I will skip the many tales of a boggle-eyed busboy grappling with London life. I will leave behind the messes I got myself in to and I will land us upon an elegant ship slowly entering Bombay’s wide harbour.
Inspiring as the city engulfing the passenger liner which had transported me from Africa might be, I looked at the land I had long dreamed of with trepidation. The reason was leaning on the stout railings beside me. ‘Sati’, as I will call her, was weeping silently, knowing she would soon be dead.
Upon leaving Durban I had noted her crying. Come Dar-es-Salaam we were bosom buddies, although I had hoped for more. As we docked in Bombay I tried to get her to stay abroad and return to Kenya with the boat (and me). Sati shook her lovely head, “The pride of a large, powerful and ancient family is at stake. Who am I against that?”
When her husband had died in Durban, his family had insisted she did the decent thing and follow tradition. Outside of India it wasn’t possible to throw herself on his funeral pyre, and she’d naturally shunned the alternatives. It wasn’t just her classical Indian looks which magnetised me, Sati was intelligent, feisty and great fun.
Ensuring her safe delivery, her husband’s bulky aunt had quickly dismissed me as the fool I looked with hair tumbling over my broad shoulders, hence Sati and I were able to spend time at sea getting to know one another. Come Bombay we had grown close. Watching the Indian passengers leave first, I couldn’t bear seeing her step on the quay and be grasped firmly by her dead husband’s elders and marched towards the flames which awaited her in some rural backwater.
Sati’s tale inspired me to create a similar character in my novel. However, ‘my’ Sati bore a less intense, but equally humiliating fate.
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