INS Vikrant commissioned: Celebrations from a Kochi rooftop restaurant
Today, when Vikrant formally became a part of the Navy, it was not just another chapter in the country's maritime legacy. It allowed many to plot the path in the last four decades, says Asianet News Network Managing Editor Manoj K Das.
Today, when Vikrant formally became a part of the Navy, it was not just another chapter in the country's maritime legacy. It gave many a chance to plot the path in the last four decades, says Asianet News Network Managing Editor Manoj K Das.
A stone's throw from the dry dock where the INS Vikrant was being built is a rooftop restaurant -- one of Kochi's most-preferred getaways. There was a corner table that we -- friends from school who resided near the Cochin Shipyard -- occupied on Saturdays.
From there, we would watch her with awe. And raise a toast for her speedy voyage. This was not an overflow of patriotism or nationalism. But the simple thrill of a few middle-aged guys who, as 10-year-old school students, lined up on the M G Road with the tricolour on a day in July 1981 to celebrate the dedication of the first-ever ship built by the CSL -- Rani Padmini.
We waited for hours for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi near the gate of Cochin Shipyard. Our school -- CCPLM Anglo Indian High School -- was right opposite the Cochin Shipyard. Many of our schoolmates were from families evicted for the Cochin Shipyard project.
Huge granite walls prevented us from any possibility of knowing what was happening inside. The only memories we had about the shipyard till that day were the never-ending streams of workers' protests, marches, strikes and slogan screaming.
Rani Padmini's launch, in many ways, changed how we viewed the shipyard. From being a strike-prone industrial unit, we began acknowledging the shipyard as a ship-maker. It was thrilling to realise that a ship was being built amid all cacophony. From then on, we -- all from lower middle-class families -- started naming our paper boats Rani Padmini.
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All ships that appeared on chart papers or drawings done for contests were christened Rani Padmini. Each of us had a reason to celebrate.
The shipyard kept giving birth to ship after ship in the coming decades. But all with severe 'labour' pain, literally. A railway track crossed the MG Road near our school, between Atlantis and Thevara Junction, connecting the shipyard with the main line.
Wagons carrying tonnes of iron and sheets would move slowly into the shipyard premises. We watched with wide eyes on either side of the closed railway gate, counting the number of wagons. The reluctant groan of the iron wheels protesting the huge weight was music for us.
But with waves of trade unionism deluging the shipyard, the number of trains dwindled. It meant the future was bleak. There were talks about the CSL being closed down.
By then, we had passed our Class X, moved to different parts for further studies, and eventually hunted for jobs. But any headlines about the shipyard opened floodgates of nostalgia. Around 2000, there were talks about the shipyard becoming a specialised defence yard.
The aircraft carrier INS Viraat sailed in for retrofitting. From the Venduruthy bridge, we watched her berthed, tied up in heavy ropes reminding us of Gulliver in the custody of Lilliputians. These repair missions gave shipyard honchos confidence to go for bigger pie in the defence ship-making industry. Around 2005, the decision to build India's new aircraft carrier in the shipyard was formally announced.
From our corner table on the rooftop, we watched her being built from scratch. Like a whale's skeleton, huge scaffoldings came up first. We could see heavy human activity like ants on an anthill. The fiery sprays of welding rods brightened their faces. The scratchy sound of iron plates being cut into shapes was audible. We saw the ship-shaped crane lifting big sheets and bundles of iron rods.
Soon the ship's frame was more visible. The restaurant prominently displayed 'No photograph' boards at many spots. That was precaution with P; that too coming in an era when very few could afford a camera mobile. Soon Vikrant was out for sea trials. Details of its pre-induction exercises trickled out in a highly jargonised text.
Post-covid days, when the restaurant reopened, we missed the silhouette of her ski jump. But the dry dock was buzzing with activity bringing smiles. Vikrant taught the CSL new culture of professionalism. The yard was getting more orders for fast patrol boats and sophisticated vessels.
It was a happy sight. Not an extrapolated love for the shipyard but a sigh of relief for a generation which has watched the CSL gaining popularity, fighting inner battles and diplomatically managing trade union demands.
Today, when Vikrant formally became a part of the Navy, it was not just another chapter in the country's maritime legacy. It allowed many to plot the path in the last four decades. The story will also become part of Kochi's folklore, presenting a new narrative on how central and state governments can script texts for future India together.