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Round the Bend: Pages 211 through 220

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  • Round the Bend: Pages 211 through 220

    ROUND the BEND
    Nevil Shute, 1951

    ```(annotated and with added blue highlights by al-Brunardot)



    set of ideas, that good work and good living were one and indivisible.

    I turned away, and strolled back to the Tramp, deep in thought. It seemed to me that Connie had done something quite remarkable. He had gained support for his ideas both from the Imams of the Persian Gulf and from the pongyis of Rangoon; he had succeeded in impressing both Moslems and Buddhists with the same message. True, it was all coloured by the fact that he was talking to the men who maintained aircraft, whose profession made a bond of internationalism which might transcend the narrower boundaries of their religion. But all the same, it seemed to me to be a remarkable achievement. I wondered if he would make his mark upon the degenerate Hinduism of Bali.

    After a time the meeting broke up, and presently Phinit came with the bowser and we refuelled the Tramp. When that was over I went back with Phinit and Arjan Singh to the rest house. There was a small crowd of Burmese around the verandah and the door of Connie's room was closed; squatting outside it was U Myin, the Burmese lad that we had found at Damrey Phong.

    I greeted him. "Evening, U Myin," I said. "Is Shak Lin inside?"

    He got to his feet. "The Teacher is very tired, and he must rest."

    "May I go and speak to him?"

    He hesitated, and then stood aside and opened the door for me. Connie was lying stretched upon the charpoy in a short pair of pants; it was very hot in the room with the door shut, and he was sweating in streams, so that dark patches showed upon the sheet on which he lay. I noticed again how thin he had become.

    He raised his head as I came in, and then raised his body on one elbow. "Evening," he said. "I was just having a lie-down."

    I grinned. "Takes it out of you, I suppose—all that talking."

    "A bit."

    "Let me send over for a whiskey—a chota."

    He shook his head. "I never touch it. You know that."

    I nodded. "Have you eaten anything today?"

    He shook his head. "I'll wait till the crowd's gone, and then I'll slip over to the restaurant."

    "That crowd's a fixture," I said. "I'll send one of the boys over for a tray. They've always got a curry there. Curry and rice?"


    He thanked me, and got up, and went across the room and had a long drink of water from the chatty. I went out, and spoke to U Myin and Phinit, and U Myin went to the restaurant leaving Phinit to guard the door and keep the crowd away. He came back presently carrying a tray covered with a white cloth, a meal of curry and rice and fruit. I went into Connie's room and saw him settled down and eating it.

    "Take off at dawn tomorrow morning," I said. "Refuel at Penang and enter the Dutch Indies at Palembang, and then to Diento for the night. That okay with you?"

    He nodded. "I've got nothing more to do here."

    "What about all those chaps outside? There's one or two monks with them."

    "I'll go out presently and say good night to them. Tell U Myin to tell them that, would you?"

    I nodded. "I'll tell him."

    He looked up at me, smiling. "I sometimes think that you're a very patient man."

    I grinned. "I'm a chap who's been operating aircraft for three years without a sniff of engine trouble," I said. "If the price is to send for a meal of curry and rice over from the restaurant, well, that's okay by me."

    We got to Diento at dusk next day without incident, and spent the night with those hospitable people in their tropical country club by the riverside. Next day we flew on. We passed Batavia and went on down the length of Java to Sourabaya and landed there to refuel; then we got going again and flew to Bali. We landed on the airstrip there about the middle of the afternoon. There was no other aircraft there, but just as we were preparing to leave the strip to drive into the city, Den Pasar, a Dakota appeared from the east, circled once, and came in to land. It taxied to park by our Tramp and stopped its engines.

    I had not met Eddie Maclean before, though we had cabled and corresponded. He drove with me into the hotel, and when we had had a shower and changed our clothes we met in the wide, airy forecourt for a drink. At his end everything was working out all right; and he was anxious to retain the contract and prevent the Arabia-Sumatran people from operating the service themselves;


    I said that that was his affair. He was anxious to examine my Tramp and very interested to know how much it cost, and he had heard a garbled tale of Connie Shaklin that I had to put right for him. I liked him well enough, and we sat for a long time together in the blue of the night in the cool forecourt of the Bali Hotel, drinking Bols and talking about aircraft and their maintenance. From time to time Balinese young men and girls passed by in the road, talking and laughing softly together in quiet, musical voices. Both men and women wore much the same clothes, a sarong with a blouse or shirt above, for they were in their best clothes now and walking out together. They seemed to me to be a very beautiful people.

    We all went out to the aerodrome early next morning and transferred the load from the Tramp to the Dakota, a troublesome business because each of the great drills weighed seven or eight hundred pounds. It took us two hours with a gang of men to get the eleven drills out of the Tramp and into the Dakota, and then we set to work to refuel. Finally Maclean took off in the Dakota and vanished over the island of Lombok in the direction of Australia, and I was left upon the airstrip with Connie and Phinit and Arjan Singh.

    I stayed two days at Bali with them, which was all the time that I could spare. With the changes that had taken place at Bahrein I had to get back there as soon as possible; I could not spend a week or ten days holidaying in Bali as I had intended. I went and called upon the Dutch administrator, Bergen, that I had met when I was there before, and took Connie Shaklin with me and introduced him. With Bergen and Voorn, the airport manager, we went back to the strip and inspected the store and workshop building that I wanted to rent, built into the side of the hangar. The buildings were in fair condition and the rents were not too bad, and having no option in the matter I arranged to rent them there and then.

    The next day was spent in arranging with Voorn and Connie the alterations that were needed. We had brought with us in the Tramp one spare engine and a fair assortment of tools and spares, enough to carry out minor maintenance work and repairs. We found a carpenter to come and work under Connie to put up all


    the necessary racks and shelves, and got that going. 'Then we had to fix up some accommodation for Connie and Phinit.

    At that, I must say, I was a bit out of my depth. They were both Asiatics, and though in that place of no prejudice it would have been quite possible for them to live in European style in Den Pasar, they both declared that they preferred to live with the people in some village closer to the strip. They had a point there, because Den Pasar was ten miles from the airstrip and I had no car to leave them, nor would it have been at all easy to buy one or get petrol for it in that place. If they wanted to live with the Balinese in Asiatic style that suited the work best, and suited me.

    The major difficulty was, of course, the fact that they had no common language; if the Balinese spoke anything at all but their own tongue it would be Dutch. However, Connie made light of this point when I raised it; he said that it would be an inconvenience for the first week if he could not converse with the people, but after that the language would present no obstacle. So we went and talked to Voorn and Bergen, and went out that afternoon with a young man called Andel from the administration office driving us in a jeep, to look for somewhere for Connie and Phinit to live.

    He took us to a place called Pekendang, a village about a mile to the south of the airstrip, in the other direction to the city.

    This village was a lovely place. It was built in a grove of coconut palms a little way from a white coral beach; in fact, a proportion of the men were fishermen. Behind it, rice fields stretched in terraces up the hill. The village itself seemed to consist of three or four walled enclosures grouped around a temple enclosure, and the high walls which surrounded these enclosures were pierced only by narrow entrances or gateways with carved limestone ornamentation.

    I asked Andel if the people put these walls up for defence. He grinned. "Defence against bad spirits," he said. "These walls, they put up to keep out the ghosts at night."

    He stopped the jeep outside one of these gateways. "A man is here I think will help," he said. We all got out and followed him through the wall.


    Inside, the wall enclosed a space about a hundred yards square. The ground was of hard beaten earth, and dotted about in the area were a number of single-story dwellings, wooden structures with palm thatch roofs and walls. Each seemed to consist of one or two rooms; the floors were raised about three feet above the earth. As walls were absent on one side of each house, if not on two sides, the effect was that of a number of deep verandahs which disclosed sleeping charpoys in the dim background.

    "This is a house temple," said Andel. "Each house for one member of the family with his wife and children." Arranged around a central square were six or eight shrines, small alcoves on masonry pedestals raised five or six feet from the ground. There did not seem to be an image in any of them, but a few artificial flowers of palm fronds were laid in a few of the shrines, as offerings.

    The whole area was well shaded with palm trees. Men and women were sitting about, the men mostly working at fishing nets or carving woodwork, the women weaving or cooking on open fires behind the houses or nursing their children. In the confines of this family enclosure both men and women went naked to the waist in a sarong. They were well-developed, happy people, golden brown in colour, going tranquilly about their daily life in the warm sun. It struck me that they had achieved a better life than I had, who dashed hurriedly from country to country in an aircraft, pursuing God knew what.

    They paid little attention to us, except to smile as we went by. Andel stopped at rather a larger house, apparently the home of the head of the family. An old, grey-headed man got up from squatting on the steps as he approached, and smiled at him.

    They talked together in Balinese for a time. Then Andel turned to us and said, "This is I Wajan Rauh." Rauh was the name, and Wajan meant first son of his father, an indication of his standing in the community. "Wajan says that the village can accommodate your friends if they have no objection to living as the people do. He says they can have a room to themselves."

    I said, "May we see where they would have to sleep?"

    The old man led us to another house. I said to Connie, "What about it? Is it a bit primitive? You can live in Den Pasar if you'd rather."


    He said, "I would rather live here, with these people."

    "What about you, Phinit?"

    The Siamese boy said, "It is similar to how they live in my mother's village, near Hua Hin. I should be happy to live here."

    The house that Wajan showed us was a single room with one charpoy in it, apparently kept for putting up a casual traveller. He could produce another bed. As regards food, he had a daughter who would cook for the two strangers, and he sent a child running for his daughter. She came in a few minutes, a striking-looking, smiling woman of about forty perhaps but very well preserved. She was wearing only a sarong, but as she had come to meet the strangers she had thrown a towel over her shoulders with the ends hanging down her back so that her firm, fine breasts were partially hidden. She talked to her father and to Andel for a minute or two, smiling, and then nodded.

    The Dutchman said, "This is Mem Simpang. Simpang is her son; Balinese women take the name of their first child, unless there is another to make a confusion. You call her Mem Simpang."

    Connie repeated that, and the woman nodded, laughing with him. He indicated himself, still laughing, and said, "Shak Lin." She repeated it, and then turned to Andel and asked something. He replied in the negative.

    "She asked if you have a caste," he said. "She thinks you must be an aristocrat."

    Connie shook his head. "Tell her we're just ordinary people."

    "I will do that." A little conversation ensued, while a small crowd of people gathered round. A girl of seventeen or eighteen with a very sweet face, with a piece of cloth thrown over one shoulder and breast as a sign of good manners, came and stood by Mem Simpang. Presently Andel turned to us again.

    "She will provide food and cook for you," he said. "They are asking for three guilders a day each, for food and lodging. I have told them that it is much too much, and they should be ashamed to treat strangers so, but they say you are highborn people and must have the best."

    Three guilders a day is about six English shillings. Connie laughed and said, "Ask her if she'll take two if I help to look after the children."


    Andel translated, and for some reason that sent the fine, middle-aged woman off into fits of laughter, and the people round laughed with her. Andel coloured a little. "She has only two children," he said. "The eldest, a boy, is away fishing." He indicated the pleasant-looking girl. "This is the younger, Ni Made Jasmi. You call her Made; that means, second child. She will probably do most of your work."

    He paused, and then he added. "I am afraid you will find that these people have a very broad sense of humour, Mr. Shak Lin."

    Connie said, "Most country people have, in all parts of the world. Tell her that we will pay three guilders and Made shall look after us."

    We went back through the houses to the wall entrance, having made arrangements for Connie and Phinit to get their gear and move in next day. Passing the open space with the shrines, Connie said,

    "They are Hindus, aren't they?"

    Andel said, "Of a sort. I do not think that Indians would recognize much of their religion in what these people do. It is a very complicated religion, Mr. Shak Lin; there are over forty thousand temples in Bali, and each has a festival two or three times a year. The people here spend most of their spare time in going to festivals or making up offerings to take to the next one. They are very devout. And yet, I do not think they really know what their religion is about. Certainly, I don't."

    Connie said quietly, "It will be interesting to learn about it."

    Andel said, "You will learn plenty about it as soon as you can talk to them, because their whole life centres round the temple festivals. They are a very religious-minded people."

    As we drove off in the jeep I wondered uneasily what would come of putting Connie down to live in such a place as that.

    Next morning Arian Singh and I took off in the Tramp for Diento on our way back to Bahrein. We left Connie and Phinit to get on with it and set up the small maintenance base I had planned. I left a credit at the bank for him, and told him not to economize too much on cables; it would pay us to know what his requirements were before the next trip left Bahrein to come to him,


    We got to Diento that day after a stop at Batavia for formalities and fuel. We loaded up with about a ton and a half of machinery and three passengers for Yenanyaung and made Rangoon next evening after one stop at Penang. At Yenauyaung next day we picked up five passengers and two tons of load for Bahrein and got back to Mingladon by dinner time, refuelled, and made Calcutta for the night. Next day took us to Karachi where we night-stopped before going on to Bahrein.

    We stopped outside the airport building at Karachi and Arian went up to the Control office to do his stuff there; I went and fixed up accommodation for my passengers in the airport hotel. Then I had to move the Tramp because it was in the way of other aircraft, and I got in and started it up, and taxied it down the tarmac past the hangars to its parking place for the night.

    It was evening by then, and after sunset. I was very tired; we had flown and worked continuously for four days since leaving Bali, and even in so well equipped an aircraft that can be a strain. I stopped the engines and locked the controls. There were things I should have done that night, but it was nearly dark and all the jobs could wait till we were fuelling at dawn. I got down from the cockpit into the big, empty fuselage and walked down to the door, and got down on to the tarmac, locking the door after me.

    There was a Man waiting for me by the tailplane. He came towards me, and I saw that it was Salim, the lad who had worked for us at one time and was now with Sind Airways. He came forward and said, "Good evening, Mr. Cutter."

    "Evening, Salim," I said. "How goes it?"

    "I am very well, Mr. Cutter," he said. "Mr. Shak Lin, he has not come back with you?"

    "No, he's staying down in Bali for a time," I said. "He's looking after things for us there."

    He was silent. Then he said, "Mr. Cutter, you heard about the trouble in Bahrein?"

    I turned to him quickly. "I haven't heard of anything. Has something happened there?"

    "'They say there has been fighting in the souk," he said. "Much


    trouble, very much trouble. It is because the Teacher has been sent away."

    Nadezna lived in the souk, but Gujar Singh lived near; surely, he would have been looking after her? "'What happened in the souk, Salim?"

    "An English officer was stoned," he said. "They say he was very badly hurt. He would have been killed, but the Sister was there."

    "Who was this English officer?"

    "It was the Liaison Officer, from the Residency."

    "Major Hereward?"

    "I do not know the name. It was the Liaison Officer. The people of Bahrein say it was because of him that the Teacher was sent away, and so they stoned him. And then the R.A.F. stopped men from going to the hangar by a guard, and when the people came the guard fired, but they fired into the air and the people went on and said their Rakats at the hangar as usual. One of the bullets fired into the air fell down and killed a goat. Then the guard was taken away, and now the people go and say their Rakats every night. Many people go, every night."

    God, this was awful. It was just what Connie had warned me might happen. I had done nothing to prevent it, but there was probably nothing that I could have done; the Residency would not have listened to anything I said.

    "How is the Liaison Officer?" I asked. "Will he recover? When did this happen?"

    "It happened the day after you came through here with the Teacher," he said. "Eight days ago."

    "How is the Liaison Officer?"

    "He is in the hospital. It is all right, because the Sister was there and she saved him."

    I was puzzled. "Which sister was that?" I was thinking of someone from the hospital.

    "The Sister of the Teacher," he said. "The one who works for you as secretary."

    "Nadezna? Was it she who saved the Liaison Officer?"

    he said. "The Sister."

    "Do you know what happened, Salim?"


    "The Englishman was driving in his car alone in the Muharraq road towards the Causeway," he said. "Someone threw a stone and broke the windscreen. And the man stopped and got out of his car, and more stones were thrown, and one hit him on the arm and broke it, and one hit him on the head and then he fell down beside the car, and more stones were thrown to hit him as he lay upon the ground, by many people. But God, the Compassionate, the Merciful, took pity on him. The Sister, who was in the street, came running, and she saw the crowd and the men throwing stones. And the Sister came to the crowd and they made way for her, and she went forward through the stones that men were throwing and stood over the Englishman who was lying on the ground. She said, 'This is a bad thing, and the Teacher will be angry when he conies to hear of it.' Then the men stopped throwing, and she called to two of them to take up the Englishman and lay him gently in the back seat of his car, and that was done, and the Sister got into the car and drove it to the hospital, and the crowd made way for her to pass with the car. And when they came to the hospital men came with a stretcher and they put the Englishman upon it and took him inside, and he will recover from the stoning. And when that was done, the Sister was ill and she was sick in the road by the car, because she is a woman and had been afraid. And one came and said, 'Sister of the Teacher, shall we take you also to the hospital?' But she said, 'I will go back now to the souk, to my own place. Go you to the Residency and tell the guard to come and drive this car away, and see that no harm shall come to it.' And that was done."

    I walked back with him to the main airport building, but he knew nothing more than that. It had all happened a week ago. A machine of Orient Airways had been through Bahrein upon a pilgrim flight to Jidda and the crew had heard all this and brought the news back to Karachi, but since then there had been no authentic news of what was going on. "I think everything is quiet now," said Salim. "If there was still trouble we should have heard, because the radio operators talk to each other all the time."

    Outside the main building we met Arian Singh walking towards us in the tarmac lights. He said, "There has been fighting