“through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us. . ."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Waiting one’s turn

In the air conditioned room we sat
Facing each other, though not really
Facing each other.
If chanced to catch the other’s eyes
We glanced swiftly away – and then
Would covertly watch each other.

We waited our turn – though having arrived later
I guessed he would go in first.
It was awkward, our faces said, to sit
In nothing but a gown that reached just below our knees
And flaps held together by bits of Velcro.
Sometimes, I saw him demurely pulling down
The gown; the inside of his thighs could be seen.

To the head-capped, green-gowned who passed by now and then
We would have seemed like specimens in the biology lab
To be dissected
To be disemboweled
And sewn up back.

It looked lewd
The tubes stuck to our hands
That ended up in sachets hung from stands.
My forearm, shaven, felt embarrassingly nude.

Our hearts were hung in question marks
As catheters would wriggle up our veins
Probe the innards of our hearts, if need be
Balloon, stent or bypass – new words in my vocabulary.

Caught unawares, our glances meet – he smiles; I smile back.
He could be in his seventies, I in my fifties.
We exchange pleasantries,
Strangely comforted by each other
Like comrades in despair.

Whenever the swing door opened
I could see my wife, friends standing outside
A glimpse of a face, a smile, a wave of the hand.
Calm, I waited, wondering with regret
How my dogs would miss me
Not knowing what befell me
What prevented me
From coming home.

Then I realized that if I were to die
It would be this old man’s face
That I would carry to my grave.

I was comforted, in a strange way
That even in my dogs’ memories
I am unlikely to find a permanent place.

******** Balachandran V. Trivandrum 24.03.2010

A different view

People sprouted on either side
Slightly angular, they seemed to grow
Away from me.
Farther, outside the wire mesh
I saw trees growing away from me.
Overhead, across the whitewashed ceiling
The wiring, the lights and the fans ran past
Like blood vessels and organs splayed, of a roadkill.

Pulled, pushed, turned and twisted
From corridor to corridor, elevator to elevator
I hung on, in a limbo.

The stretcher offers perspectives strange…
******** Balachandran Trivandrum 23.03.2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Man and Dog

One topic I will never get tired of talking, but in the process tire others, is Dogs. Perhaps most dog lovers are like that. I just want to share a poem I love - by Siegfried Sassoon.

Man and Dog
Siegfried Sassoon

Who's this—alone with stone and sky?
It's only my old dog and I—
It's only him; it's only me;
Alone with stone and grass and tree.

What share we most—we two together?
Smells, and awareness of the weather.
What is it makes us more than dust?
My trust in him; in me his trust.

Here's anyhow one decent thing
That life to man and dog can bring;
One decent thing, remultiplied
Till earth's last dog and man have died.

********* Balachandran, Trivandrum 10.03.2010

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SS Dara

I remember reading somewhere about an indigenous people- Africa or South America or some place – they refuse to be photographed. They believe that their souls would be captured in the images and they would be damned forever.
Ruminating over the past, I recollect many faces. Some having some significance, some relation, some reason to remember. But curiously, there are so many others who had just passed through my life – a casual meeting, a glance- and their faces have been imprinted in my mind forever. I am, I guess, carrying a little bit of their souls in me...

When I was a little boy in the early 60s – it must have been in '64 or '65, an obituary used to appear in the Malayala Manorama Daily every year. I think it kept on appearing till mid-70s. Either I would have forgotten to look or it stopped being published. Anyway, I am sure that it hasn't come since the 80s. It was a black and white picture of a beautiful young mother with a western kind of hairstyle of the 50s. 

Those who are familiar with Phantom Comics would remember Ms Diana Palmer, Phantom's girl friend and later wife, who was an Olympic diver. It was kind of bobbed, fluffed above the forehead and reached upto shoulders. This lady had the same hairstyle as that of Diana. ( Now, my young friends, laugh if you wish, but Phantom was our staple diet in the 60's. Beautiful comic books, comic strips in Sunday edition of Malayala Manorma, in the Illustrated Weekly – how I miss Illustrated Weekly – every issue would carry one SINGLE picture of a scantily-clad woman – usually in a bikini – my sister and I would conspiratorially giggle looking at it - it was very rare to see the kind of pictures that are common now.

Sorry, I have digressed. This mother and child, yes. The box said - 'In Memoriam', above the picture. The mother sat slightly turned towards her left. The young child sat on her lap. I remember she had a beautiful profile. I have forgotten her name, but beneath the photo it said - SS Dara – 1961.

I remember I was fascinated by them. Every year they would appear and I would look at them longingly, with great pain. Then, after a few years, it must have settled down at the bottom of my heart, like a decaying leaf, gently, gently...

A couple of months back, I remembered them. I googled SS DARA and there it was! On 8th April 1961, the S S Dara was on its way from Bombay to Kuwait. After leaving Oman, just a few nautical miles off shore, it blew up. It is said that it was bombed by an Omani terrorist. The sea was rough, the captain couldn't turn the ship back to the harbour. Other ships came to the rescue, but 238 passengers perished. This is what a book on SS Dara’s mishap says : "The explosion of a bomb in Dara, a steamship of the British India Line, in the early hours of 8th April, 1961, when she was at sea in the Persian Gulf with 819 passengers on board, has been attributed to Omani rebels. It was an act of war in peacetime, and its victims were Indians, Pakistanis and Arabs - men, women and children Two hundred and thirty-eight people lost their lives in the flames or in the sea...

This young mother and child must have been passengers in it. I tried tracing them through a journalist friend in Malayala Manorama, but their archives haven't been digitized that way back; he has said he would give it a try. One day I casually mentioned this to my colleagues in the Bank, and Susan, in her late 50s, said she too remembered them. What a coincidence! Susan even remembered their names; Gloria and Sayu mol.

Sometime back I had written about how seemingly unimportant incidents cling on in our memory. A face there, a face here, a flower here, a breeze there. I agree with you when you pooh-pooh all this sentimental mush. Absolutely meaningless. Quite likely the lady's husband too would have passed away. There might not be any family. Even if there is, how many would remember or care to remember something that happened 50 years ago?

Well, I would, if you don't mind. SS Dara is part of my boyhood, my life. I wish they weren't dead, that beautiful mother and sweet child. I remember a young boy of 7 or 8 lying on the floor and reading the newspaper spread before him. His chin supported by the left palm, the right, holding down the paper, he swung his calves alternately and gazed at the picture with pain in his heart. I love that boy; therefore I cannot forget SS Dara.

********** Balachandran, Trivandrum, 09.03.2010


Ms Nabila Khanam, whose comment can be seen below sent me the following information about the SS Dara incident. Her aunts who are now no more,  were among the survivors of the mishap. I hope those readers who are searching on SS Dara would find it useful.  Among those who succumbed were fathers and mothers and family members of many amongst you. My prayers and condolences to all of you. May the departed souls rest in peace. 



M.V. Dara was a British Indian Steam Navigation Company liner, built in 1948, Barclay, Curle and Co; 5,030 tons 398.7 x 54.8; 14 knotts; oil engines.

Dara mostly travelled between the Arabian Gulf and the Indian continent, carrying expatriate passengers who had employment in the Gulf States. She had accomodation for 20 1st Class, 54 2nd Class and 1377 deck passengers.
A bomb exploded on board, while off the coast of Dubai, on the 8th April 1961 which caused the vessel to eventually sink. It was never clearly established who planted the bomb, or why, but there was a high loss of life attributed to the incident, despite the fact that no one was on board when it sank. At the time, it was the worst peace time disasters on the high seas, second to the Titanic. There is some conjecture that, due to the circumstances, the perpetrator of the crime may also have been on board at the time of the explosion. Captained by Charles Elson, there was a total of 819 on board, including 19 officers and 113 crew; 238 died from burns or drowning.
The vessel had sailed from Bombay on the 23rd May on a round trip to Basera, calling at intermediate ports. It had arrived at Dubai on the 7th April and was unloading cargo, embarking and disembarking passengers when a violent storm of wind and rain prevented further work. Capt. Elison decided to take the ship out of harbour to ride the storm. There was not time to disembark persons on board who did not intend to travel. These included relatives and friends seeing off the passengers, hawkers, cargo labourers and shipping/ immigration officials. It was while returning to harbour after the storm, at about 04.40 Hrs on the morning of the 8th, that there was a heavy explosion between decks (Click here to see plan) and the ship caught fire.
There was a certain amount of panic among the crew and passengers and many perished by jumping into the sea or by over crowded lifeboats, which capsized. There were several ships close at hand and help was given by British, German, Japanese and Norwegian vessels.
Three British frigates and a US destroyer, sent parties on board and were able to get the fire under control. Dara was then taken in tow by the the Glasgow salvage vessel OCEAN SALVOR, but sank at 09.20 Hrs on April 10th.

REPORT From HMS Buldog 22/05/70: -

The wreck lies in approximately 15 m of water and is in a 093°/273° direction with her bowes pointing East. It lies on its starboard side and the main mast is visible at 2m above mean high water.

RAF Search and Rescue: -

The following message was left in the guest book by Jack Frith on the 21/10/04. He has kindly agreed for me to repeat the message here, (thanks Jack).
I was the captain of the Search and Rescue Shackleton that was sent from Aden to search for and aid the Dara. The photograph that you are using was taken by one of my crew from the beam position on the aircraft when we arrived on scene. I dropped a Lindholm rescue gear (contained a dingy, food, water etc) to what appeared to be some surviviors in the water but since no effort was made to reach the gear it had to be assumed that we were too late. Seems a long time ago now.

First Hand Account of Events: -

The following is an abridged message left on the 13/12/06 by Peter Jordan, ex Chief Officer at the time on the Dara. (thanks Peter).
I was in fact chief officer on board that terrible night, so am fully aware of the sequence of events.
The explosion occurred outside the vishiwala galley which went through to the engine room bulkhead and up through 2 decks, which were the passenger and main lounge. Having checked, as best as possible, there was no way of containing the fire due to the fact that the bomb had disrupted all electrical, fire water and steering module, so we had no choice but to abandon ship.
Alarms by this time were already going off, crew were alerted and due to the weather, which was almost gale force, the fires spread rapidly. We launched lifeboats, but due to the panic, one lifeboat in particular, I recall, was overcrowded and overturned in the rough sea. Another life boat manned by the second officer Charlie ??(can't remember) had been damaged by a Greek Vessel which had dragged her anchor and collided with our bow and damaged the lifeboat and a few other parts of the ship some hours prior to the explosion! This lifeboat full of people, though almost sinking due to the damage, was rescued by a Norwegian Tanker's Lifeboat. This same Norwegian Tanker came steaming in despite the fact they were not gas free ( i.e. at high risk themselves of exploding) and saved many many lives including my own. I wish to thank them very much.
As for, dare I say it, the Empire Guillemot, we called her by Morse light and asked for help, but due to her cargo of bombs and explosives she could not and would not come close for fear of explosion; that is a fact!! She sat out there like, well I’m sorry there was no excuse, they were the nearest ship to us, and sat there, they could have steamed in, dropped some lifeboats and moved on, but alas did not. As for reports I have read, that they saved lives, well they did not, they may have had survivors picked up by the Norwegians transferred to their ship, but that is all.
I am 75 years of age now, so can speak freely of the events that occurred that night. I do not wish to incite any anger or change to what has been said and written, but facts are facts, and I can only say the truth as it was. I do not wish to put a damper on the Dara as a Dive site, however, for me at least she is Gravesite for all the people who lost their lives that terrible day and should be respected as such.
* Note by Clive: - While respecting Peter’s views regarding Dara being used as a dive site, and it may be appropriated to regard it as a memorial to those who died, it is my information that the ship had been boarded by US and British naval personnel, as explained above, and was in tow when it went down. As such it is assumed that all the crew and passengers had had the chance to leave the ship. There may have been the bodies of anyone killed by the blast, still on board but I can say that in almost fifty years the wreck has been dived, I had never heard of anyone coming across any remains.

Diving on Dara

In the late 70s and early 80s the writer was a member of the local diving club in Dubai and dived, with the other members of the club, on the wreck of Dara.
Many souvenirs were taken from the wreck at this time, in the way of portholes lanterns, and anything brass. One of these portholes now serves as opening in brick fireplace which views into a fish tank behind; another has been made into a clock. It is doubtful whether the wreck, to date, has anything left to be to relinquish. One of the club members' eventually bought the salvage rights of the wreck and by now there may be little left. (Perhaps anyone reading this, who knows the site and the current state of the wreck, might leave a message in the guest book on the Home Page). 
This is a recent account of the wreck. Kindly provided,on the 10/12/06, by Doug Fontaine who is a current member of the 406 club. Thanks Doug.
The Dara is well broken up now and it’s easy to get lost, the bow is still fairly well intact or should I say one side of it is; the anchor is still in place, the two masts now lie on the seabed, heading towards the wreck with the masts in front of you the bows are to your right.


HL Deb 11 April 1961 vol 230 cc244-5244
3.38 p.m.
My Lords, I think it might be convenient if I intervened at this stage to make a statement similar to that which has just been made by my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport in another place.
I am informed that the British India Steam Navigation Company's motor vessel "Dara", of 5,030 gross tons, was anchored in the port of Dubai on Friday evening, April 7, when she was struck by another vessel which had dragged anchor. The master decided to put to sea as the weather was deteriorating, intending to return in the morning. A total of 770 persons, including 132 members of the crew, are known to have been on board.
Early on Saturday morning, an S.O.S. was sent reporting the outbreak of fire, and the ship was abandoned at about 6.30 a.m., when some 40 miles from the shore. An Army tank landing craft, a number of ships of the Royal Navy, and several British and foreign merchant ships proceeded to the scene and picked up survivors. Five hundred and eighty persons were saved, but it is feared that the 190 who are missing, including 30 members of the crew, have lost their lives.
After the ship had been abandoned, fire-fighting operations were undertaken from alongside the vessel in difficult conditions by three Royal Navy frigates. She was taken in tow, but finally sank on Monday morning some five miles off the coast before she could be beached.
My right honourable friend the Minister of Transport has ordered a formal investigation, which will be held in public, into the tragic circumstances attending the loss of this ship, and the necessary preliminary inquiries are already in hand. The House will wish me to express its deep sympathy with the relatives of those who have lost their lives and with the injured, and to pay tribute to the efforts of all those who took part in rescue operations, without which the loss of life would undoubtedly have been even more serious.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving the House the statement made in another place on this shocking disaster. We join with him in extending our sympathy, as I am sure all Members of the House will desire to do, with the relatives of those who have lost their lives. I do not think that it is possible at this time to make any comment on the incident. There will be an inquiry. One wonders how such a thing could have happened so suddenly, and I do not know whether we shall ever be able to get the true facts. I hope that as soon as the Minister is able, he will publish a report of the inquiry and give us a chance of studying it.
My Lords, on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, I also should like to thank the Minister for the statement he has made, and to associate my noble friends and myself with the sympathy expressed to the relatives of those who have lost their lives in this disaster.


This is a badge from a BI envelope of 1939, taken from the BI web site: http://www.biship.com/index.htm 
For some nice paintings of ships, further BI information, livery & insignia, click on the above link to view their site.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Moral of the story

(c) http://chennaitamilnaduindia.blogspot.com/

Subbu had commented in my post, ' Riding into sunset' that all my posts have a message; it could be true if one looks for a message. But yes, I guess a moral or a message appears in them. This is probably due to the reflective nature of my posts. That is my ego at work.

In the last post, 'Jack of all trades etc', I had said that my ego had taken severe beatings at times. The word ego is one among the most misunderstood words. We have given it a negative colouring. Mostly we mean 'egotist' or 'egocentric' when we say 'egoist'. I will not bring in Freud or Jung here, but my old Collins dictionary. 'Ego' is the self or the 'conscious thinking subject'. 'Egoism' is the theory that bases morality on self-interest. Coming to 'egotist', the negative sense of self-conceit or selfishness or self-centredness appears.

Sometime ago a friend asked me how I 'dare' to right such personal, intimate thoughts in the blog. I replied that, that I find a universality in many of my experiences is the reason. When I write about family matters, relationships with others, connecting with nature, of romance, of personal grief – when I write – it takes on a universal dimension. I realise that my petty problems or simple pleasures are not unique but common. In my poems too, I have tried to convey something more than the obvious. Like Subbu or Sandy if others too sense it, I am happy. I try to connect, you see. I share. This is egoism at work, not egocentrism.

Long ago in one of my solo trips to Himalayas, as I sat in the bus that rode through the foothills of the mountains, I saw a hoarding. It said – 'Share your Joy and Double it!' I do not remember whose ad it was, but given to solo trips, it struck me somewhere.

Today I gave away my spare 14” colour TV to a friend who lives in the forests. He is a Kani, an indigenous people. They have solar power, but no TV channel. He has grown-up children who would like to watch movies in a CD player. I gave him K's bicycle, old but serviceable which the kids in the hamlet can ride. My friend's family and mine know each other for more than 20 years. His daughter is at K's age. His father was P's tracker and guide during her reseach days. Whenever the city gets too much for me, I run away to this little patch of solitude in the woods.

I don't know about doubling my joy, I can't be bothered with that. But with a shy smile, hoping that it will not have a tinge of patronisation or condescension, I would like to imagine my friend and family sitting in front of the TV and enjoying the movies. I would like to imagine the little boys and girls vying for a ride on K's BSA Champ which would go jumping and hopping and clanging over the unpaved paths and the dogs barking and running after them. I would like to imagine their laughter, the laughter of freedom.

********** Balachandran, Trivandrum 6-03-2010

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Jack of all trades or Master of one?

While discussing K’s future course of life, I tell him that his choice of psychology is fine but there are several other interesting options. Like wildlife biology, social work, sound engineering ( K has a keen ear for music) archeology, forestry etc.,. Subjects close to my heart. K cocks his head and says – ‘Look, Pops (he has such affectations at times), I have observed the lives of you two, you and mother. You have so many interests, one can see it from all the weird books you have in your library. But tell me frankly, where have they taken you? You haven’t reached anywhere, have you? I mean, you have been a small-time bank official all your life, 30 years in a Bank, phew! And hating every minute of it. But look at mother. She had focused on teaching and Botany right as a young girl, now she is a Professor, quite respected, Head of her department, has a PhD too. Looking at the two of you, I believe that her path is better; so there, I am focusing on my favourite subject and would like to go on and build a life around it’.

It might seem a bit cruel for him to say that I have not reached anywhere but I don’t feel the pain because what he said is true. It wouldn’t be true if I said I hadn’t wanted to reach anywhere. But early in life I reckoned that there are too many interesting things in the world to focus on one. Specialization, like somebody said, is for insects. A man had to know everything. I thought hell, there is only one life, and I want to taste as many things as possible. I would rather be a dilettante in many things rather than an expert in one. Fact is, my ego had to take severe beatings several times.

But it was a deliberate choice. Though at times of rueful reflection I have suspected my characteristic lethargy behind the decision not to pursue any single thing deep. Still I am unclear which would be the right choice. Looking back at my 50 plus years here, I cannot imagine what my life would have been without – starting from stamp collection and Agatha Christie at 10 to romance, travel, trekking, photography, movies, music, Kathakali, Sociology, tribal life, bird watching, organic farming, environmental activism, biking, poetry, HIMALAYAS, dogs, spirituality, family – bank has provided my bread, but it would have been a stale life if I hadn’t all these and a few more I cannot recollect. All I had wanted in my youth is a job so that I will be independent and still free to do most of the things that I wanted to do. Yes, I agree that the even the single track-minded have more than one interest, but they ensure that their energies are not dissipated.

I wish my son all the best. But I hope that in his urge to reach the destination he wouldn’t forget to enjoy the sceneries en route.

************ Balachandran V, Trivandrum 04.03.2010

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Riding into sunset

Nearly 3 years ago, I went for a long ride on my motorcycle to the highest motorable pass in the world, Khardung La in the Himalayas. I was in a group of about 50 riders; all of us on our Royal Enfield Bikes. We rode from New Delhi to Leh and Khardung La via Chandigarh and Manali. On the return leg we went to Amritsar and the Wagha border.

I do not recollect the faces of all my fellow riders. They were mostly youngsters in their 20s and 30s; a few in their 40s and at 50, I was the senior most rider. But there were lots of photographs and I see them all. A few days back I learnt that one of them, Naveen, died in an accident. I confirmed who he is in my album. I looked at his young face, the lean, macho looks, and the daredevil pose. He was from a group called the Roadshakers, in Pune. I remember him racing through the difficult, hilly terrain, standing up as he flew over the loose stones and rocks and taking curves at breakneck speeds. He was an expert rider.

I do not remember reading the obituary column as diligently as I do now until in my mid-40s, when one by one, familiar faces started appearing in the column. Not with fear, but with dreary, weary apprehension, one listens to the tolling bells.

For a few days after the news of his death, condolence notes used to appear in the Yahoo-group. Not all of us, mind you, just a few. In a couple of weeks, we too will relegate Naveen's memory to the backyard of our mind and after that, it might get wiped off. I look at Naveen's face again and wonder. I look at the faces in the obituary columns and wonder. I remember all those whom I knew and who had passed on. I look at the living, thinking that they too will die one day; so would I.

I am, as always, humbled by the vacuum that I see.

*************** Balachandran, Trivandrum 03.03.2010