This is the story of a love affair that left an everlasting imprint on my life. I was all of 19 years old, a young fourth termer being trained to be an Engineer in the Indian Navy. As part of our fleet attachment I was sent to a Frigate called INS Dunagiri at Visakhapatnam. We reached late at night and spent quite some time trying to locate the ship. By the time we reached onboard it was 11 PM. We were bundled into a Junior Officers Mess, JOM for those conversant with naval speak.
Early next morning we were sailing out. As I was getting ready to experience my first real outing at sea and develop my sea legs, through the port hole in the JOM, I saw her first glimpse, standing at the next jetty. She was tall, slim and dark. She looked majestic in the morning sun reflecting off her face. Before I could make out more of her features, Dunagiri changed course and I was left with just a lingering image of her in my mind.
We spent a week at sea, throughout I was longing to get a glimpse of her again. We entered harbour at night. Next morning I went to the port hole hoping to catch a glimpse of the beautiful lady. But she was not there. I was heartbroken. But she came to the jetty the next day. I kept looking at her longingly and decided that one day she would be mine.
She was a Foxtrot Class submarine. After I returned from the fleet attachment, all I could dream of was going to sea on a submarine. I pored over books that described the exploits of German and US submarines during the world wars and read up any book on submarines I could lay my hands on. I spent most of time revisiting the exploits of great submarine Captains like Gunther Prien. Waiting impatiently, when I could volunteer to be a submariner, and dreaming every moment about wearing the coveted dolphins.
I joined INS Ranvir in 1995 for my watch keeping certificate, but my heart was always longing to be a submariner. Many officers tried to dissuade me, calling submariners names, dirty, stinky and what not. But I was enamoured by my lady love and was ready to do anything to be with her. Then the moment arrived in 1996 when I could volunteer to be a submariner. It was long process of one year training both in submarine school and at sea. Then in Dec 1996 I joined INS Sindhuvijay, a Kilo Class submarine as a trainee engineer. It was May 1997 when I could flaunt my gold dolphins on the left side of my chest, close to my heart. It was the equivalent of a wedding ring.
Finally I was with my love and I enjoyed each and every moment of the long relationship that began. It is difficult to put in words the ecstatic feeling of freedom that you experience at sea in a submarine. Cut off from the world, just you, your machine, a few of your best mates and the unending volumes of water. The feeling of achievement in the knowledge that only a few thousand men in the world can do what you are doing.
Onboard, the life of each and every person is dependent on the actions of the other. One has to have real confidence in the shipmates to be able to sleep peacefully a few hundred meters below sea in a sealed pipe. We literally put our lives in the other guys hands. The kind of camaraderie that this builds amongst submariners is phenomenal. And this camaraderie is not limited to fellow submariners of one navy but amongst the submariner community of the world at large.
I spent nearly seven years at sea, roaming below the waves in the lap of my beloved. Made some of the best friends for life. Had a few life and death experiences and went to war too.
Yes, few people acknowledge the role navy played during the Kargil War. Army officers at Staff College asked me, why a naval officer wore the Kargil medals. But then the submarine is the silent arm. Run deep, Run silent. Never brag about your achievements.
Life as a submariner taught me to respect life and enjoy every moment of it. Once you come out of a sun starved pipe after 45 days and look at the blue sky and a bright sun you realise that life and this world we live in is so beautiful. It taught me the importance of conserving our resources like water. You need to brush your teeth with collected oily water to realise the freshness of washing your face with clean water.
It taught me to respect every man for what he does because without everyone putting in as team, survival in a submarine would be really difficult, nee impossible. And it taught me the importance of keeping your cool under all circumstances. Panic has the capability to freeze your brains and stop you from thinking straight forget taking decisions and executing orders.