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A debt, unpaid since 1964, by G V Krishnan Print E-mail

Once a newsman, now a 'was-man', G. V. Krishnan retired in 1998 as a Times of India correspondent. During his two decades with Times of India, he was posted in New Delhi, Bhopal, Chandigarh and Chennai. He was earlier with the National Herald, New Delhi, and on the news desk of The Northern Echo, a British provincial daily, in the mid-1960s. Krishnan, settled in Mysore, blogs at My Take by GVK. His email is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

In response to an earlier post my friend Kashmira suggested I turn this blog into a series on life's notable little incidents. Another young friend Tanay wanted to know what overseas travel was like in the 60s. "I guess, it would have been a lot different those days, unlike modern times when you book your tickets online,take a printout and board the flight".

Flying was then an expensive option,Tanay. We were boat people, and P & O was popular with those of us heading to England in search of job. Bombay-Southampton voyage took three weeks. But a west-bound P&O liner was usually  booked months in advance, and, I believe, there were no more than two sailings in any month.

I had to take Lloyd Triestino's Mv Asia, on cruise from Hongkong to Genova. Bombay was her fourth port of call - after Manila, Singapore and Djakarta. Sixty of us boarded the ship in Bombay. I still have the passengers list,  which was handed out as we embarked in Bombay. The boat catered to European tourists, many of them, on a round-trip to Hong Kong and back. Fare-wise, it was more expensive than P&O. I believe I paid Rs.1500 - (at Rs.13 to a pound). This was May, 1964.

With just three pounds in pocket (foreign exchange regulations didn't allow us to carry more) you can't have much fun on a cruise ship. Even an occasional beer at the bar proved a drain on my pocket.  Two co-passengers in our cabin for four - P K Sarkar and K Vaidya - were NRIs with money to spend. They became friendly, and spared me social embarrassment on occasions, by picking up the tab, whenever we were out on the deck bar. I avoided the shore-trips the shipping agent arranged at every port of call.

Particularly tempting was an excursion to Cairo and the Pyramids, from the Gulf of Suez. The excursionists to Cairo, some 135 km away, rejoined the ship at Port Said. Those who stayed back on the boat had the benefit of sailing through the Suez canal. On hind sight I realise it proved a blessing. Crossing the 170-km Suez Canal was an experience I would have missed, had I the money to pay for the Pyramids/Cairo excursion. As it happened, in 1967 - three years after my trip - they shut off the Suez for eight years.  

The ships on Suez transit moved in convoy, one way at a time. Mid-way through the canal was a lake where one found a congregation of ships, of varied flags and tonnage, awaiting clearance to move on.  When the canal came to be closed during the Six-Day War in 1967, trapping 14 cargo vessels in transit, they got stuck in this lake for eight years, until the Suez re-opened for traffic in 1975. I remember the Suez for another reason. It was during our transit through the canal (May, 1964) we heard the news of the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, we held a brief condolance meeting at the ship library.

Our boat took us within a hooting distance of smouldering Mt.Etna, and the Isle of Sicilly, of Mafia fame. Our next port of call: Naples. Unlike in recent years,when  Naples made headlines for its trash menace, we found this city nice and friendly, and so full of life. No wonder, they had this saying,  See Naples and die. Isle of Capri, which they say captured the La dolce vita spirit, was a short ferry ride away. So near, and yet so out of my reach. If only I had the ferry fare...Anyway, we disembarked the next day at Genova, from where we took the train to London.

Euro-tunnel wasn't  conceived then. Our train took us to Calais in France, from where we transhipped to a Channel ferry,  which dropped us off at Folkstone, where another train was waiting to take us to London Victoria terminal. On the overnight train, from Genova to London, I borrowed a couple of pounds from Vaidya, to pay a surcharge on my pre-paid train fare.  My travel agent in New Delhi had neglected to take care of this detail. Had it not been for Vaidya I might have had to go around with a cap in hand, in a place where they don't even speak your lingo. Vaidya, son of a Canada-based doctor,  moved on from London, taking a Cunard liner - Queen Elizabeth - to New York.

We parted in London, promsing to stay in touch with each other. And Vaidya, to whom I become so indebted during our trip, went out of my life on the day, in May 1964,  we went our separate ways at the London Victoria rail terminal. And I still owe him the money. Many others like Vaidya have helped me along, at various stages in life, and drifted away, without as much as  giving me a chance to say, 'thank you, my friend'. We all have our Vaidyas in life, haven't we?

Comments
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Kashmira   |2009-03-08
Wow! I SOOOOOO wish I could take such a journey Uncle! Do you have any
photographs to share with us?
Nebu   |2009-03-09
Great narration. Wish I could write like you. With out M.S. word I would be
lost..!
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