Voyage to London from Bombay, via Sea and Road in 1958

We were at Bombay, me and Uma and we landed up in a situation where we need to vacate our friend’s place and move to another place. This needed some out of the box thinking. The prospects of finding another job with a bigger salary were not very bright. And asking our parents for financial help was out of question. In fact, we had no face to show them and tell them the truth. However, sometimes a hopeless situation makes one think out daring and bold antidotes. Without worrying about the consequences.

Our solution – go to London

Our answer to our hopeless condition was to leave India and go to London – like all unemployed young men of that period. Hoping to build career and wealth. Since I had now got involved with advertising, I decided to follow it up. I started writing to some of the advertising agencies in London for a job. The idea was to get a job, and then join the evening classes, which were being run by the Institute of Advertising Agencies, London. But none of the people I wrote to ever replied. However, by now, we had made up our mind to leave and go to London-job or no job.

We had paid and booked our passage from Cochin to Genova by an Italian liner, Lloyd Tristino. And by train from there to London.So we packed up our stuff, left my job. We left Bombay for Cochin to catch the boat. We did not meet our families. We just informed them of our plan.

It took us two days by train to reach Cochin from Bombay. We reached Cochin two days before the sailing. Here we stayed with one Mr. Prasher, a Naval Officer, who showed us the whole city, and took us to his ship, INS Mysore. That memorable two-day stay that relieved lot of tensions at leaving Bombay.
We left India on 19th September 1958 (see the Passports).

Passport of Jatinder

Passport of Jatinder

Passport of Uma

Passport of Uma

Visas

Visas

Various VISAs

Various VISAs

We had about £ 50 between us, after paying all expenses for train to Cochin, and further travel to London. Plus, our travel agent had told us that he would send an additional £ 30.

The sea voyage in a lower deck
We were among the hundreds of hopeful Indians, boarding the ship, in search of better life and future. Since we had paid the lowest fare, we were directed to the lower deck. The cabin allotted to us had ten other passengers-all young, and we knew a couple of them. Some of them were going to Germany and France, while the rest of us were bound for London.

Uma Sethi, right, with one of our shipmates, on the ship Lloyd Trevino. 1958.

Uma Sethi, right, with one of our shipmates, on the ship Lloyd Trevino. 1958.

My wife was the only female in the lower deck. Being all of almost the same age, we got along famously. All of us first time travelers, feeling seasick. The sea was pretty rough, and the food on the ship was disappointing. But we didn’t mind. The prospect of getting to London kept us cheerful.

Uma enjoying in Upperdeck

Uma enjoying in Upperdeck

Aden was the first port of call. And we went around the town with other passengers. Every one wrote a postcard to their families

Postcard from Aden

Postcard from Aden

Postcard from Aden

Postcard from Aden

Time passed, with Fancy Dress competitions and other ship activities.

Port Suez to Port Said -The Scoundrels

It was at Port Suez that we all got down, hired a car, and went to see Cairo, the city. Local people recognizing us as Indians (it was a common sight on those days) would shout “Nehru, Nehru, and Nasser.” We saw the whole city – quite beautiful. We then visited the Pyramids, typical tourists, but none among us had brought a camera. No photographs. We then reached Port Said, to catch the ship, where she had already docked and refuelled. Here an interesting episode happened.

As the ship was almost sailing out of the port, quite a few Dhows came along, selling shirts. Beautifully packed in cellophane covers. Dazzling white shirts. Priced very low. Since the boat was almost sailing, almost everyone on the ship rushed to buy these shirts. I bought three, thinking I was getting a good bargain. Once the ship moved out into the open sea, some of us opened the covering to look at the “Loot.” Surprise, Surprise! The shirts had only half front and half collar, backed with hard card – it was half a shirt! The scoundrels! They took advantage of us with “Nehru Indian special price.”

The End of the Sea Voyage – Beginning of the Train Journey
Our tickets covered the train journey through Italy, Switzerland, and France, and then the boat train from Calais to the Victoria Station London via Folk Stone (England). This journey turned out to quite an adventure, starting from Milan, Italy.

When we landed in Milan, we were told to catch a train for England from here or Rome. If wanted, we could travel around Italy on our own, and catch the train after sightseeing in Italy. So, Uma and I, an ignorant but happy adventurous couple, decided to roam around Italy. First of all, we learnt that porters everywhere were very expensive to hire. So, carry your own bags – and that we did, throughout this journey. We had two big bags (without the wheels, in those days). We carried one bag each.

It was beginning of October in 1958 when we reached Milan. We decided to walk around the main road and look around the shops and buildings. Two strange looking aliens walking with their bags. The lady, my wife, wearing a strange garment – a 6 yards Indian sari – stopped all the traffic. People stopping their cars, coming out, and gawking at her – shaking hands, giving very appreciative Italian looks. Gave us lifts in their cars – all Fiats. Pity was that we did not understand what they were saying; and neither did they. See the letter that Uma wrote to her parents.

Letter from Uma to her parents. October 1958

Letter from Uma to her parents. October 1958


We from Milan went to Massina, which was a beautiful place, better than Naples. Then, we visited the great Pompeii in a horse-driven carriage. We then reached Rome to catch our train. We stopped at one of the roadside cafes. Asked for a Coke. Not knowing the money exchange rate, we were shocked to pay 16,000 Lire for Coke which used to cost 4 annas (1 Rupee =16 annas) in India in those days. Of course, we had the Italian currency, Lire, with us, and we paid in those long, unwieldy notes.

We managed to reach the Rome Station, carrying our bags.

Wrong train, wrong carriage
Now the problem started. The Language. No one could answer our query as to which train to catch for France. After great difficulty, we were pointed out a train at the next platform to catch. That’s what we thought. So we marched to and got into the train, which was quite crowded. Our Passports were checked by Italian officers, and we were allowed to travel.
At about midnight, the train stopped, and new immigration officers came in to check passports. After examining our passports, they asked us to get out of the train. We finally understood. The penny dropped (we learnt this phrase while in London).

This train was not going to France via Switzerland, but was entering Germany. And we had no Visas for Germany. Our visas were for Italy, Switzerland, France and then to Britain. At midnight, we were thrown out of train.

Help from unexpected sources
Luckily, at the platform, one lady pointed us to a train, almost shunting out of the next platform. We literally ran to catch it. We threw our bags into the nearest compartment, but were unable to get in. So we were helped to enter (almost pushed in a moving train) the next compartment. As it turned out it was the right connecting train. But we were worried about our bags, being in a different place.

At the Switzerland border, when the local police came in to check the Passports, we were helped to move into the same compartment as our luggage. Luckily, the bags were safe. We did not realize that we were no longer in India!

The passengers were very helpful, giving us seats. We all talked by gestures, as we were still in a place where people did not speak English. They offered us their bread and wine to drink. All the passengers – French, Swiss, and Italians – were carrying yard long brown bread and a bottle of wine. After crossing into France, we felt much closer to London.
Surprisingly, we never felt panicky throughout this journey. And the wonderful feeling was that my wife, not used to all these problems, never said, “Oh, God! What have I got into with this man?” Since that day, and till today, decades after, I love her much more than ever.

We finally reached Calais, in France, and were directed to the Ferry Train that would take us to our dream town, London. Although there were quite a few Indians, but no one talked, because everyone was sick. The English Channel was very rough till we reached Folk Stone in England. Last stop before we reach our destination.

“Home” at last – Victoria Station, London
Once the train stopped at the Victoria Station, London, and the doors opened … my god, there was a very welcome burst of crescendo of joyous shouts, mixture of different languages of Indian   and Pakistani region. We heard mostly Punjabi mixed with English. The platform was crowded with expectant relatives. Friends and others. It was a sight to see: hand-shaking and embracing going on all over the platform. Slowly, but surely, they all started moving out of the station.

And, then, it was suddenly, all quiet.
We were the only two, last to come out of our compartment, left on the platform. No one had come to receive us. We did not know a soul in the whole of Britain. And thus finished our long travel. From Bombay to London.

32 Comments

  • Stone says:

    Amazing travelogue!!
    Hats off to your spirit of adventure.

    Regards

  • Pat says:

    Wow! Absolutely brilliant!!

    Even after 40 years from your time I was shaky when I had to go overseas with everything taken care of – ticket, job, well-off relatives. Yours truly was an adventure.

  • Prasad Np says:

    Amazing journey… this is a story of thousands of desis traveling to distant shores for a better life, and what an adventure you had Sir…. looking forward to read more. Thanks.

  • Pamela says:

    Feeling nostalgic to read your story, very touchy ..thank you for sharing :)

    • jatinder sethi says:

      Dear all friends–Stone,Pat,Prasad and Pamela

      Very grateful for your appreciative t comments. In fact,I must tell you all, that this episode is a part of my 3parts :Journey Through Life” posted on “indiaofthepast.org”
      Nandan,a dear friend,has done wonderful re-editing job of the 2nd part of that Journey.Many thanks to him.
      Thank you all ,for making us feel young again.CHEERS

  • SilentSoul says:

    Sethi Saheb… Bravo.. what a nostalgic post. I must say both of you are very brave to travel such long way to London that too in a steamer and train… we now when travel from Delhi to London in a dreamliner, spending 8 hours looks like irritating and boring.

    You have kept the old cards and memories intact…. and that is the beauty of this post too.

    Btw…. Egyptians even in 2014 are doing the same thing…selling half shirts and fake goods..

    Thanks for sharing this post…hope another will come soon

    • jatinder sethi says:

      Dear Dear silent Soul
      Its always a great pleasaure to receive your appreciation,from a great traveler.Actually Nandan has been picking out some old pictures and write up and re-editing them and posting on ghumakkar..Well, it boosts the sagging ego. Thanks once again.

  • Arun says:

    Struggle of life along with a great companion……….definitely you answered my questionnaire, which are based on life and relationships……………… at this stage of my age, perhaps I am so lucky to read such a excellent true biography of an experienced couple.

    “???? ?? ?????? ?? ????? ?? ???? ?? ????? ??, ?????? ??? ??? ????? ??????”

    Thanks Jatinder Sir for sharing with us.

    Regards,
    Arun

    • Jatinder Sethi says:

      Dear Arun,
      We never even looked at the kundlis or even thought about it.I wonder if you have read this post only or gone through all the 3 parts of our Journey Through Life”on “indiaofthepast.org”..This site has couple of my other blogs also about the Partition etc.
      Once again thank you very much for your kind words.

      .

  • Dear Sethi Sir,

    You kept us waiting for long to read this beautifully narrated journey of yours to London. This seem to be the kind of journey one will remember for whole life. What special is that, the way it has been told to us. I could visualize everything so clear that I never felt to relate anything of the story with any photo, a great engaging story that I will surely remember for long.

    My vote, if that counts, surely goes with this story for its selection as one of the best story of the month.

    Thank you for sharing, Sethi Sir!

    Regards

    Anupam Chakraborty

    • Jatinder Sethi says:

      My dear Anupam
      I am humbled to get such praise from you for a piece I actually wrote this piece for my grand-daughter to know and share with her the memories about her dad who was born in London in1959,about her grand parents.We don’t know much about our grand parents or even our parents.
      So I wanted our family to know about us.This POSt,as I mentioned earlier is the 2nd part of the 3 part series of our Journey Through Life which is posted on”indiaofthepast.org”;it also carries my other blog about partition and our childhood”memories of Lyallpur”.
      Well your vote whether it counts with ghumakkar or not, it certainly carries a lot weight with me.
      Khuda Hafiz.

  • Jatinder Sethi says:

    Nandan are you there?
    Thanks a million,yaar, for this wonderfully re-edited post of the years gone by,but not forgotten.This will keep memories of our love alive for ever. Thanks
    As Galib says”
    “Dil sey teree nigaah jigar tak utar gaee
    Dono ko ik addaa mein razaamand kar gaee
    Bye Jatinder Sethi

  • Ramta Jogi says:

    Amazing stuff…

    Felt like watching a fiction movie . Surprised to see that you have kept your antique collections as armours with long life memories.

  • Jatinder Sethi says:

    YES1 Ramta
    these antique collection becomes valuable for grand children, thanks
    I am glad you like it,thank it Nandan,please.
    Regards55

  • Great post !

    It was full of emotions and suspense like a movie. Inspiration for current generation like me to show that life is not easy.

    • Jatinder Sethi says:

      Dear Mr. Solanky
      Thanks
      You know it took me almost years to come to decide to write about it/.
      Its almost like stripping yourself in public.Anyhow it felt good to record the experiences
      of life.
      Current generation like yours is much more adventurous with great opportunitiesk.
      Make full use of it.
      Good Luc
      .

  • Naman says:

    Sir
    Hats off to this writeup and your spirit. Trust me, i’ve never enjoyed reading any other post. This was exceptionally amazing. And I’m so surprised that you remember it all! How much time did you take to sail from Cochin to Italy?

    • Jatinder Sethi says:

      Dear Naman, first of let me tell you that when i was working in an Advertising agency in bombay in1968, I had a colleague “NAMAN’working in our media department.your name reminded me of him after almost 36 years!
      Your appreciation of my post makes me feel great.If you want to know more about my Journey, you can go the LINKS mentioned in the Comment of Nanda(next one).all the three parts are there.
      Thanks once again. Jatinder

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Yes Jatinder :-), I am very much around. Was running around so have not been able to comment.

    Shayari chalti rahe, jaam badhte rahein,
    yun hee waqt kat jaaye miyan,
    aap likhte rahe, hum padhte rahe (wah wah wah wah)

    Folks,

    Here are the links which you must read when your time allows.

    http://www.indiaofthepast.org/contribute-memories/read-contributions/life-back-then/407-a-journey-through-life-1
    http://www.indiaofthepast.org/contribute-memories/read-contributions/life-back-then/418-a-journey-through-life-2
    http://www.indiaofthepast.org/contribute-memories/read-contributions/life-back-then/427-a-journey-through-life-3

  • Jatinder Sethi says:

    Nandan

    thanks a million.Jatinder

  • No words to express how I felt after reading this post !

    Hats off to you !

  • Jatinder sethi says:

    These words coming from Mahesh Semual,a ghumakkar vatren, is the height of praise,
    Much Obliged, Mahesh.

  • ??? ????? ?? ??? ??????????? ??????? ?????? ?? ????? ????? ?? ????? ???? ??? ????????? ?? ??? ??? ??? ???? ? ???? ?? ??????-????? ?? ????? ?? ????-??? ?? ?? ??? ?????? ?? ??? ????????? ??????? ?? ??? ????? ????? ?? ????? ??? ???? ???????????? ?? ????? ???? ??.
    ???? ?? ????? ?????, ?.??????? ?? ??? ???, ?????????? ?? ????? ?? ????? ?? ??? ????? ?? ??? ??? ?????? ?? ???? ???? ????? ????? ?? ???? ?????? ????, ??? ?? ?? ??-?? ????? ?? ???????? ????????? ?? ?????? ?????? ???? ??. ????? ??? ?????? ???????? ????? ???? ??. ???????.

  • Jatinder Sethi says:

    Tridev Charan ji

    First of all I apologies for not been able to write in Hindi. Your very kind and understanding words about our situation in those days ,and your praise of Uma made us feel very proud of ourselves.
    All these letters we wrote were saved by our family back home.More a memorabilia.
    Nandan, in his comment above, given three Links which relate to our full story,if you are,at all, inclined to read.
    Thanks for very kind words.

  • What a great post! It gave me jitters, goosebumps and all that a wonderfully scripted movie could do!
    It takes a lot more than just guts to do this kind of journey in life! Moving out of homeland without a safe foothold
    I am falling short of words to exactly express my thoughts now. I might come back to write more here!

    Excellent!

    • Jatinder Sethi says:

      Archana,
      ‘GUTS’ IS THE RIGHT WORD. but it was more guts of my wife(my class fellow in MA in Delhi University)and then my wife,now for almost 58 years!
      You are reviving the old memories.of adventure. Infact,Archana,this is a Part(meant for ghumakkar) of my blog”JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE” in THREE PARTS. You can read that and other of my blogs(Non Travel) on http://www.indiaofthepast.org and look for Jatinder Sethi. If you want to know of DELHI in 50s(my student days) read Delhi O Delhi .Memories of 50s. There are quite a few posts there,in case you are interested.
      Thanks for your compliments.

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Biblical patriarch Abraham undertook similar kind of journey but he at least had a call from God. Putting me into your shoes I would’ve never done such a thing that too with a young wife by your side!
    Hats off, Jatinderji.

    • Jatinder Sethi says:

      Patrick
      When you think you are at a dead end, God opens up the ways for you to keep moving. . Now, I may also not dare take such a step..But Then,as young lovers we were mad enough to jump in.I.
      Thanks

  • Subhendu P. Chakravarti says:

    I felt like slapping myself after reading this “Letter (?) to his Grand-daughter by her Grand Dad,” only this hour instead of two years back. Why didn’t I read it earlier. It is surely an amazing memoir. I prostrate before my bhabiji and elder brother (I am 73). I swore that within a short time I shall go through your trilogy and be inspired.

    • Jatinder Sethi says:

      Chakravarti Sahib, No need to prostrate,please. That was long time ago..And we had full faith in ourselves and the Almighty GOD… Look after yourself,
      Thank you for your concern.

      • Subhendu P. Chakravarti says:

        Yes, faith in oneself and above all, on God is the most valuable thing one may have. I prostrated before you not only for your acts, it is for your age. Moreover, Uma is my mother’s name also.

  • Priyesh says:

    Lovely read.. There is something in hand written letters that has no parallels, no matter how much ever technology transforms the way we communicate.
    Thank you sir for sharing. :)

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