34. Singapore

Pressure to get along in my quest came to shove, it was October and I now possessed booked passage on an Italian ship (asia.jpg) to … you’re not going to believe it, Singapore.  Didn’t my mausa just invite me on similar journey?    Timing I suppose.

daddy's ship passage 1956 to Singapore BLURI would spend 10 days there and so it was only natural to visit as much as I could.  After this layover I would move along, still forward as far as I was concerned, to Australia.  Broome, Australia to be exact …at least as a starting point.

Parwez back at the Bombay travel agency had arranged my hotel accommodations as well as everything else to do with my itinerary to the very ending point of my travels.  I stayed in a nice and clean of course, 3-story, centrally located hotel in the heart of the city.

I was wide-eyed at the action of the hotel owners; they sent beautiful girls my way meant to escort me around the city, dine with me and keep me company.  Definitely not something I would’ve imagined, in spite of the Bombay parties I attended.

I guess I was still an amateur in the world.  I politely sat with a few of the girls in the hotel snack bar, enjoyed a coffee and a little conversation and I literally left it at that.  This was not for me.  After all I have a wife waiting for me in Fiji.   

Interestingly enough for I don’t wish to judge it as suspicious but to all the letters I wrote to Hemma from India I never, not once, received reply.

Well, anyway here is another part of my 1st encounter with Singapore.  I remember some guys walking around with pythons draped around their necks offering to drape them around any passerby’s neck for a photo opportunity at the rate of a couple of Singapore dollars.  There was always something.

Singapore consisted of many delightful and unusual eateries.  I found my way to an area of the city which was an Indian community.  It has existed since the 1800’s and for a moment there I thought I was back in Bombay.  Anymore I cannot remember what it was called but that’s all right.  

The food was good and you know me by now, that’s what I was looking for.  Oh the coconut-cream cooked curries and the fish dishes were especially yummy!  I don’t know how I remained as skinny as a stick.

I also found myself in a parking lot that was converted for the evening eateries.  Food vendors opened up their cafes after the day’s use of the lots by automobiles and served up the most delicious varieties of Indonesian cuisine.  

Make sure you don’t litter, I was warned by a few helpful people.  There are covered disposal containers for your rubbish when you are through eating.  No one cleans up after you, this you must do and be certain to do it properly, or else!  

Singapore I have to say is refreshingly clean.  Littering in any shape or form is severely punishable by their law … just don’t do it!  It really has got to be the cleanest, used by people, place in the world.  It was without question very beautiful.

I visited a gorgeous place called (if I remember correctly) the Tiger Balm Gardens.  I loved it so much I made a point to return to it again before leaving Singapore.  I called this place the Buddha Gardens due to all the statues depicting various translations of Buddha.

All fun things must come to a halt at some point and besides the next destination was calling.  My travel accommodations would be a bit different this time.  The ship for starters would be more like traveling on the SS Lakemba and my off-point was not so glamorous.

 
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33. Stalemate – a New Game is in Order

One day and much to my surprise, my mausa (maternal uncle) showed up and yes, right here in Bombay!  He came in from Fiji with an associate of his and was just wanting to visit … hmmm.  I couldn’t help but to wonder if my brother had something to do with this.

We spent just about every day together.  We weren’t perfectly alone as this associate (tagalong rather) was always with him.  Jittu would go off and do other things with his family while mausa and I did whatever it was we did, going around here and there, eating this and that and basically sightseeing.  

This associate of his I felt very strongly about.  Though it wasn’t my place to voice my opinion of this person I was not at all pleased with his attendance.  I felt sure he was along for a free ride; not once ever did he offer to pay for anything.  

There was just a certain air about him.  But I never asked my mausa about him because who knows, maybe it was some sort of payback or … well that’s why I won’t assume.  I still didn’t like it.

One day mausa came to my hostel to pick me up as was the usual and we went for lunch.  Afterwards we enjoyed a nice drive, not looking to see anything in particular.  He then told me he did not like Bombay.  He was ready to head towards home going first through Singapore and then Australia.

He said I should go with him as his guest.  I was very happy for that gracious invitation of course but I did not wish to return to Fiji.  I’m supposed to be on my way to London.  I gratefully thanked him for his most generous offer and reminded him that I must make my way to England.

He did understand and just before he left, he pocketed me some money and yes I will admit it was a big help to be sure.  Then he was gone.  

Imagine this: neither myself nor Jittu were locals for one and the population of Bombay, never mind the rest of the Indian subcontinent was already astronomical.  Looking for work, the percentage of competition for any one position was completely overwhelming, Why do you think Jittu and I sold movie tickets?   

After my mausa’s departure, Jittu and I returned to doing whatever it was that we were doing … hanging out in Bombay and ultimately closing our season of friendship.  We went on for a few more weeks.  Jittu gave me his contact information for back home in Africa.  

I had no way of knowing how much longer the Suez Canal would be closed and when would I really be able to afford a flight to London.  These flights’ price tag remained well, sky-high as this was really the only way to England at that time.  I had to make a move though and I knew I must leave India and my bond with Jittu behind.

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With the Suez Canal not reopening until March of 1957, which of course I didn’t know at the time, I would’ve been in India for a few months more and most likely homeless and hungry, not knowing how much longer I could continue selling movie tickets.  I had to make a move.

 

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.