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  • Writer's pictureL.J. Singh

Home Coming on Leave

Home coming on leave is a joyous occasion for landlubber, but for a mariner, coming on leave after a long separation from family is really a special and eagerly awaited event. Merchant Navy officers on large ships like bulk carriers which ply mostly on tramp routes, have to be away from India and their families for long periods, sometimes nearly a year or so. They usually join or sign off and leave their ships in foreign ports. After a tenure of nearly one year of service on such a ship, and before proceeding on leave, I handed over my charge to another Chief Engineer sent by our Bombay head office as my reliever and replacement at a port called Ghent in Belgium. My cousin and her husband had flown over from the U.K. to be with me during my ship's stay in port. But as my leave sanction came through quite fast, they had to cut short their stay with me to accompany me to Brussels, from where I was to take a flight to Frankfurt and then onward to Bombay and they to London later in the evening.

We proceeded to Brussels airport and arrived well in time for our various flights after exchanging last Bon Voyages and Happy Landings with my shipmates. After going through the departure formalities, I checked in my gear. Since we had some time to kill before my flight, we went to a nearby restaurant to have our one more meal together in Belgium. The tremendous & palpable relief that comes with turning over all of the problems and responsibilities of operating a ship to someone else, along with the exhilarating sensations of reunion with family, provided an easy reason to have a go at our meal with joyous abandon. So both of us gents downed a quick couple of beers which normally is not my cup of tea and the lunch got extended bit by bit. We did not realize that an extra one-hour difference between the reporting-in time and boarding the plane was also eaten up with our wet lunch. After saying goodbye to my relatives, I reported to the departure counter, I found myself all alone other passengers had left, to board the plane. Anyway, lugging my quite heavy hand-gear I proceeded to board the plane. Amid being paged on the airport P.A. System I was almost running to my destination gate leading to tarmac runways for boarding. Having made quite a track record at running, and befuddled by the bewitching beer, I was silently cursing the airline's punctuality, and for the first time appreciating our Indian Railways aversion to punctuality where no one can ever miss a train. As if my anxiety about missing my trip wasn't enough, an air hostess approached from the opposite side, asking whether it was Mr Singh who was going to miss his aircraft to Frankfurt.

I readily yessed to being the culprit, mumbled an excuse, not the beer borne facts, that my watch was half an hour slow having been inadvertently unadjusted to the TIME ZONE of my previous port of call. She was visibly relieved having discovered me and the arduous task of offloading my gear from the plane had been obviated. Hurriedly, she helped me board the plane. So far so good. When the plane was airborne, I sent a small note of thanks to the pilot asking for his forgiveness for the delay on my part which must have surely caused inconvenience to so many of my companions, giving the same excuse of Time Zone left unadjusted on my watch. While we were well on our way, I was rather surprised to see the captain of the plane coming and sitting next to me. He seemed quite an amiable person & enquired about my family, my home and my job on the ship. He showed a keen interest in the running of large ships like mine asked about the countries & ports we had touched in my just concluded voyage. Then, when I informed him about my final port of call before Ghent, and then I was amused to find myself caught in his devious trap because my previous port and Ghent are in the same time zone. The captain made his way to the cockpit with a kind and all-knowing smile, exposing my explanation for being late to board the plane. I never liked to even think of having a beer after this so embarrassing an episode, because it reminds me of my irresponsible act and folly.

Written by-

L.J. Singh,

Retd. Chief Engineer(IMM)

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