When we disembark on foreign ports, the usual things boys do is find a bar, a brothel, sightsee, eat out and go dancing. Some people boast about girlfriends in various ports but they are actually referring to their favourite prostitutes. A few hours on shore just doesn’t give you enough time to seduce a girl. This is a chauvinistic, sex-starved profession.
Even if alcohol is banned on a ship, it thrives illegally. Porn is a regular, well-stacked feature of ship libraries, so much so that friends tell us to get some back with us.
Working with international crews, I have developed opinions about some nationalities. Filipinos are extremely horny, and consider women as only sex objects. Europeans are easygoing, beer-loving people. The nationality I hate working with most is my own. Indians always make the work environment unnecessarily political. A senior will always try to enforce his views. To eat any cuisine other than Mughlai is a personal affront to Indians.
Each week feels like a month at sea. And by three-quarters of your journey, you’re homesick. Isolation is the biggest punishment you can give someone. A ship at sea is like a village disconnected from the rest of the world. Everything, especially faults, become larger than life. One can’t trust anyone else, as the merchant navy is all about evaluation. Everyone is competitive, and friendships don’t gel with hierarchies.
Safety procedures and security aren’t followed 100 per cent. Only the slow, low ships like tankers are vulnerable to pirates. If the ship is hijacked by pirates, we are expected to comply entirely. And there’s nothing heroic about losing your life for a corporate.
The merchant navy kills your personal life. But I’m okay with that. When I come home, I’m so busy with family and friends that I have no time to myself. The job of an engineer is intensely physical, and I consider myself lucky for having survived without accidents. Life on the sea gives you ample time to be with yourself. I have seen whales, jellyfish, sharks, dolphins, even phosphorous algae that drift up in the Red Sea.
Nothing compares to the sight of moonlight reflecting on waves.
(He’s a 22-year-old engineer working with an international shipping company for five years)
As told to Shubhangi Swarup