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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 31: 25 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysWe go on to check out the next possibility at the New Indian Maritime Agency in Armenian Street. The street is a director's dream. Every image of India apart from the Taj Mahal is gathered here. There are street sellers and bullock carts and cars and stalls full of aromatic garlands of rose and jasmine and there is, across the street, St Mary's Cathedral in whose forecourt, beyond a sign reading 'Take Care Of Your Money Jewels and Things', an Indian priest in a white surplice blessing a long line of supplicants. The beggars are everywhere. One man has a piece of string around his big toe and is tugging at it. Others display mutilated hands and limbs. The cathedral bell tolls.

Three floors above all this I'm shown into the office of a Mr Arul, who has another Yugoslav ship, the Kamnik, on his books. He is a most singular man, an ex-chief of police in Madras, living out his retirement as a shipping agent. He tells me that the bell is the sound of the angelus and on Tuesday anyone of any condition can come along to be blessed, hence the lepers and cripples. He describes all this quite matter-of-factly. He goes on to bemoan the water shortage in the city. Because the monsoon has failed here for the last three years water is desperately short and available on alternate days only. I ask about the hotel, feeling guilty about my luxurious baths.

'Oh, they will have private suppliers, of course.'

He assures me that the Kamnik will be our best way of proceeding to Singapore. There is room for everybody and it leaves in three days. The catch is that whereas the Susak is a container ship, the Kamnik takes break-bulk, i.e. mixed, un-crated cargo, subject to much last-minute delay. I ask him what sort of thing they carry.

'Oh . . . granite, quartz, hair . . . '

'Hair?'

'Oh yes. Indian hair is highly prized in Japan. Many in India go to the temples to have their hair shaved off as a penance. The hair is sold for wigs in Japan. The temples pocket the money.' Here Mr Arul spreads his arms and raises his eyebrows as only an ex-policeman can.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 31
  • Date: 25 October
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Madras
  • Book page no: 108

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