An Evening In The Sea

An Evening In The Sea

4 mins 255 4 mins 255

This is an incident from April- May 1979. In those days I was a Junior Engineer in a passenger ship called Nancawry. Whenever the ship was anchored in a harbor my watch would be from 6 AM to 6 PM and while sailing my watch would be from 4 -8 in the morning and 4-8 in the evening. The entire April was spent in Singapore’s Sembawang Port. Our ship was sent for annual maintenance there. To get one month’s time for annual maintenance in any port in Singapore was a real pleasure for the employees of the ship. The workload increased during the annual maintenance but gave us the opportunity for an outing to see new places and the biggest attraction was shopping. Everyone made a lavish purchase and I too bought something for everyone.

The ship left Sembawang Shipyard and came to Singapore’s Anchorage only in the noon of May 1, 1979, but still, some work was going on. The people of the shipyard were on board, some machines were on trial, some surveys were left, and some small leaks were to be patched up, and yes, the ship's fuel bunker and food items were yet to come. For all these things the ship had to wait for 24 hours and then..

The ship's anchor was released on the evening of 2 May 1979 at 4 PM and it sailed towards Chennai. I ended my watch of 4 to 8 PM and after handing over charge to the next watch keeper I came out at around 8-30 PM. After washing my hands and face I took out a chilled beer from the fridge and sat on the deck outside the cabin. All this had become a part of my daily routine. After finishing my watch whenever I came up, I would sit outside for a while. There were 8 lifeboats hanging on each side of the ship. Under one of the lifeboats were placed a bamboo chair. After work, this was the place for my relaxation. Nancawry was a turbine driven ship. The temperature of the engine room used to touch 51-52 degrees centigrade. Hence it was necessary to cool down the body.

The ship was going towards Chennai at the rate of 12 knots per hour. The skyscrapers and glittering lights of Singapore began to get hazy. The lights of other ships passing through the Strait of Malacca were visible. The sea was no longer calm. A slight light rolling and pitching had started. I was napping and thinking about going home on vacation. After reaching Chennai, I was going to sign off. In the meantime, the face of Sheetal came before me. Her pitiable condition started coming before my eyes. Will the truth of life be so bitter?

At the time of repair, most of the people working on behalf of the shipyard were men, but women used to work in cleaning the engine room. Most of them were over 45-50 years old. They were not given any hard work. There was also an Indian in these 8-10 women. She must have been around 54-55 years. She never used to mix up with others as all others were of Chinese origin. Sheetal used to be very calm and minded only her work. Being an Indian I had a soft corner for her. Sheetal too got some consolation speaking a few words with me.

One day she had told that she was a widow and lived alone. She used to manage with great difficulty working in the shipyard. She had a son who was married but lived in a separate house with his wife. There was no contact with him for the last 5-6 years. He was working in a higher position in the same shipyard. By seeing the food of Sheetal, I could understand the conditions in which she was living. Whenever possible, I used to give her some food, sometimes vegetable or pickle from my mess. But she had never asked me anything. The work of the ship’s maintenance was almost over.

One day the Ship Manager came along with Work’s Manager of the shipyard to take stock of the work. At that time I was the lone Engineer in the engine room. I was listening to the Ship Manager and Works Manager. The Works Manager was explaining something and was in a hurry to go. When he was going up after completing his round, the cleaning lady Sheetal came to me and asked, “ Sir, do you know who he is? He is my son.”

Perhaps her pride and her pain were both hidden in those tears. 

This is an English translation of समंदर में एक शाम written by Yogesh S Goyal (

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