Mohammed Shamsul Haq (Dinajpur, Bangladesh)
Shamsul loves speaking about his time working on a British steamer.
The food was very good, they fed us well. The tins of butter from London would always be fully stocked [Londoner ghiyer tin shobshomoy bhora thakto] and we ate three times a day. In the morning we got bread and tea, then at 10.00am we ate rice and meat. We had another meal of rice and fish or rice and vegetables at 5.00pm and at night we got a cup of tea. All British-style. You know, the vegetables would stay fresh for three years! There was an ice-producing machine that kept everything very cold. I once worked on that machine too.
The steamer was called the Arenda – it belonged to a British company. It was a huge big ship; it had twenty floors below water. Imagine – twenty floors! It was so big that if its head was, say, at our village mosque, its tail would be at the market place. It had two football fields and it took two years to complete unloading it; it was a whole city unto itself. But my ship sank in the Atlantic when the war between the English and the Japanese broke out. Many people died.
There were 24 boats on our steamer; they were equipped with water and biscuits. When our ship was blown up these little boats were lowered into the sea. I was on one of the boats. For days we did not see any land and our boat just bobbed up and down over the waves. I was sick and I swore to myself that I would never go to sea again. I thought we would all die.
We were rescued after eight days. A passing ship spotted us and picked us up and saved us and I was sent to a hospital ship on the Atlantic. I stayed on that ship recovering for three months and once I was on my two feet again I was sent to the medical college of Calcutta. After that harrowing experience I swore I would never work on a steamer again and so I opened a small tea-stall shop in Khidirpur next to our house in Calcutta.
I used to be able to speak the Lascari language; it's a mixture of many languages. Nobody understands that language here. We used to get off the ship at ports and harbours. The Captain used to give us papers with which we could leave ship for twelve hours. I saw beautifully designed houses, wide roads, big warehouses in London.