Contrary to what the cynics say, distance is not for the fearful; it’s for the bold. It’s for those who are willing to spend a lot of time alone in exchange for a little time with the one they love. Such is the story of Arun Shewakramani and Babita Tomar, both officers in the merchant navy, united by the strength of love, their profession and the sea!
The story begins when they first met in 2005 when both got enrolled for the first ‘Dual Cadet Programme’ at AMET, Chennai conducted under the sponsorship of Maersk.
Babita was the only girl in a batch of 220 cadets with the obvious high count of boys in college! Living in the campus accommodation full of men was a scary prospect for Babita requiring adjustments to the new life, and naturally so. She says “I was scared all the time and Arun could sense it; he could see how lonely I felt in the beginning and that’s when he and his friends came forward to help and made me feel that I was not alone and that I had friends who would help and be there for me through the ordeal of settling in”. Subsequently, both of them went out to sea as dual cadets (deck + engine) for their first sail in 2006 as per the programme.
Back in college, it took them almost two years to realize what they felt for each other and that it was more than just infatuation. Babita, beaming with happiness, says “Those two years were magical, like being in a movie! We used to walk together to class and everywhere else, talking about everything under the sun, never mentioning to each other as to how we felt”. It is daunting for two people in love to imagine the distance that would separate them, albeit temporarily, and as hopeful as they were at the time, they didn’t get a chance to sail together for 10 years (since their first time out at sea in 2006) until 2016.
Until 2010 there was no internet on the vessels they sailed on and obviously it was hard to keep the relationship intact, an aspect that was both exhausting and at the same time a test of their love and commitment – ‘adventurous’, as Babita words that time in their lives.
But as the power of love would have it, both being in the same profession rendered them more understanding of the situation and the love fostered. Two people, two different ships, two different parts of the world, different time zones, ridiculous workload and no internet! Hard to keep up and yet they took time out from their busy schedules onboard each and every day to send a mail out to the other, awaiting a reply, sometimes waiting 2-4 days for one – a system seafarers are well aware of. Such was the strength of their relationship that they synchronized their clocks once a week to make those expensive satellite calls to the other vessel. All those years went by planning to sign on and sign off around same time so that they could meet at least twice a year!
Hardship and distance could never take away romance out of their lives. Arun didn’t leave any efforts unturned to make her feel special; like this one time when both were on the same run, the agent came onboard Babita’s vessel upon arrival with a special delivery for her and gave it to her in front of the entire ship staff. Even the agent was impressed with Arun (as we all are) and said that this was the first time he brought a gift for anyone else other than the Captain.
Arun left gifts with the respective agents on every port – a thorough gentleman, Arun clearly has set a lot of goal for men all across the world! As the popular quote goes “Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honour your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”
2010 brought about internet onboard their vessels, enabling quicker communication via instant messengers. They kept an eye out for each other’s vessel schedule hoping to cross paths out at sea, never giving up hope. And they finally met once in their sailing career of almost 6 years. Says Babita “That feeling of his ship being on the same port is inexplicable. When I found out that his ship was moored just forward of mine, all I could wish was for a bridge that could directly connect me to his ship at that point. Once the vessel was alongside and moored, I ran towards gangway hoping to see him waiting and there he was! I used to feel life would have been easier if at least one of us was on land but when you experience romance at sea, it has its own charm that one cannot get on land”.
Fast forward to 2016 and they had both grown in all aspects of life- career as well as the relationship, and the seas kept them connected no matter which part of the world they were in, sailing or moored. Finally, as fate would have it, they were due to be on the same ship in 2016. He was onboard as a Chief Mate and the existing Second Mate was due to sign off, opening up the prospect of Babita joining as a Second Mate on the same vessel. As luck would have it (along with the crewing division of Maersk), she signed on.
Babita puts special emphasis on this time of theirs together out at sea as being pivotal to their relationship – “We always had different opinions and methods of working onboard as with everyone else. I had often dreamed about working with him onboard and how to find that balance being professional and being my partner. Being his partner I was allowed to get mad whenever we had a disagreement but being a Second Mate I had to respect his orders. Maintaining the balance between work and personal life onboard was not as challenging, as we had thought earlier. It surprises me even today when I think about it how we both understood each other’s work life and how we supported each other professionally. If I was struggling troubleshooting something on the bridge he would help and if he had some pending work I would find time to do it for him. For the first time, we had time to sit and discuss our wedding plans in detail and finalize everything. Work-wise also it was a great experience wherein I could freely ask him questions which I hesitated with while sailing with other Chief Mates. We could debate for topics for during the watch. For once I didn’t look at the clock at the end of my watch! Ports were, even more, fun because either both us went ashore together or he stayed back and took my watch like a gentleman and I went ashore”. All seafarers can understand how liberating it is to have another officer willing to cover for one’s watch so as to go ashore – a very rare occurrence, a luxury few can afford!
After signing off, they got married only to join once again on board the same vessel. Owing to the understanding between the two with regard to their separate personal and professional lives, it did not make things complicated at all. In fact, the ship staff made their lives easier, leaving no chance to drop the joke on who the real boss was now that they were married! Arun, being the Chief Mate, finished his contract in 3 months while Babita’s had to last for 4 months. With the strong desire to spend all the time together, an aspect understandable by anyone who has ever been in love, Arun stayed back onboard as Babita’s spouse on the same ship, waiting it out till they could both sign off together. As Arun rightfully says, “I wish all the sailors could experience being out at sea but no work at all, as this feeling is beyond imagination and explanation.”
He spent most of his time either reading books, playing video games, luxuriously biding quality time till Babita’s sign off. She says, “In the morning he used to wake up early, go to the galley and make fresh tea every day and then wake me up with it. This was the best thing that happened to me and it happened every day; 11 years out at sea and I never had bed tea.”
Going by the account of their love, Arun clearly deserves ‘Husband of The Year’! This is a story that would leave a lot to be desired in terms of romance by all across the world; a story which reaches a whole new level of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. If the connection with another person is that powerful, then you absolutely have to forget about conventional logic and go for it. Clearly, the true power of love is immeasurable, able to endure any circumstance and travel across distances. In the age of right and left swipes, these are the accounts that reinforce one’s belief in the profound feeling of true love.
From the entire team at Marine Insight, we would like to congratulate both Arun and Babita for being another shining example commitment in our industry. May you have a very happy and long life, both as partners and professionals.
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