When Granville was Young

Everyone in town knows 74 year old Town Councillor Granville Bantick. Many follow his column in Rye Observer and his exploits in cycle races as part of the Rye Wheelers racing team. But what about when he was a young man?

Here is his own words the record of ……..

Passage to India

It was January 1957 and it was during the Suez crisis that I sailed out to India from Liverpool on the s.s. Caledonia, a one class passenger liner en route to Bombay. I had been appointed by my bank, The Chartered Bank of India, to relieve another officer in the bank in Calcutta. I had only two weeks notice of my posting during which time I had to purchase sufficient tropical kit for the voyage and receive my inoculations. The voyage would take 30 days calling at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Cape Town, Karachi and finally Bombay (now known as Mumbai). The Suez was blocked due to the war between Britain and Egypt and shipping had to take the long way round. I was lucky to have had the opportunity as most young men appointed to Far East postings traveled by air.

It was formal dress on board for dinner, and I wore my white dinner jacket and black tie. The days passed by playing various deck games and swimming in the ship’s pool, guessing the daily mileage for a prize and generally relaxing in the sunshine as we sailed into warmer climes. Those times we entered a port was exciting for me having never visited these places before. Eventually after crossing the Indian Ocean and not seeing land for 13 days which I have to say became monotonous, we arrived in Bombay after calling into Karachi. I transferred to a steam train which consisted of three classes of carriage. Needless to say I had been given a ticket to travel first class as all Englishmen did at that time. It was a single carriage whilst all the other carriages could only be described as cattle trucks whether they were second or third class! It was something of another age with Victorian furnishings and wash basins and draped curtains at the window. The journey from Bombay to Calcutta took 36 hours and I was transfixed to the window watching the scenery flash by – Indians working in the fields, bullock carts heaving incredible loads along the road, women in the most colourful saris carrying water pots on their heads whilst children in skimpy clothing darted around, their big bright eyes and smiling white teethed smiles waving at us as we steamed by. The scenery changed from the yellow and browns of the interior which were largely hot and barren to the green plains of the east where waterways were apparent and rice was growing.

Eventually I arrived in Calcutta. It was towards the end of February and it had started to get hot. North India has three seasons. From October to January it is the lovely cool season much like a warm Spring Day in the UK and I wore a jacket in the early morning to the office. By February it is starting to get warmer and this increases in intensity until June. By this time it is unbearably hot and humid. Then the clouds gather on the horizon and the monsoon arrives. Initially it is welcomed but the rains never stop and the streets are flooded and traffic comes to a halt. Only rickshaws can cope with the flooded streets, a form of transport I took to when going home. My arrival was welcomed by a friend of mine I had known in the bank in London and who had had his posting to

Calcutta seven months earlier and had kindly advised me what to bring and not to bring. He drove me to the bank where I was to work for the next 21 months. The Chartered Bank in Calcutta looked like St Pancras station, a huge Victorian building with a large statue of Clive of India in the banking hall. My friend said that the manager wanted to see me before I was taken to my apartment. As a Sub-accountant, which was the bottom grade of an overseas banking appointment, I was shown the department of which I would be in charge. It was to be the Current Accounts Department. Along the high desks that stretched all along the banking hall were Bengali clerks dressed in traditional white dhotis sitting on high stools in front of huge ledgers in which they made pen and ink entries from masses of vouchers. They were known as chota babus (chota meaning small and babu meaning clerk). I was a chota sahib (small white man as opposed to a burrah sahib meaning big white man or the manager). The only mechanisation was the bank statements which rattled out from ancient National Cash Register machines. Cows roamed in and out of the front doors and being sacred under the Hindu religion were never shooed away. During the hot season the fans which came down from the very high ceiling whirled at high speed with everything on ones desk pinned down by paper weights. The alternative was to sweat it out. The officers wore white cotton shirts and trousers and a tie which you could remove when the bank doors closed.

There were approximately 8,000 European expatriates, mostly British, in Calcutta. Clubs for everyone abounded and I became a member of both the swimming club and the rowing club, the latter to which I took to with great enthusiasm as I used to row at school. I am a life member of the Calcutta Rowing Club and to this day we have a reunion in London every year of those of us who are still around and reminisce about our days in India. There was every conceivable club and a great time was had by all. It all came to an end when London posted me to Cochin in the southern most corner of India in the state of Kerala which was under Communist rule. I hated it there as there was little to do and few Europeans besides the tea planters who would come down to get drunk at the Cochin Club at the weekends. I joined the Malabar Sailing Club which gave some respite to an otherwise boring existence. I also flew over to Madras (now called Chennai) at weekends to see my old Calcutta friend who had himself been posted there from Calcutta. Finally I finished my Indian Tour in Bombay for the last six months where I had a more pleasant time. I flew home in April 1961 after four years and three months in India. A memorable experience and one which will remain indelibly on my mind. Calcutta I loved and would return to.


October 2008 Rye’s Own