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A companion and a trip to cherish

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Rajathy made the journey enjoyable and unforgettable with the warmth and affection she showed

My mother, my two brothers and I were living at my father’s ancestral house in Kerala. My father was in Singapore working hard as a clerk in the Singapore Port to support us all and to repay loans he had taken to renovate the house. It was tough on us. My father finally arranged for us to join him. That was in 1960.

From our village, we were taken by a car, with bag and baggage, to the Thrissur railway station by my maternal grandfather. We boarded a train to Madras with him. It must have been a tedious journey for my mother with the three small children. In Madras, we stayed in an inexpensive lodging house for a night. The next morning we embarked on a passenger ship called the ‘Rajula’ for our journey to Singapore.

Grandfather could not accompany us any further. So my poor mother had to fend for herself and her children on the ship. We were placed in a second-class cabin with four bunk beds. The two older children, my elder brother and myself, had bunks to ourselves, while my mother shared a bunk with my baby brother. The fourth was allotted to a young, newly-wed Tamil woman by name Rajathy, who was to join her husband at the Malayan port of Penang.

It was a nine-day journey. Luckily, the weather was calm so nobody got seasick. I have often wondered how my mother managed with three small, restive children all those nine days. But, in those times of lesser expectations, most women were tougher than the women of today. Also, she had Rajathy.

Rajathy was a dark, slim woman with her long and beautiful hair braided into a thick plait. She took to the two older children immediately and offered to look after us. My mother and she communicated in a mixture of Malayalam, Tamil and sign language. My brother and I enjoyed her company immensely.

She told us stories and sang Tamil songs to us. She woke us up in the morning, made us brush our teeth and wash our faces. She would then take us to the galley where breakfast was served. After looking to my baby brother’s needs, my mother would follow. Luckily, the ship catered to our Indian taste. At noon and late in the evening we were served scrumptious meals on the galley. I do not remember feeling hungry while in that ship.

From my dim memories of that journey, I think it was Rajathy who made our journey enjoyable. My mother could relax because she kept an eagle eye on our mischievous childish antics. There was a large nursery for children, to which she would take us to play between mealtimes. My mother often accompanied us but sometimes stayed back in the cabin with our baby-brother. Rajathy would read the Tamil magazines supplied in the nursery while keeping a sharp eye out on our activities. When we got bored, she would take us for walks along the deck and sing lullabies in Tamil softly. Both of us were enthralled by her songs. I still remember the song, Ore oru oorile ore oru rajah, Ore oru rajavukku ore oru rani. Whenever I happened to hear those lines subsequently, I would remember the affection she showed us during that memorable ship journey.

I do not remember how the nine days passed so quickly. On the eighth day, we reached Penang. Rajathy’s husband came aboard to take her with him. We were sorry to see her go. My mother hid her distress behind a calm façade. My brother and I hugged her as she left. We never saw or heard from her again.

The next day we reached Singapore. My father came to fetch us in a boat into which the embarking passengers were carefully passed by the crew of the ship. We were happy to see our father again. He took us to the flat which was to be our home for the next two years, before we moved into a larger flat.

I never again travelled by ship. Whenever we travelled between Singapore and India since then, it was by air. The tedious but leisurely voyages gave way to the comfort of air travel. Sadly, there is no chance to communicate properly with fellow-passengers in the short span of time that air travel involves.

shemeelas@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 7:54:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-companion-and-a-trip-to-cherish/article6578662.ece

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