India celebrated its 75th year of Independence in a grand way on August 15th, 2022. As part of the celebrations, the Indian Navy deployed six of its ships to six cities across the globe, and I am glad we happened to be relatively near one of the ports.
Around 10 days ago, my father forwarded me some messages from his Naval batchmates about INS Satpura visiting San Diego on August 15th (there was a possibility of a next-generation reunion, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen). To be honest, I was not all that thrilled at first, but gradually the magnitude of the event became clearer, especially when I had to contact the Naval Attaché at the Embassy in D.C. to get more information about the possible visit. After a couple of phone calls and many text messages, it was decided that we would visit the ship on Monday evening as special guests. Until then, I had not realized that the ship was open ONLY to guests of veterans or friends and family of the crew — this was becoming more and more special.
We took the 1.5-hour drive (which was more than worth it) and for the first time ever, entered a U.S. Naval Base. As we caught the first glimpses of the majestic vessel, nostalgia HIT in big waves. From then till the time we reached back home some 5 hours later (and for a few hours more), it was full-on romancham (goosebumps). Those who don’t know me may be wondering why I was so excited to see a ship, well, read my earlier posts Growing Up As a Navy Brat and A Sequel to the Navy Brat’s Memories and you’ll understand.
Stepping onto the gangway leading to INS Satpura, I instantly shed a few decades from my age (I wish those extra pounds had gone away too) and felt like that little girl who used to enjoy the occasional visits on board the ship(s) my father was posted on. A few officers and sailors were ready with their salutes as we reached the ship and a young Lieutenant came forward to greet us. He was our guide for the rest of the visit.
We started off with a photo session, after which we were taken for a tour. Our guide was as excited as we were because he could see that we were enjoying every second of the tour. I was reliving old memories and Mr. P, who had read up on and watched videos about INS Satpura, was keeping the young chap on his toes with questions about the technology, the weaponry, the working of the ship etc. etc. At some point, the conversation veered to “Which part of India are you from?” and this was probably the most exciting part for the officer, and my MIL, because he was from ‘namma Madras’ too.
From personal details to more insights into the ship, our tour lasted two hours, culminating at the Wardroom (the dining area, where our parents left us while they partied ;-)). We were offered refreshments and Mr. P and his mother requested teas; the tea was so good that my MIL complimented the chef and Mr. P even took a sneak peek into the kitchen, much to the glee of the cooks. As the conversation continued, our guide spoke highly about how the cooking crew gave utmost importance to providing good quality food, because the food was often what helped keep the crew’s spirits high during long deployments like this one.
All these little incidents and more, I am sure, made our day and theirs a little more special. As we were saying our goodbyes, the officer excused himself for a couple of minutes and returned with souvenirs for us; his personal coin engraved with the ship’s name (this was super special) and a refrigerator magnet. I am sure we made the poor guy super super homesick… after all the ship has been away from India for three months and will return only after a couple more months at sea.
We received a copy of the photograph taken at the entrance and also met a Malayalee officer, who turned out to be from Mr. P’s native place. My MIL’s excitement knew no bounds, and I think she most enjoyed meeting the two young fellows with whom she could converse in Tamil and Malayalam.
We had not expected to stay on board for two hours, but every second spent there was PRECIOUS. I can’t thank them all enough for having organized such a wonderful visit… and maybe I should thank my dad too for having been in the Navy, without which none of this would have been possible :-).
I have rambled along a LOT, after a big gap and until I write again, stay happy, stay safe, and don’t miss any opportunity to relive your childhood memories.