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Around the World in 80 Days

Day 32: 26 October

Michael Palin - Around the World in 80 DaysThe Hindu reports yet another air crash. There has been one a day for the past week, two of them in India. Any tendency to smugness on the part of the non-air traveller is countered by a small headline at the bottom of the front page: 'Ferry Overturned By Typhoon In South China Sea. 500 Lost'. If all goes well I shall be crossing the South China Sea next week.

My more immediate problem is to get aboard the Susak by 10 a.m. The highly efficient Mr Vikram is out of town today and has deputed an assistant to help us. We wait for him outside his office for over half an hour, before deciding to try and enter the docks ourselves. We arrive at a level crossing beyond which is a railway, a high wall with barbed wire and the gates to Madras Docks. Two trains roll by but the level crossing gate remains lowered. One or two dockworkers amble across the line, but we have a vehicle so we're stuck.

Indians seem to have a knack for sniffing out agitation and discomfiture, and a small crowd has gathered staring patiently but implacably at our every move. This in turn adds to our agitation and discomfiture and the crowd, duly rewarded for its patience, grows. The level crossing barrier is still down after 5 minutes and since no one can be found with the authority to raise it, we execute a rather grumpy three-point turn, and leaving a satisfied crowd behind us return to the goats, the naked children and the office of Babuji Jetsea Freights. We are now half an hour late for the Susak.

Of course when Mr Vikram's assistant - a cool young sharply dressed Tamil called Jacky - eventually turns up, he is completely unflustered and assures us that ships never leave on time anyway.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day: 32
  • Date: 26 October
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: Madras
  • Book page no: 109

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