“The man who goes alone can start today, but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”
Henry David Thoreau
Most of us, at some point in life, have wanted to be Tintin, or Gulliver or some character from a fiction novel exploring uncharted worlds, lost in the magic of earth, and just mother earth, with everything she’s got to offer. Be independent – free of norms, culture, patterns and behaviour. Free from the outside, and free within. We had a reason to believe, following our conversation with a pioneer whose life sets a precedent for freedom.
On November 1, 2012, Commander Abhilash Tomy, of the Indian Navy set out on a voyage, around the world, in 151 days. With the Asoka Chakra proudly printed on the sail of his yacht Mhadei. Making him the first Indian, and the second Asian to complete a solo, non-stop, unassisted expedition around the earth under sail.
In his TEDx Talk, Commander Tomy says, “A man who does not love solitude, can never be in love with his freedom.” He found both love and solitude amidst the calm serene waters, and rogue waves of the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans, rounding Cape Leeuwin in Australia, Cape Horn in South America and Cape of Good Hope in Africa, making it back to homeland on April 6, 2013.
His only fellow travellers on this journey through what he calls “regions without rules, without laws, without God and common sense,” were the mystical creatures of water and the sky that paid him uninformed visits.
One man, a yacht, 3 oceans – the entire planet. Meet the man who nailed his colours to the mast – Commander Abhilash Tomy.’
TheVibe: What does independence mean to you as a sailor and an officer in the Indian Navy?
Commander Abhilash: I find absolute freedom at sea. There is no comparison to what I find on land, anywhere in the world. Its unencumbered by bureaucracy, societal norms, religious dogmas and public moralities.
TheVibe: Did you ever feel lonely at the sea for 151 days, without a single creature in sight?
Commander Abhilash: There were so many of these amazing creatures, both small and large, always throwing surprises. Soon after I left, I found dragonflies and grasshoppers on my boat, many miles into the sea. I wonder how they got so far away from land. In the tropics there would be flying fish and squids, having lost their way or carried on by a huge wave. A little further south, when the flying fish disappear, you enter the territory of the brown albatross, and the further south you find the great white albatross. Whales and dolphins are everywhere. Almost like flies.
TheVibe: What is the biggest lesson you’ve carried back with you from the seas?
Commander Abhilash: I learnt a lot of lessons at sea, but my biggest take away from all this was an expanded idea of freedom. Freedom, which just does not mean the absence of physical restrictions. But one with much wider connotations.
TheVibe: Any upcoming voyages?
Commander Abhilash: Nothing planned yet. But TheVibe will be the first one to know.
Away from any trace of human existence, and the idea of society Commander Tomy started his day with meditating, he then cooked, worked on his boat, read books and planned his journey a step in advance, being prepared for the worst of weather and waves.
Coleridge, in his poem – ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ explains the wrath of the sea when it tumbles over its still waters, and swallows everything that comes its way. Commander Abhilash witnessed a sadistic side of the sea after a diesel leak in his boat that caused water contamination, leaving him with no option but to use seawater for most of his daily needs.
But being independent, and free, also brings along with it a challenge to fight and survive against all odds. Commander Tomy made it back to the coast of Mumbai leaving the immigration officers bewildered to find not a single immigration stamp indicating a country of arrival after he left from India.
Six days hence, he was formally received and honoured by the President – Mr. Pranab Muherjee. He’s been awarded the Kirti Chakra (second highest peacetime gallantry award in India) and the Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award.
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