by Shyam Selvadurai

The Van Der Hoot School for Ladies that Kumudini attended was run by Mrs Van Der Hoot, a Dutch Burgher lady. The school opened out of her home. Mrs. Van Der Hoot had a daughter Sylvia and a son Dicky. Dicky was a house officer at the General Hospital and his fellow house officers often visited while the School for Ladies was in progress. It was a situation that Mrs Van Der Hoot did not discourage because she knew that the popularity of her school had something to do with the presence of these highly eligible bachelors. She would often engineer her ballroom class to coincide with their arrival. Then the bachelors would be persuaded to accompany the young ladies.

Mrs Van Der Hoot, well tuned to the racial and caste sensitivities of Ceylon, was very careful to pair off like with like. Katava Sinhalese with Katava Sinhalese, Goyigamas with Goyigamas, Burghers with Burghers, Tamils with Tamils and so on. Since Kumudini was the only Tamil at the school, she invariably found herself partnered by a young Tamil doctor named Ronald Nesiah. Through Sylvia, Kumudini heard of Ronald’s interest in her (conveyed through Dicky). He had of course, not dared to speak to her about it. She would never have forgiven him that impropriety. When they danced together, they maintained the strictest formalities, always addressing each other as Dr. Nesiah and Miss Kumudini. Yet it was delicious knowing all the while that he liked her. As they danced, she was very conscious of the warmth of his hand against her back. The feel of his palm in hers. Occasionally, she would steal a look at him and what she saw did not displease her. He had a nice moustache, which was fashionably curved at both ends. He had a rather big nose and too-prominent forehead, but these were not serious deterrents. His slow, measured way of speaking suggested a man who was calm and thought carefully before he acted. A man who would make a patient and caring husband....

... A few days later, Louisa was in the garden supervising Ramu as he trimmed the roses when she heard a shrill “cousin!” She turned to see Philomena Barnet making her way up the front path, waving her hand excitedly.... As she stepped up onto the veranda, cousin Philomena, who had reached the veranda by now, cried out, “such good news cousin, such good news”. ... “Another enquiry has arrived. ... For Kumudini.”

Louisa sat down in a chair, astounded “but ... who is it?”

“Ronald Nesiah, son of D N Nesiah” Philomena said triumphantly. “Doctor Ronald Nesiah”.

 Louisa breathed out. The son of D S Nesiah the man people said would be the first chief justice, if the position were ever opened up to a Ceylonese. “How... Where did he see Kumudini?”

... The moment Louisa had shut the door behind her, she turned to Kumudini. “I have some news. Another proposal has come”.

“How wonderful Amma,” Kumudini said , relieved that her mother’s seriousness was not due to some misdemeanour of hers.

 “I suppose I don’t have to tell you who it is”. ... She proceeded to tell Kumudini everything that Philomena had told her. When she was done, she said to Kumudini, “What do you think of the young man? Are you interested?”

Kumudini looked away from her, but Louisa saw the brightness in her eyes.

 “Well we shall see what happens with Mrs Nesiah” Louisa said. ....

 .... That afternoon, Mrs Van Der Hoot showed them how to cut sari blouses. As Kumudini stood around with the other girls, following what was being done she thought of all she had learnt at the School for Ladies and how it might now have a practical use. As she looked at the blouse pattern she imagined her own wedding, the sari she would pick for herself, the bridesmaids, the flower arrangements... Ronald Nesiah did not come by that afternoon with the other house officers, and Kumudini, though disappointed, admired him for his discretion.