Manuel Fernandes has contemplated the sea from varied beaches along the vast Indian coastline. Ratnagiri, Goa, Kerala, and on the east, Puri, in Orissa. He has also made a few sorties off these coasts and into the sea.
I had dared the rough July-waves of the Arabian sea, and was now clinging to a small hand-hold on top of a motor launch. In the other hand I had a briefcase which contained small contraband. There was no way that I could safely change my position without being drawn into the deep. I was too terrified to even curse myself for not heeding the advice of my sea-faring friend whom I had left behind on his ship, and of the boat-men. I had no business for even being in those restricted waters, for all I had was an out-dated entry pass to the docks which I had used to meet this friend on board the MT Abul Kalam Azad.
When leaving the ship on a late evening, others got safely into the well of the boat, but I saw a couple of hardy fellows perched on the top. I thought that would be the better way of enjoying the hour-long trip back to the Indira Docks, Mumbai. My friend yelled at me from the deck of his ship to sit inside. But I cheerfully waved back saying that I was okay. The boat-men tried to make me see reason but I was adamant about my perch. So off we went and within five minutes I realised how foolish I was. The waves were huge, and my hold was becoming more and more tenacious. The others perched on top seemed completely at ease, as they smoked beedis and took the rolling in their stride.
For a land-lubber like me the experience was suicidal. The ledge below was only about ten inches in width and there was no way that I was going to let go my grip and make a dash for it, and thence to the safety of the well. I could have asked the boatmen to stop and let me down, but imagine the face I would have lost. So I prayed to all manner of gods, and hoped that my lean arms would not let me down. They didn’t, or I would not be writing this now.
There are the Elephanta caves which you reach after an hour-long boat-ride from the Gateway of India. The most enjoyable part of the ride is the close proximity of the sea gulls which hover and swoop over the boat as, with so many humans around.
Well, the other excursions into the sea that I made off the Mumbai harbour were not so nail-biting, but certainly more enjoyable. There are the Elephanta caves which you reach after an hour-long boat-ride from the Gateway of India. The most enjoyable part of the ride is the close proximity of the sea gulls which hover and swoop over the boat as, with so many humans around, they are sure to get juicy tid-bits which are possibly a variation from their monotonous diet of fish.
The other island off Mumbai is the Butcher Island. This is a restricted place, used to dock tankers. Huge pipes across the sea take the oil to the coast. I owe my visits to this island to the same sea-faring friend. Having spent all my life in Mumbai, the sea has become very much a part of my existence. So many times have I sat on the Versova beach on a moonlit night, alone or in company, just contemplating the silvery waters. Once, a friend and I bought juicy coconuts from a vendor at the Marine Drive, added a dash of vodka and sat on the parapet contemplating lands on the other side of the sea-all those Arabian lands around the Persian Gulf-as we imbibed our concoction.
Away from Mumbai, I contemplated the sea from varied beaches along the vast Indian coastline. Ratnagiri, Goa, Kerala, and on the east, Puri, in Orissa. I have also made a few sorties off these coasts and into the sea. One was from a place called Murud, along the Maharashtra coast. From here you take a launch into the sea to reach the fort of Janjira. This fort in the sea has a remarkable fresh-water spring which had ensured the survival of many inmates. There are people still living here, though it’s out of necessity rather than choice.
Another boat ride was off the coast of Kanyakumari, to visit the Vivekananda Rock which is plumb where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet. These three great bodies of sea are remarkably demarcated by the colours of sand which they have carried from god knows where.
But my longest sojourn on the ocean was the five nights and two days I spent on the MV Tipu Sultan. And what became of the remaining three days? I hear you ask.
They were spent in the Lakshadweep, a day each on Minicoy, Kalpeni and Kavaratti. The two days were for traversing the ocean, to and from these exquisite coral islands. The nights were spent on the boat as it moved from one island to another.
The 20 hours spent in reaching the first island of Minicoy had several hours of daylight and one could indulge in all the sea-contemplating that one wanted. So we watched the flying fish break out of the sea ever so often as they evaded their predators. Graceful dolphins swooped in and out of the blue-black waters. Once, a hammer-head shark swam determinedly right up to the ship, examined the entire starboard side and then, as if deciding with disdain that it would have no truck with this ship, disappeared into the wake of the Tipu Sultan.
The islands themselves opened to us a magnificent vista of silvery sand, colourful corals and a myriad variety of fish. A combination of scuba diving and glass-bottomed boat rides revealed a diverse culture of huge brain corals, star corals and staghorn corals; unbelievably sized sea cucumbers, sea anemones, and star fish: and shoals of sturgeon, angel and butterfly fish. Oh what beauties does this sea hold!
The sea has always fascinated me from childhood, when I took vicarious pleasure in reading the adventures at sea recounted in such masterpieces like as R L Stevenson’s Treasure Island; Jules Verne’s 20,000 leagues under the sea; and Jack London’s Sea Wolf. One of my childhood heroes was Steve Reeves, only because of his role in the swashbuckling film, Morgan the Pirate.
The sea continues to hold its spell on me. As my daily morning walk takes me to the mangroves by the edge of the Mumbai seas, I silently mouth Byron’s exhortation: “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean-roll!”