Arrival in India
A crowd of mostly foreign travellers was milling about the lobby of the Ashoka Hotel in Delhi. The evening meal had finished. George Kirrin and her cousins were standing near some open windows, breathing in the pleasant fragrances and smells of the night.
“What a lovely holiday this is!” exclaimed George excitedly. “Who would have thought we’d travel so far this spring?”
Her three cousins agreed.
“It’s all thanks to Uncle Quentin,” said Anne.
“What luck for us that his scientific conference lasts for two whole weeks and that the organisers managed to get us great fares as well!” said Dick.
“Uncle Quentin could quite easily have come to India without us,” pointed out Julian.
“Yes,” agreed George. “Father has been jolly decent. He even let me bring Timmy!”
The slim dark-haired girl with rather boyish looks affectionately embraced the furry head of her dog Timothy, a lovable mongrel with intelligent eyes and unwavering loyalty.
Quentin and Fanny Kirrin approached the children.
“Time for bed!” said George’s mother. “We’re all quite tired after our journey and quick tour of Delhi. Don’t forget we’re flying to Jaipur first thing tomorrow.”
“Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan, isn’t it, Aunt Fanny?” queried Dick.
“That’s quite right,” his aunt replied. “It’s the state of the rajahs.”
“The rajahs and the maharajahs,” added Uncle Quentin. “Up to 1947, these rajahs and maharajahs were legendary and extremely wealthy princes who controlled the power of life and death in their States. They no longer have such tremendous power nowadays, nor do they have such huge fortunes any more. Most of them now have to earn a living just like anyone else.”
“Is it true that many of these maharajahs have transformed their palaces into luxury hotels?” asked Julian in turn.
“Oh, indeed! In Jaipur, we ourselves would have stayed in the Rambagh Palace, a former maharajah’s residence, if my friend Mr Singh hadn’t insisted on putting us up at his place.”
As they talked, George, her parents and cousins wandered along echoing marble corridors that led to their rooms. They disappeared inside them in a jiffy. Before going to sleep, Anne, who was sharing a room with George, asked her cousin:
“Who exactly is this Mr Singh, George?”
“An archaeologist and one of Father’s friends. He seems to be very rich and lives in a huge house where he gets lots of visitors. He speaks ever so many languages, has a wife, two daughters, a son, thirty-two teeth, two eyes, and a mouth.” Anne started laughing. “As for me, I just can’t keep my eyes open a moment longer,” George went on. “So good night, Anne old thing, and good night Timothy!”
George fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow. Anne soon drifted off as well. In the next room, the boys were already asleep. Everyone slept soundly until morning.
The next day’s flight from Delhi to Jaipur was uneventful, although George, separated from Timmy throughout the trip, wondered whether he was as comfortable in the cargo hold of this plane as he would have been in a large aircraft. Fortunately the journey was a short one!
At Jaipur Airport, the English travellers saw a slim boy coming to meet them. He was about eighteen years old, with very gentle dark eyes. A smile lit up his tanned face.
“The Kirrin family, I presume?” he inquired, sounding almost more English than his guests. “I’m Shiv Singh. My father has asked me to meet you and drive you to our house.”
“That’s very kind of both of you,” said Uncle Quentin, shaking Shiv by the hand. “This is my wife, my daughter and my nephews and niece.”
George winked at her cousins. All four of them then called out in unison:
“Namaste! Namaste, Shiv!”
The boy looked delighted and started to laugh.
“Namaste! Hi!” he replied. “I see you already know how to say hallo in Hindi. Hallo George, Julian, Dick and Anne!”
“Woof!” said Timmy, feeling left out.
Shiv understood the rebuke and shook Timmy’s extended paw. Then everyone climbed happily into Mr Singh’s big car.
“My parents are waiting for you,” Shiv told his guests. “So I’m going to drive you straight to the house. But I’ll take you on a tour of the city later, if you like.”
“What luck for the children that you’re here!” smiled Aunt Fanny. “But be careful …”
“Yes, careful!” repeated her husband. “I’m afraid they’ll stick to you like leeches. Beware!”
“Father!” protested George. “Leeches? Us?
“I love leeches”, asserted Shiv heartily. “Around here, we consider all animals to be sacred!”
He burst out laughing. Julian and Dick winked at each other. They liked the young Indian. They certainly wouldn’t get bored with him around! The holidays were off to a good start.
To avoid traffic jams, Shiv skirted round the city.
“You’ll get a better look at Jaipur later,” he told the disappointed children. “But right now, you need to get settled in.”
The Singh family lavished their visitors with a hearty welcome. Mr Singh was tall and dressed in traditional Indian clothing. His wife wore a sari with gold embroidery. Their two little girls, barely more than babies, were sweet and timid. Durga, the family’s head servant, proved to have a knack for anticipating the guests’ needs. He offered them cool drinks, scalding tea and perfumed cigarettes. The turbaned giant moved about the house as silently as a cat.
The Singhs and their domestic help went to such lengths to make their English visitors comfortable that before the day was through, George, her cousins and Timmy felt just as much at home with the Singhs as they did back in Kirrin!
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