When Angels Travel
Index      Poona
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It was necessary for me to visit Poona, a hundred miles or so from Bombay and I travelled there by rail. The journey took about four hours but was well worth the discomfort of sitting for so long on hard, hot seats, as the line runs alongside the Western Ghats for much of the way, providing spectacular views of the fantastically eroded, corroded, etiolated and desiccated peaks which look like a moonscape. The final climb to Poona is through attractive mountain scenery, cool and pleasant after the humidity of Bombay.

Poona itself was a disappointment. This famous, hill-station figures in so many tales of British India and in the anecdotes of so many old army officers, that it was an anticlimax to find it a modern city, though still retaining links with its past. I think I must have been subconsciously under the impression that I was going on a tiger hunt.

On the return journey the seats had become harder. Aldous Huxley, through a character in "Antic Hay" suggested trousers with an air-cushion seat so that those of us lacking the padding of the obese, could sit comfortably through long sermons, lectures and similar ordeals.


During my travels I had noted with tolerant amusement than most of my fellow-travellers seemed to be carrying with them enough pills, potions and tablets to stock a small shop. No doubt they had listened to the sort of advice I had decided to ignore, at the time I set out. When warned of the dangers of drinking the local water in foreign lands, I had said that so far as I was concerned, water was a liquid used for washing floors. I reminded them of the old soldier asked about precautions observed in camp to ensure a safe water supply, who answered: "First we filters it, then we boils it, then we chlorinates it and finally we always drinks beer."

I had passed unscathed through five countries; in Pakistan where I had heard much of the "Karachi Trots" I had not even had to quicken my pace, but in Bombay I fell ill. I was assailed by cramp-like pains and my interior became a "cave of wind and waters". Progressively I reduced my diet until I was existing on a little boiled rice. I have always avoided pills and relied instead on a semi-mystical belief in the power of the body to throw off most ailments. Unfortunately, it had not recognised the urgency of this situation; I had now given up eating and was visibly losing flesh. Each morning as I confronted myself before the mirror, I saw deeper hollows in my cheeks and interesting new angularities, as the bone structure of my face asserted itself. I felt my nose -it was hot and dry; my eyes looked dull and reproachful.

Initially I had no doubt that my body could throw off this malady, unless I died of starvation first, but as the days dragged on, I began to lose faith, and I recalled the wretched weeks I had spent some years ago, while I was waiting for my body to cure me of back trouble. It had failed miserably, and I had finally been compelled to take the case out of its hands.

Curiously, I had just received a letter from a brother, advising me to take care of my back and my stomach, "for without back and stomach," he wrote, "what is a man? Nothing but an oversize wasp."   At a happier time I would have replied that even without back and stomach, a man could still have principles but after ten days of illness, I could no longer afford them, and on a Qantas flight I discussed myself with a friendly Australian steward. He gave me some tablets which started me on the road back to health, and I supplemented them at the first opportunity with bulk purchases of a variety of tablets to fix intestinal disorders - in fact, enough tablets to stock a small shop.


Western Ghats

 By Alosh Bennett (originally posted to Flickr as western ghats) [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Western Ghats  in Karnataka.

 By jrsanthosh (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons