It has long been in my mind to write a brief guide to etiquette for Oriental sojourners in London, the Capital City of the British Empire.
Perhaps, the social custom which occasions the visitor most discomfort is that whereby, at dinner, a gentleman is seated between two ladies with whom, strictly in turn, it is obligatory to converse.
Bear in mind, it is considered unseemly to turn the conversation to abstruse metaphysical or nakedly erotic themes. Nor does it do to be very pertinacious in inquiry, or overly solicitous, with reference to such matters as fall within the ken of the female mind. A happy medium is struck by asking, in a tone of well bred indifference, the question- 'tell me about your period?'- especially given that Oriental guests are invariably seated between ladies of great antiquity who may well be flattered by the suggestion that they remain subject to that form of abject uncleanness.
My illustrious student, the late Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, improved upon my suggested opening by deploying a whole repertoire of conversational gambits such as- "Cor! that must make your eyes water!", or 'Nice weather for ducks!" and of course "Shame about that hat!" which tended to keep things humming along nicely and gained him an enviable reputation as a modern Rouchefoucauld.
In less able hands, however,- here, I am regretfully obliged to speak of a scion of the cadet branch of the distinguished Bengali family which glories in the hereditary right to hold the 'Chattri' over, H.E, the Governor General at the Calcutta Durbar- even the most rigorous repetition of the question "tell me about your period?" does not always prevent the conversation from flagging and, in consequence, young Rabindranath was obliged to cover his head in ashes and consent to rustication on his family's country estates.
In my next post I will write about the disastrous impact, on the conduct of the second Round Table Conference, of Barrister Mohandas's (not, it must be said, unprecedented) gaffe in addressing the question 'tell me about your period?' to, not the Dowager Queen Alexandra, as he supposed, but His Serene Highness, the Aga Khan.