Lady Anne Ridley was getting strange thoughts about India and her prospective Indian daughter-in-law as she sat in a British Airways plane at Heathrow. A number of Indians, mostly newly rich Punjabis, had boarded the aircraft. Would Harmeet Ahuja also be like one of these women, who spoke loud enough to create a commotion and peered into each other’s bags? Why couldn’t Henry choose an English bride? Or if he had to be so unconventional, surely he could have found a French or an American girl. What would the Richardsons say when Harmeet stepped into their Addington Park mansion? Or worse still, Lady Crowfoot’s scornful looks would be so difficult to avoid. Anne wondered if she hadn’t clung to her family’s nobility for too long. She could, perhaps, claim to be more progressive than her neighbors. Why must we English hanker after every tradition without any regard for the moss that has grown round it? How was she to meet Harmeet’s parents? Would she be able to convince them that she was actually happy with the forthcoming alliance? Surely she wasn’t making a mistake in visiting India before the marriage? Would her beloved Charles have approved of her trip, were he alive? Even if he didn’t, wasn’t it necessary to warn Harmeet of Henry’s temperamental nature? The idiot that her darling son was! Lady Ridley remained glued to these thoughts as they succeeded each other in question after question.
The flight took off even as Lady Ridley’s co-passengers gave her the creeps. It was best not to think too much about them, she decided. She had to be careful lest she displeased the Indian community even before she opened out before it. Anne had often feared, pointlessly, that she was advancing towards catatonia.
“Are you going up to Delhi?” she asked the lady who sat next to her.
“Meerut. Near Dilli.”
“How long were you in Britain?”
Before the lady could reply, her husband seized the conversation, interfering doggedly with her attempt to talk.
“One month,” he said, throwing his voice across without it being broken by the barrier of his bulky wife. “Our son works in London. He is doing very good business. When others have closed their shops every evening, his store is still open. English people like his shop very much.”