Posted by: Hope | December 1, 2010

Free Room and Board in Bombay, India

In 1932, a school chum and I decided to take a trip around the world.  I was working but my friend had just received his degree in accounting from Temple University.  The best offer he had from accounting firms was $5 per week.  He decided he would not work for such a small salary.  He approached me with the proposal of taking a year off and traveling around the World.  It appealed to me and we made plans.  Our decision was somewhat influenced by our having read Richard Halliburton’s “Royal Road to Romance”.  A few years earlier, Mr. Halliburton decided to take such a trip.

We had already visited quite a few countries and were in Damascus, Syria.  Getting to Baghdad, Iraq would require crossing the Syrian/Iraqi desert, a matter of 600 miles.  This desert was not loose sand but rather rock hard earth.  A bus made the 600 mile trip once a week, but the fare was very high.  When we asked why so expensive, this is what we were told.

When the bus company first started, every trip was attacked by Bedouin bandits.  The bandits would attack, kill everyone, and steal the valuables.  The owners of the bus company finally made an arrangement whereby they would pay the bandits a certain amount of money for each passenger, and the Bedouins promised to stop the attacks.  So this was why the fare was so exorbitant.

We learned that a trucking firm moved cargo once a week between Damascus and Baghdad.  We approached one of the drivers and he agreed to let us ride on the top of the load.  We had to provide our own blankets, food and water.  He charged us one dollar a piece.

As a result of World War I, France was given a mandate over Syria.  In order to control the lawless Bedouins, they had cars mounted with machine guns patrolling the desert.  One such patrol car appeared, but did not order our truck to stop.  Evidently the patrol car driver was drunk.  He decided to play chicken with our truck.  He made circles around us – each time making the circle smaller.  On one of the passes the armored patrol car smashed into our truck causing it to flip over.  We saw it coming and tried to jump clear.  A packing case fell on me, breaking my leg.

We were rescued and taken to a French out-post, Rutbah Wells.  Here I was given some first-aid.  They made arrangements to take us to Baghdad.  I was taken directly to the English Army Hospital.  (The stay here is worth another story.)

A cast was put on my leg and I was given crutches.  My friend had rented a room and I stayed there for awhile.  After some time passed, I felt secure enough to continue our journey.  We took a train from Baghdad to Basrah on the Persian Gulf.  Here we boarded a ship bound for Bombay.  We managed fine, except that on the day before we were due to land in Bombay, I fell down a flight of steps.

The ship radioed ahead and an ambulance was waiting to take me to the St. Georges Hospital.  A very fine institution.  The director greeted us and assured me that all my needs would be taken care of and there would be no charge.  There was one condition.  Each day when the director would visit me, I was to tell him of an adventure we had had on our trip.  This was no hardship because I enjoy telling stories.  My friend found lodging in the local YMCA and visited me every day.  After a rather long treatment and therapy to reactivate my muscles, my friend asked if I could travel.  He was concerned because we had budgeted our trip and the amount of money allotted to Bombay was used up.  I agreed to continue traveling on crutches.

The next day I told the director of my wish.  He told me I was not ready to travel, and asked if I had any complaints.  Did I want another fan (no air conditioning) or would I like certain food?  I told him I had no complaints and explained about the budget for Bombay.  He said not to worry.  I was to tell my friend to see the director on his next visit. I did as I was advised and later that day my friend was in the bed next to mine at no charge, getting free room and board.

So that is why I call our stay “Free Room & Board in Bombay”.

P.S.  The therapist, a lovely young lady from England was very accommodating.  But that is another story.


(c) Corenzwit 2010