The Burmese Engineer
In the 25 years that I was sailing on or managing ships, I have sailed with a Burmese guy only once – his name was ‘Pe’ and he was a third engineer on a ship that I was Chief Engineer on. A nice hardworking and friendly chap. Always ready to lend a hand whenever required. His only problem was sometimes – maybe once a month, he would get totally sozzled. In that condition, he would be out of action for a day or two and then back to normal. Those were the days when shippies were – well shippies and this was possible. Nowadays, on most ships, drinking even a beer is a big problem.
His stories of Burma were hilarious. It seems, at least in those days, there was petrol rationing. Every car would get a ‘petrol ration card’ which entitled the car to get x amount of litres of petrol per week. So, the best investment in those days was to buy an old car and promptly sell off everything in it, including the engine, except the wheels, steering wheel and the seats!
The trick was to tow the car to the nearest petrol station every week and push it for the last hundred feet or so. Show the ration card and get your quota of fuel for something like 2 ‘chaats’. Then push it out for another 100 feet or so, where there were guys waiting and sell it for sometimes as much as 15 chaats a litre!!
Until the government put a spanner in the works by declaring that cars over 15 years old should be compulsorily scrapped! The business didn’t stop, but the maths got complicated with calculations for life remaining, etc, etc becoming a factor in the price of a car.
Anyway, Pe got a message one fine day that his wife had delivered a baby boy. He was overjoyed. There was a huge party. Champagne flowed. Pe got drunk and danced through the night. All well.
Then, after a few days, I heard a commotion in the TV room – the place where guys met in the evenings to have a drink and watch some TV. I walked in and Pe had a large knife in his hand and was having an argument with some of the crew members. As I intervened to cool things down, Pe suddenly turned around and held the knife point to my stomach, asking me “How would you like it if someone were to hold a knife against you?”
Well, I was a little bit scared at that time. I knew Pe wasn’t the type to stab someone. But the fact that he was totally drunk got me worried a bit. He said he wanted to get off the ship in the next port and I promised him that I would do that. “You have no authority to promise that!” he said and he was correct.
My wife was also there and she started sobbing.
I called for the Captain. He was a good friend and very experienced in handling people. In such a situation, a wrong word or tone of voice would really be disastrous.
The Captain walked into the TV room and straight away asked Pe to come with him to his office to discuss matters. Pe got a bit confused and forgetting all about me, started walking with the Captain. Somewhere along the way, the cook took the knife away from him. That was the last we all saw of Pe till the next day. After sobering down, he came on duty and seeing me there, started apologising profusely to me and my wife.
After a few days, he got off the ship.
Discussing the incident with the Captain over a beer one day, I came to know the true cause of Pe’s behaviour.
It seems after the celebrations of becoming a father of a bonny son, he sat down one day and calculated the no. of months, etc and the timing didn’t match!
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