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Albatross, Owl and Teliga Potato

Albatross, Owl, Teliga potato, D'Suja, ship, storm, life boat, Nansen bottle, aft deck, front deck

It was terrible, the ship was not able to move forward an inch even with full throttle in the Engine. The sea became very rough and the ship was tossing like paper boat! The regular rolling and pitching in the strong current also lost the rhythm due to unregulated stormy wind. It was impossible to stand in the instrument room where two scientists were on duty. They were recording magnetic data as well as physiographic features of the seabed below the sea level in the echo sounder. It was nighttime; the sky above was covered with dark clouds and lightening from there was falling over the high sea waves!

The crewmembers took their positions in the Engine room and in the Wheelhouse. Telephones were constantly buzzing in different cabins. Sounds of falling objects in different corners of the ship made every one panicky.

I told the scientists on duty to close the instrument room and to come in the front deck! Many of the scientists were vomiting due to the tossing of the ship; I too felt whirling of my stomach and hurriedly went to the bathroom and vomited. I felt like sleeping but suddenly remembered the Nansen bottles were kept in the front deck. Who could predict the sudden storm of that kind! The bottles were kept in the deck with a plan to collect water samples from the ocean bottom at about three kilometers beneath! The sudden storm had spoiled the entire plan; but now how to get back the bottles! The storm with the heavy down pour and the high breaking waves made every thing mesh! I came out from by cabin and peeped in the instrument room where Samir and Debojyoti were still inside and sitting on the chair. I requested them to come along to the front deck. We three with great difficulties came down to the port side of the ship. We were slowly walking with great care and taking the support of different pillars and strong iron railing of the ship. The seawater was splashing and occasionally was flooding the deck. One searchlight was kept on near to the A.C controlling room. In that shaded light the foamy water was seen to flow and cross over the deck from one side to the other.

The floor was oily and was slippery. Somehow we reached near to the A.C room; Nansen bottles were kept a little away near to the front edge of the deck. The bottles were tied with the winch; they were rolling back and forth with thudding sound. We were to reach there very carefully after crossing the hanging lifeboat over our head! Just below the lifeboat, a loft like structure was there, which were covered with wooden doors and where ship’s storage like cabbage, potatoes and onions used to be kept. That was however a short of transit arrangement, otherwise the real store was much bigger, refrigerated well and was located in the down floor. Flopping sound of the wooden door from the loft area was heard every now and then, the shade of the lifeboat was protecting that loft from the torrential rains. Holding the iron railing near to the loft in the port side we were walking down towards the Nansel bottle step by step. Mean while we found D’ Suja, one crewman was standing in one corner of the loft and below the lifeboat. D’Suja was familiar to us, as he often joined in the operation for sample collection from the seabed. His duty was allotted during the nighttime; he was an interesting person, always in happy mood and he would do some thing or other during the dead journey of the ship. He was very good in craftwork and would entertain others by his sweet melodious Goanese songs. Every body was pleased for his nice behavior and charming personality.

But what he was doing there! In this stormy and rainy night why he was standing all alone! I asked him “ Hello D’Suja, what are you doing here?”

- “ Nothing in particular, sir! I am just observing the birds and guarding them for their safety.”
I could not understand and so I asked him again “ Safety for the birds! Where are they?”

- “ Please come here and you will see them on the other side of the gully.”

I was curious and meanwhile Samir and Debojyoti went ahead to collect the Nansen bottles, returned with them in hand, and reached to the place where D’Suja was standing. They were wet in the rains. I also went up the raised platform below the lifeboat and approached to them. D’Suja waved and pointed out towards the end point of the gully. We all looked up and saw in shaded light two huge birds were jumping and catching the flying fishes that were forcefully pushed by the flowing sea waves. Water was splashing and the flying fishes were trying to go back in the retreating waves. The birds were catching them with their strong beaks. They were spreading their wings half and were enjoying the meals! At times both the birds were dancing face to face and were making gobbling sound! In deed it was a wonderful sight!

Samir whispered and said, “ The birds are, no doubt, albatross; brown and white color with their wide wings are their characteristic features. But how they have come here!”
D’Suja laughed and said “ Sir, these birds are the pet birds of the ship; mainly I look after them”.

It was my turn to be astonished further. I told, “ Where do they stay? Since how long they are living here? So far, we did not see them!”

- “ Sir, their nests are in the monkey deck, above. They have taken shelter for the last three to four months here”.

- “ Don’t they fly away? How they manage their food?”

- “ Usually, in the morning they fly away for their catch! In the evening, they come back and settle in their nest in the upper most deck that is in the monkey deck. Our Chieftain has a soft corner for them. Many a time I provide them food like fish, squid etc”

- “ Are they not afraid of the people? And you said they are now pet!”

- “ Yes, sir, now they have become our pet and dear ones! Nice birds they are! They are accustomed now with us, they don’t fear us! And now you will see how they go back to their nests”.

D’Suja started clapping and Mimi crying their sound! The birds were turning their head and were trying to locate D’Suja. They stopped catching fishes, flew over our head, and reached to the top of the ship in the monkey deck! Their stretched wings were huge and were not less than three meters or so!

We were delighted, amused and surprised. Debojyoti asked D’Suja “ You said that you were guarding them; is it that you were protecting them but protecting from whom?”

- “ Sir, this research vessel is a miraculous ship! No body should harm those albatrosses otherwise, we sailors believe, disastrous will fall on us! I have another pet in this ship; I take personal care for him. I caught him in my home at Goa and with the permission of the Chieftain I got him in this ship!”

He stopped for a while and made a peculiar sound using his two palms and the mouth. The storm was strong; there was no sign of stopping of rains, we all were silent and suddenly heard the screeching call from near to the loft below the lifeboat! We looked each other and D’Suja went to that part and from an wooden cage kept aside the loft, took out a bird. In the shaded light, we saw an owl with its strong beak and two large round eyes. D’Suja said something and released the bird. The owl flew near to the edge of the gully and chose one shaded zone. The bird started catching the flying fishes and was enjoying its meal!
D’Suja was quite satisfied, he said, “ The whole night he may continue eating; after some time I will come and take him to the cage!

Actually, I was protecting the albatrosses from this owl! They would fight fiercely for their common and favorite prey!”
The owl’s eyes were glowing and were rotating! From that distance, the eyes appeared two fire balls floating and dwindling. I became concerned about the future of those birds. I asked D’Suja “ What will happen to these birds when the ship returns to Netaji Subhas dock at Kolkata for dry docking and not much time is left! Only after three months the ship will be taken there! What will happen to those birds then?”

- “ Yes, sir, it is true; during that time they have to vacate the ship; in fact, in the sand head itself the albatrosses will be chased away and the owl will not be a problem”.

- “ Why, the owl will not be a problem! It also to be chased away otherwise where will you keep?”

- “ It will stay back here; some of us will have to stay back during the dry docking, thus there will be no problem for the owl. Our people will look after him. After all the owl is the symbol of prosperous and progress!”

Mean while the rains became more intense and the storm was blowing through; Debojyoti told “ Asimda, let us go back to our cabins… it is not safe now’.

D’Suja said, “ Yes sir, the situation is worsening; the deck is not safe now; please go ahead and give me the bottles, I will take them in the down floor”.

I appreciated his gesture and we three slowly, very carefully left the deck, and took shelter in the recreation room in the down stair. All other scientists were assembled there and were sitting helplessly, the video was on but no body was attentive. The recreation room was actually in the central part of the ship and thus the effect of rolling and pitching was much less. D’Suja brought the Nansen bottle and kept in the adjacent Chemical Laboratory. The whole night, we had stay back in the recreation room and were waiting for the rains and the storm to stop. Early morning the intensity was reduced, rolling-pitching was also less and the life came back in the ship.

We started our activity and decided to continue the seabed sampling. Every body was cheerful and in happy mood. People started coming to the aft deck where sampling operation used to be conducted.; some one would operate the winch through the ‘A’ frame, some one would observe the winch wire releasing smoothly or retrieving without any wire entanglement.

I was supervising the entire job every now and then. In the night hours, D’Suja joined as crew hand with other two scientists. I was sitting in the caned chair; he came near and said “ Sir, I will present you one rare flower when you sign off the ship”

I laughed and asked “ Flower! Where will you get the flower in this ship?”

- “ Yes sir from the ship only! It has bloomed half; another half will bloom within fifteen days! I will show you tomorrow!”

- “ O.K, simply fantastic; but then what happened to the albatrosses? I am more worried about them.”

- “ They are in their nest and has laid down one egg too!”

- “ Is it so? But it is very unfortunate I suppose”.

- “ Why sir! It is rather a boon for this ship, sir!

- “ That is alright! But what will happen after three months when the ship goes for dry-docking? Earlier they were two, now they are with their cheek also!”

- “ Oh. That problem is solved sir! Chieftain said when we reach Port Blair, the albatrosses and their chick will be taken to the zoo and will be arranged one nest for them. The Director of the zoo is a friend of the Chieftain!”

- “ Oh, then it is nice! I thought that you would chase them away in the sand head!”

- “ No, sir, we have changed our idea; we will see that no harm is done on those birds”

The days went by and we completed our job and returned to Port Blair. D’Suja presented me a very big red & yellow colored beautiful flower germinated out from a big corm.

I carried the flower to my home and every body was delighted and charmed with its beauty. I came to know that kind of flower would emit strong fetid odor through out the night. Maximum time of its life span was supposed to be under soil and the flower would bloom from the corm of the plant Teliga potato! It was strange that the Teliga potato brought from the market would give rising such a fleshy flower! I don’t know how it happened in the ship! That was a miracle in deed! I remembered D’Suja said “It is a miraculous ship’!
Published: 2008-01-21
Author: Asimendu Bandopadhyay

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About the author :
The author, Mr. Asimendu Bandopadhyay, uses his free time in writing. He has developed a writing style revealing the bondage of nature and the life. He wants to share & communicate those events of his own with the readers for their valuable feelings and interactions. The author was working as a Director in Geological Survey of India in the last phase of his service career. In his younger days worked in various field of geology with background of foreign training in United Kingdom under United Nations Development Programme Scheme in Marine Exploration. He gathered vast experience both in land and Ocean. Active participation as Chief Scientist in as many as 15 different geological cruises in the Bay of Bengal is in his credit. He took part in search of Fe-Mn nodules cruising 45 days at a stretch in sea in the Indian Ocean in Skandy Surveyor, a Norwegian Research Vessel. Published scientific papers in national and international journals. Besides scientific milieu, came across many human-inhuman experiences. Vast field of Rajasthan, the place of desert and his initial placement in the job ended in the deep sea through majestic happenings covering human feelings and scientific search.

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