A taut account of five men and a woman
lost at sea.
The rain has let up a bit. The sky ... is a dull steel grey. The clouds are still massed thick in every corner of the sky. The sea glistens darkly, the foaming waves rush at the dinghy.
This slim volume that tells a taut tale; the true story of six people in a dinghy, drifting on the high seas with just their wits to keep them alive. In actual fact, it was just the equanimity of one individual that kept them relatively safe and sound till they were brought to land a week later. Taken in its entirety, it is a gripping story with dollops of hardship, courage, some craven behaviour, hope, and, finally, succour.
Former Naval officer, Commander Avtar Singh Baath, now runs a private boat service, taking tourists from Port Blair to the idyllic isles that dot the Andaman Sea. In his latest assignment, he takes a French couple, Bruno Beauregard and Camille Pascal, on a diving trip just off Sir Hugh Rose Island, about 20 nautical miles away from Port Blair. Baath has with him a hardy crew consisting of Rama Rao, Rama Rao Jr. and Himanshu Mallik. It is a routine trawl till they spot a couple of whales and excitedly follow them. All too soon, the weather packs up; it becomes near impossible to chart a course back to Port Blair and they are well and truly lost at sea.
Sudarshan plies a restrained pen with the story coming off as a piece of excellent reportage. He keeps the descriptions close to the bone so that the reader knows what is happening and why, but isn’t given too much of an insight into just what the characters are feeling at any given time. This works very well and keeps the story taut and firm. And yes, as every adventure throws up a hero or two, here it is Commander Baath who stands tall and stoic, basically keeping up the fast dwindling hopes of all on board.
As days pass without them sighting help, as a couple of big ships pass by — one as close as three miles — without coming to their rescue, as food supplies diminish, everyone seems to be teetering on the edge of desperation. Everyone, except the French couple, knows that their dinghy could well drift off into the hostile waters of Myanmar or Indonesia. Back at Port Blair, rescue efforts are stymied by bad weather. The French couple comes off as selfish and unwilling to hold their end up in dire times while the Indian crew turns out to be a resourceful lot.
And when one fine day, a chopper catches sight of the dinghy and its dehydrated crew, it is indeed as if the miracle the reader was counting on comes to pass. Sudarshan proves to be an adept story-teller, who sets up atmosphere adroitly and proves that underwriting can sometimes work well. There are no superfluous details and all emotion felt by those at sea is kept tightly leashed. One reads that Sudarshan is terrified of water; some of that fear has, no doubt, gone into sketching out just what the six people go through on the rough, choppy waters.
What is disconcerting, though, is that typos often show up; punctuation marks appear at the wrong places and hyphens go missing. Some skillful editing could have further polished the prose. Ah, well.