Thursday, April 29, 2010

Anniversary Post

My Blog came into existence exactly on this day in 2009. Today is its birthday or as they say, 'Happy Birthday'. Seriously speaking, even till the day I actually sat down to create and put up my first post on 29 April 2009, I had never thought that someday I would be a blogger, and going by the reports, a popular one at that. But my blog is due to several of my friends and of course due to my readers who keep encouraging me with their comments, emails and endearments. So while this is a time to celebrate (at least for me), it is also the time for a quick review, acknowledgements and few statistical tidbits. Enjoy and celebrate with me, and do wish 'many more to come' or 'many happy returns of the day' at least that way the collective wishes of all of you may keep me alive for some more time.

Let's go back and begin at the beginning.

I was and am still a techie greenhorn. I don't understand anything about computers or techno-gadgets. In my simple down to earth mountain and wild outdoors I don't need any of them for anything at all. So the idea of a blog was as alien to me as a man from Mars. But then something happened in April 2009 that changed my perspective about such matters.

In the forlorn and hilly surrounding of Kumbhalgarh, I met a wonderful man called Arun Nair, who is a universally acknowledged guru of Indian Social media and blogging world. Along with him I met Kiruba, again one of India's top bloggers and Lakshmi another very well known Indian travel blogger. Besides these three I also met a bunch of very diverse and well accomplished individuals. Needless to say that during the course of our stay, all of them literally hounded me to have my own blog as they felt that I had stories that should not only be limited to the confines of my mountaineering world or professional and serious mountaineers or extreme adventurers like me. They wanted me to tell my stories to the world at large and they convinced me that blog was the ideal medium for doing so. After that we all dispersed to various corners of the country and the idea of a blog though germinating in my mind, had far from taken any concrete root. Out of all, only Arun, who had by then become a really good friend, kept up his persistence and almost hounding to the point that he would not let me be in peace till I had my blog going. He offered all technical and moral support if I needed any. Even then I dilly dallied. And then something happened that jolted me out of my inertia.

During this above conference, I had met a very beautiful and well known actor from down south by the name of Andrea Jeremiah. Despite my totally bohemian outlook that is as opposite and far placed as possible from her glamour world, for some reason the two of us had bonded superbly and had in those few days become very good friends. Among the things that bonded us most was that she was a superbly gifted singer and pianist and I have always wanted to learn piano and though she has never seen snow in her life she has always wanted to go to the mountains. We seemed to have met to fulfill each other's dream. Topping it all we both were not only self-confessed techno and computer dumbs but proven as well. And we both used to make fun of the likes of Arun and Kiruba, et al.

On 26 April 2009, I was literally shocked out of my wits when I heard from Andrea that she had started her blog and her first post was up. I immediately logged in and checked her blog. What I saw not only made me extremely happy but it inspired me to create my own blog. After all, I thought, if she could do it so could I. At IQ level we were at par, at our ignorance level of such things we were at par. It wasn't a competitive gesture from me at all but a way of realizing that it can be done and she has done it, so should I. At that point of time I had no idea what I would blog about, but I knew that blog I must. So over the next two days I fidgeted with content and creativity and must have hounded Arun and Andrea with million questions. And finally on this day last year, I put my first post in the only manner that I knew I could, by giving a very upside-down view of the world and beginning at the very beginning.

I didn't know then as I don't really know even now, what exactly is that I wish to write or how my blog should be categorized. I did not want it to be confined into any labels or nomenclature. It simply had to tell whatever I wanted to and felt. It always had to be what I wanted to say straight from the heart, simple, grounded, rudimentary, transcending the boundaries of mind, body, soul and nations, just the way I live. It had to be an extension of my own character, my own soul, my way of living and hence it had to talk about crazy things, ideas, places, about impossible dreams, about living on the edge, about heights and depths, about living every moment, about smiles and laughter, about the universe and the world, about people and about things that lies in every heart. In short like my blog says, it is about 'impossible dreams' and 'climbing', not necessarily only the mountains but also of those within the depths of our heart and soul.

I debated with the title a bit till I finalized it upon my standard farewell phrase with anyone I meet, 'See you on top'. It could be the top of anything as long as it is on the top, that's how in my normal life I greet people and it is my business to take people to the top of their dreams, of their world, of their weaknesses, of their miseries. This 'top' symbolizes everything that you may ever aspire to achieve or be in your life. It is often said as a metaphor whenever one achieves the pinnacle of anything in life, be it in job, in sports, in finance, we often say, 'so and so has achieved the Everest of his life'. And I couldn't agree with this statement more. There is an Everest or more than one Everest in each one of our lives and we each climb them in our own way. Every Everest is important, every route is fine, every summit is glorious and every step that you take is all that really matters. So, my blog always sees you on top and that's why the name.

Along with my stories, as and when they tumbled out, I also kept putting up my photos of places and people that are rarely seen by mortal eyes. And now with over 100 posts, my blog is an ensemble of climbing stories, travel stories, life-and-death stories, happy stories, sad stories, human stories, animal stories, poems (heaven's sake!), random thoughts, photo essays, of friends and people I have met across the globe, of miracles, of impossible dreams, and above all of fun and pun intended. If my post is not funny and if it doesn’t bring a smile to my reader's face then it isn't my post, since I am yet to find a single situation or moment in my life when I did not see the funny side of life or was not laughing with mirth at nature's way of solving issues that we often think is unsolvable. I laugh all the time and I wanted my readers to laugh out loud too.

Through the posts I have paid tribute to many those who are and were instrumental in making me what I am, like my mother, my uncle Fred, etc and also highlighted global issues like climate change, global warming, wild life conservation, etc. In my own perception my blog is universal and timeless. It doesn't tell the story of a single individual or any particular place and it is not parochial in that sense. It tells of everyday and normal people, what lies in each one of your hearts, what each one of you would wish to aspire, your fears and plights and also about your life.

I doubt if there is one amongst you who doesn't wish to fly with the birds or zip across the world on a carpet of clouds or doesn’t wish to reach out and touch the stars. We all dream impossible dreams, that's why we are human. So do I as I am a dreamer first and foremost. Only I am able to convert those dreams into reality at times and in my posts I tell you how to do that, how to cross that barrier of your mind, since nothing really is limiting you but your own limitations of mind and body. Impossible is nothing but just a word in the dictionary created and meant only to dissuade you from excelling the laid down norms and standards of the society at large. Don't believe in it, I never do, never did, but believe in yourself and that's exactly what my blog talks about.

It has been a wonderful journey and story telling experience so far and I am sure this journey will continue till I am alive in this life. I have gained many friends from all over the world through my blog. And I am thankful to each one of you for visiting my world and sharing your story as well, since when I touch your life you touch mine and the connection is made. I learn from you and from life and when I don't like what I see all I do is try to see it my way, in my logic and then everything falls in place and clicks. I intend to publish my first book of climbing and adventure stories soon and I hope that you all would like that too and would bless it with wide readership.

Now it's time for some tidbits and statistics. In this one year, my blog has been visited by (right till this moment) 6897 people from 92 countries and it has been logged into from 1137 cities across the world. That makes me wonder what's happening in the rest of the 100 odd countries, why no one from them is visiting my blog. It has 73 followers and almost all of them are unknown to me. My blog is now rated Google Rank 4 (whatever that means) and it is currently rated (by Google) India's top climbing and mountaineering related blog and among the top 100 worldwide in the same category. I have no idea how Google does it but I hope like hell that Google's methodology is correct. Few curious things that I noticed today while writing this post, since I was weeding through my earlier posts; in Feb this year I wrote exactly 13 posts and my birthday is 13 February. I was totally ignorant of this till now. Of all the posts, my 100th post on my mother got the maximum comments of 12 followed closely by 'Letter in a bottle' and 'Talking at TED' with 10 each and 'A bug called Travel and other failings in life' (9) and 'A boy named Tashi and his donkey Goba' (8) till now.

If I am asked which one is my own personal favorite then I don't think I can answer that with certainty but I do like all my 'I should not be alive' and 'Life off the edge' series of posts and the one on Uncle Fred and the one on Santa Clause.

I am a traveler and a story weaver and whatever I see and experience in my normal daily life, inspires me to write and tell their stories. I don't think my stories would ever end since there's so much more for me to see, experience and do, so many more miles to go and promises to keep before I sleep. Life has always been a journey for me without destination and destinations if any has only been pausing or resting points to begin my journey afresh. I live like the breeze and the clouds rootless and rudderless, and that's how my stories are too. I am here, then I am there and thereafter nowhere has always been my story.

Stay with me my friends for I too need your company in those lonely star filled nights and I will bring you many more stories from all over the world. And as I am learning Spanish these days let me bid you God bless all and sign off with 'Hasta Pronto'.

C U all on top!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

All at Sea

All at Sea

With 22 years of marine life, where I rose from being the lowest form of marine creature to an officer and (supposedly or allegedly) gentleman the title to this post may not raise many eyebrows at all. Big deal, most of you would say. If not at sea, on land certainly I have been always ‘all at sea’ forever lost and dreaming of my mountains and ice bound regions of our planet. But you will discover that this post could have no other title at all.

A bit of self-propelled confession: I learnt to swim only after I joined the Navy and I joined the Navy to become a submariner, to be ranked among those elite men who are the rarest breed of men on Earth. And I had also by then discovered that submarines are always meant to be underwater – a place from where you cannot fall overboard, since you are already inside water. To most it may be a very disarming thought but to my imbecile brain it seemed the perfect reason to not hone my aquatic skills beyond the very basic without which I wouldn’t have been given my permanent officer’s commission. Little did I know then that one day all my survival skills and swimming skills (if I had them) would be called upon to help me stay alive. This is that story. Never happened before or since in the history of the Indian Navy and never told before or known to anyone except to the very few of my shipmates on that voyage.

It is a day at the beginning of my submarine career when I was still a navigator’s assistant and did not have independent charge of the Combat Information Centre. In other words I was still a rookie. Besides sharpening pencils for my Navigating Officer and holding the charts up to his inspection in turbulent seas, I also had the charge of the casing, which is the entire upper or outside body of a submarine. A submarine even on surface is more than half submerged since most of its machineries, tanks, etc are already underwater. Only the upper casing, the fin, the bridge, etc are exposed on the surface. A submarine cannot dive deep immediately on leaving the harbor, she has to travel first into deeper and safer water and then she dives and disappears. While the submarine heads for the deep and high seas an enormous chain of highly complex actions start taking place inside where the sub’s crew inspects and operates various gadgets and cutting edge electronic gadgetries to ensure that everything is functioning at its optimum. While all this is happening inside, the casing crew along with the casing officer, goes around and checks every nut and bolt, every deck plate and fittings on the casing outside to ensure that everything is tied and lashed up properly, not a single tiniest bit of instrument is hanging lose or liable to make noise once the submarine dives.

For a submarine its own acoustic signature is her biggest enemy. We simply cannot afford to make any sound since sound travels fast and far inside the water and that would give away our position to the ones hunting us. After the entire casing crew has inspected and secured everything in its rightful place they all go inside the submarine hull and then only the casing officer is left alone on top till the very last as he does all the final checks before he too would climb inside the submarine and then the upper hatch would be shut and the submarine would dip into the sea like a stone. In my opinion, the casing officer’s job is one of the most important and vital one in a submarine, even then for some reason this task often fell to the junior-most and obviously the least experienced officer of the crew. This story is of that time when I happened to be that hapless and hopeless junior-most officer on board and it was my duty to be the last man on top prior to the submarine dived.

We are in the Indian Ocean far from anywhere and the sea is turbulent as white horses fill up the entire water surface and our submarine is taking in massive pitches even with more than two thirds of its hull immersed in water. The casing is taking severe pounding and in all logic it is best for us to dive deep and escape this onslaught. It is close to dusk, the sun is setting fast with its golden orb inching towards the horizon with remarkable rapidity. My crew is doing its best to keep upright and does the casing check up. I finally ask them to get inside as it is highly perilous by then to keep five men on the casing. The submarine groans and croaks like a giant whale, which it definitely resembles. Standing alone on the casing I look out into the infinite stretch of water to my south and I realize that the next land mass is the land of Antarctica. Nearest land from where I stand is directly below, vertically down nearly 6 km a place where I have no wish to go. Within few minutes I have to go down and then dive and I will not be seeing the sun for weeks, so I lap up the last few rays of the moribund sun on my face and shut my eyes in the ecstasy. And while I do so, I feel a sudden uplift of my soul, my being and then my entire body. And as I struggle to get a grip of something, I realize with a sinking feeling that a giant wave has just taken me off the casing and I am now no more on the submarine or any solid ground. I am simply riding the crest of a massive wave front.

The wave takes me down and I crash into the ocean with the ferocity of a thousand fists. Luckily I had managed to gulp in a bit of fresh air before the wave falls on me and pushes me with all its force deep into the ocean depths and I lose all sense of sound or thought. My mind must have frozen for the suddenness of the event and not necessarily out of fear. I don’t recall anything at all how I felt then but I did recall my diving instructor telling me in our submarine training school as we practiced underwater drills that no one had ever fallen overboard from a submarine. And I grin and tell him that well; it had to be me of all the people to prove him wrong finally. Panic is not needed since I have my lifejacket on and it will keep me afloat for a while and I am dead sure that my submarine would soon realize I am not onboard anymore and would turn back and come to pick me up. After a brief moment of immersion and gulping of some amount of brackish water, when I come up on the surface, I can’t see anything at all. The sun is very low, nearly across the nautical twilight and those who have seafaring experience know how quickly and suddenly night envelopes the sea. Moreover the sea is in a state of nearly four, which is a stormy sea with winds gushing in at 60 knots easily. So I am bobbing up and down like a cork with the waves. But for that orange, Ordinance Factory made life-jacket; I don’t think I would have survived more than fifteen minutes. As I ride to the crest of a wave and look around for my submarine, my heart sinks since it is nowhere to be seen.

My well practiced navigator’s eye picks up the stars that are now sprouting all above me like shower of heavenly diamonds. I try to locate the Pole Star and reorient myself for what purpose I know not. Nearest land horizontally is more than several thousand miles in any direction. The one vertically down is not a welcoming thought so I push it out of my mind. There could be sharks, other hungry sea animals, virulent sea serpents and I could be a gift from heaven for their starving bellies. Many such pleasant thoughts assail my very wet and fuddled brain. I find it hard to keep my head above water since the waves are so high now and they toss me around like tissue paper. What could have happened I wonder, why isn’t my submarine turning around, or did someone actually push me overboard. I mean this could well become the perfect murder. It is absolutely impossible to find a dead body in sea and I was certain I would be dead shortly as my lower limbs and body starts to freeze and get hypothermic. With my life long association with cold and wet places I knew when the body begins to lose irretrievably and how it starts to shiver in its last deathly throes.

For the want of anything better I start talking to my Shiva. As the darkness settles in properly like a thick impregnable blanket around me I now know for sure that no one on Earth could or would ever find me. I don’t have any torch or headlamp, the seawater activated lamp on my lifejacket, does not function and in such high and turbulent sea it is absolutely impossible to find a man overboard. By now more than an hour has crossed and my body starts to shiver uncontrollably before quieting down forever. I am young, alive, with many mountains still haunting my dreams and I don’t wish to die or give up the struggle to stay alive. I am foolish, I challenge destiny and I talk to Shiva. I ask him what good is this going to do to anyone. All I have ever asked him is to give me a speedy death in my mountains. Even then, in my early twenties, courting death closely at every step I always imagined myself one day huddled and shivering inside a deep dark crevasse with my life slowly seeping away as my body and then brain and all vital organs freeze and finally die with slow and steadfast sureness. That’s the kind of death I had always been ready for.

While here I am wet, salty, looking up at the sky and counting stars and into the widest open space possible on the face of earth and in a bloody ocean of all places. I start to take in water. My energy is gone completely; I find it extremely difficult to keep my head upright and out of water. I stop struggling, I stop talking to Shiva. I don’t see him, I don’t hear him, but I see a black specter darker than the darkness I am imprisoned in and I smile at him, and he smiles back. I know who he is, I have seen him many times before in the heights of my mountains, often following my path with a longing gaze like that of a vulture overlooking a dying animal. We never die at the moment of death, we die the moment we give up the will to live and so I am dead with a deep regret that instead of a Himalayan grave my body would soon be shredded and eaten up into million pieces and then scattered across the waters of the world.

My numb brain starts calculating the coordinates of my watery grave as if it would one day be engraved somewhere. I am totally delirious by then. Time does not exist anymore, I don’t exist anymore, nothing exists anymore anywhere at all. Shooting stars run across my horizon and I cry out to them to get me out of here. I make wishes, wishes to see my white world again. I am absolutely willing and ready to die but not here, not now, not today, not in this manner. And then from somewhere deep within, like always arises a voice that tells me to get a grip on myself and pray and look around and be focused and alive. I am not yet dead so why think of death. I am not yet frozen so why stop moving. I look up at my beloved stars that have always stayed with me, be it high up in the mountains or across the oceans; they have always lit up my trails. I look at them and start recognizing my old friends. Orion, Ursa Major, Gemini and Scorpio smile down on me. I see Venus and then the mighty Jupiter and the war God of Mars. I recollect the stories, the Greek and Roman mythologies about the stars and the planets, about the gods and goddesses, the pagan and shaman rites and of the kings and queens. I am not going to give up, not going to quit. I kick the water and keep myself upright. I blow in my lifejacket to refill it with lost air. Despite all efforts my body freezes steadily and surely. My lower limbs are numb and anesthetic. I feel them more like ghost limbs. My hands had swollen up through constant immersion in salt water. The skin looks like that of a callow and rotting fish. I start hallucinating and imagine being circled by dorsal fins. I feel for my seamen’s knife around my waist but I don’t feel anything at all. I kick the water since that is the only thing I am capable of doing right now.

At extreme places under extreme situations it is often wise to do whatever is possible for you to do, rather than to try to do what you must do. In action lies salvation and just do whatever you can and that very desperate action may change everything. Guide books and self survival manuals often forget to tell you that when an emergency occurs it doesn’t give you a warning and mostly you won’t be equipped with the things that they want you to use for survival. It’s finally all about adaptation, about improvising from what you have around and within. The expression ‘thinking on your feet’ perhaps came to my mind and I must have laughed since that’s precisely what I wasn’t. Certainty of death has great calming power but with calm I never accept it either or stop resisting since that’s human to do. Our will to survive is our greatest motivator and the reason why today man is supreme specie on earth. We simply don’t give up.

The night deepens and seemingly the maddening sea begins to calm down. I am amazed that I am still floating and still alive, or am I! I am not certain anymore of anything. The sky is beautiful and all my friends are smiling as cheerfully as ever. In my last few mortal moments they are my sole companions and I bid them goodbye. Weary limbs and eyes I pray for release. And then suddenly a brilliant vision from heaven blinds my eyes and I lose consciousness.

Even in my totally collapsed state I realize that there are human hands groping around my body and I am being pulled out of water. And then everything darkens around as I pass out.

P.S. This event happened many years ago at a place and on a submarine I am not at the liberty to reveal or the people who were involved in my rescue. Officially this never happened. No one in the Navy would ever acknowledge this and if any of my friends and colleagues who were onboard that day read this account they would maintain their silence for good reason. I finally tell this story today since it is a great story and today I am no more in the Navy and I must acknowledge the impossible rescue that my submarine did that day. As I was told later, my absence from onboard was realized two hours later, after the submarine had dived deep. Now this is something that is totally unpardonable in the submarines and unthinkable. But this happened since during the mandatory headcount prior to any dive, someone did a miscount of heads and it was presumed that all hands were inside the hull. No one can be blamed for this, and I for one blame no one. But what is amazing and unbelievable that after two hours of dived state when my Captain realized that I wasn’t there onboard he surfaced made a Williamson’s and came looking for me in a pitch dark sea. It must have been one of the greatest pieces of navigation and rescue ever attempted and successfully accomplished in the entire marine history of the world. There was not even a micro-millionth chance of their finding me in such a stormy sea. Any of you with even a bit of marine and ocean going experience would know what I am talking about. But I have a feeling that on that day along with my submarine crew’s heroic efforts and their unwillingness to give up looking for me, some celestial hand must have guided the submarine back right on to me, since that’s how they found me. The searchlight picked me up right on its path. The chances of this happening cannot be measured in the probability scale. It simply shouldn’t have happened. I was not meant to be rescued, yet I did. Shiva was not yet ready to accept me in his domain. Two days later I was heli-lifted and transported back to the nearest base for complete check up and recovery.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Letter in a Bottle

This is less a tale of adventure than a tale of disbelief. If it hadn’t happened to me, I would find it extremely difficult to accept it as true. If today I drop the name of ‘Rotuma’ I am sure all of you would dive straight into Google. But I talk of a day when Google did not exist and neither did the internet for common man. I for one had never even heard of the place before I reached there and had not the slightest inkling that this sun-kissed you-will-miss-if-you-blink sized island would wrap up a story of mine that I had thought would never be concluded.

I had first seen the sea at the age of 7 or 8 from Bhubaneswar, Orissa. Life is impressionable and exciting at that age and what I remember, of all the things that my mom had told me about the sea, is that the entire world is linked by sea and if one set sail on this vast expanse of water one could go around the world. The immense and the boundless sea seemed tailor-made for my wandering and wondering spirit. Though I saw the sea and flew atop the oceans on several occasions since then, I only became a proper seafarer when I joined the Navy. Till then my only close encounters with the oceans would be along its beaches covered with sand, people and debris. What I really pined for was the endless horizon all around with nothing and no one in sight. I have always been a dreamer, I still am and what I don’t know or can’t see fascinates me more than what I can. Since the oceans linked my shore to the unknown shores across our planet, I always wanted to dive into the surfs and waves and let them carry me where I couldn’t go otherwise. I would have done it too, but I never could swim far, I still can’t. For all my global gallivanting and adrenalin charged life, I am still a weak swimmer and I had no intention of exploring the sea bottom either without the benefit of a diving set. But then, how to carry my messages across to those distant lands, to tell them that I existed, that I longed for them, that I will come to them one day! And that’s how I got the idea of sending my letters in a bottle.

I started writing to my unknown friends in their unknown lands in the only international language I knew. I never dated the letters, wanted them to be timeless and boundless. I would insert the letter in a bottle and seal it well with cork and wax and then standing as far out into the sea possible, throw it like a discuss as high as I could and then watch it disappear amidst the waves. Even my wonder-filled brain would tell me that it was a futile exercise. There was no way those bottles would reach anywhere far. Several times I would find the bottles back on the same beach from where they had been discharged. But faith and belief is beyond reasoning and I simply liked the idea that if one day even if one of my letters reached somewhere then how amazing that will be. After I joined the Navy my fervor only grew since now I was constantly near or in the sea.

Before every sailing, I would prepare my letter in a bottle and write whatever I felt like and would cork and seal them carefully. My letters were always open, not really addressed to anyone and I only signed them without putting any return address or any such contact details. I had no wish that if at all someone found and read my letters that they should get back to me or contact me. If someone found them and read them and that brought a smile to some unknown friend’s face, it was enough for me and in my own dream world I believed that each of my letters found its place within the heart of an unknown friend. As I sailed around the world in ships, I started throwing my letters in the high seas and in all the oceans. As the ship would race ahead I would keep my eyes riveted on my floating bottle as long as I could. At times I would throw them within the darkness of the night, asking the moon and the stars to take them to someone looking for a reason to smile. And thus my journey and hopefully the journey of my letters in a bottle continued.

Typically a letter in a bottle would be in these lines: -

Dear Friend, I am a little boy from the vast country that we call India. I don’t know who you are or where you stay or which language you speak, but I know that you are my friend and I speak to you through this letter in a bottle. My name is Satya, which in my language means the truth, the absolute truth. What is your name? It doesn’t matter really, I wouldn’t know even if you tell me, so I will call you just ‘friend’. How I wish I could ride my bottle and be with you now talking to you and smiling with you. How is your world, what are the colors you see, what do you do, what do you eat! Tell me your story. I like stories, both hearing and telling. (and the letter would go on with my life story, etc).

Years went by and my stories grew both in volume and deed and I lost count of my letters in a bottle floating around in the seas. Then one day I got selected for the sail boat world circumnavigation crew. Though mountains were my lifeblood and the circumnavigation would keep me away from my snow covered friends for nearly 7 – 8 months I was overjoyed since now I would be able to chuck more letters in a bottle out into the sea.

Our captain was a wise man and he charted our course through such places and shores where in our ordinary lives would be virtually impossible to go to. I was the navigator’s assistant and would shoot the stars with my sextant every dawn and dusk fixing our position on the globe. At night I would also volunteer to climb to the crow’s nest (after all I was the fastest climber in the crew) and look out into the dark horizons with my binoculars. I had to look out for lights, lighthouses and other vessels at sea who might endanger our passage. Amidst all that I also looked for my bottles though I knew it was a futile exercise. After leaving the Indian Shores we headed due east and after Australia headed for the Polynesian Islands. Skimming Fiji Islands, I was told to set sail for Rotuma. I wish we had Google then and it took me a while to get the largest scale chart of the area and locate Rotuma. No one on board including the salt-and-pepper bearded captain knew anything about the island that hangs like a tiny tear drop in the middle of almost nowhere. I checked all our marine manuals on board but couldn’t find any information on the harbor, on the coastal waters or docking situations. We raised the harbor authorities seeking permission to come in and they asked us to anchor around half a nautical mile seaward and they would send us boats to come ashore. The water was deep and we tied ourselves to a docking buoy. Soon enough two motor boats approached us.

Being the navigator’s assistant had its downside as well since while others could jump out and off I had to secure the bridge, the chart house and also plan for the coming days. So I stayed back in the bridge and completed all my chores, and when I finally stepped out into the boat waiting for me, I was sure my colleagues were already in another world. The boatman was of Indian origin and I asked him to take me around the island first and then only beach where I felt like. On an island barely 15 km long at its longest and five km wide at its widest, one can land practically anywhere and still be where one wishes to be. As we sped along the beach, the boatman kept rattling out the names to me of the places. After crossing a place with the impossibly funny name of ‘Ututu’ he pointed out to me a little protrusion of a beach and screamed ‘Sumi’ and the moment his voice reached my ears, I knew that’s where I wished to land. I am not sure even today why did I wished to land at ‘Sumi’ but something from deep within wanted me to, so there I was. We pulled the OBM out of the water and dragged the boat up the smooth sand. In the Polynesian Isles, life is literally about partying and having fun. Dancing and drinking feature in almost every phase of life. Needless to say my guide headed for the nearest bar and asked for a couple of colored drinks with umbrellas.

While I eyed the breathtakingly beautiful beach sparsely populated with few American and Australian tourists, topless girls and the locals, my eyes suddenly caught a familiar scrawl on the wall of the beach bar where we perched. Next to a dart board a simple wooden frame held an old parchment. I blinked several times and went up close to confirm. My eyes literally popped out of my head when it finally sank in – it was one of my letters in a bottle. Without a date I had no way of knowing which of my letters it was but there it was, with my name and my handwriting. Neither could I say where I had thrown it overboard, into which sea or ocean, which coast, from where, but at least one of my letters had been found and read and carefully preserved. I asked the lady serving at the bar about it and she told me that they were the new owners and had bought this place from an old couple who had left around two years back and she had no idea where they could now be found. Everything in the bar came along and she liked the letter so much that she decided to keep it where it was. ‘Funny, don’t you think!’ she asked me as she noticed me reading the letter. ‘Who could it be,’ I muttered. ‘No idea, some crazy guy I guess but it’s nice, always makes me wonder why would someone write a letter like this, could it be something else – a mystery you know, and my clients like it.’ The lady said. I read my own scrawl and nodded my head in agreement, ‘Yeah, seems like a crazy guy alright.’ We had few more drinks and then I left to look for my team. I didn’t have the heart to reveal the origin of the letter. Hanging there in one of the remotest and most difficult places in the world to reach, it seemed to have completed its mission. Its charm lay in its obscurity and mystery.

As I walked away from the beach I felt supremely happy in my heart that of the hundreds of my letters in a bottle at least one had survived its journey of tens of thousands of miles and had washed ashore to someone to whom it shared my story and my smile. The odds of it ever happening and my actually finding one were not only improbable, but simply impossible – yet here it is and here I was. It only strengthened my belief that life has bounties beyond our imagination and everyday treasures much beyond all the wealth of the world. To find happiness and our treasures and our miracles we really do not need to travel far or dig deep, we simply need belief, dream and a little voice within to tell us that it is possible as long as we don’t stop looking.

P.S. The accompanying picture has been borrowed from Common Creative License resources