I'll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove;
And on the proof, there is no more but this,—
Away at once with love or jealousy!
William Shakespeare, Othello, Act III Scene 3
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
The Gospel According to St John, Chapter 20 Verses 24-28
Dorothea craned her neck to see what the sailor was pointing to. "Just there," he said. "There on the horizon - see?"
And there it was: a dark, green-grey strip dividing the sky from the sea, something she'd begged for before every birthday and Christmas since she was five, her first glimpse of India.
"Thank you!" she said. She hardly knew whether she was speaking to the sailor, to her father (who was somewhere within what she could now make out to be the walls of Fort St George), or to the subcontinent itself.
She had thought she was prepared for the anarchy that awaited her as she stepped off the boat into Madras Docks: her father's eagerly awaited letters had described it vividly enough, but the assault on her senses was utterly overwhelming. Coolies with cloth rings on their heads jostled for her luggage; skinny children plucked at her clothing and gestured to their mouths; an old lady with no legs, no teeth and cloudy white eyes held out her hands in supplication.
Then a very loud, very English voice cut through the chaos. "Make way, make way," it said. "Leave the Memsahib alone." A tall white man wearing a luxuriant moustache and extravagant dress uniform was using some kind of truncheon to part the crowd. When he arrived at Dorothea he pushed the children away and bowed. "Very sorry about this, Mademoiselle," he said. "You have to be firm with them. They don't understand anything else. You'll soon adjust."
"Oh no," said Dorothea. "It's quite all right. I'm fine, really I am." Looking over his shoulder she saw that one of the smaller children had hit his head and was crying, comforted by an older girl. "Oh dear," she said, moving towards them. "I'm sorry. Sorry? Um... Mannikkanum?"
She wished there had been more time to learn Tamil, but after finals there had only been a couple of months to tie up all her loose ends in England: to let the house, arrange for her goods to be shipped or put into storage, and travel round saying goodbye to her relations and college friends. The children didn't respond to her efforts to speak what she hoped was their language: if anything they looked even more frightened.
"Don't worry about it," said the white man. "They're just faking. Cut their own hands off, some of them, to get money out of us. Oh, but excuse me, I haven't introduced myself. I am Sir Roderick Davenport." He bowed again, and held out his hand.
"Dorothea Brabant," said Dorothea, shaking it.
"Aha!" shouted Sir Roderick over the din. "The Bishop Sahib's daughter. That's what the natives call your father. Sahib means 'owner' or something like that. You'll soon pick up the lingo, it's all jolly good fun."
"My father said that one of the officials was going to be so kind as to meet me," said Dorothea. "A Mr Casper?"
"Michael!" said Sir Roderick. "Yes, yes, a fine fellow, if a little..." he trailed off.
"A little what?" asked Dorothea.
"Well," said Sir Roderick. "I don't like to gossip–"
"Nor do I," said Dorothea. "So perhaps you could just tell me whether he's any of these young men over here."
The journey back to the Bishop's residence – Dorothea's new home – was by palanquin, a sort of covered sedan chair carried by four bearers. Mr Casper helped her in.
"Oh dear," she said, feeling very self-conscious. "Is it really such a long way? It doesn't seem fair to make them carry me."
"You'll be fine," grinned Mr Casper. "We'll give them a generous tip." Then he spoke to the four in Tamil.
"I don't have any Indian money yet," said Dorothea.
"Don't worry," repeated Mr Casper. "Ready?"
Then she felt herself being lifted up into the air, and they set off, Mr Casper striding along beside.
"Was it a good voyage?" Mr Casper asked.
Dorothea hesitated. She didn't really have much to compare it to. She'd never even been across to France or Ireland; the furthest she'd gone by water was a boating lake when she was very little, back when her father lived in England, and her mother was still alive. "Not too bad," she said. "I was a little queasy at first, but I got used to it."
"That's the ticket," said Mr Casper. "I find plenty of rum always helps. Now, do you want me to start pointing out all the sights now, or would that better wait until tomorrow?"
"Whichever you prefer," said Dorothea, looking out. Everything was so different: the trees and plants, the clothes – more revealing than Dorothea's underwear in many cases, but bright and vibrant in the hot midday sun. And the smell of the humid air: heavy, foetid and spicy.
"Right-o," said Mr Casper. "On your right you can see Fort St George. That's where most of the English people live and work, including me. I'm not sure if your father had a chance to mention it to you, but there's going to be a bit of a dance there tomorrow night. I do hope you'll both be able to make it."
"I'll see how I feel," said Dorothea. "I may still be tired from the journey."
"Of course," said Mr Casper. "Sorry. Well, it would be lovely to see you but there will be plenty of other dances if not!"
Once they were past the walls of the fort, Mr Casper pointed to an area full of little wooden houses, barely more than shacks. A naked child was washing under a pump, and some laundry was hung up between walls. "That's where most of the Eurasians live," he said. "The poorer ones, at least."
"Eurasians?" said Dorothea.
"People of mixed descent, European and Indian. Very useful folks to know. Most of our police are Eurasian. And messengers and so on. Foot in both communities, you see."
"Oh!" said Dorothea, pointing to one of the strangest things she'd ever seen. "What's that?" It was like a whole thicket of young trees had huddled together.
"It's a banyan tree!" said Mr Casper. "Aren't they amazing? And they're even better up close."
Slowly, the more intriguing smells in the air were overpowered by the unpleasant ones. Dorothea found that she had to hold her handkerchief to her nose to prevent herself from retching.
"Sorry," said Mr Casper. "We're getting near the water."
"Is it always like this?" asked Dorothea.
"Pretty much," said Mr Casper. "You get used to it... Sort of." He himself retched. Then he smiled ruefully at her. "What are you looking at? I didn't say I had got used to it. I'm a relative newcomer myself, you know."
"What do you do?" coughed Dorothea.
"Assistant Collector," said Mr Casper proudly.
"Really?" said Dorothea. "What do you collect?"
"Taxes," said Mr Casper. "Or at least, that's where the title comes from. I'm a civil servant, basically."
Dorothea tried to ignore a little stab of envy. The brother of one of her college friends had done the exam for the Indian Civil Service. She'd had a look at one of the papers, and could answer most of the questions quite easily. She envied the young men who came out to India to do something rather than sit around in palanquins and look decorative. Now she'd persuaded her father to let her come out here, she'd have to start working on him about being a nurse again, or else see whether she couldn't find some kind of secretarial position.
"Nearly there," said Mr Casper. "You can see the cathedral through those houses: the white building with pillars."
For some reason she'd been expecting it to look like an English Cathedral, though now she came to think of it, of course it would be different, being built in a different era, with different materials. It was beautiful, but as she was being lowered to the ground, and Mr Casper was paying the bearers, she saw something far more exciting.
"Daddy!" she said, running to greet her father. He gave her a big bear hug.
"My little Dot!" he said. "Let me have a look at you... You've grown!"
"Not since I last saw you," she said. "I am twenty-two, you know."
"And a graduate!" said her father. "Am I going to have to call you Little Dot BA Hons Cantab from now on?"
"Not a graduate," said Dorothea. "Women don't get degrees, remember?"
The Bishop grunted. "You sat the exams, you passed the exams, your results were posted along with everyone else's. As far as I'm concerned, you're a graduate. Now come on in and have a cup of tea. You must be exhausted."