*** SPECIAL FEATURE - September 2014 ***
A sailor by profession and a writer by passion, Vikrant has penned two novels before this. He lives in Delhi with his family.
So you think your love can last forever…? Get married!
Eighteen year old Ronit falls madly in love with Aisha the moment he meets her at his graduation day from a naval college. He believes he has found his perfect soul mate, and come what may, his love for her will last forever.
Seven years later, he gets married to her. Big mistake!
A week later he completely hates her and believes she has turned into a devil.
But his perception about love and life change when he hears the poignant love story of Shekhar, his Captain, on a ship that later gets hijacked by the pirates of Somalia.
As they are left fighting for their lives they confront if love truly can last forever…? But does it get too late?
TODAY, 25th June 2011
Transiting Indian Ocean
‘And then what happened?’ I have never been so intrigued with someone else’s story. And that too, a love story of a fifty year old man.
I glance at him, our Captain. Tears well up in his eyes and he finds it difficult to speak. He doesn’t reply and there is a morose look on his face. I notice a gentle quiver in his stance and I understand. He hasn’t completed his story and tells me that the worse is still to come. What can be worse? I wonder. I mean getting a divorce from your childhood sweetheart just few months after marriage is tragic enough.
Captain Shekhar is tall and sturdy built, but it is those broody eyes that demand all the attention. Until today I hadn’t known his plaintive love story and loss were shielded by them. For the last few days that I’ve known him they were masked behind that smile which barely deserted his face.
He looks fit for his age and is mostly bald with some hair left over the sides and back of his head. With his personality I can be sure he’d have been handsome in his youth.
Pensively he looks ahead from our steaming ship, ‘Adriatic Wave’, toward a sight that is quintessential of a beautiful evening one can only see in movies. The moon is full and over a million stars gleam from above us, shining and lending their luminosity to the late evening sky which is predominantly clear. The dark grey water below bathes in the ivory hue of the moon. There is a light breeze which adds to the serenity of the Indian Ocean. We mariners are fortunate to revel in the beauty of nature, sailing through all the wonderful oceans of the world.
‘Ronit, do you see something ahead on the horizon, perhaps fine on the starboard bow,’ Captain asks me, wiping his moist eyes, ‘a boat maybe?’ A stark hollowness has understandably crept in his voice.
I pick up the binoculars and adjust my vision through them. Frankly I am so much caught up in his story that I am hardly interested.
‘No, sir,’ I reply nonchalantly, ‘probably a low altitude star.’ I was hardly looking.
I want to know more, dwell deeper into his heart. I want to know why even after the divorce with his wife some three decades ago, he is still madly in love with her?
I presume he is crazy, like all other ship Captains are, particularly at the age of fifty. After spending more than half of their life at sea, all these guys are left with is poignant thoughts. I mean how else can one love his wife forever?
And he hasn’t even seen her in the past thirty years.
I am this ship’s first officer or chief mate as the Europeans like to call me, the first in command to my Captain. We are loaded with almost fifty thousand tons of crude oil loaded from ‘Reliance Jamnagar Marine Terminal’ located in the Gulf of Kutch in Sikka port in Gujarat. Our discharge port is Immingham in the United Kingdom – a two weeks voyage. But that never worries us; it is the transit through the ‘Gulf of Aden’ – a piracy infested area near Somalia - that scares the living daylights out of all seafarers.
Now most of you would have just read about these stories in newspapers or probably watched them on TV, a reporter regurgitating the breaking news with the slightest of emotions about Indian seafarers being held captive by the pirates. But if you were here, with us on this ship, you would have started feeling the tremors right at the onset of the voyage.
And now, those tremors have reached to a crescendo.
We were approaching the Gulf of Aden. Though our company has registered with a British naval convoy, and our ship will be under its surveillance which would deter the pirates, it is still, a very precarious situation. These Somali pirates are pervasive in the entire Indian Ocean threatening international shipping. They are extensively trained and use modern weapons.
We still have over a hundred nautical miles to reach the convoy and take the assistance of British navy. Time wise, it is still more than eight hours to reach, so really, anything can happen till we get there.
Here on the bridge – the place from where a ship is navigated – the atmosphere is pretty tense. I mean who would want to be under the captivity of these inhumane people for months or even years. Although personally, I don’t think I’ll mind too much. At least that would ensure I won’t see my wife Aisha for that long.
Getting married was the worst decision of my life; to her, worse than worst. We were in love for seven years before making that horrible decision and since then our love has been nose diving in an abyss. Now I hate her, she is a devil really, that bitch…who unfortunately is my wife.
Barely a month into our marriage and I could sense her true colours. It now seems to me that, that devil only married me for my money. I have decided to divorce her after I complete my tour of three months here.
With a shake of my head, I try concentrating on the job at hand and ensure absolutely no suspicious boat hovers around our ship or approaches us. That could be them. I look at my Captain; he doesn’t look interested in talking anymore and is staring at the radar screen – to get an early warning of any approaching boat.
‘Do you see that Ronit,’ Captain says, pointing toward a white light which is barely visible over the horizon. ‘That is the same light I showed you some time back. It has come close to us now and I sense something fishy. That ship or whatever it is has been changing its speed frequently. I wonder what it is up to.’
I am least interested really. It has been just a couple of weeks since I joined this ship and I can still not get over my wife’s taunts. Where did all the love disappear? Perhaps my school friend Joe was right by dissuading me not to get married. ‘Men and women are not meant to co-exist,’ he’d reiterate. I always thought that was a quote from some Hollywood flick, but never figured out which one. Now only after our marriage have I found sense in that line.
I see Captain panicking a bit now as he wobbles about his toes, pacing up and down the bridge. I look ahead. There are two lights on either side of the ship – port and starboard in marine terminology. Both the lights are bright now as opposed to the faint aspect a while earlier. And they are close to us – pretty close. Baffled, I look at my Captain who himself appears vexed. I can bet he has the same question in his head as I have, ‘From where the hell did this second boat appear?’ There is something terribly fishy happening now. I shun away the thoughts of my wife.
‘Hey Ronit, this boat on our left,’ Captain says, pointing toward it in an uncharacteristic shriek, ‘it has just lit their light. It was dark all this while. What are these people up to?’ He scampers outside to the bridge wings to get a better picture.
I am up on my feet now. Both the boats are just about two nautical miles from us. Captain comes running inside shouting ‘Emergency!’ and raises the alarm. He orders, ‘hard-a-starboard’, to turn the ship to the extreme right, away from the boats. But as soon as he says that, we watch in horror as both the boats ahead suddenly come close to us and the next moment are alongside. The pirates employed their age old technique of boarding ships. Two boats are tied with thick hawsers or rope that is underwater so the navigating officer on the ship has absolutely no clue about their collusion and when the ship touches the hawser, automatically with the ship’s momentum, the hawser is pushed ahead and the two boats come alongside.
It is game over for us now. It’s a macabre sight to see the pirates launching hooks and rope ladders up our ships’ railings and in minutes there are more than a dozen of them onboard.
Two minutes later, three armed pirates enter the bridge and place a gun on Captain’s forehead.
‘Your ship is hijacked Captain,’ the taller of the three pirates sneers.
2 Paperback Copies of Love Lasts Forever by Vikrant Khanna for Indian Residents Only