Story of a Seafarer
“Leaving behind the lure of home the sailor with his ship gets lost into the wide expanse of blue waters. A. Malek narrates the pros and cons of a mariner’s life”.
The gigantic merchant ship loaded with merchandise after keeping her propellers turned for days together, cross-ing seas and oceans slowly approaches the home port. Compared with the life ashore in this fast moving world the life of a sailor on board a ship is like that of the ‘Ancient Mariner’ of the English poet Cole- ridge. With the first sight of land the heart of the sailor leaps up with joy. Through the binocular very eagerly he looks for a pilot; he heaves a sigh of relief when his friend leads his ship inside the harbour.
The sailor steps down the gangway. The Ancient Mariner went to the church to pray, but this mariner goes to his near and dear ones to apologies as he deprived them of his company so long. To the Dockers in the busy wharf and the pedestrians on the streets he is a stran-ger. The streets he passed through last have taken new shape, old buildings have been demolished and some new ones have come up. Many of his known faces have moved to other towns.
He rings the door bell of his own house while his child runs in with the message, ‘Mummy mummy, someone is at our door. The sailor’s wife sights her dear husband whose memory she has so long been pondering in her mind. Every evening when the sun set in the west, stars shone in the sky and the birds went silently to their nests she had the sleeping baby by her in whom she saw the image of her husband who at that moment was floating in a lonely sea or wandering as a stranger in a city of multitudes. For a moment she probably stopped the ruminati-on of memories of when she had last seen him. Her mind was like a floating empty bottle in a heaving sea. She cursed herself for getting married to a sailor.
Before the child feels the warmth of filial affection, his sailor father leaves home. As the time passes the memory of his father fades away. Once again the sailor returns home and the child runs to his/her mother and says, ‘Mummy, mummy, that man again’.
Usually in youth a sailor enters into this career. In the beginning of his first voyage when the ship slowly moves out of the harbour water he visualises mysterious oceans and distant wonderlands. Soon he finds himself faced with all the furies of high seas. Mountain-high waves hammer at his ship mercilessly. He keeps on tossing, remains sleepless and often has attacks of sea-sickness. Far from the shore in that vast oceans he feels distre-ssed. He determines not to go afloat again once he gets ashore next time.
He is rejoiced when seagulls wel-come him to a land new to him. The joy of visiting a foreign country overrides the hardship he has so long endured. The world with its various exotic lands inhabited by people of various races appears before him with all its practical attractions. Amid peoples of different nations he finds himself as an unofficial ambassador of his country. Now he makes up his mind to face the challenges from the sea. He finds it thrilling and adven-turous to continue in this life.
In his nomadic life he is given the message of his sick mother or death of some of his near relatives. He sobs, tears roll down his eyes. But who is there around him to share his grief ? None, in fact. And his festival days too pass quietly.
His children grow up. But he cannot look after their upbringing and educa-tion. The sailor is afloat, his wife minds the kitchen while his son plays truant and strays in streets. He probably leaves his house half built. By the time its construc-tion is restarted he finds bricks falling down and steel rods rusted.
For navigators and engineers begin-ning of sea life is not the end of preparation for the career. They have to learn how to take charge of lives and property on board a ship. The navigator has to be constantly vigilant to keep his ship on the right track, safe in the high seas away from enemies both above and under water.
The engineer has to keep the propeller turning round the clock. Engine is the life of a ship. The engineer cannot let it stop in rough sea. Malfunctioning of ev-en a nut or bolt may cause the engine to die making the ship immobile and thus endangering her safe-ty. In areas like the Persian Gulf the navi-gator works on deck in scorching sun to look after safe loading of cargo and the engineer works down in the engine room roasting himself in the heat of 45 degrees centigrade. To prove their ability they have to appear at several professional examinations with time gap in between for acquiring qualification for sea service.
Completion of sea service is not the only criterion of eligibility for exami-nations, financial re-sources also are to be considered. Expendi-ture and time required to pass depend whether coaching and examination facilities are available in their own country or they have to go abroad. After 10-15 years of diligence and hard work at sea spending all the savings and sometimes borrowing from friends one obtains the certificate of competency to become the master or the chief engineer of a ship. For an officer the real time for earning starts at this stage.But the time he has already spent at sea is enough to make him fed up with the job. Anyway, he has to carry on otherwise so many years of labour, so much of effort and spending of so much money become futile. But how long? In few instances one continu-es at sea up to the normal age of retirement. No pay and service terms can attract him once he decides to leave the sea.
Department of Shipping, Bangladesh.
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