Bangalore to Madras and North to Calcutta
01.10.1964 - 09.10.1964
Thursday 1-10-1964 to Wednesday 7-10-1964
Since returning to Bangalore from Mysore on the 1st, I have been quite ill with the flu and have not felt like writing anything. I am feeling much better now and so have decided on a collective entry for this past week.
Returned uneventfully to Bangalore on the Thursday and stayed with the Mundkurs that night, then Friday and Friday night also, as I was still feeling sick and they wouldn't let me leave. We decided to push off for Madras early Saturday, but did not get out there until 10 am. No lift all day. Slept the night on the floor of a garage and tried again Sunday. Midday we got lifts in separate petrol trucks, going together, all the way to Madras. Cost 8 rupees, but we were finally there at 7.30 pm Sunday. We forced ourselves upon the Wilsons in Madras, and settled down in an air-conditioned bedroom for the night. Considering how humid Madras is at this time of the year, the air-conditioning was an unbelievable luxury. The Wilsons are an extremely nice English family who moved to Madras from Bombay about a week ago. We were given a lift to Belgaum by their servants a couple of weeks back (the one with the vomiting boxer dogs). Ade had accidently left his hat in the car, which gave us an excuse for turning up. They are all moans about Madras and its weather. The next morning we sat about with the Wilsons and two other guests they had, Trevor --- and Peter Prince, who had flown in from Ceylon the day previously after having played in the All India ‘rugger’ tournament. Peter Prince is the manager of one of the teams, and is the former lightweight boxing champion of India and Ceylon. He is at present president of the Bombay Boxer Dog Club. Trevor has a BBC accent, is something to do with oil, and spends most of his time travelling through Asia. Monday afternoon we went for a swim in the pool of the Madras Gymkhana, the local social club. The Australian Cricket Team, who are at present in Madras for a test match, were at the pool when we arrived, but they did not stay long.
Awkward moment when I asked Mrs. Wilson if we could stay another night, but it passed. Tuesday morning we pushed off to see the temples at Kanchipuram and Mahabalipuram. Saw the ones at Kanchipuram first. Not bad! Of the Vishnu type, symbol U. The one with the hundred carved stone columns was quite superb in its delicately detailed sculpture. We spent the night at the local Catholic church. The sole Indian priest there, Father Anthony Doss, was most happy to welcome us, and he insisted on opening up a bottle of Australian Mass wine to celebrate. Wednesday we caught the 11 am bus for Mahabalipuram. This place was most disappointing. There were a few interesting side shows, but the main thing of interest, the Shore Temple, was a dismal flop. It was so much smaller than imagined.
We secured a ride back in a jeep with two Yanks attached to the foreign aid programme, and reached the city about 4.30 pm. Taxi to the station, where we booked on the Howrah express the following night (Thursday), and then another taxi to the Wilsons. We were quite welcomed there this time (I think it was the slight inconvenience with the other guests last time). Another night of air-conditioned comfort.
Went swimming at the Gymkhana Club this morning and three Australian cricketers were there: Redpath, Martin and Sellars. Ian Redpath told me they were leaving for Bombay at 2.30 this afternoon. (The test finished yesterday, we won). Back to the Wilsons for lunch and the afternoon was just a sit-around. That’s all Mrs. Wilson and Patricia seem to do. Must be the heat! They packed us some sandwiches to eat on the train, and at 7.30 pm we thanked them for their hospitality, said goodbye, and the driver drove us to the station. We found our seats alright, and tried to prepare for two days of hell on the train. At 8.15 pm we left Madras for Calcutta. We drew cards for who would stretch out on the seat. Ade won, so I got the floor, and had a hard, dirty, crawly bug sort of night. I was glad when it was over. I awoke suddenly at six in the morning, just as we were crossing a huge river. I don’t know what river it was (just south of V--------), but in the half light, it was a dynamic sight to awaken to.
(It was the great Krishna River, at Vijayawada, the busiest rail junction in South India, and the nearby Prakasham Barrage upstream, damming the river, must have been spilling over because of the rains, making the waters flow at maximum width below the long railway bridge we were crossing. Ozac 2011)
Enroute to Calcutta - We spent all day today on the train. Actually it is not quite as bad as I expected. A few people have got off, so it is not too crowded or uncomfortable. I feel filthy of course, but I think I can take another night. Thank God this trip people have left us alone so far. Nobody seems interested enough to ask stupid questions; it is quite a change. I get the seat tonight to sleep on. That should be good. Tomorrow Calcutta. I have always wanted to go to Calcutta. I think I associated it more than any other city with the British Raj. I wonder what it is really like.
We had decided to take a train all the way up the east coast mainly because there had been disastrous flooding in Andhra Pradesh State and we felt sure that hitchhiking would be extremely difficult. But we also wanted to get to the north of India now as quickly as possible, as that held more interest for us. Weighing up relative costs as well, it was becoming clear that hanging around waiting for a lift could often be more expensive that taking a train, especially III Class, which was very cheap, and even cheaper if we managed to wangle student concessions. So the railway system now became our primary mode of transport, and often provided sleeping accommodation of a sort, for the rest of our stay in India.
The Wilsons were incredibly good to us in Madras, especially since we were total strangers and brashly imposed ourselves upon them when they had other guests. They were certainly under no obligation, carsick dogs notwithstanding, but hospitality came naturally to them and they made us feel welcome, whatever they might have been thinking. They were a real sahib and memsahib of the old school, perhaps in their late fifties, who had been in India prior to Partition, and had seen no reason to leave when Independence came. Mr Wilson held a senior position in a large corporation and India to them was home, even if things had changed. Madras in their minds wasn’t a patch on Bombay, but they were doing their best to adjust to that too, and were obviously spending quite a bit of time at the Gymkhana Club, which had all the ethos of its colonial past to recommend it. I found the club a splendid place to escape to, and its large pool still looks very cool and inviting on the bird’s eye satellite view. Its web page says the Gymkhana was founded on its island site by a group of colonials in 1884. Today, guided by its all Indian Committee, it seems a lot bigger than I remember, with the more modern facilities that one might expect, and I am sure it still plays host to visiting Australian test cricketers when they are in town. A venerable institution.