I stood on the deck
of S.S. Rajula. As she slowly moved out of Madras harbour, I waved to my grandparents
till I could see them no more. I was thrilled to be on board a ship. It was a new
experience for me.
“Are you travelling
alone?” asked the person standing next to me.
“Yes, Uncle, I’m going
back to my parents in Singapore,” I replied.
“What’s your name?”
“Vasantha,” I replied.
I spent the day exploring
the ship. It looked just like a big house. There were furnished rooms, a swimming
pool, a room for indoor games, and a library. Yet, there was plenty of room to move
The next morning the
passengers were seated in the dining hall, having breakfast. The loudspeaker spluttered
noisily and then the captain’s voice came loud and clear. “Friends we have just
received a message that a storm is brewing in the Indian Ocean. I request all of
you to keep calm. Do not panic. Those who are inclined to seasickness may please
stay in their cabins. Thank you.”
There was panic everywhere.
An old lady prayed aloud, “Oh God! Have mercy on us. My only son is waiting for
me in Singapore.”
A gentleman consoled
her, “Don’t worry, Madam, it’s only a warning. We may not be affected at all.”
Another lady, who was
sitting beside me, looked very ill. “Not rough weather! I’m already seasick. A rough
sea will be the end of me!”
I could not understand
why all the elders were so upset. I remembered the several sea adventures I had
read about. Excitedly, I turned to the elderly gentleman sitting next to me. “Uncle,
won’t it be thrilling to face a storm on board a steamer? Have you ever been on
a ship during a storm?”
“It can be quite unpleasant,
you know,” he replied rather severely. “I remember a time when the ship on which
I was travelling ran off course. We were wandering on the ocean for a couple of
I remembered my class
teacher, an English woman, telling us in class one day, “When I crossed the English
Channel on my way to Singapore, there was a big storm near Gibraltar. The ship rocked
to and fro. Everything in the cabins rolled up and down. Even the heavy pianos in
the lounge went crashing against the walls.
This made my imagination
run wild. Turning to Uncle again, I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun if the storm broke
when we have lunch? Then the tables, with all the food on them, would run away from
us. And the chairs, with us sitting on them, would be a merry-go-round.”
Everyone round the table
stared at me in horror. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, these adults, they’ve no sense
of adventure. How dull they are!’
The storm didn’t break,
but in the evening a strong wind started blowing. The ship rocked to and fro, rocking
and rolling to the music of the wind. Huge waves were dashing against it. Even though
the deck was slippery, I was running around. That’s when I noticed Uncle leaning
over the railings. I ran up to him, thinking he too, was enjoying the experience.
“Good morning, Uncle, isn’t it lovely?” I asked him.
But he wasn’t well at
all. He was retching over the rails and looked rather blue about the mouth. I felt
sorry for him. “Can I be of any help? Shall I call the doctor?’ I asked him.
He couldn’t reply, but
only held up his hand. As another bout of retching shook him he leaned over the
railings. At the same time a huge wave lashed the ship. It lurched violently and
the man tumbled over the railings into the wild sea. For a second I stood rooted
to the spot. Then I ran like someone possessed, shouting, “Help! Help! Man overboard!
Save him!” I must have made a lot of noise. I heard footsteps hurrying even that
early in the morning.
Tears streaming down
my face and shouting incoherently, I ran full pelt into an officer.
“What’s the matter?
Why are you making so much noise?” he asked in a stern voice. I was surprised to
see it was the captain.
“Oh Sir!” I blurted out in relief. “A man fell into
the sea. Please save him.”
“Where?” he asked, immediately on the alert. “There,” I
said pointing a finger.
He did not wait for
more details but ran at once to a room full of officers. “Man overboard,” he cried.
“Stop ship. Drop anchor. Quick!” His instructions were immediately obeyed. The captain
then raced to the upper deck. I kept trailing behind him. “Lower the life-boats
and crew into the sea towards the helm,” he said. “There is a man overboard.” Here
again the men quickly obeyed him.
People started crowding
the deck. “What’s happening?” somebody asked me.
Word soon went round.
Everyone was tense. Only an occasional, “There he is!” could be heard.
Someone asked, “Who
Another replied, “Don’t
Meanwhile two life-boats
moved towards the man. I stood close to the captain. In his anxiety, he gripped
my shoulder tightly and I winced.
“You’re hurting me Sir,”
“I am sorry, my dear.
The sea is very rough today. I hope my men can reach him in time. My ship has never
lost a passenger before,” he said crossing himself. He was watching the rescue operations
through a pair of binoculars that hung round his neck.
The boat was too far
for me to see what was happening. I tugged at the Captain’s sleeve. “What are they
doing, Sir? Have they rescued the man?” I asked him.
“They’ve caught him
by the arms and are pulling him towards the boat.” He was giving me a running commentary.
“Oh what bad luck! A sudden current has swept the man away dragging two of the sailors
with him.” He sounded nervous. Just then he noticed the passengers crowding against
the railings. “Keep away from those railings!” he shouted. “We don’t want another
accident.” The ship had dropped anchor but was heaving up and down.
I borrowed the captain’s
binoculars. Now I could see the rescue operation clearly. The crew in the rescue
boats threw a strong rope to the two sailors in the sea and shouted, “Catch”. Both
of them were good swimmers and soon had caught hold of the rope. Then, with powerful
strokes, they swam towards Uncle. One of them caught hold of him, while the other
tied the rope round his waist. With Uncle between them and the rope secure, the
sailors swam back to the life-boats. The rescue team in the boats leaned over and
heaved the three men into it. In a jiffy the boats were heading back to the ship.
“Thank God!” muttered
the captain making the sign of the cross again, “they’ve managed to save him.” He
turned to the passengers thronging the railings. “Please do not crowd round the
man when he is brought up. He will need immediate medical care.” Then he saw the
ship’s doctor standing with a couple of nurses. A stretcher was also being brought
close to the railings.
“Doctor! Is everything
ready for the patient?” the captain asked.
“Aye, aye, Captain,”
nodded the doctor.
The captain moved away
to restore order on the ship. I edged close to the doctor and asked, “What will
you do to him, doctor? Will he be all right?”
“Aye, I think so. All
the water will have to be pumped out of him. He’ll have to be given artificial respiration
and kept warm.”
“How do you pump the
water out?” I asked. “We put him on his stomach and massage him until he brings
it all up,” he replied.
As soon as the rescue
team reached the ship, Uncle was placed on the stretcher and rushed to the hospital
room. The captain then came to me and said, “Run along now and play with your friends.
I’m busy, but will send for you when I’m through. I might even have a surprise for
When he turned away,
I quietly sneaked into the hospital room to see what they were doing to the patient.
Two nurses were scurrying to and fro with trays full of medicines and syringes.
Another was rushing off with Uncle’s wet clothes. I stopped her and asked if Uncle
was conscious. “Not yet,” she replied, “but he’s better now. He should regain consciousness
in a little while.”
The ship was still rolling,
so I couldn’t play any games. I went and sat in a cosy chair in the lounge and started
reading a story book. I was feeling drowsy and must have dozed off. The next thing
I knew was somebody saying, “Wake up, child. You’re Vasantha, aren’t you? The Captain
wants to see you in his cabin.”
I looked up to see a
sailor standing before me. It took me a minute to recollect the rescue operation
and the captain telling me, “I’ll call you afterwards.”
I followed the officer
eagerly. He left me outside the captain’s door, saying, “Go right inside.”
I knocked and entered.
The captain was standing in the middle of the room. When he saw me, he came forward
and literally swept me off my feet. He was still smiling when he put me down.
“You will have plenty
to tell your friends, eh? Now close your eyes.”
I did so. Seconds later,
I heard him say, “See what I’ve got for you.”
On opening my eyes,
I saw a big brown box. On it was written:
“WITH THE BEST COMPLIMENTS
OF CAPT. LINDSAY.”
I took the box and eagerly
opened it. “Oh,what a lovely ship!” I exclaimed. “Does this really belong to me?
Can I keep it?”
Lying snugly on a velvet
backing was a most beautiful model of the ship. On it was inscribed “B.I.S.N. &
Co. S.S. RAJULA.” I placed the box carefully on the table. Then I threw my hands
round the captain and hugged and kissed him.
He patted my cheek and
smiled as he saw me lift the box and walk happily out of his room. I proudly showed
my present to everyone I met. “See what the Captain has given me. Isn’t it lovely?”
“Yes, indeed,” was the
I was the happiest person
on board that day.