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Highlights In The Shadows: 19 - Jamboree

…we scouts boarded long narrow low-canopied punts which we had to manage ourselves. It was a nerve-racking business as the waters of the Ganges Delta were full of crocodiles….

Owen Clement, continuing his exotic life story, recalls a Scout jamboree held in India in 1939.

For more of Owen’s story click on Highlights In The Shadows in the menu on this page.

The first jamboree was held in 1939 in Barasal in the Sunderbunds; the Ganges Delta.

After our short train-ride from Calcutta south to the town of Khulna in the Sunderbunds, where my aunt Phyllis and her family lived, we Scouts boarded long narrow low-canopied punts which we had to manage ourselves. It was a nerve-racking business as the waters of the Ganges Delta were full of crocodiles. When it was my turn to help two other boys tow our punt along the bank, we were terrified to see a large dark shape slither into the water a few yards ahead. Fortunately, it turned out to be a less dangerous Monitor lizard.

If we were not punting or towing the flat-bottomed boat we sat half bent-over inside the cabin. Because of the extremely hot and steamy conditions, we spent a great deal of time swapping and changing.

Our camp was situated in the palace grounds of the Raja of Barasal whose son was one of the local Scouts attending the jamboree.

One afternoon the Scoutmasters and the Scouts were invited to a banquet at the Raja’s palace. We all sat cross-legged on well-padded cushions around a huge low marble table. Many sumptuous exotic spicy dishes were put in front of us, one after the other, until we were stuffed. After the servants removed the empty dishes, Father Mac insisted that we eat the dessert. Not to do so would offend our host. We all groaned when we were told that it was to be rice pudding. What a letdown after such a delicious meal, we thought. How we managed to eat the mouth-watering ‘rice pudding’ filled with cashew nuts, raisins, rose water, spices and other delicacies I don’t know, but somehow we managed.

After our tests in the morning we spent the muggy afternoons swimming and floating around on sections of banana trunks in the palace tank (lagoon).

As we were to spend the whole afternoon in Calcutta after the jamboree waiting for our evening train to Kharagpur, the other Scouts had asked to go and see a film in the city's air-conditioned Lighthouse Cinema. I was apprehensive about this, as I found movies terrifying. My parent's had once taken me to see Errol Flynn as "Captain Blood". I screamed and ran out of the theatre at the first sword fight. I confidentially mentioned my concerns to Pat Wright, "Akela ".

“Don’t worry, Owen, you sit right next to me. Just remember that nothing is what it seems, okay! Movies are just actors pretending to be the characters they portray.”

We students and Scouts hero-worshipped Pat, as he was a fine sportsman and athlete and one of those rare teachers who could get his charges, if asked, to walk on broken glass for him. The film the other boys decided on was, "The Invisible Man Returns" with Claude Rains as the invisible man.

Every time I showed signs of becoming agitated or anxious during the film, Pat would quietly explain technically what was happening. Having worked with my father in his black and white photographic darkroom I was familiar with double-exposures and was able to grasp what he described.

I was coping well and feeling very proud of myself, when we suddenly heard a commotion and some of the women in the audience screamed. The movie was stopped and the lights came on.

“You boys stay here,” Pat said and went off to see what had happened. He came back shaking his head with a sardonic grin on his face.

“Some rascal kicked the theatre cat with both feet from the upstairs balcony onto the audience below, during one of the most suspenseful moments of the film.”

“Was it hurt?” One animal lover asked.

“The idiot was lucky at being just thrown out of the theatre rather than being charged with manslaughter. He could easily have caused someone to have a heart attack.”

We scouts thought that it was a great joke.

After this began my fascination, or I should say obsession, with the movies up to the present day, even though I do not believe that films today capture the magic of those of the nineteen thirties and forties.

© Clement 2006

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