Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Aboard INS Viraat - A Journey On The High Seas (1)

By Manuwant Choudhary

Its funny how one suddenly remembers something... It can be anything...someone..or simply a journey.

Two days ago I kept thinking about my trip aboard India's aircraft carrier the INS Viraat, so I searched the net and got latest news reports of the Indian navy decommissioning the old lady - age 57 years.

INS Viraat is even in the Guinness Book of Records as being the oldest aircraft carrier in the world.

Viraat is the Sanskrit word for Giant, India had purchased the HMS Hermes from Britain in 1987 after its illustrious career of 27 years that includes the Falkland Wars.

In the early 1990's as I worked as a reporter in Bombay I got a call from the Public Relations office of the Indian army, "Would you like to visit  Kashmir - as a guest of the Indian army?".

The catch - all reports would have to go through the military intelligence censors - word by word - before being published.

I declined.

So some months later I got another offer...a trip aboard INS Viraat - India's aircraft carrier.

Journalists have a term for such trips - its called a `junket' - where you go have a good time and if you are really kind you write a smallish report.

But the PRO this time knew I would never go if they censor our reports.

So he said, "We will not censor your report this time. Is that OK? But no photographers please.."

So I asked him, "Can I at least take my own camera?"

He replied, "No, thats against the rules...We will have an official photographer onboard."

So I told him, "Then I will not go."

He again pleaded, "Ok you can take a small Hotshot camera."

I said, "But I don't have a small camera. Mine is a BIG Canon..."

Very reluctantly, "Ok bring it along but I have not told you anything. Is that clear?"

I said, "Clear".

So I found myself onboard a naval vessel and for hours we tossed on the Arabian Sea...
and then we were taken on a Westland helicopter to INS Viraat...

My editor Behram Contractor, I recall, did not like the idea...he knew it was a junket...a joy serious journalist would go.

He was right.

The helicopter ride I remember felt like a tractor !

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