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.

|||


*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.

29. What Cannibals? and A Necklace For the Queen

One entertaining afternoon as I sat upon the wall curiously watching all the people, a young Indian man stopped just before blocking my view.  Gesturing towards the available spot next to me he asked if he could sit there.  ‘Yes of course,’ I answered with a friendly smile.  

He parked himself and watched Marine Drive with the rest of us.  After a short while, he asked me where I was from.  I laughed a little to myself before letting him in on my thoughts.  

I answered him this way, ‘There’s a little bitty group of islands in the deep South Pacific, very near to New Zealand.  That’s the Fiji Islands.’  The puzzled look on his face said it all.  After a chuckle I said to him, ‘Do you know where Hawaii is?’  

He said yes so I continued, ‘Well it’s about 6 hours if you fly or 5-6 days if you sail from there going further south.  There are two big islands; Viti Levu being the one I was born on and the smaller of the two is Vanua Levu.’ I explained.  He seemed interested enough.

‘My island is slightly larger than Hawaii and there are several smaller ones in the group.  The smaller ones have a few coconut trees, rooted in the sand, and they’re just standing there.’  the stranger smiled.  

‘Who knows, some storms come and wash them away for a time and maybe even the whole island!’  I smiled big as he laughed loud and I ran on with my seemingly entertaining story.

‘Originally the natives were cannibals, before the Christian missionaries arrived. They ate some of them; the missionaries and their friends that is, until convinced otherwise by the remaining missionaries.’  

This is really fun I thought to myself as I kept talking.  

‘When no one visited for a while, they probably boiled the bones of dinners past and had themselves a good soup.’  I had to laugh because my wall-mate looked a little worried.  

‘Then the Indians eventually came along with some Europeans, a few neighboring islanders, and a handful of Chinese too; migrated to Fiji that is.’  

I must tell you here, this was the loose version of my island history as we knew it and told each other as kids back home.  I was done with my story for the time being.  It was his turn now.

This young man was just as fresh to India as I was.  He was born and raised in South Africa.  His parents brought him her to experience India, his blood-line.  They had an apartment home right there on the Queen’s Necklace aka Marine Drive.  That was where a good percentage of the wealthy lived, at least some of the time.  

We both realised our relation to one another was effortless as the hours passed in conversation and people watching.   My new friend and I agreed to meet up very soon and further our adventures; we made plans to buzz all over Bombay and her outlying reaches.  

We felt such a sense of adventure coming on; we’d go everywhere via double decker bus, taxi , auto rickshaw, train and most likely a lot of walking too!

C - Delhi street vending

Before I met this Jittu Singh, I had been told by a few people that I must get to the elevated hills behind all of this to witness a breathtaking view of the Queen’s Necklace in the evening hours.  They were right, it was stunning!  

Good times are rolling now and no I haven’t forgotten that I still must get to London.  All in its own time though I thought to myself.

|||


I laughed a little to myself from experience past, at that time not many had heard of the Fiji Islands.  I know, right?!!

Just a reminder:    Jittu Singh is the fictitious name of a real character, a wonderful addition to LBMs first adventure in India.

The point of interest here was Bombay’s Malabar Hill.  It is where It is where LBM stood to take in the view which was within the Kamala Nehru Park.  

I sure do wish LBM could find some of those photographs he had taken in India and elsewhere too, I mean, while we’re at it …wishing and all!