Good Morning Diego Garcia—Excerpt Chapter 6

Calcutta, India
June 1975

I smiled and said hello, happy to have reached a peaceful place amid the squalid chaos. How fortunate we are, I thought, to afford a refuge from the bedlam outside.
In the lobby, I heard a television reporter claim “The Emergency has put Indian democracy to death.” In the discussion, another reporter said, “the matter is extremely urgent and the situation is dangerous.”

Checking in, I asked the hotel receptionist if things were getting worse.
She shrugged, not keen to talk about it openly. “No problems for tourists,” she assured. “Travel rules have changed for Indians.”
“It happened to us in Cyprus last year,” I told her. “Foreigners were allowed to leave the country, but not Cypriots.”
She asked about life in Cyprus before the war. I told her it was paradise … until it wasn’t.
Nodding, she went on to explain the central location of the hotel (near the central business district, markets, and cultural landmarks), walking distance to Park Street and shops, and handed me a brochure about the hotel’s colorful history. Interesting reading.
In the early nineteenth century, it was the private residence of a Colonel Grand. After his death, it was purchased by a Mrs. Monk and converted into a boarding house, and later expanded to include more buildings on the block. A theatre, owned by a Mr. Stephen, was also on the same block. When the theatre burned in 1911, Mr Stephen bought out Mrs. Monk and redeveloped the entire block into the modern hotel with a pillar-less ballroom.
“Love the classic style,” I said, looking around.
“The exterior reminds me of ancient Greek and Roman buildings,” Charles said.
“Yes, Neoclassical,” the receptionist replied.
Proud to share what she knew, she went into even more detail. The hotel became a popular meeting place for foreigners and the country’s leading figures. It was known for its annual, and extravagant, New Year’s Eve party in the ballroom where twelve piglets were released each New Year’s Eve and anyone who caught a piglet, got to keep it.
I laughed, trying to imagine the bizarre scene. And why would anyone want a piglet?
Mr. Stephen, and several other hotel employees and guests, died in a typhoid epidemic in the 30s and the hotel was closed. Mr Oberoi, the present owner, purchased the property in 1943. During World War II some 4,000 Allied soldiers stayed in the hotel. Parties happened on a regular basis, including the U.S. Marines’ Annual Ball.
She pointed in the direction of a grand chandelier and an old wooden piano. “The piano is hand made and over 160 years old.”
“Wow,” I said, almost overwhelmed by the elegance of objects in the lobby.
We were shown to our room on the third floor, overlooking a lush garden. Charles enjoyed a smoke break on the balcony while I wrote notes in my journal, wanting to catch my first impressions while they were still fresh.
We walked around the area later in the afternoon, and saw more glaring contrasts; old dilapidated buildings and sleek modern ones. Old European, from the British Raj, imposed on a messy Asian cityscape. The streets were crowded with beggars, and my eyes watered from the polluted air. I felt as if I was choking on grit and grime. We decided to escape the confusion and disorderly masses, and head back to our hotel.
Dining in our elegant hotel restaurant that evening, I again felt blessed to be able to afford the luxuries of life and the smell of sandalwood incense.
“To the good life,” I clinked my wine glass with Charles’s.
He smiled.
The following morning, we telephoned the airline to see what flights were available; possibly one later in the evening with a connection on to Colombo. We were put on a wait list.

We decided to brave the hustle-bustle of Indian life once again and visit the Indian Museum; a short walking distance from our hotel. The hotel clerk gave us simple directions for getting there taking mainly side streets. She told us locals often call it ‘Jadughar’ as in house of magic. “You’ll see,” she said. “It’s fun.”
The main street was crowded with buses belching diesel fumes, and every type of transportation one could imagine. No one on roller-skates, but we did pass a sedan chair carried by four skinny men. The man seated in the chair was dressed in all white.
“Bet he’s a holy man,” I commented.
A few feet further on we saw another sedan chair carried by four more skinny men. The man seated was dressed in orange.
“Think he’s holy as well?” Charles asked.
“I do,” I replied.”Or rich.”
Entering the portals of the Indian Museum, we realized we needed several hours, maybe even a full day, to view all the hundreds of items on display in six different sections; Anthropology, Art, Archaeology, Geology, Zoology, and Economic Botany.
We hired a guide to show us the highlights. He told us the museum was founded in 1814 by the Asiatic Society of Bengal, and the curator was a Danish botanist. As the oldest and largest museum in India, it was established to collect, care for, and display natural and man-made objects. It housed rare collections of any and everything one can imagine; from antiques, armor, fossils, mummies, ornaments, skeletons, and Mughal paintings and sculptures.
“In this museum,” he said, “you can find the history of man’s evolution and know the history and culture of Indians from ancient to modern times; from the end of the medieval era to the beginning of modernity, showing the amazing socio-cultural and scientific achievements of India.”
“A bit like discovering a cache of hidden treasures,” I commented.
He showed us his favorite displays: a 4,000-year-old mummy, an urn said to contain the ashes of Buddha, some rare coins, fossils, and fascinating stone carvings called Gandhara art. He explained it was Buddhist art; a merger of Greek, Syrian, Persian, and Indian art. He said Gandhara was an ancient kingdom and an early name for Pakistan.
He motioned us to follow him to see the preserved animals. First he showed us hundreds of stuffed birds and smaller animals. Next he showed us a stuffed elephant, a stuffed hippo, a stuffed rhino, a gorilla, lion, and tiger too.
“Amazing,” was all I could say.

Leaving the museum, an hour later than planned, I told Charles “I can understand the pride the Agra hotel clerk felt about Calcutta. Such a rich and vibrant atmosphere. It’s the most impressive museum I have ever seen anywhere in the world.”
“It is. Shall we try the Calcutta street food he also recommended?” Charles asked, pointing to a street vendor selling kathi rolls.
We ordered one each of the chapatis filled with juicy mutton kebabs, fried egg, and tender chicken pieces. It was as delicious as the hotel clerk promised it would be.
“A perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavors,” I said, wiping juice from the corners of my mouth.
“And it’s fiery,” Charles said. “Like a Mexican taco.” They were so tasty, we ordered more, and made our way to a saner, quieter place. In our case it was a temporary fortress called the Oberei Grand Hotel.

Good Morning Diego Garcia Excerpt Chapter 5

Agra, India
June 1975

The taxi drove us to the river bank and agreed to wait for us.

The night was warm. The steps to the water’s edge were filled with pilgrims making their way over the sandy bed of the Yahuna River. For some reason I expected a cremation ceremony to be serene and quiet. Heavens no, the atmosphere was electrifying, with action all around us. Rowboats waited near the shore to take visitors along the river for a quieter viewing.

As far as I could see, the shores of the Ganges, Hinduism’s holiest river, was dotted with dancing fires. Dusk descended, candles were lit, and I watched people of all ages assisting in the rituals.

Planks of wood were measured and weighed to make certain the
correct amount of firewood was used, according to the physical size of the deceased. Funeral pyres were built. Holy men stood in a long line,chanting verses, while waiting to perform the last rites. Bodies were wrapped in several layers of cloth, set on wooden planks, and taken to the sacred river for cleansing. After the cleansing, the body was placed on a pyre and the fire was lit. The evening was alive with a fiery glow, and the sounds of ringing bells and beating drums.The odor of burning flesh filled the air. I covered my nose, watched and waited with others for the moment when bones burned to ashes, and the soul ascended to heaven.

Amidst the chaos, I felt a calm, an appreciation for being witness to the departure of so many souls. A sacred moment.

We returned to the hotel for dinner and an early night. Of course I had many questions for the hotel clerk on duty.

“What happens after the cremation?” I asked.

“The focus changes to purifying relatives of the dead. Exposure to the corpse makes them impure.”

“Wow,” I said, “I thought it was beautiful watching relatives clean and wrap the body.”

“The eldest son or male relative shaves his head and wears a white robe and pours milk over the pyre.”

“Oh,” I said, “another reason the cow is sacred.”

“Yes. Family members wash and pass under a cow yoke and pray to the sun, and walk away. Never looking back.”

“How long is the mourning period?”

“Ten to thirty days, depending on the caste, and the age of the

I thanked her for answering my questions. We headed to the restaurant for dinner.

Good Morning Diego Garcia! Excerpt Chapter 4

Good Morning Diego Garcia, by Susan Joyce

Bombay, India
June 1975

We asked about good restaurants in the area. She suggested the Harbor Bar, a lounge bar in the hotel where you can enjoy drinks and order food from any Taj Hotel restaurant.
“Nice!” I said. “The airline clerk recommended it.”
“Yes, and it’s famous for its selection of drinks; the first licensed bar in Bombay,” she added.
“I’m feeling perkier already,” I said.
“Let’s check it out!” Charles smiled.
“Be sure to ask the bartender about the signature cocktail,” the receptionist said, pointing us in the direction of the elevator and lounge.
“Sounds perfect,” I said.

Entering the Harbor Bar, we noticed the liquor license plate: proudly hanging, proclaiming its place in Bombay history as the oldest licensed bar in Bombay.
The greeter showed us to a comfortable window table facing the historic waterfront—overlooking the Gateway to India.
A smiling waiter welcomed us to the stylish lounge bar.
“We have a selection of fine wines, malts, spicy cocktails, and international food fare,” he said. “But first let me tell you a bit of our history.”
We smiled, waiting for him to continue.
“The Harbor Bar opened in 1933,” he said, “during the Prohibition era, and was the first licensed bar in Bombay.”
We nodded.
“An American, traveling across the Indian Ocean in a yacht, was docked in our harbor when he received a radio call from his wife telling him Prohibition in America had ended. He had no alcohol on his yacht and decided to walk to the Taj Mahal Hotel and get a drink to celebrate the news. Entering the Harbor Bar, he asked for a special drink to quench his thirst after many years of not drinking alcohol. The bartender agreed to make him a special drink to commemorate the happy occasion. Using Indian fruit juices, he promised to concoct a tasty cocktail which would blow his mind.
With the first sip of the exotic cocktail, the man shouted in glee. ‘What is the name of this amazing drink?’
The bartender smiled and said, ‘Sir, since it’s an original made special for you, you can name it.’
The American stood, raised his glass, and shouted, ‘From the Harbor Since 1933!’”
“What a great story,” I said, laughing. “I’d like to try it.”
“Flambéed at the table,” the waiter said.
“Flambéed?” I asked. “Even better.”
Charles nodded. “When in Bombay … we’ll have two.”

The waiter returned with a cart holding two wine glasses filled with sliced fruit and another glass filled with fresh squeezed fruit juice and ice. He poured the content of the two glasses into a shaker and shook it with the fancy flair of a seasoned performer, and poured the mixture into two fluted bowl shaped glasses.
“Gorgeous glasses.” I said. “Shaped like the kerosene hurricane lamp my grandmother used during storms when power went out.”
“It’s called a hurricane glass,” he said.
I laughed. “Of course.”
He poured gin into another waiting wine glass, and struck a match to light it.
“Oh,” I said, watching the flames rise.
He swirled the glass and flames around, and slowly poured the flambéed gin into our hurricane glasses. One last stir and the signature cocktail was presented with a broad smile.
The flames disappeared. We sipped the tasty cocktail.
“Peachy and light,” I said, asking for the recipe.
“Gin, crème de peach, pineapple juice, and green chartreuse.”
“Thank you!” I noted the ingredients in my travel journal.
“Flambéed to perfection,” Charles said.
We clinked glasses together, and said, “Cheers!” in unison.
The waiter smiled.

We decided to order dinner from a restaurant located in the hotel named Tanjore. Our waiter explained their menu offered dishes from all of India’s diverse regions. He suggested we order a sampler platter for two, which represents all of them. “You won’t be disappointed,” he added, and explained tastes of India vary tremendously, as a result of local culture, geographical location, seasons, and economics.
Charles asked the waiter to select a white wine to go with all of the different cuisines.
“An Alsace Pinot Gris,” he suggested. “It provides a touch of sweetness.”
“Perfect,” Charles said.

Good Morning Diego Garcia! Excerpt Chapter 3

Good Morning Diego Garcia, by Susan Joyce


Bombay, India — 26 June 1975
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. —Marcel Proust

We arrived in India at 7:00 AM. On final approach, I pointed out to Charles the hundreds of shacks, surrounding the airport. Endless clothes lines strung across roof tops to dry laundry.
“Welcome to Bombay, gateway to India,” the flight attendant announced.
We pulled our belongings from the overhead bin, and waited for the cabin doors to open.
Exiting the plane with us was a beautifully dressed Indian woman, in a sari which appeared to have gold threads woven into it. “Be careful in the terminal,” she said in a thick British accent. “There are bands of thieves who steal valuables. Keep your suitcases close to you at all times.”
“In the airport?” I questioned.
“Yes, It’s terrible. Crime in India is out of control. The government needs to do something about it.” “Oh, thank you,” I said, “we’ll be careful.”

With only ten minutes to catch our scheduled flight to Madras, we stopped at the airline desk to ask them to hold the plane for us.
“What is your final destination?” the airline clerk asked.
“Colombo, Sri Lanka,” Charles answered.
“I’m sorry,” the airline clerk said. “It’s not possible. You’ll need to collect your baggage and pass through customs.”
“Customs?” I asked. “We’ll never make the flight.”
“I can book you on the next available flight to Madras in two days time, and on to Colombo,” she said.
We wondered aloud how to contact our friends in Trincomalee. No clue how to let them know.
“Surrender to fate,” I said.
“Not much we can do,” Charles said. “Book us on the next available flight out.”
“Since the delays are Air India’s fault, we will book you into a luxury hotel and pay your expenses,” the clerk informed us.
“Where will we be staying?” I asked.
“The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel,” she answered.
“The Taj Mahal?” I asked. “Fabulous!”
“It is,” she said. “It’s been renovated and is beautiful. It’s Bombay’s first harbor landmark and the first licensed bar in the city.”
“Sounds great.” Charles smiled.
“It’s legendary,” she said. “Ask the hotel staff to tell you about its history. The ballroom has a gorgeous view of the Gateway to India.”
“Exciting,” I said. “Thanks!” I turned to Charles. “Time to see the sights of Bombay.”
Charles nodded.
“But for now, all I want is a shower and a comfortable bed,” I announced.

With our tickets re-booked, we followed the crowd into the baggage area.
After two frustrating hours, we found our luggage and proceeded through customs.
We lugged our heavy suitcases along a long corridor in the direction of the exit. Charles walked ahead of me, trying to locate a bank so he could change money. Seeing none, he suggested I stay with the luggage while he explored.

I pushed our suitcases close together and stood waiting for him to return.
Disembarking passengers thinned out. All at once, the terminal seemed eerily empty.
Out of a side corridor, three young Indian men appeared, moving toward me.
I quickly straddled the suitcases and sat, legs dangling across them.
Approaching, they asked if I wanted help moving them.
“No, thank you!” I said, firmly. “I’m waiting on my husband.”
“We help you,” one young man said, reaching for a suitcase.
“No,” I shouted, looking around the terminal for help.

I noticed a sea of orange robes heading my way. A group of young women chanting and dancing in brightly colored orange saris.
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama,” their chant grew louder and their dancing got wilder as they neared.
The three young men backed away and disappeared into a dark passage.
When the dancers reached me, they smiled.
One introduced herself as a devotee of Krishna, and offered to sell me a booklet to benefit the starving children of India. Others continued to chant and sway.
“Where are you from?” I asked.
“New York,” she said. “And you?”
“I’m from LA. Why are you in India?
“We’re here to sell our books and spread the word about Krishna Consciousness, and build a temple to honor our Swami, Srila … ”
“There are thousands of starving children in New York,” I said.
“We worship the Hindu god Krishna as the one Supreme God,” another young woman chimed in, ignoring my comment.
“So you’re missionaries?” I asked.
“We’re evangelists. We believe in reincarnation …” one follower wanted to explain their beliefs, but another interrupted, while others continued to chant.
“I believe in reincarnation,” I said. “But I don’t think I need to sell it to others.”
They kept chanting and dancing around me.
“How many times do you have to chant this?” I asked.
“Sixteen,” a young woman answered.
I shook my head in disbelief. Where the hell is Charles?
“We’re vegetarians, and abstain from worldly pleasures,” the young woman said.
“Does chanting help?” I asked. I must have looked confused.
Another young devotee explained they practiced being celibate.
“No drugs or alcohol,” another chimed in. “The temple will be our heaven on earth when it is completed.”
They tried again to sell me the book.
“No. But thanks,” I said, my eyes searching the corridor for Charles and grateful for the diversion which drove off apparent predators. What was taking him so long?
When the Krishna believers realized I had no intention to purchase a book, they moved on.

I looked again for Charles and sighed, relieved to see him coming back. His smile told me he had found a place to exchange money.

Good Morning Diego Garcia! Excerpt Chapter 2

Good Morning Diego Garcia, by Susan Joyce

My new book will be released as soon as I receive feedback on nautical terms and lingo from my beta reading sailor friends. Needless to say, I’m anxiously awaiting their feedback.

Thought you might enjoy an excerpt from Chapter Two, while we wait. Hope it
resonates with you.


I glanced at Charles. He was sleeping.
My eyes closed and I returned to remembering the first big travel adventure.
From JFK Airport we flew to London, and boarded another flight to Tel Aviv. A driver, holding a sign with our family name on it, greeted us at the Lod Airport in Tel Aviv, and showed us to a sherut (a shared taxi) which took us (along with other new emigrants) from Tel Aviv, through the Negev desert, to the village of Arad, where we studied Hebrew.
“Amazing adventure,” I said.
Charles patted my knee. “Were you dreaming?”
“Remembering; same thing,” I said, smiling. “And now we’re up and away again; seven years later. Another adventure. It’s exciting”
“Chicken Marsala or Beef Stroganoff?” the hostess asked.
I put my seat forward in an upright position and lowered the food tray.
“Chicken for me, please,” I answered. “And Chardonnay.”
Charles chose the Beef Stroganoff and red wine.
“You look like Dr Ben Casey,” the airline hostess told Charles. “I love his show.”
“So, I’m told often,” Charles said smiling. “In fact, I’ve never seen the show.”
“You haven’t?” she asked. “It’s a great medical drama. A neurosurgeon at County General Hospital. Anyway, enjoy your meal.” She moved on down the aisle.
I uncovered a steaming dish of chicken smothered in mushrooms with pasta. “It’s true,” I told Charles. “You do look like Dr Casey.” I took a bite. “This is delicious. I hope the food is as good on Air India.”
“Maybe better,” Charles said.
“Charles?” I asked, touching his arm.
“What will you do, when we return to California?”
“What do you mean?”
“Workwise? If your company doesn’t have a new assignment for you?”
“I’m sure they will by then.”
“And if not?”
“Something will turn up. Why do you ask?”
“We’ve been in limbo a long time. When we lived in Virginia Beach, The Little Theatre there advertised a play by Samuel Beckett.”
“And?” he asked, giving me a strange look.
“I wanted to see it, but arrived too late one evening to get in.”
“What was it about?”
“Two people waiting for someone named Godot—wanting someone else to move them forward; prove their existence.”
“Sounds ridiculous.” Charles grimaced.
“Of course Godot never shows.”
“Why on earth would you want to see that? Sounds ridiculous.”
“It reminded me of our situation. Waiting on your firm to tell us where to go next. Like we have no free will. “
Charles didn’t answer. He finished his lunch and went back to reading.
I went back to remembering.
Following the upheaval of the Cyprus War in July 1974, we were homeless and confused about where we’d live. After our evacuation to England, Charles awaited news daily from his employer, a Swiss firm, on where they planned to send him. He had worked for them for years, both in Europe and in the Middle East, and they hoped to place him somewhere. So we waited, and waited some more. I read lots of books, took long walks in the English countryside, and wished for a place to call home.
After weeks of waiting, Charles received a telephone call one day telling us to book flights to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where Charles would work out of the company office near Langley.
Upon our arrival, we found a beautiful, fully furnished home for rent on the 10th hole of the golf course, near the beach; bicycles included.
I stared out the plane window and watched billowing clouds float past. The flight attendant stopped to ask if we’d like more coffee or tea.
“Coffee please,” I replied.
“Cream, sugar?” she asked.
“No thanks. Black please,” I answered. “Smells fresh.”
Charles said no thanks and continued reading.
She smiled and moved on.
I took a sip of coffee.
“Since when do you drink black coffee?” Charles asked.
“Since Virginia Beach and visiting the Edgar Cayce Library.” I answered.
“The Cayce Library?” he questioned.
“Yes, while you were busy visiting military bases, I spent my days riding the bike along the boardwalk to the public library; researching the Cyprus War. One afternoon, by accident … ” I hesitated. “There are no accidents,” I added.
Charles nodded.
“I rode past the Edgar Cayce Foundation Library. People laden with boxes were busy moving books. A volunteer worker explained hundreds of books were being moved from the old Cayce Hospital Library to their new home. She invited me to go on in, have a look around, and make myself comfortable.”
“And you did,” Charles said.
“Yes. Entering the library, I felt as if I had discovered a secret chamber of knowledge; a vault filled with mysterious truths. My head tingled with excitement, so I knew I was in the right place.”
“What does this have to do with black coffee?” Charles asked.
I told Charles all about Edgar Cayce, “The Sleeping Prophet” and how he had the ability to put himself into a relaxed sleep state and connect his mind with all information in time and space. From this state he could respond to any question asked: from practical to trivial, to secrets of the universe. His psychic insights became know as “readings” and were recorded by a stenographer. People from all over the world sent letters requesting information on someone or something. All Cayce needed to know was the name of the person requesting the information and their location before he went into a trance and collected information.
I thought Charles would go back to reading his book, instead he seemed to be listening to me.
“The library was divided into several sections,” I continued. “I found myself drawn to one about discovering your mission in life and another section with books and articles about exploring ancient mysteries. Although I had always felt there was more to life than this life, the Cayce Library was my introduction to the idea of the existence of souls, and how they live on and on after physical death. I felt certain I had experienced past lives … and been lucky in all of them.”
“You were lucky in Cyprus,” Charles said. “We were lucky to get out alive.”
I nodded and continued. “I was soon lost in a sea of information on Edgar Cayce and his thousands of readings.”
“What does this have to do with black coffee?” Charles asked.
“Oh,” I answered. “Cayce talked about diet and the importance of balancing alkaline-producing foods with acid-producing foods and eating locally grown, seasonal foods. And he gave a list of things to avoid like not eating large quantities of meat or cheese with starchy foods.”
“Such as?” Charles questioned.
“Enchiladas, for example.”
Charles laughed.
“Milk, cereal, coffee with milk or cream,” I added, sipping my black coffee.
“To each his own,” Charles said. “No one can convince me Mexican food isn’t healthy.”
“I love it too. I stopped eating cereal after the discovery though.”
Charles opened his book and continued reading.
I removed my travel journal from the seat back pocket in front of me and scribbled images of the jagged clouds and noted some random thoughts about the uncertainty of being in limbo.
Uncertain? Unclear. Unsettled. Unknown.

Cover for Good Morning Diego Garcia!

It’s an exciting time for me. I’ve finished writing my new book. The editor is now going over it with a fine-tooth comb. Like a flea comb? LOL!

The book is about my journey to India and on to Sri Lanka in 1975 to help crew a yacht across the Indian Ocean in monsoon season. We ended up, way off course, in Diego Garcia where the yacht got stuck on a corral reef. Then journeyed on to the Seychelles.

Would love your feedback on the cover. Which should I use?



And why? Or do you have other ideas?

I will send five helpful respondents a complimentary e-copy of Good Morning Diego Garcia when it is published.

The Emergency, India–June 1975

En route to Calcutta, Charles and I discussed our anxiety over the rising tension following “The Emergency” declaration. Disturbing bits and pieces of information were broadcast daily from BBC news warning people of the extreme changes to laws and announcing that local news was officially banned in many cities. It especially concerned me after having been stuck smack dab in the middle of the coup and the war in Cyprus in July 1974.


By the time our flight landed in Calcutta, we were hoping to board the next available plane to Sri Lanka. Unfortunately it was fully booked and we would have to wait three days before we could get seats on a flight to Colombo.

The airport bustled with business travelers, vacationers, and armed soldiers.

We made reservations to stay at a safe, luxury hotel in Calcutta and took a taxi from the airport there. We passed miles of shantytowns along the way; mile after mile of settlements made of sheets of metal, plastic, and cardboard. I wondered how families could survive in such a miserable environment.

The forty-five minute drive was often interrupted with skinny cows, rickshaws, stalled vehicles, and poor crippled people trying to cross the busy road. I winced, seeing that.

Our driver explained that Calcutta was home to many poor people and beautiful colonial-era palaces showing styles imported by the British, the Portuguese, and the French.”A blend of the old and new,” he said.

“The poverty is shocking,” I told Charles. “Much worse than we saw in Bombay or New Delhi.”

With limited time to see the highlights of Calcutta (the former capital of British India, and the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal), I made a list of MUST SEE sights. Our driver gave us information about places that might be of interest.

I wanted to see the Victoria Memorial. More white marble. Charles insisted we fit an afternoon at the horse race track into our schedule. I asked our driver about the Royal Hotel.

“Best Mughlai food in all of India,” he said smiling. “It’s in the Chitpur district. Not far from your hotel. Started as a roadside eatery. Been serving Biriyani and Mutton Chap since 1905.”

“Our hotel clerk in Agri told us about it,” I said.

“Try the rumali roti along with a dish of Firni,” he added, then went on to explain how the mutton swims in a delicious gravy that melts in your mouth.

Just listening to him made my mouth water and I drew a big star by that journal entry. “Sounds heavenly,” I said.

“Oh,” he answered, eyes rolling, “it is.”

As we neared the city, the traffic became more chaotic and much louder. Blaring horns and screeching brakes surrounded us. I thought about the glaring contrast of images in India—from the desperate to the privileged.

“And I thought driving in LA was stressful,” I said to Charles.

He nodded, gripping the door handle as our taxi swerved to avoid an accident.

A few blocks from the hotel, our driver pointed to a tall, fortress looking building. “That’s the Oberei Grand Hotel” he said proudly.

Pulling into the fancy entrance, beggars approached. The driver shooed them away and a hotel bellman hurried to welcome us and collect our luggage.

I smiled and said hello, happy to have reached a peaceful place amid the squalid chaos. How blessed we are, I thought, to afford a refuge from the outside bedlam.

A news broadcast was on and I heard a television reporter claim that “The Emergency has put Indian democracy to death.” In the discussion, another reporter said, “the matter is extremely urgent and the situation is dangerous.”

Checking in, I asked the hotel receptionist if things were getting worse.

She shrugged, not keen to talk about it openly. “No problems for tourists,” she assured. “Travel rules have changed for Indians.”

“That happened to us in Cyprus last year,” I told her. “Foreigners were allowed to leave the country, but not Cypriots.”

She asked about life in Cyprus before the war. I told her it was paradise … until it wasn’t.

Sandalwood and Sanity

An excerpt from my next book about crossing the Indian Ocean in monsoon season in 1975.

Agra, India 1975


We thanked our tour guide and left the magic of the magnificent Taj Mahal behind, and took a rickety cycle rickshaw back into town along a crowded street filled with potholes, constant clatter, markets, bazaars, peddlers, and the usual, always skinny, sacred cows. Traffic along the narrow road came to a halt as a small team of men surrounded wandering cows and attempted to gently coax them out of the way. One cow refused to budge and another knelt down in the middle of the road for a rest and to finish munching vegetables thrown out by street vendors. Our driver explained that the cow was a holy animal and could not be harmed, and feeding them was like receiving a blessing.

I sighed. Charles nodded.

Since we were only a short distance from our hotel, Charles suggested we pay the driver and walk the rest of the way. We ascended into the chaos of blaring taxi horns and shouting rickshaw drivers. I gasped at the sordid sight of starving beggars with limbs missing, slumped amidst haggling housewives in the market stalls. And the sad sight of skinny cows pulling carts behind bullock drivers. Walking along the crowded street, I felt out of sync with the rhythm of poor Indians. India clobbered me with its scenes of despair. Seeing poverty this close up overwhelmed my senses with despair for the doomed of humanity. These disturbing images made me want to stop the world and get off. The heat and the repugnant smells of dung and decay didn’t help.

Why is the cow sacred when humans aren’t?

I thought of all the gold-threaded saris I had seen in the airports and on planes worn by the wealthy and contrasted this to the miserable plight of the lower castes; India’s system of segregation. My thoughts and emotions overpowered me. I called to Charles,“I feel like I’m going to faint.” He assured me the hotel was just around the corner.

And just in time, we entered the pristine clean of our hotel lobby. Taking a deep breath of sweet, sandalwood incense, I paused and felt refreshed by the fragrant air.

I told the hotel receptionist about the cows roadblock earlier and asked her why the cow was sacred.

“For many reasons,” she said. “The cow gives us milk and ghee. It represents life and the sustenance of life. And, it takes nothing but grass, water and a few grains.”

“I’ve always liked cows,” I said. “They’re gentle creatures.”

“They’re vital to life in India,” she answered.

India rope trick?


I’ve been busy writing my next book about crossing the Indian Ocean in 1975 during an extreme monsoon season. For several days now, I’ve gone back in time to Bombay, India where I played tourist before flying onto Sri Lanka and boarding a yacht I would help crew from Trincomalle, Sri Lanka to the Seychelles. Fortunately, notes from my travel journal about this exciting adventure have stirred vivid images.

As a writer, I delve into making descriptions in my story come alive for readers. Yesterday as I wrote about the highlights of Bombay, I remembered my shock at seeing not one but two snake charmers sitting on street corners of Bombay in June 1975. Even though this practice had been banned since 1972, it was for me mind boggling and very strange that people wanted to see sedated cobras and vipers dance in a basket to the vibrations of their master playing flute music. When I had researched the practice before visiting India, it had seemed cruel to keep snakes captive, de-fanged, sedated, and starved in order to entertain tourists.

I didn’t join the crowd around the snake charmers in Bombay; so didn’t see the scene up close. The hotel clerk had warned us of pickpockets who pushed and preyed on curious tourists who were busy watching this inhuman practice.

Happy to report that the snake charming business is prohibited by Indian Wildlife laws; both the python and cobra are now listed under endangered species of wildlife,  thus discouraging this practice.

I was however hoping to see a magician perform an Indian rope trick. Unfortunately,  I didn’t see any baskets filled with levitating ropes ascending skyward. Have you ever seen the Indian rope trick?