31. I Need A Ship to England, Not A Buzzard’s Flight!

There was an international crisis* in the Middle East, now in full swing, which heavily involved the Suez Canal – 1956

While it certainly may seem like I’d been miles away from my quest for transportation to London well, you’d be half right.  To be sure I was distracted yet the thought process of ‘how to’ hadn’t left me for very long at any given point.  I often thought of Hemma and what she might be doing at that very moment.

Strolling past various shops and businesses on my everyday walks about the city, I took notice for the first time, a travel agency.  I must’ve missed it the times before when walking by; talking busily with Jittu no doubt.  At any rate I thought I could enquire in there about a ship to England.  I went inside.

I was greeted by a nice young man who introduced himself as Parwez.  I told him of my need.  ‘One ship to England please!’  Feeling as though I were about to enjoy a cup of tea, we got comfortable in our dialogue of information which began with basic questions about what I needed, my budget and possible travel dates.

This man was of a gentle disposition.  In a more casual tone of conversation I came to find out he was a Parsi fellow and before I knew it, I believed I’d made another friend.  

He told me he’d keep watch for something which would suit my needs and my wallet.  Parwez suggested I should return to his agency in a few days to see what’s transpired from his research.

The next time we met, Parwez informed me there weren’t any ships going to London at this time due to the current crisis.  What?  “Well, yes and no.”  The Suez Canal had become off limits for the ships in the wake of turmoil between England, America and Egypt over the control of the Canal, or something like that.  

I must’ve appeared to have fallen into a jar of pickles.  He continued, “Probably others as well but it’s no good my friend, not right now, I’m sorry.”   

In this fact he added, ships weren’t traveling to Europe at all, unless one took the voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.  The difference of nearly 4,000 nautical miles with a price tag to match was not an option.   

I of course could take an aeroplane however that too carried a steep price tag … I seriously wasn’t going to sell that many theatre tickets!  It didn’t take long to exhaust whatever options there were.

I trusted Parwez to be a fair and honest man so when he looked me straight in the eye and said, “My friend you are here in Bombay for a loooong time!”  I knew this statement to be true.  My heart sank.  

Chin-up!  I’d just had to find another way to leave India but I wasn’t so sure which direction I would be heading next in order to do it.  

Leading up to this point in my life, I realized I had become a bit plucky.  I had youth on my side and I was gaining confidence so I took more chances to make sure my life would become anything but dull.  I held my determination and I just knew I’d come up with something.

I’d still drop in every now and again to visit with Parwez at the agency.  Hoping for some surprise news of travel?  Maybe.  

Going about my business still exploring around Bombay, there was a particular place where I noticed some really large birds; I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen them when I first arrived in the city.   Maybe I wasn’t looking up?  

At any rate it was on a hill where these giant birds swooped, soared and called out their eerie cry.  They kept to this particular spot up there and needless to say, I was intrigued.  

As Jittu and I rode through town in an auto rickshaw or a bus we witnessed this spectacle, seemingly often if we were looking that way, and eventually concluding that we must find out what was going on up there.  

Neither one of us had a clue and we just wondered about it between ourselves.  We didn’t know these giant birds were vultures deeply involved in a feeding frenzy.

One day while I was having lunch with Parwez and for whatever reason, I suddenly thought on the birds so I asked him about them.  He smiled, then looking a little more serious he said, “Matter of fact, I do know.”  

He then went on to illustrate a spine-tingling scene.  Parwez told me what we saw up on the hill was a sacred and private Parsi cemetery.  It was a fairly tall circular structure made of either brick or stone, I can’t remember which and it was the custom of his people to place the dead bodies in there; exposed!

Seeing my puzzled expression, in order to help me grasp the full picture he was painting, he used the phrase ‘open tables’ in order to help define the word he then used; he called it a Dakhma.  I shouldn’t have asked!  Now this will haunt me for goodness knows how long.

🌞  Here they would decompose at the mercy of the sun and be devoured by those scavenging birds; unique system indeed.  I was horrified in fact but I listened anyway.  Oh boy!  I couldn’t wait to share this with Jittu. 

Parwez described to me how the Parsi people’s precept is understood; as the deceased body is deemed unclean and therefore would be polluting nature; offensive to at least 3 of the natural earth elements.  

It was all very disagreeable to my ears but I did my best not to react in any way as with Parwez being Parsi, I did not wish to offend my new friend.  

I certainly could not deny that the world had something new to teach me each and everyday.

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*As you know I am not here to discuss bygone accounts of the world and such.  I share my own narrative so I will merely point out that this course of history and a few others, did indeed affect my own story to some degree and that’s why they’ll show up periodically throughout my memoirs.

Parwez       once again a fictitious name for a true character.

on a hill       came to recognize as Malabar Hill: the very same hill where I’d view the Queen’s Necklace from the Kamala Nehru park.  Of course the cemetery was at a different location of this hill.

private       as in not publicly accessible for photos, curiosity or kicks, nor did I think anyone would want to just ‘visit’ for the heck of it; I knew I didn’t want to see it.

unique system       Not too long ago while watching a travel documentary, I saw that the people of Tibet and a handful of other Chinese provinces did something similar; they take their dead higher up the mountain, chopping the body into smaller, bite-sized pieces (for wild mountain animals) for nature to be fed.

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