Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Some Life-Long Lessons

Navy Commander Abhilash Tomy recalls his experiences following a near-fatal accident while participating in the Golden Global Race last year

Photos: Abhilash Tomy; with his wife, Urmimala, who is of Bengali origin

By Shevlin Sebastian

I am walking, standing and sitting on my own,” says Abhilash Tomy, by phone from Mumbai. “But I cannot run as yet. And I cannot go on a boat now.” The celebrated sailor had a near-fatal accident on September 21, last year, while taking part, as one of 17 sailors in the Golden Global Race. Owing to a severe storm in the South Indian Ocean, his boat, ‘Thuriya’ was dismasted, and he suffered a severe back injury. For 71 hours, he lay on his back, unable to move, before he was rescued. Today, Abhilash is making slow but steadfast progress.

The commander of the Indian Navy, who is the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe solo and non-stop in a sailboat in 2013, spent several weeks in Goa doing physiotherapy, following a surgery on his back in Delhi. “I have several fractures and I lost close to 20 kgs,” says Abhilash.

Asked the reasons for this drastic loss of weight, Abhilash says, “I did not eat anything for seven days. Usually, after an accident, the body tends to lose weight. When I was taken to the Amsterdam Isle [in the Indian Ocean], my food pipe was very raw. I found it difficult to swallow. It could have been because of acidity. Even drinking water was a problem. So I was put on a glucose drip.”  

The entire experience was an eye-opener. “I realised that now that I am married, I am responsible for other people,” he says. “I need to be more careful before I undertake such adventures. I could have returned paralysed forcing my wife Urmimala to look after me for the rest of her life. I also have an eight-year-old son Vedaant. I am the only earning member. The last time I went around the world I was a bachelor.”

The accident provided some revelations for Abhilash. “When you face a crisis, the human mind is so conditioned that it always takes your present circumstances and projects it into the future,” he says. “When everybody feels they are down in the dumps, the mind makes them believe their life is going to be like this forever. The opposite also happens. If somebody gives you Rs 50 lakh your mind will start thinking that every day somebody will give you a similar amount.”

It is important to understand the conditioning of the brain. “You cannot change it,” says Abhilash. “The brain is an organ which helps you survive physically in this world. The mind also makes its judgement, so that you can survive. But there is a third entity which is the divine force. It is through this power that you can break the shackles. If you identify yourself too closely with the mind or the brain then you will not be able to change.”

Meanwhile, as Abhilash recuperates, he follows the race that he was part of. Thus far, only five sailors are still participating. The majority had their boats damaged. So they retired. At this moment, the leader is Frenchman Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. In second place is Mark Slats of Holland, who is 1500 km behind. The race is expected to finish in end January.

When asked to describe the character of water, Abhilash says, “Water is like a human being. At the surface, it has various moods: angry, defiant, ruffled and peaceful. But in the depths of the ocean, it is always the same: calm, quiet and tranquil. At our core, where the divine rests, it is also like this.”

Finally, when asked about the plastic menace in the oceans, Abhilash says that he saw tonnes of plastic and it was much more than five years ago. In a particular section of the South Atlantic Ocean, in his earlier trip, Abhilash did not see anything even when he crossed it three times. But this time he could see huge pieces. Since all the oceans are linked, he did not know where it is coming from. “But it is worrying,” he says. “My advice to people: stop throwing plastic into the rivers and ponds. It usually ends up in the ocean.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)

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