India,1960's, in Kodachrome

by Gethin Thomas August. 26, 2020 285 views

My family moved to India in 1962 when I was just a small child. We came back on furlough in 1967 for a year and then returned to India, finally coming back permanently to the UK in 1970. Although looking back now I can see we were not there all that long, when you are a child it ends up later in life feeling like half your life.

We travelled to Bombay as it was then, by liner, the P & O Chusan from Tilbury via the Suez canal. Air travel at this time was a luxury for the super rich.

After a brief stay in Bombay (Mumbai) we moved to Poona (Pune) where we lived until the late sixties when we relocated to Bangalore (Bengaluru).

In the summers we relocated to hill stations for the worst of the hot season, mainly in our case Mahableshwar (Mahabaleshwar). The British colonial rulers developed the town as a hill station, and it served as the summer capital of Bombay Presidency during the British Raj.

In 1967, we returned briefly to the UK for a year. After we arrived in India the Suez canal had closed. This immediately caused a boom in air travel. As a consequence our subsequent travel to and fro was by air.

Arab–Israeli wars of 1967 and 1973. In May 1967, Nasser ordered the UN peacekeeping forces out of Sinai, including the Suez Canal area. Israel objected to the closing of the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israeli forces occupied the Sinai peninsula, including the entire east bank of the Suez Canal. Unwilling to allow the Israelis to use the canal, Egypt immediately imposed a blockade which closed the canal to all shipping.

Once through the Suez canal and the Red Sea, ships stopped at Aden. A feature of ports then were the bumboats, a small boat used to ferry supplies to ships moored away from the shore. The name comes from the combination of the Dutch word for a canoe—"boomschuit" ("boom" meaning "tree"), and "boat". Passengers would barter from the deck of the ship and purchased items would be hauled aboard by rope.

The wooden decks of the "Chusan" where playing quoits ( a ring of rope, thrown in a game to encircle or land as near as possible to an upright peg) was the order of the day. My hobby was picking up the quoits and hurling them overboard.

Learning to swim at Breach Candy, described today as " The elite Breach Candy Club which features the country's largest India-shaped swimming pool. " not sure if that is a later addition or this pool in the photo. It didn't look all that elite back in 1962.

Flying kites on the roof in Bombay. Playing was typically lethal for children back then. The manja or kite string was dipped in a sticky glue and then powdered glass. The resulting string if slid through your hand would certainly give you a very nasty slice through. The kites were made from tissue paper stretched over split bamboo cane. Surprisingly fragile. The city sky would be crowded with kites and if your kite met the string of another you had to pull the string rapidly in a sawing motion in the hope that you cut through your opponents string and not the other way around. The kite casualty would flutter down to the ground slowly while every kid within a mile tried to get there first to claim their prize.

Street procession in Bombay. There was always a procession, festival, event, or celebration going on nearby. Anything that resulted in firecrackers going off, or loud music or once a year coloured water being thrown all over the place. It was never dull.

We lived in the upstairs part of a house owned by an elderly Parsee woman, it was set in nice grounds and had balconies on two sides. Most of our photos from that time memorialised special events, like birthdays, Christmas or holidays, because photography was prohibitively expensive. It was also our only means of communication with home as there were no telephones commonly available and no direct dialling. We spoke to family back in the UK maybe once or at most twice a year. A telephone call had to be pre-booked and involved many individual telephonists between India and the UK all making the correct connection at just the right time. On Christmas morning I remember us all having to walk about half a mile to a public phone where we had to sit and wait while the connection was made and the the phone rang at the agreed time.

Our memorable moments as children all seemed to revolve around entertainments or services that came to your door. Snake Charmers, Magicians literally with a bag of tricks, puppeteers, pony rides, or salesmen, selling made to order shoes or clothes. The cobbler would arrive with a Western style catalogue of photos of shoes which we would choose from. He had a pad of paper which we stood on while he drew around our feet with a pencil. A few measurements and a week later he was back with your shoes.

Snake Charmer with live Cobras and a few magic tricks thrown in.On the ground you can see small musical instruments made from gourds. One is a basic "violin" with bow and the other a type of reeded flute also seen being played. While playing the gourd flute it was moved in a circular motion which had a hypnotising effect on the cobra. The snakes probably had their fangs removed.

Travelling Magician. The main trick invariable involved his taking a watch or ring and finally finding it inside an orange.

Travelling Puppeteers. These were my favourites even though the dialogue was all in Hindhi and we couldn't understand a word. For some reason it didn't matter at all. The action and live music were all you needed.

Even puppets need a break.

This is a reservoir, mostly empty as you can see by the cracked earth and the tree line.

The gardener fending off a Grey Langur. These were the largest type of monkey we used to see. As a child of about the same height I found them pretty scary.

Irrigation, with cattle operated water lifting system. We were really lucky as kids that our parents would always take us to interesting places and also stop on the way if there was anything interesting going on.

Mahableshwar, viewing point. No room for fear of heights here.

Posing on the garden wall in Mahableshwar. With our new made to measure matching shirts.

Christmas morning. If any of the students at the college had not gone back home for Christmas they came to us for Christmas day. The Spaniel is Goldilocks. Aunty Joan on the right, as everyone your parents knew was Aunty.

My Dad's train set or as he described it, our train set.

Do I look terrified? I was.

Dr. and Mrs. Cherian at the Governor's residence in Mahableshwar.

Palathnikal Varkey Cherian (9 July 1893 – 9 November 1969) was a physician, surgeon and politician from India. He was the Governor of Maharashtra from 14 November 1964 till 8 November 1969. A close friend of my father, we were often collected by his chauffeur to visit the Governor's residence where there were very grand dinners which as kids always impressed us. Below we are being treated to riding on the horses of the ceremonial guards.

Our flat at Guru Nanak Nagar, Poona. A very moody shot. No air con in those days. Swelteringly hot. We took showers in the evening not the morning as the hot water was heated by the sun in a tank on the roof. One summer we relocated to Mahableshwar and when we came back two months later the ceiling fan was still going around, ooops! When we relocated to the hills, the cook and the ayah came too. The ayah was a bit like a nanny as both my Mum and Dad worked. It was a very different world back then, a seemingly luxurious way of life on the surface, when in fact we had little money and very few possessions. Our first Fridge was in fact a metal box with an insulated compartment into which a block of ice was inserted. The ice was renewed as needed by an ice man who delivered a new block of ice wrapped in hessian. He arrived on a moped with the block of ice in the footwell area and his feet resting on top.

The view from the flat, below. Wild Boar used to wander around, so you had to be on your guard as they could be aggressive. Every so often a 4X4 would come by with a guy standing up in the back with a pole device with which they would hunt and catch the Boar. Then when we went to the local butcher there was great fresh pork on offer.

Later, we relocated to Bangalore, where there was a permanent drought. This was the failed attempt by the college to find ground water. A drilling rig and later, dynamite failed to produce anything but a hole in the lawn. Who thought fracking was new? Although the colour has gone, the lawn actually was more that colour than green.

By today's standards, it's probably a deathtrap. But it's amazing how we as kids back then survived so many everyday deathtraps. Our favourite place was the marshalling yards at the local railway station. All steam trains then of course.

Elephant at the zoo and then one with the Maharajah of Mysore on it.

Our trip up north was a major adventure involving an overnight rail journey. Not the mass tourism destination it is 50 years later.

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There are 4 comments , add yours!
Jovana Lakic 3 months ago

Thank you for sharing part of your life and some personal photos. Really enjoyed photos and the story related to them.  Growing up in a different cultural surroundings than your own, is a true privilege.

3 months ago Edited
Camellia Staab 3 months, 1 week ago

Truly loved reading and admiring your photos. What a nice piece of history and so glad you shared with us. Brought back some memories of my own....not of India but of Iran during the same era.  Btw your photos look really nice considering their age smile

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Antonio Gil 3 months, 1 week ago

Good old days when everything is new and amazing. Loved this post.

3 months, 1 week ago Edited
Paul Moreau 3 months, 1 week ago

lovely collection :-)

3 months, 1 week ago Edited