Fond memories of a sailer

During my routine passage through MG Road in Bangalore a huge billboard caught my attention which said ‘Join the Navy & serve the country.’ I was transported back to the late 60s, when in the same place I had seen a similar board but with a different caption namely, ‘Join the Navy & see the world.’ You might wonder what difference this made to any one joining the Navy. Yes, it made a ‘world’ of difference. I definitely saw the latter caption, crossed the line, joined the Navy and did get to see the world.

For any mariner ‘crossing the line’ is neither a transgression nor over indulgence but merely crossing the equator and sailing from one hemisphere to another. This occasion is a poignant and solemn ceremony, especially the first time and will remain etched in every mariner’s memory. Mine is no exception.

Within six weeks of joining Navy, I set sail on a three and half month cruise to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Singapore. Naturally, our passage to Down Under would entail crossing the line. I was eagerly waiting for this occasion and more eager was a colleague of mine who happened to be from Haryana. He had never seen the sea till he landed in Kochi for training and his perception of latitude and longitude was that the ocean literally had lines drawn on its surface. We had even managed to convince him that the equator was a thick rope going round the earth and we would have to pay toll to pass through!
The poor soul spent most of his spare time on the bridge with binoculars hanging around his neck, looking for the elusive rope which never appeared since we had crossed the equator at night!

We believe that Lord Varuna rules the seas. The next morning saw his court assembled on the quarterdeck, all the parts played by sailors. Varuna’s law stated that all first timers had to undergo punishment and mine was that I be covered with grease from head to toe, tonsured and tossed into a pool of sea water! This was carried out to the hilt by the sailors. It took me one full day to get all the grease off my body and get back to my normal self.

The most gratifying part was receiving the certificate confirming that I had indeed crossed the line on that day! A prized possession indeed and cherished by me even today.
The crest of the Indian Navy bears an inscription in Sanskrit ‘Shamno Varunaha’ meaning ‘Salutations to Varuna’. I indeed feel honoured to have had Varuna’s blessings to cross the line with impunity, any number of times.

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