Rajula

Today I met a lady who was named after a ship. A ship I have travelled in during the late 60s. She was surprised that I made the connection. She herself has never travelled in it.

SS Rajula, a passenger ship built in 1926 by the British India Steam navigation company. My first trip was when I was 7 years old. I travelled with my sister and parents from Singapore to Madras. The ticket fares were similar for flights and ships in those days, but most Indians took to the seas to accommodate the large amounts of luggage they had to take with them on their journey home. My dad had just finished building our house in Perumpuzha and we were all going home to celebrate the occasion. We stayed in India for almost three months and had to get special permission from school to extend the summer break.

I don’t remember my first and the return trips much, but my mother tells me that each was about 9 days long.

My main memory of the ship is during my third and final journey. I was nine and my sister seven. We were returning to India for good. All our belongings were packed into big wooden boxes. This time we travelled from Penang and the journey lasted 7 days.

On the ship, we befriended a boy who was around the same age as us. We wandered around the ship during the day time. If there wasn’t anything to do, we made our own games. Once we invented this game where when we had a conversation we had to insert the word ‘for’ in between each word. Not only was this difficult for the person who was formulating the sentences but also for the person who was trying to understand what was being said. Soon we became quite fluent at it. I don’t remember his name and have wondered years later if I would ever recognise him if I bumped into him.

One evening the ship crew organised an evening of fun and games for the passengers. One of the games involved us children. We were given a wooden horse each which was tied to a rope and we had to reel them in from the end of the race track. The adults put bets on us and the list was displayed on a board. I was the oldest and so the biggest in the girls group and everyone thought I would win and soon my name was on the top with the most bets. I also thought it was going to be a breeze. The race started and I was in the lead and then somewhere in the middle my horse toppled over and reeling it in became difficult and of course everyone who put a bet on me lost out that evening. I was pretty gutted. I couldn’t face anybody for a while after that.

Soon after settling in India I started getting these nightmares. I was on the ship and there was a terrible storm and it was rocking from side to side and I was holding on to the railings as tightly as I could. I was frightened that I was going to slip through the railings. The nightmares got worse when I was admitted to the LMS Hospital in Kundara suffering from jaundice during my seventh standard. Slowly these dreams disappeared. I don’t remember having these thoughts while I was on the ship. Today I found a YouTube video of the ship and I have a feeling that I realise why I was getting these nightmares. Was the gaps on the railings too wide? And was this the reason that during a stressful period in my life the fears surfaced?

Anyway I only have fond memories of my time on the ship and googling the details of the ship I found that I am not alone. Other Indian children of the 50s and 60s, who were fortunate enough to travel in it also have such wonderful memories.

A ship that was part of history and helped transport Indian troops, evacuees and the wounded during the Second World War, was involved in a cyclone off the coast of Madras in 1966 and miraculously survived when others didn’t.

Lot of our cargo got damaged in transit. Water seeped in and ruined a lot of the books my headteacher had given me and my prized stamp collection amongst other things. We tried to dry them and salvage as much as possible, but it was too late. Looking back now I don’t think It mattered, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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