Meeting with Pen Friends – Shoestring Road
We collected our bags from the luggage room in that putrid VT and got on the train to Poona. we were both very glad to be leaving Bombay. on the train we met a family of Indians on holiday from Aden, who shared food with us, and a Professor from the College of Military Engineering in Poona who said we could stay with him if we had any problems locating Dr. Kale. this was unnecessary however, as we arrived in Poona and got a taxi straight to Ram’s home, which is also his surgery. it seems quite good and has a small garden area at the side. we rested in the afternoon and went for a short walk in the evening. Ram and Shiva, his new wife, who is delightfully shy, set up mattresses on the floor of the waiting room and we slept there for the night. we have had our first real Indian meal, had an Indian style bath and squatted on an Indian style toilet. such wonderful new experiences, and the feelings of insecurity and fear are beginning to slip away.
In Poona - this morning, Dileb Desmurkh, from upstairs, drove us around Poona in his car. we went out to a large mountain outside the city (Katraz) and then to a temple on another hill (Parvati). we met my pen friend Nuruddin at his father’s shop in Gandhi Road. he is just as I imagined from his letters – friendly, intelligent and a little reserved, and is really pleased that we are finally here. we are all going to get along very well.
Saturday 12-9-64 to Sunday 20-9-64
The following entry is one for seven days, as I am so far behind in my diary.
Movements – around Poona Saturday, Sunday & Monday, then Tuesday evening we went up to a fort on a mountain outside the city (Sinhgarh or Sinhagad: Lion Fort) and slept the night up there. it was the most difficult climb I have ever made in my life. it was three miles up the mountain and it took one and a half hours to get there. we slept the night on the floor of a bungalow belonging to a friend of Dilep’s and when I awoke in the morning I had a shocking stiff neck. it was tremendous in the night to sit up there on a mat on the floor, on top of a mountain, by lamp light, and just think and see and experience. besides the stiff neck, the morning brought a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains and countryside. we were above and in the clouds at times and the sunrise and mists were superb.
we had to hurry down the mountain to catch an early bus back to Poona, as we had to leave for Bombay that day. we had three lifts to Bombay, and the last one dropped us right at the door of mr. Ramdas, who put us up for the night. we had met him a few days earlier, when he and his wife gave us a lift back to Poona from Karla caves. they had a really luxurious home and I felt uncomfortable sitting there in sweaty untidy clothes. they gave us dinner, bed and breakfast, and mr Ramdas drove us into town to his office. Ade left for American Express and then intended to return to Poona by train. mr. Ramdas gave me some letters to contacts in Goa, Bangalore etc. and then I went and changed some money on the black market (6.5 R to $1), fixed up some other things with Cooks etc. and met the chap who was to take me back to Poona – the same chap who had given us a lift to Ramdas’ the day before. he picked me up at four, but we did not leave for Poona till 7.30. he owns Metro Motors in Poona, don’t know his name. also in the car was Abdul Razak, who lives a few doors down from Nuruddin in Gandhi Road. got back to Poona at midnight Thursday.
Friday at 4.30 am, got up, packed, and said goodbye to Ram and Shiva. we met Nuruddin and got on the road to hitch to Aurangabad, to see the caves at Ellora. got there by jeep and bus about 9 pm and stayed at Little Flower High School. we were given this by a priest we met on the road in the morning. we had also met an Australian Jesuit, Father Cronin, from De Nobili in Poona. the night in Little Flower was OK and for nothing, and on Saturday morning we started for Ellora, about 16 miles out of the town. the caves were astounding, but numerous, and therefore a little tiring. the best was a Jain temple – a masterpiece, and completely monolithic. Could not get back to Aurangabad that night, so stayed at the Dak bungalow at Ellora, our first. Not too bad. Went over the huge fort at Daulatabad on the way back, a vast Moghul fortress, well preserved, and with a maze of tunnels and steps. a tall minar (Chand Minar) dominates. some good photos of the fort I hope.
back to Aurangabad and the ‘little flower’ at 2 pm, lunch in town, and out to Bibi Ka Maqbara, imitation Taj Mahal, built by Aurangzeb for his wife’s tomb. this is Sunday, and tonight we will stay at the school again and push off back to Poona in the morning.
This rather telescoped entry to cover what had been a very busy week in and around Poona, with probably little time alone to write up my journal, nevertheless contains reference to a couple of encounters which had significant outcomes for us as time went by, not only as we travelled in South India, but well beyond.
Clearly we had soon recovered from the shock to the system of that first day in Bombay, as there we were again, and this time, instead of the dog-box at the Salvo’s we were staying in the beautiful home of a very cultured Indian family, who not only housed and fed us, but drove us around some of the more impressive parts of the city. our lift by mr. and mrs. Ramdas from the Karla Caves back to Poona had been our first hitch in India, and was due directly to the boldness of Ram Kale, who had been dubious that it could work, but nevertheless marched straight up to the first decent car he saw and asked for a lift for the three of us. he couldn’t have made a better choice. mr Ramdas proved to be a very charming and generous man whose unsolicited letters of introduction subsequently opened a series of unexpected doors for us.
I had forgotten that we split up for the return the following day to Poona, leaving me by myself in Bombay for the afternoon, practising my ‘baksheesh nay’ technique no doubt and making my first tentative foray into the black market. I must have felt quite pleased with myself.
The other encounter, of even more ongoing significance, was our chance meeting with the two Jesuit priests as we waited for a lift outside Poona. they suggested we could stay at the Jesuit High School in Aurangabad as there was a school break and the classrooms would be empty. this worked out well, as we not only got free sleeping space, but somewhere to wash and a couple of meals as well. it had never occurred to us before this to take advantage of the extensive network of Jesuit and other Catholic institutions throughout India, but after Aurangabad we were only too willing to front up to such places in the evening if there was nothing else on offer. both Adrian and I were a couple of years out from a Christian Brothers education so we had no trouble talking the appropriate talk, and I was not above dropping reference to my family’s connection to the Jesuits in Australia. I don’t think we were ever turned away, and we got to meet some extremely formidable men of fine intellect, great dedication and compassion, and gained an insight into an aspect of India that we might otherwise have overlooked. even well beyond India’s borders they were still helping us occasionally, as the Jesuits are almost everywhere.
With the aid of the internet I have identified the Australian priest as Father Kevin Cronin S.J., a greatly loved and respected teacher, writer and archivist, Chaplain at the Jesuits’ Hazaribagh Mission for many years, who died on 8th October 2007, aged 78.
At the time I wrote the above journal entries, we were both just beginning to learn the ropes of the type of travel we had determined on, but we were quick learners, particularly where it came to saving money, of which we had relatively little. the big problems were always going to be where to sleep free of charge and where to get a nourishing evening meal at minimum cost. these had to be faced daily, and things like washing and laundry, obviously important, tended to follow on. the ‘little flower’ system we had discovered by accident was a life saver on many occasions, but also had its drawbacks, as I note in later entries. it was one of a number of possibilities. the best was always staying in someone’s home, a welcome break from the road and a chance to refresh. the worst was sleeping on the floor or, slightly better, the luggage rack of a III Class railway compartment on a crowded night train, as I was soon to discover. the pendulum always swung back and forth. but I’m getting ahead of myself. Time for some navel gazing.
Musings on the First Month
I have been away from home for nearly a month now, and in India for well over a week. how have I adjusted? how do I feel about things? I no longer feel insecure or homesick, though I feel a little nostalgic at times and like to think of life at home. I am getting used to India, with its masses, its poverty and its beggars, its filth and its differences in religion and customs. Australia seems very far away, and so does Europe. I am here in India for two more months. I have to settle down to it and gradually I am. I am adjusting fairly well to the food and the way of eating. the vegetarian diet does not worry me. I am occasionally eating meat, but not often. I do not miss it. the only thing I really miss is cleanliness, but I am slowly getting used to the lack of this, as really, nothing anywhere seems to be clean. I am becoming more confident and outward looking, turning mirrors into windows, not worrying about trivialities, past, present or future, nor anything in the past or future for that matter. I think I am becoming more independent, trying to accept things as they are and as they happen.India is a strange country to me, and it is difficult not to be wary of people who look and dress so differently and who speak a completely foreign tongue. I no longer fear them. Why? the first time it really dawned on me that they were just people like me, who laughed and cried, felt happy and sad etc., was when I was in the bus on the way out to the fort. An Indian villager got in with a sick woman who I thought was probably his mother. she sat in the seat next to me and he opposite her. she was obviously very sick. she fell forward and was very still. I thought (really believed) that she had died, and I was quite worried by what I thought might follow. she had not died , but was just extremely weak. the man, I was unable to look at. then later, he pointed to my badge and asked me if I was Australian, and we started talking. Apparently he had fought in New Guinea during the war. this was indeed his mother, who had just come out of hospital, and he had no other way of getting her home except on the bus. she had borne seven sons and five daughters. this son had been injured during the war. these poor people must have had many trials in their lives. I thought about them for quite a while and this little incident made me feel that I was beginning to understand them a bit.
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