BI LINER S.S. KARANJA
<< Our caterer Mr. Asgher, was kind enough to lend us his radio to listen to the commentary. So is my vague recollection of what i was told as a cautionary tale, by my elder brother before, before i, still in my teens, had travelled to India on my own.>>
Thanks for refreshing my memory. Asgher Dhalu Panju was a jolly good fellow and real fun to be with. I remember daily after dinner we surrounded him outside the mess hall and he would make us laugh our head off. Occasionally he entertained us with lavish meals. During one of my journeys it happened to be 'Chehlum' and at night we gathered in his room for a 'majlis'. All those who had travelled by the BI liner SS Karanja ought to remember this Catering Manager. He had rotund figure and endlessly chewed paan. He wore big golden rings on his fingers that attracted every eye. He was a Zanzibari to the core. When Karanja anchored Zanzibar and Daressalaam you should have seen his majesty as he went around the town receiving greetings and accolades. He had served at sea for some 25 years before retiring to Daressalaam where he was running Al Mustafa Guest House on Sewa Street. He died about a decade back.
Karanja journeyed all the way from Capetown to Bombay and anchored at various ports on the way. The ship's departure created overwhelming scenes at Mombasa where passenger movement was the most. While on board the passengers relaxed on the deck playing cards or listened to news and music on their transistor radios (Akashvani/Vividh Bharati). In the early morning with their towels they queued up outside the washroom. They also packed into the ship shop that sold items at duty free prize. The meal (both veg as well as non veg) in the ship was sumptuous. At night it was a gala affair and passengers treated to film shows, music parties, quavalis, bhajans and tombolla on the deck.
Your brother was rightly cautioning you, for Seychelles was an exotic place and the teenagers had great time there. I remember when the ship reached Mahe(Seychelles) they would put on their best dress and apply Hypnotic, Intimate and Old Spice that they had bought from the ship shop. My very first visit to Seychelles (in all i travelled to and fro 6 times, 5 by Karanja and once by Kampala) was a memorable one. There was this enterprising Gujarati gentleman 'Shah' (his first name is eluding me) who used to merchandise goods there and had his office opposite the harbours. He treated us (we were six in our group) to a grand dinner at his residence and then exhibited to us his veritable treasure of stamps and coins. His collection was just out of this world.
The Muslim passengers exulted at the ship's arrival in Karachi symbolized by Pakistan's green flag with its crescent sign raised on the ship mast. The poor Hindu passengers irrespective of their nationality were denied entry in those days (i suppose Ramnik in one of his posts had referred to this). Many of us had felt that such an action was unwise on the part of Pakistan. I recall Kulbirsingh Gupta splashing his grievances in the Tanganyika Standard.
The one sorrowful incident that i witnessed in S.S. Kampala was the death of a small boy aged 9 years. He hailed from a Muslim Punjabi family of Nairobi and was on his way back via Mombasa along with his mother and younger brother when death snatched him away. Sometime in the afternoon the ship came to a sudden halt, its flag lowered to half mast and us passengers and crew members made to gather at the deck where the shroud wrapped body was placed in the middle. There was pin drop silence and only the sound of waves crashing against the ship could be heard. The ship captain then moved forward towards the body and removing his cap performed the salute. Everyone seemed choked up. Eventually the crew lifted the body and lowered it into the sea. The ship then sounded its siren to resume its journey and the gathering dispersed. The body floated on the endless Indian Ocean while the heartbroken mother and the sad and stunned younger brother stared at it in disbelief as it drifted away. It was a heartrending scene.
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