Trees such as mango and jamun are also given
the right kind of climate to grow."
I saw that
Bhaji was now dead drunk, but emptying his glass, he started
Subhash and I. Youíll find many more like us. We are all trees
of Kew Gardens. Our roots donít run deep. We tried our best to
strike roots in this climate but in just didnít happen or
perhaps we didnít really know how to do so. In Kew Gardens,
you do find mango trees, but they donít ever flower. And thatís
what our situation is. Like the trees in Kew Gardens."
(Excerpted from the anthology From
Across the Shores: Punjabi Short Stories by Asians in Britain.
English translation and critical introduction by Rana Nayar,
Sterling Publishers (P) Ltd., New Delhi.) Pages 193 Rs 50.