by S. Chandra Shekar
I began my travels around the world in 1964 when I was 21 years old. I took a ship to England and passed through Karachi, Aden, Port Suez, Port Said, Gibraltar, and reached Liverpool in England. In each of these ports, the ship called the SS Celicia of the Anchor Line berthed for a few days to unload and load cargo and also pick up ongoing passengers to England. The whole voyage took 14 days and except for a storm and rough sea in the Bay of Biscay, the journey was by and large comfortable. This voyage was my first contact with people from many countries. Besides the variety of passengers we had on the ship, I could meet and interact with different people at each port of call. Most people communicate in English. Where they did not know English, I communicated by sign language, miming and sketching on a sheet of paper. All of us were determined to converse in some way even if we did not know English.
I worked in North East England for three and half years as an engineer. On brief holidays I traveled widely in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Travel was easy and economical by bus and train. Lodging was cheap staying in Youth Hostels. I had no problem with food. I ate what the locals ate. My belief was “ If it can’t kill them, it can’t kill me”.
My work was good and I learned the best of British and European engineering. I specialized in machine building and maintenance. In 1967, I decided to return to India and set up my career. Industries were growing in India and mechanization was in full swing.
My return journey to India was again by ship. I took a P & O ship called the SS Orcades with a complement of 2000 passengers and crew. We left Tilbury port, London on a sunny afternoon. We first went to Rotterdam and picked up passengers. Then onto Gibraltar. Here we heard that the Israeli – Arab war had blocked the Suez Canal. Ships had been scuttled and there was no way to go through the canal. What do we do?
The P & O company knew that since the ship’s eventual destination was Sydney in Australia, most of the passengers were migrants going to Australia for a better life. They decided there was no point in coming back to London as it was so expensive to accommodate all the passengers until an alternative ship was arranged. The shipping company decided to continue the voyage around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.
From Gibraltar, we sailed to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands to take on fresh water and supplies. This was needed for the long run across the Equator to Cape Town. In Las Palmas, I went ashore and spent 2 days looking around and meeting the Spanish people. I met a local indigenous tribe called the Quenchos who stayed in rough villages. Their village was located in a shallow crater of an extinct Volcano. It was fascinating and exciting to meet them. I overcame the language barrier through signs, signals, and mono–acting.
After stops at Cape Town and Durban, we proceeded to the Arabian Sea towards Mumbai. The 4 days I spent in South Africa in 1967 were eventful.
Apartheid was in full control. There was racial segregation. My Indian Passport was not recognized by South African Immigration people. India and South Africa had no diplomatic connections. I was keen to go ashore to see the places. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But how?
That’s where human relations and people contact helped. I was friendly with the ship’s crew and the officers. On earlier occasions, I had helped the crew members in organizing events for the passengers. Being an engineer, the crew took my help in lubrication and maintenance work in the engine room. Since the voyage turned out to be an unscheduled long journey, extra jobs came up and the crew wanted volunteers to assist them. My enthusiasm helped and I got many jobs to do. I bonded well with the crew.
On the question of going ashore at Cape Town and Durban where my Indian Passport was not recognized, the Captain of the ship considered me as a crew member and gave me a Shore Leave Pass. I could disembark at Cape Town and Durban, walk around and look around and take photos, but I should keep far away from the South African Police and not get into any trouble. I had to return to the ship before 7 pm on each day. In spite of my best behaviour on shore, I was twice warned not to take photos in segregated areas where Apartheid was strictly enforced. Still, I managed to take some good photos discreetly..
Thus ended my 2 days adventure in Cape Town and 2 days in Durban. I overcame Apartheid rules smartly.
Our ship proceeded towards Mumbai. The Arabian sea was flush with flying fish and dolphins. The weather was superb and the ship sailed beautifully. Three days later we reached Mumbai at Ballard Pier and I disembarked after an adventurous voyage.
Over the years I worked in India and traveled widely all over India for work. I also traveled to many overseas countries for work and holidays. In 1987 I visited Germany and Scotland to inspect and bring machines to India. In 1995 I visited Sydney, Australia, and met many people. In 1998 I went to Tokyo, Japan, and visited the Honda company.
From 2001 onwards I have been visiting Australia and Britain regularly every other year. My children live there.
What do I achieve in these visits besides looking up my children?
I meet people. I interact with humanity. People are precious and they are the greatest asset in this world. They may look different, speak many languages, dress differently, eat different food and behave in a variety of ways. But they all belong to one community, called Humanity. We are all the same.
What if they pray to different Gods, belong to different religions, and speak differently.
All the travels that I have had since the time I was 21 years old, have taught me the greatest lesson and Rule of Life. Life is Humanity.
I am 79 years old now and I have lost count of the number of people I have met and the conversations I have had over the years. I have found that people are the same everywhere. Children cry people are hungry, they have pain and sorrow, they celebrate joyous occasions, they smile, they love, they get angry, they laugh, and do so many things that all people all over the world do. Why do we differentiate and segregate amongst people? People are one and the same. They may pray in their own way to different Gods and follow different religions at different places. So what? There are many customs. But all of them belong to Humanity. The greatest gift and asset in the world.
I learned this great lesson after I visited South Africa in 1967 during the Apartheid era. India is a great example of plurality and diversity. In India we can see the power and blessing of Humanity. My travels and experiences with people in life have taught me one Powerful Rule of Life.
“ There is One Race,
There is One God,
There is One Religion,
And that is HUMANITY
People are Precious.”
About the Author:
Chandrashekar Sundara Rajan is a retired engineer with nearly 50+ years of experience in engineering projects all over India. He is well-traveled and has worked in various countries around the world. He is an avid Writer of both Short Stories and Articles of public interest.