In the Red Earth Diaries Book Extract Series, I intend to share the content of the book in small bite-sized segments along with some photographs and some background stories where possible. I’d like to start this series with the beginning section of the Preface that describes my very first visit to Australia over two decades ago on board a merchant ship, as a wet-behind-the-ears marine cadet and how I fell in love with the place at first glance. It also talks about my progression to the rank of captain, my decision at the time to be a bachelor for life leading a life as an intrepid backpacker and a hardened sailor, and my mother’s desperate attempt to get me married.
In case you are interested in reading the post from last year which shared the news about the book launch, you can find it here: Red Earth Diaries- Book Launch. The article contains a promotional video about the book as well.
Maybe it won’t work out. But maybe seeing if it does will be the best adventure ever – Unknown
Desire is a strange and powerful thing. So too is imagination. Sometimes in life, when they conspire, it can lead to unimaginable and extraordinary outcomes and we can realise our wildest dreams. Seeds are sown in the far corners of the mind – purely random aspirations on purely random days. Time passes by and some of these seeds are discarded. Some fail to germinate due to unfavourable conditions. Some struggle to grow and eventually die a slow death. But every so often, the universe aligns itself to create perfect conditions and one such seed of an idea is able to germinate – to see the light of day, to flourish and to bear fruit.
This story is about one such dream which, until a few years ago, seemed outlandish and fanciful – even to me – a dream of migrating to Australia, and of living a life of unlimited adventure.
I vividly remember the day I first imagined a life ‘Down Under’. The year was 1994, and I was a young marine cadet aboard an ocean-going ship called the Darya Chand, a 35,000-tonne general cargo vessel. Being employed in a ‘tramping trade’, the Darya Chand sailed around the world carrying grain, steel products, coal and fertiliser, among other goods. In my first six months aboard, I visited many exotic and far-flung ports – Japan, the USA, Thailand and Singapore, to name just a few.
I had turned seventeen a few months before setting sail; being underage, my mother had to accompany me to the Shipping Master’s office to sign the shipping indenture on my behalf. I was considered a juvenile – a soft lump of clay ready to be moulded by the hands of destiny and equally eager to soak up all experiences along the way. A sea career meant a lifetime of travel and freedom – freedom from university studies, from mundanity, from every day worries. From an early age, I had a penchant for adventure and had always harboured a desire for exploring faraway places and unconventional paths. Life at sea would give me an opportunity to do all this and more.
The Darya Chand had just docked in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital, and I was due some shore leave. I got dressed in my Sunday best, scrubbed and groomed like a choir boy for high mass, eager to explore the sights of a new country. The sky was a faultless blue, and the eucalypts that lined the old port road leading to the seafarer’s club infused the air with crispness. I planned to grab a bite to eat at the McDonald’s in town, after which I’d go shopping for some souvenirs. As I approached the town centre, I remember seeing this young guy, clearly a local, with dishevelled blond hair and tattooed arms, dressed casually in a pair of boardshorts and a loose-fitting singlet. He was barefoot and seemingly without a care in the world – and no one seemed to find it the slightest bit unusual.
For some inexplicable reason, my teenage brain decided to tag this inconsequential piece of data, equate it with ‘freedom, travel and uncommon living’ and preserve it for a later date.
Time went by. My career progressed and I rose up the ranks, ultimately sailing as a captain on giant ocean liners. I circumnavigated the globe, crossed the international dateline and traversed the equator umpteen times. I visited countless ports, each with a unique appeal. However, every now and again, the thought of that random Australian man walking barefoot in Brisbane kept popping up. Without any conscious effort, this thought gradually became a desire, and I slowly began imagining how it would be to migrate to Australia and settle down.
Then again, the vagabond in me held similar thoughts of migrating to most of the other countries I’d visited – USA, Mexico, France, Germany, Japan and even China, although not with the same level of seriousness. Of course, these were just random thoughts. I was enjoying a comfortable life in India. Over the years, I had turned into a hardened sailor and an intrepid backpacker. While not at sea, I preferred travelling to remote destinations over city living; the unfamiliarity of the open road over the constant company of society. My life was sorted.
And then one day Cupid struck like a bolt of lightning.
My mother, concerned I was going to die a lonely death in some far-flung corner of the world, would wring her hands in despair. Every time I came home for holidays, with the stereotypical melodrama of an Indian mother, she’d cajole and convince me into meeting a ‘suitable bride’. This kind of ‘arranged marriage’ system – although an age-old Indian tradition, irrespective of religion or culture – is actually quite similar to modern online dating and matchmaking sites. In more recent times, the role of a parent has been limited to checking the family background – ensuring there’s no cultural or social mismatch – and making the initial introductions.
My modus operandi in these situations was simple. I would go on the first date (which more often than not turned out to be the last) only to talk myself and my prospective bride out of the proposal. I would explain that I had a rare but acute case of ‘itchy feet’ and a worsening case of ‘explorer syndrome’. These conditions, I would argue, prevented me from lying still in the comforts of home for an extended period of time. Understandably, most of the girls wasted no time finishing their coffees and making a dash for the nearest exit. To be fair, they thought they were meeting someone intending to settle down, not gallivant around the world…
…to be continued
Some photos from my life at sea and as a solo traveller before I got married.
If you would like to know more about our journey as migrants in Australia, then I invite you to read the earlier posts:
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Super excited to have you along for the ride!
Stay Blessed and Stay Safe.