Captain – the last man standing?

Update for week ended 14 January 2011

Everyone looked to Vijay to lead them out of this place. He was the only one who had raised voice for the miners against the mine owners. It was thanks to him that their children’s school got a teacher, and their colony a doctor and a primary health centre. The salary assurances were also thanks to him. But Vijay was panicking. He had been in a similar situation like this many years ago. And then, too, like today, he had 30 odd people who looked to him for help. But he was helpless then – all perished, except him. He carried that guilt with him and he shuddered with fear that history was about to repeat itself……


…….. Vijay was on deck since morning and had been tense. They had just survived a pirate attack off the Eritrean Coast in the Gulf of Aden. The Somalis were a nuisance along this route, and thanks to the weather, they could avoid a hostage situation or something worse. But the bad weather around Cape Horn was not good for the ship. Vijay had already given orders to the engineers to keep the engines running at full steam, which meant more power, but not necessarily more speed. Winds were lashing out on the galley and waves not only lashed, but also rose fiercely threatening to toss the ship. Vijay had taken off his white, Captain’s hat and had put on his life vest. He ordered all  thirty of his shipmates to follow suit. And then the dark skies had flashes of lightning. The storm was getting fiercer. Fearing that the ship would roll over and capsize, Vijay took an important decision that seemed the best for the moment. The lashing waves, the bobbing ship, the blinding rain made it difficult for him to steer the ship in the high seas, and worse was yet to come. The sonar radar was their only source of direction. And then crash! Lightning struck the swirling satellite dish atop the deck, and all power failed on the ship. Vijay shouted out the orders to shut off the engine. This would eventually be a bad decision, but Vijay had to act on the spur of the moment – the ship was being threatened by the gale storm, they had no radar for navigation and could have hit a reef, as the strait narrowed; and perhaps by shutting down and hopefully staying put, Vijay felt that this was the only way to survive. And then the wind roared even more fiercely than before, the waves crashed, and washed onboard and the ship swayed dangerously. The ship rocked and another crash! This time, it was not lightning, but the ship seemed to have hit something. It started keeling over. There was panic in the cabin, and everyone held onto handles on the deck, or any fixed piece of furniture, lest they get tossed out and off-board. In one jerk, the cabin door swayed open and Vijay fell out. Before he could even react, a large wave engulfed him and washed him offshore. He gasped, floundered, banged himself against what must have been the stern railing. The life-jacket, helped him get back to the surface, and as he floated, and adjusted himself to the wetness, he looked ahead to see the ship keeling over faster. He wanted to swim to the ship to behave like a captain – be the last onboard; but then something stopped him and he just looked on as the ship keeled over and he cried. He cried out loud, but no-one could hear him in that storm.

Last week was bad for the D Street Boyz as the foreigners who were regular buyers on D Street, suddenly deserted the street and started scaring the daylights of the Boyz. And even as the Boyz were getting used to it this week, the clouds on the D Street horizon gathered closer. Clouds made up of rising inflation, rising interest rates, lower Industrial production just lashed down on D Street, turning it into muddy lake or river, not unlike the Queensland floods. And the D Boyz had to bail out of their cosy offices, and there was mayhem all around. And everyone looked to the usually good IT help that could have saved them, but the storm was too heavy, and the Info systems did not work well. And D Boyz floundered in the waters that flowed through D Street and saw the waters drowning the SENSEX – it is down below 19000 levels ending at 18860 – 740 points down.

Vijay was exhausted and slowly went off into a fatigue induced sleep. Fortunately the water was not cold, else hypothermia would have killed him. But at daybreak, another vessel that lost contact of his ship, pass through the strait and saw a bobbing head with white reflective life vest and helped pick him out of the water. And when Vijay gained consciousness, he only cried and cried and clammed up. He knew that none of his 30 shipmates survived and despite him being the captain, he had survived, not out of providence, but out of choice. He never went back to the ship when it keeled over.

Vijay shook out of his reverie when he looked around and shouted out instructions to the coal miners. He was in command now and he knew what to do. Mangal was sent to check the tunnels to the east, while he would man the narrow route to the mine shaft. The elevator was still there and he ordered the younger, thinner miners to file into the lift and go to the surface. His order was not even doubted or refuted. Everyone complied. But the waters kept rising in the mine and it was becoming difficult to stay afloat. Vijay took tough decisions, but right ones, as he steered forward and helped as many people out of their trapped situations. He would not repeat the Gulf of Aden experience tonight.  (To read about how Vijay and the miners got stuck in the coal mine – read The Black Rock )


As we end a fortnight into 2010, we head into a slew of festivals. Magh Mela on the Ganges banks has started, and the first official dip into the river will occur on 15th. The Sagar Mela off the Ganges Delta will also have similar dips in the river-sea and the Tamilians will cook rice and milk with cane sugar and jaggery as devout Malayalees will sight the ethereal light/lamp of Makara month, as Maharashtrians pop sesame and jaggery balls into one another’s mouths spouting sweet words. The kites will fly all over Gujarat as the Marwaris eat the ghee laden, filigreed ghevar. Happy Festival to all – Pongal, Makara Sankranti, Sankranti.

Have a nice weekend. Cheers.


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