My first job, my first vessel,four months without a shore leave and my mind turned into pulp. just like all the ports covered in the last 4 months,expecting a shore leave at the next port was just as sinister. it was then that we reached Kobe,japan that the ship could finally get an over night stay at port,just enough time for everybody to go out for a few hrs.
at 5 in the evening, me and the fourth engineer with pockets full of american money got out. turns out, the banks close retail operations well before 4 in the afternoon and hence no other way of exchanging money. and voila,there it was, 2 Indians in a foreign country where nobody spoke English,money in our pockets not even worth a cab ride into the city and the thought of going back on board without even a beer to wet our salt parched throats too heavy.
nonetheless, we played the odds and started walking towards the city on foot. out on my first shore leave ever, i was still a little apprehensive about the way it started but then i have the fourth engineer to thank for, partly for the way the evening turned out and mostly for the way he was calm about the way it started. i don’t really remember the walk per se, but i do remember more than a few people riding bikes probably the same size as the tricycles toddlers ride here. how the machine was able to accommodate a fully grown man is beyond my understanding faculties.
a few kilometers of mileage on foot, and more than a few aimless pictures which never saw the light of day(in the trash can is where they belonged,which also highlights my uselessness as a photographer even with a point and shoot) we were getting tired, not to mention being on the verge of accepting the fate of the evening being similar to the last hr gone past. as a last ditch effort, we decided to walk into a mall before we called it a night and went back on board.
there was nothing special about the mall as such. the same electronics store, the same super mart and the same feel of the countless number of malls in Delhi ncr. seeing all the people there, i started hoping (not to appear stereotypical) to find somebody, non jap looking, who could speak English and probably do us a favor by exchanging our dollars into yen. going around the stores of the mall I eventually ran into an extremely helpful jap, who tried his best to guide us even without being able to find a common ground in our different vocabularies. but a while later, we were again in the same predicament as we were not so long ago. NO JAP MONEY!!!!!
And then finally i saw someone who i thought could speak English(the judgement came solely on the basis of his non asian appearance). the fourth engineer had lost all interest by then to approach anybody so it was left to me to make an effort. as i approached him, i remember the lack of reluctance on my part. i only had to gain and there was nothing to lose. as i asked him if he spoke English and heard a clear reply from him confirming it, i asked him if there was someplace we could go to at that hour, to get the currency exchanged,hoping for a different answer but knowing fully well about the content of the reply. at last, I asked him where he was from and to my surprise he said ‘PAKISTAN’. it was then that i made an attempt of starting to speak to him in hindi,telling him that i am from india, that he thankfully offered his help to us and personally exchanged all the money that we had. it was more than we could have hoped for, probably a bit of a surprise for him too bumping into indians apart from a cricket stadium or probably in london(:) ). and then to top it off, he also offered to take us around the city.
the evening looked better already and the effort of having strolled aimlessly around the city for hrs looked worthwhile.
he made sure we saw all that there was to see in the city,walking through the streets and bylanes, just as you’d expect to explore a new place to plant your feet in,sharing various anecdotes about both his personal as well as professional life. i sensed an extra interest on his part when it came to talking about our life at sea.
in the course of our tour of the city, he told us about his first marriage to a Japanese girl (probably for a work permit), whom he later divorced and then got remarried to someone back home.he told us about the small Indo-Pakistani community in the city and the extremely cordial relations between them, about the mutual fear of visiting each other’s country,about the fact of how one his acquaintances from his village going missing on his trip to India during an india-pakistan cricket match in mohali to extending a gracious invitation and guaranteeing our safety in Karachi if ever we decided to pay him a visit. he also told us about how much he wanted to visit the Taj Mahal and quote’ bhai jaan,ek hi tamanna hai meri. hindustan aake taj mahal dekhni ki. aakhir abbu ne naam bhi rakha hai shahjahan’.
it was heart warming to see a total stranger from a warring country extending such hospitality and investing his time into making sure our experience with someone on the other side of the border was something that we could talk and tell people about. we would have walked more than we could have expected our bodies to take but there was no tiredness.
it was already close to 9 at night and we had to keep time and be back on board by 10. we invited shahjahan for a quick dinner but he politely declined and gave us directions to the nearest mc donalds so we could grab a quick bite before we started on our way back.
i remember very vividly, the parting words which he said to us about how he wanted us to be just as hospitable in the event of us bumping into a pakistani and pay it forward.
the spot of bother that shahjahan pulled us out from, not only sponsored our dinner(not technically) and helped us shop a bit but at the end of it, we were also left with enough to buy a six pack(which we had to smuggle on board. it was a zero alcohol ship and anybody finding out would have only meant trouble).
i can hardly remember more than a few lines between the fourth engineer and shahjahan(i probably should have documented this earlier) but i do remember paras(the 4th engineer) being happy high with the way the evening ended considering how hopelessly we thought it would wrap up.
it has been more than 5 yrs since that evening but thanks to shahjahan, the next time i go to kobe,i would know exactly where i am and which place to go to and hopefully bump into him again so we can catch up for a long over due dinner.