Tracking the tragedy

Tracking the tragedy

as it happened

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of Titanic, Nafeesah Ahmed takes us through some episodes in remembrance, to be telecast today on NatGeo.

an unfinished journey The Titanic

The RMS Titanic needs no introduction. While for most of us, scenes from the James Cameron’s blockbuster film Titanic play out in our minds when we hear about the iconic ship, its tragic end and its discovery 73 years after it first set sail, continues to fascinate most others — more than ever.

We are all aware that Titanic, the world’s largest passenger liner of its times, which embarked upon its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, never did make it to its final destination. To commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, National Geographic India brought out a four-hour-long film series on April 14, which will be telecast again today. It comprises Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron, a film by the celebrated director himself, Save The Titanic With Bob Ballard, a documentary by the accomplished deep-sea explorer, a former US Navy officer and the man who found the Titanic, along with a third film titled Titanic: Case Closed, by historian and author Tim Maltin.

While the world’s most famous shipwreck has held our fascination for a century now, for Dr Robert Duane Ballard or Bob, as he is popularly known, life under the sea has always been fascinating. Even as a child, he was inspired by Captain Nemo and his submarine, the Nautilus, from Jules Verne’s classic, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

For Ballard, it all began with “the realisation that the deep sea is the largest museum on the planet, and yet, there are no guards at the gates.” On the subject of the biggest discovery of his career, he says, “I always wanted to find the Titanic and it was regarded as the epitome of all discoveries in my field of work. But once she was discovered, a whole chain of events set into motion. We went on to find the Bismarck and other contemporary shipwrecks that helped us bring alive the ancient world and learn about their histories and what could have been done to prevent such maritime disasters.”

An explorer’s diary: excerpt

Taking us back to that eventful night in 1985 when he and his crew discovered the sunken shipwreck, he narrates, “The expedition was almost over and we were nervous that we were going to join the ranks of people who had tried before and failed. It was the night of September 1, 1985, and I went up to my stateroom but could not fall asleep.

Then, at 2 am, there was a knock on the door and the cook put his head in saying, ‘The guys think you should come down...’ Before he could finish his sentence, I rushed past him and almost killed myself going down six decks in the middle of the night. As I walked into the control room, the camera of our underwater vehicle went over the boiler of the ill-fated ship and that’s when we realised that this wreckage was indeed the Titanic.

“There was a huge explosion of joy because we were so pent up with anxiety and it felt like scoring the winning goal. And then, someone looked at the clock on the wall and said she sinks in 20 minutes. It was only after that innocent comment that we realised how inappropriate it was to be celebrating anything. We held a memorial and then went back to work, but our mood remained solemn. That night marked the rise of the Titanic.”

Through his film, Save the Titanic, Ballard strives to revisit the ship and her history, showcasing the perspective of those who set sail on it a 100 years ago, and retraces her path to her very origins in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He reveals, “After the tragedy, families of workers who helped create the Titanic refused to talk about it because of the shame and sadness that loss of life involved. Now, after three generations of maintaining their silence, they are ready to share the stories and rediscover the pride in the ship”.

But that’s not all! Ballard elaborates, “Beyond this, I wanted to answer a personal question. Will the Titanic survive another 100 years? This is because, besides the natural forces, careless visitors and rogue salvage operations are all threatening the Titanic’s final resting place. My endeavours are now directed towards protecting the legacy of history’s most famous ship.”

As for the realisations of his dream of being an under-sea explorer like Captain Nemo, Bob says, “I think I was lucky to pursue my dreams successfully, lucky to have discovered the Titanic and lucky to have worked with the brightest minds in my field. But, it’s important not to take this luck for granted. It’s this realisation that makes me determined to preserve our underwater heritage through these shipwrecks.”

And for all of us who fell in love with James Cameron’s dramatised version of the Titanic saga, here’s a chance to witness the unfurling of the true events and the revelations that may alter the fundamental interpretation of what exactly happened to the Titanic on the night of April 14, 1912.

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