Early morning on 13 July 1969, a train entered the main platform of Ernakulam junction and slowly came to a halt. Coolies started running up and down to grab passenger’s luggage. I got down from my compartment in a jubilant mood, feeling the morning air of Kerala. The aspiration to join the Indian Navy as an electrical officer was evoking enthusiasm.
That was Sunday. The next day, I had to report to INS Venduruthy, a training base of the Indian Navy for B&D (Basic and Divisional) training. In my compartment, another aspirant, Mansoor Ali Bohra was also traveling, but I had missed the opportunity to interact with him on the train. After deboarding, we made acquaintance and got along amicably. After a brief discussion, both of us decided to stay in a hotel and report the next day morning, to avoid ragging by seniors.
A taxi driver took us to a nearby hotel, Woodlands, but no room was available there. We were not sure where to look for another hotel. Sensing our helplessness, the receptionist offered us a room in the annexure, very close to the main building. Though there was no provision for meals in that building, they were kind enough to provide us packed meals. It suited us well, and we moved to our room on the first floor.
On getting ready for the day, a bearer came to serve us South Indian breakfast, which we savored. By the time we finished eating, it started raining. The intensity of rain gradually increased, ruining our plan to explore the city. Sitting next to the window, it was wonderful to watch the incessant rain of Kerala, and enjoy the melody of raindrops pelting on tree leaves. We were highly engrossed and forgot to keep track of time.
After some time, our lunch-box arrived. After relishing the meal, we decided to catch up on sleep. In the evening, it was still raining, so we could not take the risk to go out. We slept soon after dinner, intending to wake up early and start our journey towards the naval base.
There was no rain in the morning and the sky was clear with bright sunshine. Traveling a short distance from the hotel, we reached the main gate of Venduruthy. The wide iron gate was kept open for new trainees. On the other side of the gate, seniors were waiting to welcome us for ragging. I quickly planned to save myself from the clutches of seniors and walked a little fast, leaving the rest of my batch mates behind.
Because of my NCC training from my school time till engineering college, I was aware of the dress code of the navy. Therefore, I sported a short haircut and had also shaved-off my mustache. Two seniors stopped me and asked my name. Promptly, I replied, “Sub-lieutenant Das.” They thought, I was not a new trainee and allowed me to go in. Hurriedly, I reached the reception counter, registered my name and straightway went to the barrack allocated for us.
There, I relaxed till lunchtime. When my friends came, after being ragged thoroughly by seniors, they were surprised to see that I had escaped ragging. We all went for lunch together. In the dining hall, seniors were waiting to check our table manners, so as to continue ragging in the evening. Two seniors sitting on both sides of me were critically watching me. One on the right side asked me to report to him in his room after lunch. I knew that we were not permitted to go to anybody’s room. So, I acknowledged him saying ‘yes’, but instead of going to his room, I went to our barrack.
Every night, my friends were getting ragged by seniors. However, I could manage to avoid the harassment. In engineering college, I was an anti-ragging and protected student from such unsocial practices. In my opinion, the concept of ragging is not the correct way to interact with juniors. The same motive can be achieved differently.
From next morning, our rigorous training commenced. The whole night it was raining, but just before our physical Training (PT) class, it stopped. We had no option but to run to the PT ground. As under-trainees, we were supposed to move from one place to another by running and not allowed to walk at any time. Just after PT, the rain started again. Quickly, we had to finish our morning routine and run for breakfast. Soon thereafter, the rain stopped and again we had to run to the parade ground for rifle drill. This flip-flop attitude of rain became a regular feature, as if it was following the training time-table of the base. Therefore, we had no chance to escape any activity on the pretext of rain.
For any mistake during rifle drill, the punishment was one round of the vast parade ground, holding the rifle in both hands, with hands stretched on top of the head. Two of our batch mates were not fluent in Hindi and therefore, they found difficulty in pronouncing parade commands. They were being punished for this every day. Ragging, punishment and running became a way of life for us. We had no time to relax, or think beyond our next routine activity. In the process, we were gradually getting oriented to the naval life.
After seven days of training, our sea experience was scheduled on-board a steamship, INS Ganga. We were highly excited to sail on a warship. However, none of us were aware of seasickness. The ship sailed off, and moved slowly in the Cochin channel for a considerable distance. At the end of the channel, the ship entered the sea, riding large waves. We all preferred to stand on the front part of the ship, called forecastle (fo’c’sle), next to the national flag, to enjoy the view of the blue sea. Every naval ship carries two flags, the national flag on the front and the naval ensign on the aft of the ship, a part called quarterdeck. This deck is a special structural part of a ship, and also the place for important announcements, as well as pronouncement of major punishments.
While enjoying the cold air and tossing waves of the sea, we felt giddiness, followed by headache and vomiting. We were asked to move to the aft side of the ship. Within no time, most of us were flat on the quarterdeck. The rainwater, mixed with a flash of salty seawater, and the bright burning sunrays made us sick. Only five of our batch mates could tolerate sea sickness. It is said that “those who do not get sea sickness feel hungry”.Those five officers consumed all 50 lunch packs.
Before sunset, the ship returned to the harbor. Frequent vomiting had made us very weak and by night many of us felt feverish. The next day, most of our batch skipped PT. The course officer came to our class and commanded, “Stand up those who did not attend PT”. A sizable strength stood up and explained the reason. He heard us silently and then invited us for a game at4 pm, in the backyard of our classroom. We were very relieved that at least he could understand our misery.
When we reached the backyard of the classroom, the course officer, with one PT instructor, was waiting for us. He ordered the PT instructor to give us ‘class one PT’ till further order. He then left the place. We immediately realized that he had planned to punish us. The special PTcontinued till he came back after one and a half hours. On arriving, he scolded the instructor for not instructing us to do proper PT. Thereafter, we were lined-up and made to front roll, covering the length and breadth of the ground. We continued front roll for a prolonged period without any break.
The onlookers were shocked and worried. The punishment made us totally exhausted and worn-out. When he asked us to stop, we had no strength to get up. He ordered us to fall-in and run back to the barrack. On the way, we were cursing him, and some of us even decided to leave the navy. One of our batch mates directly wrote a letter to CNS (Chief of the Naval Staff) stating that he would not like to continue in the Navy. He described the way we were being punished and harassed.
As a result, instructions came from NHQ(Naval Headquarters) to stop ragging and harassment. To avoid ragging, our evening self-study classes were conducted in the presence of the Officer – of- the- Day (OOD). While the torture stopped, the rigorous training continued without lag for a period of two and a half months. This training made us physically strong and mentally resilient to deal with challenges. Also, we became highly disciplined.
The next phase of training, aimed at sea acquaintance, was to be conducted for three weeks on-board warships. Two of my batch mates and I were assigned to join INS Vikrant, the aircraft carrier. We were glad because seasickness was more or less not felt on-board Vikrant. From the jetty, we were highly impressed to see such a large warship. It became difficult for us to find our way inside, from one deck to another. So, we always moved together. In the evening we went to the wardroom. There, we were the only sub-lieutenants amongst so many senior officers with glittering golden stripes. At this moment, all three of us felt proud to join the Navy.
A training programme has been promulgated for us. Over the next three weeks, the ship sailed to Lakshadweep islands, Goa, and then to Bombay. Prior to reaching the islands, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the then PM of India, along with FOC-in-C (West), boarded the warship to witness Naval Exercise. The ship’s routine became highly action-packed due to various war exercises conducted day and night.
We got attached to different departments for training, as per the program. Every evening, we had to write a journal on ‘record of learning’, which was checked the next day by the concerned department. We can never forget our four hours of keeping a night watch on the Bridge of the ship.It was very difficult to gaze continuously at the dark sea to locate any visual objects, and water dripped from our eyes due to the strain.
Our attachment to Air Department was highly exciting. It was a thrilling experience to see the operation of fighter aircraft on the flight deck; take-off by catapult system and hooking on arrester wire while landing. The control of aircraft by the Carrier Control Approach Radar was one of the prominent activities in the operation room. During this exposure, we forgot the anguish of our B&D days and realized the need for tough training to be fighting fit.
On arrival at Bombay harbour, we three proceeded to INS Valsura, Jamnagarfor professional training with our batch mates. Valsurawasthe training base for Electrical Officers and Sailors. Here also, PT and Parade were part of our daily routine, in addition, to classes on western technology and systems. The entire training was implemented in three phases- Basic, Technology and Equipment. In the evening, games and sports were compulsory for all trainees, as physical fitness was the mandatory requirement for naval officers, in addition to mental agility. Once again, life got engaged in rigorous activities, giving us no time to spare.
Every day, I received a number of letters from my friends as I was very popular in school and college. Although it was not possible for me to reply to so many letters, but friends kept on writing to encourage me. On the other hand, my batch mates grew very jealous of me for getting so many letters every day. At times, I had to stand drinks for the whole class to get back letters from them.
One day, I received a letter that ruined my enthusiasm, crumbled me emotionally and demolished my dreams. This was the letter from the girl with whom my marriage was mutually decided by both families.
During my second year in engineering, I had gone home on leave. The daughter of one of our distant relatives had come to our neighbor’s home on holidays. I met her occasionally during the leave period. My best friend had initiated the marriage proposal without my knowledge, after which the girl avoided meeting me. My leave period finished and we both returned to our previous destination. Not very long after returning, I received a letter from my friend stating, “The proposal has been finalized.”Acknowledging the fact that she will be my life partner, I followed a very self-controlled life to keep myself away from worldly attractions. It was an exceptional love, without communication, but with unfathomable feelings for each other. I had written a poem in my college magazine hinting at our unseen love. My father read my poem and being a poet could sense my emotional state of mind.
After I joined the Navy, her uncle did not accept the marriage proposal with a defense officer. Instead, he finalized her marriage with an IPS officer. She could not protest and get bedridden for 15 days with a high fever. At last, she gathered the courage to write a letter to convey her depressed feeling. Requesting forgiveness, she pleaded with me to remember her as a younger sister.I felt disappointed and lost interest in life. I could not concentrate in my studies, and my performance in the course got affected badly. The situation worsened so much that I was uncertain about my naval career. While NHQ was considering my case, I was going through mental agony. This period was the most difficult and proved to be a turning point in my life.
The training base was on an island named Rozi. Beyond the base, the island stretched to the vast sea through thick forest. In the forest, there was a temple of Rozi Mata. We often visited the temple on Sunday evenings to relax from the routine life.
One evening, I visited the temple and meditated in front of RoziMata to understand the purpose of life. There I realized that the aim of my life was not merely to marry a girl, but build a vision that can take me to the destination for which I had joined the Navy. In a divine experience, I felt the blessing of Mata and could clearly see the path to be followed. My wisdom prevailed and I decided to overcome the situation. I returned to base as a changed person, determined to steer the journey of life on a corrected course.
Next week, the decision from NHQ came for me to continue the course. I was asked to appear for the remaining paper on Weapon System. I cleared the paper and was awarded the course completion certificate.
Embracing the future, I wiped out the past from my mind. Two days later, I boarded the train to Calcutta (now Kolkata) to join INS Amba for the competency test. The Competency Certificate was mandatory for becoming a full-fledged electrical officer in the Navy.
After spending a few days in Calcutta, the ship sailed to Vizag. During my entire stay on-board, I was delegated to different departments to work alongside the officers and sailors. It was a great opportunity for observing different equipment and systems fitted on-board.I learned about their operation and maintenance aspects. Whole-heartedly putting in my best efforts in all activities, I demonstrated my professional skills. All departments were extremely pleased with my learning aptitude and sincere contributions.
The four-month-long training eventually came to an end. On the last day, I met the Captain in his cabin for the award of the Competency Certificate. That was the time when everyone came to know that I was an under-training officer. It was a great compliment for me. The next day, I joined Petya School for my specialization in Russian technology.
Life is full of uncertainties and moves through many ups and downs. Instead of getting drifted away with situations and sentiments, one should challenge them to overcome the hurdles on the path, so as to steer the journey of life ahead. When things are subject to change and future is unknown, then why get emotionally attached to the present events?Evaluation of circumstances and corrective action based on befitting decisions can pave the way to a promising future.