My Maiden Sea Voyage – Part 1

We were very fortunate to be born in an extended family where we were surrounded by grandparents, great grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins all living under the same roof.

We lived in a large happy home. The only person missing in our lives was our father. He was in the merchant navy and would be away for months. So much so, that when I was born he was in Germany. He received a telegram of my birth. I was 3 months old the first time he saw me. He missed my first birthday but gave us a surprise by showing up for my 2nd! Being a junior engineer, he did not have the permission to take us with him. Every time he would leave, we would start to count days for his return. When I was 5, one day he told us that he would be able to take us with him. We jumped with joy not really knowing what to expect but the thought of seeing him everyday surpassed any other feelings. The next few days were not that exciting. We had to go to some office and take painful shots (vaccination) followed by someone telling me to write my name on a piece of paper. They were trying to make a passport for me. However, since I could not sign, I ended up having a fingerprint. My sister was 2, so she could not have her own passport and would be added to my Mom’s.

Within a month or so we were ready to board the ship. We packed our clothes, books and favorite toys. My mom spoke to my class teacher and looked at the syllabus for the next 2 months. My grandfather bought cans of KC Das Rosogolla (I believe it was a new thing at that time) so we would not miss home. When we arrived at the ship, everyone was waiting to welcome the Chief Engineer and his family. We felt very shy at first as we only knew Bengali and none of the other crew members knew that language. We quickly realized that language was not a barrier and we were able to communicate with everyone in our own ways and soon they became our ‘uncles’. Baba gave us a tour of the ship and taught us new words like port, starboard, bridge, gangway, lifeboat, engine room, porthole etc. Our cabin had a bedroom, a living room and a bathroom. It was very compact but we loved the concept of a bunk bed. In no time we were actually running all over the ship and almost felt like home as if the entire ship belonged to us. The junior engineers kept an eye on us since we were the only kids ship. We traveled through the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea before reaching the Persian Gulf. We touched many ports like Muscat, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Kuwait City, Banda Abbas and may be a few more. I have very little memory of site seeing (if any) but fondly remember the interactions we had with the fellow shipmates. We did not realize that we might not ever see them in our lives. If we happen to meet any of them today, we might not remember their names but remember a story!

It was just another day when the 3rd Engineer came and told my mom that he had purchased a polaroid camera and would like to take pictures of us. We were beyond thrilled to see instant pictures coming out of a camera! My favorite is the one on the funnel of the ship. I have absolutely no idea how I ended up there!

My favorite story was during Christmas when we were chosen to be the elves of Santa Claus. We visited everyone and collected an item that Santa would put in his sack. Our collection included bar soaps, pens, books and other items that one would normally have in their possession. We wrapped those in newspapers and put them in the sack that was actually a drape with 4 corners tied together with a rope!!! Santa Claus walked around the ship carrying my sister on one hand and the sack on the other delivering presents!

While we were on anchorage outside a port in Iran, my Mom needed to urgently see a dentist. We had no way of reaching a dock, so the lifeboat had to be used. We climbed into it, got in lowered and rode it to the shore. 30 years later when she visited a dentist in India, he did not believe that the filling was done with a material that had become available only a couple of years back. We also had a meal at someone’s home that day and till date my mom considers it to be the best Basmati Rice she had ever tasted!

While spending time in the common room/ library I discovered a small record (I know the bigger ones were called LP and we had a 78 rpm too but can’t remember the name of the small kind). Someone played it for me and I absolutely fell in love with the first song. It was ‘Tere Mere Milan Ki yeh Raina’ from the movie Abhimaan! Baba sang the Bengali version (Jodi tare nai chini go sheki) for us!

The random acts of kindness, the feeling of home away from home and just learning to appreciate every little thing around us taught us life lessons we would not have learnt otherwise.

We returned home and wanted to be on a ship all over again!  We left for Australia very soon.

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