The Third and Final Continent
I left India in 1964 with a certificate in commerce and the equivalent, in those days, of ten dollars to my name. Forthree weeks I sailed on the SS Roma, an Italian cargo vessel, in a third-class cabin next to the ship’s engine, across the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean and, finally, to England. I lived in north London, in Finsbury Park, in a house occupied entirely by penniless Bengali bachelors like myself, at least a dozen and sometimes more, all struggling to educate and establish ourselves abroad.
I attended lectures at the LSE and worked at the university library to get by. We lived three or four to a room, shared a single, icy toilet, and took turns cooking pots of egg curry, which we ate with our hands on a table covered with newspapers. Apart from our jobs we had few responsibilities. On weekends we lounged barefoot in drawstring pyjamas, drinking tea and smoking Rothmans, or set out to watch cricket at Lord’s. Some weekends the house was crammed with still more Bengalis to whom we had introduced ourselves at the greengrocer or on the Tube, and we made yet more egg curry, and played Mukesh on a Grundig reel-to-reel, and soaked our dirty dishes in the bathtub. Every now and then someone in the house moved out to live with a woman whom his family back in Calcutta had determined he was to wed. In 1969, when I was thirty- six years old, my own marriage was arranged. Around the same time, I was offered a full-time job in America, in the processing department of a library at MIT. The salary was generous enough to support a wife, and I was honoured to be hired by a world-famous university, and so I obtained a sixth-preference green card and prepared to travel farther still.
By now I had enough money to go by plane. I flew first to Calcutta, to attend my wedding, and a week later I flew first to Boston, to begin my new job. During the flight I read The Student Guide to North America, a paperback volume that I’d bought before leaving London, for seven shillings six pence on Tottenham Court Road for, although I was no longer a student, I was on a budget all the same. I learned that Americans drove on the right side of the road, not the left, and that they called a lift an elevator and an engaged phone busy. ‘The pace of life in North America is different from Britain as you will soon discover,’ the guidebook
informed me. ‘Everybody feels he must get to the top. Don’t expect an English cup of tea.’ As the plane began its descent over Boston Harbour, the pilot announced the weather and time, and that President Nixon had declared a national holiday: two American men had landed on the moon. Several passengers cheered. ‘God bless America!’ one of them hollered. Across the aisle, I saw a woman praying. I spent my first night at the YMCA in Central Square,
Cambridge, an inexpensive accommodation recommended by my guidebook. It was walking distance from MIT, and steps away from the post office and a supermarket called Purity Supreme. The room contained a cot, a desk and a small wooden cross on one wall. A sign on the door said cooking was strictly forbidden. A bare window overlooked Massachusetts Avenue, a major thoroughfare with traffic in both directions. Car horns, shrill and prolonged, blared one after another. Flashing sirens heralded endless emergencies and a fleet of buses rumbled past, their doors opening and closing with a powerful hiss, throughout the night. The noise was constantly distracting, at times suffocating. I felt it deep in my ribs, just as I had felt the furious drone of the engine on the SS Roma. But there was no ship’s deck to escape to, no glittering ocean to thrill my soul, no breeze to cool my face, no one to talk to. I was too tired to pace the gloomy corridors of the YMCA in my drawstring pyjamas. Instead I sat at the desk and stared out the window, at the city hall of Cambridge and a row of small shops. In the morning I reported to my job at the Dewey Library,
UNDERSTANDING THE TEXT
1. Indicate the details that tell us that the narrator was not very financially comfortable during his stay in London.
2. How did the narrator adjust to the ways of life first in London and then in Cambridge, U.S.A.?
3. What do you understand of the character of Mrs Croft from the story?
4. What kind of a relationship did Mrs Croft share with her daughter Helen?
5. How does the narrator bring out the contrast between the Indian way of life and American society? Do you think his wife Mala adjusted comfortably to the new way of life?
6. How does the bond of affection between Mrs Croft and the narrator evolve?
TALKING ABOUT THE TEXT
Discuss in pairs or in small groups
1. Living abroad is challenging in many ways.
2. The Indian family system offers more security to the aged than what is found in the West.
3. The eccentricities of the old are often endearing.
Please refer to attached file for NCERT Class 11 English Elective The Third and Final Continent