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TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

The richness of India’s historic architecture and impressive works of art were to be seen everywhere we went. Elaborate palaces and tombs just had to be filmed. Whereas Peter could capture a whole building with one 35mm transparency. With my cine camera, I had problems.
Panning up and down and side to side did not make for easy viewing. I learned later that this was called hosepiping. Wherever possible, even without being taught, I instinctively tried to avoid such dizzy shots by using another mantra – ‘the subject moves, not the camera.’
With so many colourful and varied native Indians wearing countless regional costumes, I could edit these shots between different aspects of the buildings. As I had a small projector bought in Aden on the way, I was able to view my processed films on the white room walls and see where I could improve my technique. With filmstock at only £1 for a 50 ft cassette I could experiment and take any number of shots to allow for waste.

In the heart of New Delhi stood an 18th Century stone observatory with six huge instruments devised to study the sun, moon and other celestial bodies. – somewhat on the lines of our Stonehenge.
Eleven miles south stood the 238 feet tall fabulous tower of Qutb Minar, built sometime before 1200 AD. Each of the five storeys was separated by projecting balconies decorated with fine carvings -and you could climb 370 steps to the top if you felt energetic.
This tower shows no shadow on June 21st, the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere. As Delhi is 5 degrees north of the tropic of cancer, it’s concluded that the minar has an inclination of 5 degrees south. Such remarkable engineering for that age.
Nearby is the Iron Pillar, a shaft of solid wrought iron 16 inches in diameter and 23 feet 6 inches tall. So pure is the iron that despite exposure to all weathers over 1500 years, it shows no sign of rust.
With so many elaborate monuments, temples and tombs in pink and cream stoneware I was never short of subjects.




DELHI – TWO HALVES OF A GREAT CITY

Filming in India had one great advantage – the sun always shone even in winter, except in the monsoon season, I made the most of every opportunity to capture the essence of life in India. Having never been abroad or even had a TV, India came as a culture shock but we soon adapted.
Old Delhi with its one wide road displayed open fronted shanty shops with shimmering silks and saris and dazzling brass pots and pans. Vendors squatted on the pavement filling the air with the aroma of colourful spices while others cooked corn cobs or chapattis. One decrepit tram trundled along on rails with riders crammed inside and free-riders precariously hanging on outside.
The narrow side roads clogged with cycle rickshaws and taxis weaving through mobs of people and stray cows. Silver Street, the home for intricate creations on silver.
By contrast, New Delhi’s shopping centre consisted of a circle of fine pillared white buildings – shops for the discerning customer inside, with vendors squatting on the edge of the walkway. During the heat of the summer rattan blinds soaked in water hung between the pillars.
The centre of the Circle was a green oasis where the poor could bathe or wash clothing at standpipes. Under the trees a barber plied his trade while a shoe-shiner polished a gent’s footwear. Even a goat-herdsman found shelter here for his flock.
We never could get used to the chaotic traffic with no rules, if any, obeyed.

A NEW LIFE

We had been allocated a top fourth floor flat in the UK High Commission compound. A bright furnished area consisting of a large reception room, a small kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms. A sanctuary of peace as we settled down for the night.
Next morning we woke to the start of Peter’s two year tour of duty. The UK diplomatic compound consisted of three slim blocks of flats with sixteen dwellings in each. The blocks were built on pillars to provide much needed shelter underneath for various activities. Each flat had a twelve foot wide window and a balcony. The walls between were pale blue stucco which glittered in the sunlight. Senior staff were housed in detached dwellings well behind the flats.
The UK office was a large block with the same rendering. Also in the compound there was a shop, social centre, swimming pool and a single story fully equipped hospital. The whole walled area was set in a colourful landscaped garden. Residents didn’t need to go out as trade was delivered.
On that first morning the servants arrived. We had been allocated a Muslim cook, a Hindu bearer, a low caste sweeper and a Christian ayah. The dhobe took care of our washing. Peter went over to the office while I unpacked and attended to the little ones until after breakfast when the ayah came to take the children out.
I stood on the balcony and surveyed my surroundings. At this height I could see over the wall to the main road which showed life in the raw. No one rushed except the taxi drivers weaving in and out of plodding oxen pulling a large container crate, a family of five on a Lambretta scooter, another four on a pedal bicycle. Women carried large urns or huge bundles of hay on their heads. One cyclist carried his whole stock of basket ware. With a large lounge, chairs, baskets and sundry items piled around him so he had barely room to see ahead and pedal his feet.
Opposite the compound rose the prestigious Ashoka hotel and alongside in a hollow was the shanty village of rough shacks where servants lived. A land of opposites and a life far removed from England.
That was the moment when I had the urge to capture the essence of India and take it home as a memory. I unpacked my new cine camera, a small point and shoot Standard 8 Bell & Howell costing just £16
I had a trigger happy finger waiting to get started. I poured over the instruction book, loaded a cassette of film and tentatively took my first few shots to becoming a serious film maker.

JOURNEY’S END

As we neared Delhi, our coach came alive with passengers shuffling back and forth between their own carriage and the baggage room. Queues for the loo grew longer causing more congestion. The air had a sense of expectancy. Even though the train was scheduled to travel another 300 miles to Amritsa, the majority of passengers had booked for the Capital.
The train drew into the station just before seven o’clock, twenty four hours after we left Bombay. The platform seethed with people and the moment we stopped the corridor filled with porters and visitors blocking the way for travellers trying to leave. It was utter chaos.
The air was hot and steamy with an overpowering smell of humanity – body odours, spices, leather and dust. The noise rose to a crescendo – high pitched babble, pattering feet and rumbling wheels. We were tired and bewildered.
Fortunately we were rescued by a party of members of the High Commission staff who always greeted new arrivals from the UK and they would be there again to see us off at the end of our tour of duty. We were welcomed and escorted to the car that drove us to our new home in the UK High Commission Compound. Our luggage was also taken care of.
By the time we had been shown into our fourth floor flat the children were ready for bed and we too had an early night. We had arrived and were in for a life changing experience.

STEAMING ON

During the afternoon the journey had little of interest as we crossed the dry sandy desert. Habitation was sparse with only the occasional camel caravan
As we drew into the next big station we were in for a shock. We were told to pack up and change trains. With two babies it came as a daunting prospect. However, the change-over went smoothly. It never ceased to amaze me how those porters could carry so many heavy trunks and bags in one go. We followed the crowd as we and our luggage were transferred to a replacement coach. We settled down for the remaining few hours. Apparently our carriage had a hot brake shoe and could have caused a fire.
After the dry desert we travelLed through miles of swamps rich in vegetation and beautiful swaying palm trees. As we steamed further north the larger stations became more frequent which I found fascinating. It gave me the incentive to want to record everything about India on my new cine camera during the next two years here.

ON OUR WAY TO DELHI

The train left at 6.45pm, precisely on schedule. The great steam engine heaved laboriously as it began to pull the long overloaded carriages out of the station. It was dark so we settled the little ones in bed with Richard on the top bunk and Anthony lying in his pushchair. Peter was to share the adjoining compartment with an Indian business man
The office provided us with a hamper of food and train caterers supplied tea and coffee. In the morning we opened the blind to bright sunshine and barren and arid scenery.
This scrubland lasted for several hours. We passed the occasional settlement consisting of a few mud huts with countrymen and women working on the land with primitive tools or with the aid of bullocks.
Here and there were muddy, slimy pools or a small river. Around these hovered lean cattle and bony buffalo. Goats were fairly numerous and flocks of ragged sheep tended mostly by children.
Suddenly without pre-warning the train jolted and stopped. Cows on the line were always a hazard. From time to time we came across a wayside station, no platform and only one hut which served a small community
Mostly these stops were by request for the locals or anyone on the train wishing to leave
Eventually a small range of distant hills relieved the monotony. The train chugged along at varying speeds. Trackside workmen frequently caused delay and a single track between two stations gave us a long wait for an oncoming train.
Although everything was interesting to us as first-timers abroad, excitement mounted every time we reached a large station consisting of beautiful buildings covered in great confusion with exotic red-flowered creeper. The buildings varied from small stone or wooden huts to great architectural and ornamental houses.
At such a stop we could leave the train while the engine was re-filled with water and most of the passengers could buy food and drink. Vendors swarmed along the platform pushing glass showcases on three large antiquated wheels. Others were carrying overfull paniers.
Hundreds of passengers jostled and pushed for service, knowing time was limited. I mused on how those carrying cups of tea would ever make it back to their families still on board with any drink at all.
Peter went outside with his 35mm camera capturing the atmosphere. He took Richard to see the massive steam engine leaving an anxious mother fretting on whether the pair would return to our compartment in the mad scramble to get aboard.
I was .fascinated by everything we saw on the journey. Unfortunately my new cine camera was in the trunk so I had to wait until the return journey two years later to make a film in reverse which could be edited as the outward sequence

ABOARD THE TRAIN

Our hosts in Bombay drove us to the station at 5 pm. Our train stretched endlessly down the platform. The seething mass of people pushed and jostled for space as we wove our way with baby in an old-fashioned pushchair and a toddler, while trying to keep contact with our party. A turbaned porter carrying our overnight luggage on his head followed us.
At the rear of the train carriages appeared no better than cattle trucks with open barred windows and no doors. The wooden bench seats were filled to capacity. The quality of the carriages improved through rising classes until finally we were guided to one of the two air-conditioned coaches behind the front closed guard’s van. We were given tickets to our reserved compartments and the porter piled our cases in an overnight small luggage area at the entrance to the coach.
After the humid atmosphere of Bombay, the coldness of the air conditioning and smell of fresh air was most welcome. Our roomy compartment was surprisingly clean. The back of the seat pulled down to form a three foot wide bed, and similarly another lowered from the wall above to form a bunk bed. We were provided with clean bedding rolls.
The furniture consisted of a collapsible table under the double glazed window and on the dividing wall, a wash basin with rubbish bin beneath and a wardrobe.
We sat back and relaxed. The constant noise rose to a crescendo as late passengers rushed back and forth. Night had fallen, the horn blew and we were on our way as the giant steam engine pulled its heavy load slowly out of the station. This was to be our home for the next twenty four hours.

INDIAN TRAFFIC

When we arrived in India in 1960 the UK office staff met us at the Bombay docks. That was my first experience of the chaotic Indian traffic. Coming from England, it came as a terrifying shock. Any vehicle whether motorised, man-hauled or horse or bullock driven with one, two, three, four or more wheels vied for supremacy. This included also avoiding stray cows.
I sat on the edge of the car seat, gripping the edge and praying we would arrive safely at our guest’s house. As the mother of a baby and toddler I was frantic.
The noise was unbelievable. Horns, hooters, bells, screeching brakes and the high pitched babble of voices shattered the ears. The yellow taxis were by far the most vociferous and dangerous with a thumb on the horn and foot on the brake. Surprisingly we never saw a single traffic accident in the whole two years.
That evening we boarded the train for the 24 hour’ journey to Delhi, but that’s another story.
India had no highway code other than to drive on the left. Road signs were in English and Hindi which didn’t cater for the multitude of languages or for the unfortunate illiterate. Left round the roundabout could also mean right if the driver wanted to take the nearest exit. I once directed my taxi driver to go over the roundabout, meaning of course, take that road opposite. He literally gave us a bumpy ride over the weed infested roundabout.
Police traffic controllers were rare but at junctions with several exits the policeman stood on a podium with an umbrella strapped to a harness to protect him from the searing heat and monsoon rains. He swiveled round and round waving his arms just like a mechanical music box.
One countryside placard read IT IS BETTER TO BE LATE MISTER, THAN THE LATE MISTER.

A NIGHTMARE SEA JOURNEY

November 17th arrived and somehow with my father’s help, we managed to get ourselves to Southampton with many trunks of luggage. We were advised to take as much food as possible and all my jam and summer produce.
One minute we saw storm clouds and the next we had rolled over to experience water sloshing the porthole. I was convinced that we were about to capsize.
Now, the SS Canton was no luxury liner. So ancient was it that I was able use it on a similar journey when I wrote a novel set in 1900. We were supposed to be travelling first class. Four bunk beds with one washbasin. Public toilets and washing facilities (sea water only) were way down the corridor. I was seriously seasick, enough to call the doctor.
“When will be out of the Bay of Biscay?” I plaintively moaned.
“The Bay?” he scorned. “We’re still in the Solent,” – between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight!
We had to cope with two active little ones using terry nappies and having to make up bottles of antiallergic milk for the baby. Fortunately Peter could cope with Richard while Anthony bounced on my bunk.
When we eventually reached the notorious Bay our captain was ordered to stop engines and stand by a broken tanker until help arrived. With no anchor the ship rolled and tilted in all directions. It was like a fairground roundabout.
By now we had a window of sunny weather so I ventured up on deck to find fresh air and less disturbing long distance views. In the dining room there were few passengers which wasn’t surprising as all hell was let loose. Dishes skidded back and forth across the floor and under our feet. Waiters were attempting to restore order by sloshing water on the tablecloths.
I had not eaten since we left Southampton so I played safe and asked for a clear soup and a bread roll. The Goanese waiter stood sedately with a napkin draped over his arm. He gave a slight bow. “Madam, soup not stay in plate.”
The narrow Gibralta Straight was a battle of skill for the captain. Into the Mediterranean and whoosh! The crew said it was the roughest journey they had ever experienced. It was here that most of the passengers were struck down with food poisoning. Remember where the loos were?
Because of all the delays we never saw land or ports in daylight. Port Said was a night stop. Into the Suez Canal and still dark. More bad luck. We were held in the Great Bitter Lake for twenty four hours because the lower canal was blocked by a broken down dredger so we sailed that stretch again during the night.
We eventually docked in Aden at midnight. All trade opened for every ship so Peter went on shore and returned with a small Eumig P8 film projector for £12. The camera was still in the hold, not that it would have been any use on this voyage.
From Aden and for the next four days to Bombay we had glorious sunshine. Flying fish, the larger dorado and many other moments of pleasure made for happy sailing – and no camera!
We docked in Bombay before dawn, woken by the babble of foreign tongues, flapping bare feet and the clanging of chains. We still had a twenty four hour steam train journey to Delhi. But that’s another story

A NEW EXPERIENCE

In 1959 my husband was sent to India for a two years tour of duty.
I had never been abroad and we didn’t own a television.
It was somewhat daunting.
Peter’s colleagues at work said he must take a cine camera.
At the time I had no interest in filming so I bought the cheapest point and shoot camera for £16
Trying to buy summer clothes in the winter was the first headache.
We had a 9 month old baby with severe milk allergy and had to negotiate to have his special milk delivered to the UK office in Delhi
We also had an over active two year old. We were travelling by boat in those days.
November the 17th , my birthday and we left Southampton at mid night in the throws of a horrendous storm which followed us all the way to Aden.
And what a journey !!