Ravinder continues to work longer and harder in the field than he used to, because though he longs for home, he feels a desire to escape as well, to recreate the life he had led as a bachelor. Later he will talk little about the years at field after he got married, it is as though they were private in a way he could not, perhaps, even have articulated to himself
Those years are talked of by Jenny: the two postings within the Central Circle, the whole area had always been full of dacoits, and it hadn’t changed that much since when? Certainly the eighteen hundreds, she said airily, you had to be constantly vigilant, and the nights were hot and tense, though the neighbours marvellous, so helpful, that sweet Bengali lady who made fish; but the fear, the worry, the snake discovered, somnolent, in the bathroom, it could have killed them all, the house was known to attract snakes, that’s what Mrs Ghosh said later, and remember, she said, the thugs near the cinema hall, the rickshaw ride there with the baby, only one then.
Jenny has her silences, too, though, which are mainly about the little boy who lived ten days and she crosses herself [having discovered the uses of religion] each time she thinks of him, his tiny body, his unseeing eyes, the grave, the diminutive coffin. Ravinder conceals his own grief from her; perhaps it is not so keen, he sometimes thinks. He had not wanted to be a father to a son, it would have seemed an impossible task.
Of his own father only bits of news, relayed through brothers and cousins; he is in London with Rano. Amrik had come to visit in time for Anushka’s first birthday. They had an enormous party: seventy people came to bless and admire the child, there was a tent and a halwai and she was gifted with silver and with clothes, with rattles and with toys. Amrik brought her sailor suits, a rubber dinghy and dungarees; he had come back for the first time from the great wheat belt of America. Amrik and Jenny liked each other, though they were shy, but Jenny softened towards him when he told her how wonderful her food was; she plied him with pancakes, with jam and with home-made marmalade. Amrik loved the baby. He had not married yet, though he was furiously courting the daughter of a rich family from the valley whom he had known for years. And the baby gurgled and played and was plump and sometimes wilful, but delightfully so, and her hair a light bright brown and her cheeks ruddy with health; when Jenny took her out in her little pram strangers stopped her and exclaimed, they gawked and murmured and stopped in their tracks as if they had been blessed; beauty extracting this homage; akin to grace. Jenny herself felt uncomfortable in the presence of this worship, but she was equally awed at producing such a beautiful child, certainly neither she nor Ravinder looked equal to the task.
And they are happy: a happy family with the baby in the pram and the two of them, and evenings they light lamps and the night air is warm and between Ravinder and Jenny there flows and ebbs a feeling of contentment, certainly the greatest happiness there is, vastly superior to passion, while she stitches and feeds the baby and he smokes his cigarettes and listens to his growing record collection, to Pat Boone, to Nat King Cole, to Bing Crosby and Dean Martin. At night, though, alone, he listens to Mukesh and Noor Jehan, heartbreaking, private music.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Ravinder joins the Survey of India, about to devote his life to mapmaking, traversing unchartered territories, braving the elements. Alone in his tent he devours books by the light of a lamp. He militates against a tyrannical father and a faith he cannot be true to. In 1958 he falls in love with Jennifer, the Anglo-Indian daughter of Grace Robbins – a woman who will never accept this marriage. But marry they do. They have two daughters, Anushka and Natasha.
Natasha is the chronicler of this family of outsiders, peering from the wings as her older sister takes centre stage. Hers is a journey from the small town to the city. Natasha’s father passes on to her his fierce love of the written word and a curiosity about cartography. She traces, as he did, the histories of those relatively unknown surveyors who mapped the country, putting their lives at risk. She also, in the process, traces his life. The Surveyor, wistful and elegiac, spans several decades and is about the search for identity; about solitude, longing and the price we pay for freedom.