My mother had just completed 28 when she traveled from Patna to London with her three kids to be with my father. It so happened that the Boeing 747 airplane on which we were travelling had to do an emergency landing in Kuwait, as a bird had hit its engine.
The incident was very traumatic for my mother. A lady who had led a shielded life was now all alone and with the responsibility of her three small kids in an unknown land.
The passengers of the flight had to register themselves at the help desk. We were to be provided a place to stay and food. The flight was to be delayed by at least 24 hours. At the help-desk my mother was asked for all identification documents. All 4 passports were handed over. The help desk person checked the details and then asked my mother ‘How many husbands do you have?’
My mother, who was frightened as it is, was now almost in a state of shock. She braced herself and answered – ‘one!’
The help-desk person then said that the three children have different surnames, not your husband’s surname. Relieved; my mother and my brother helped explain that in India kids need not compulsorily take on father’s surname. We three kids were siblings and children of the same parents. My brother has one surname, me and my sister another & my father another. It is more like we kids having two names and no surname. We kids were not given the family surname for reasons best known to the name givers !!!
We were then taken to a waiting room where the other passengers of the same flight were also waiting. There was a group of young women, who were dressed as if they were about to attend a wedding. Glittery clothes, lots of makeup, etc. My mother asked them if they were going to London to attend a wedding. One of them replied that they were being taken to England to get married. They had no idea to whom but the grooms were definitely rich. Most of these girls said that they were from poor families.
My mother was petrified by now. She fought with the authorities and insisted that she had to talk to her husband, who was waiting for her at Heathrow Airport. She managed to talk with him. That was a big relief for us.
Thereafter we were escorted to a big black car (taxi). We were to be put up in a star hotel for the night. This Taxi was blowing cool air inside. It was what I later got to know as an Air Conditioned car. The drive to the hotel was long. There was sand on both sides of the road. Endless stretches of sand. No trees, no buildings, just sand. We arrived at the hotel. My mother had brought only one suitcase for the journey as Father had asked her to travel light. My mother took the three of us along with her suitcase to the allotted room. She ordered food. We ate and slept. I doubt that she slept. The next day we were escorted back to the Airport. Before we could leave the hotel my mother was given a bill to pay for the stay. She didn’t have that kind of money. She told them that the bill will be paid by the airline authorities, as they were the ones who had put the passengers in the hotel.
Finally after a gap of 26 hrs we were back on the repaired flight, on our way to London. My father, who had been waiting at Heathrow Airport, for what must have felt like endless hours, finally got to be with his family. We then traveled by road to Cardiff, where he worked as a doctor.
My mother was in a new land now. She had to speak in English here. A language she was familiar with but not conversant enough. For the first time in her house there was no house help. Three small kids to take care of, plus the entire house work.
My brother and I started going to school. My sister was a bit small to attend school.
My mother joined an English Learning School, quite like the one shown in the BBC serial “Mind Your Language’. This adult learning school was in the same building as our school.
She knew enough English to know what was being taught. She didn’t have to learn the basics. She only had to learn how to use it. She used to attend the class with my younger sister always with her.
Some days went by and the English Instructor, a lady, realised that my Mother didn’t need to learn the language as she already knew it. She ‘hugged’ my mother and invited her to her house. My mother was not accustomed to such displays of affection and felt uneasy. She wanted to visit the instructors house but it was not possible for her as she had two more kids, whom she had to pick up after school and then take them all home.
One day it so happened that a Japanese male student from her class came to her and asked her ‘Can be friends’?
Now how does a lady respond? She had no problems in being friends. She responded in the positive. But the question was what did this Fellow mean by ‘friend’. She got scared.
That evening she told my father about ‘the friend request’.
My father’s reaction was clear – ‘You can’t be friends! You will meet many new people, but you can’t be friends with them. You don’t know them’.
She did make friends. Her neighbors were her friends, my classmate’s mother was her friend. Just not those who asked her ‘Can Be Friends!’
A few years later when we shifted to London my mother started to work. She had enough confidence to take care of the house and work on the side. She had found time for herself.
With Change in life comes the inherent resolve to provide the best solution to many seemingly intractable problems.