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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2 Replies to “Rajula”

  1. msiantexan

    Hi Chitra! I’m of the 1960’s Malaysia and had taken the Rajula and other passenger vessels from Penang to Madras in the 1960s and 1970s.

  2. Lim Ju Boo MSc MD PhD FRSPH FRSM

    Dear Mr Chitra

    Thanks for the nostalgic account of the ship Rajula I travelled in with 2 of my Malaysian Indian friends when we were studying in Calcutta on our way home to Malaya in the 1963 just before she became Malaysia

    I remember having to travel by train from Calcutta to Madras that took us 2 days to board the Rajula

    I remember buying bags of succulent Indian mangos along the way, and the mangoes  became bigger and bigger in variety, sizes, and fragrance along the way they sold at every train station we stopped as we travelled from north to south of India, but by the time we arrived in Madras (now Chennai) I had to throw them all away because they became too soft to bring back to Malaya

    You said the journey from Madras to Penang took 7 days, and I thought so myself, but some said it was 6 days. I cannot remember how long exactly, but it was really a long journey across the Bay of Bengal and  across the Adaman Sea in the North nearer to home then

    I thought to myself if I were to take a plane from Madras to Penang it would take only 6 hours at most, meaning 1 hour by air against 1 day or 24 hours by Rajula. This also means a plane is
    24 times faster than by Rajula.

    But it is okay as that was the first time I travelled on a ship when I flew from Singapore to Calcutta then as a student

    As students we can only afford to pay as deck passengers except one of us who booked a cabin where we sometimes share with him

    When we reached Penang we were extremely happy to be back home again. My Indian Malaysian college mate and I being the only Chinese took a trishaw to our hotel, and the trishaw rider commended highly and happily on both of us, one an Indian and other myself a Chinese, sitting together as one human race  in his trishaw riding both of us to our Penang hotel.

    When I was in Mymensigh in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan in the 1960s) I sat in riskshaws sometimes with my Malay student friends, sometimes with either my Malaysian Indian or Malaysian Chinese college mates, but the riskshaws were always pulled by a local Bengali. But we all reached our destination peaceful as one.

    That should be the way those days when Malaya turned into Malaysia when we arrived home to our country in 1963

    If you want to know more about me, just Google my name “Lim Ju Boo Scientific Logic” and I am there with my tens of hundreds of articles in my blog, and also in a friend’s blog by Googling “TO Lau blog”, and from there type my name as  ‘Dr Lim Ju Boo’ (as  TO Lau blog calls me), where dozens more articles by me are posted in his blog.

    All in, I has published over a 1,000 semi light articles for ordinary readers, and over 50  scientific and medical papers in scientific journals meant for researchers, doctors and scientists.

    But now I am retired looking at the heavens and the stars above, wondering from which world or star I came from into this world, and to which world I will be going to next, certainly not by the ship Rajula. That would take an eternity to reach the next nearest world or star

    So our journey need to be awesomely and horrendously speeded up faster than light, and for this, just type in this article I wrote here about the  journey our souls need to take to the next world


    Also another one here:

    “The Conveyer’s Belt of Time and Life Through a Tunnel”


    There are nearly a 1,000 more such thoughts of mine you need to search in my blog and scattered here and there elsewhere

    You may WhatsApp me (dont phone) at 016 3460316

    Thanks for sharing the nostalgia about Rajula the wonderful sea journey in my life


    Lim ju boo


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