Isn’t it always a delight to find a period of intellectual voyage, progress through to attention of a scholarly audience? This was a privilege accorded jointly to my then Research Associate, Ms Janhavi V Lokegaonkar and I, then Director Maritime History Society by Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) in the early months of the pandemic. A virtual conference titled, “Roads, Winds, Spices in the Western Indian Ocean : The Memory and Geopolitics of Maritime Heritage” held 6-7 July 2020 found us in sagacious company of Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, DG National Maritime Foundation and Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande, both recognized naval scholars. It is important to recognize the vision of Dr TCA Raghavan, then DG ICWA and the scholarly mentorship by Professor Himanshu Prabha Ray, a legend in maritime heritage academia.
My own journey as a Marine Navigator began in November 1982 aboard the Training Ship Rajendra, then berthed at the iconic Bhaucha Dhakka, off Princess Dock in Mumbai. Voyages across various seas and seasons brought me to a key academic waypoint in 2007 when I was asked to present a paper of 18th Century Anglo French Rivalry in Bay of Bengal, on behalf of Eastern Naval Command at the 28th Annual Maritime History Seminar. Just a year later I had the honour to dive into a prominent element of Indian Nautical Heritage. That research led to my second paper at the next MHS Seminar on “Boita Bandana – Bali Yatra” in October 2008. Building on earlier work by eminent Dr Sila Tripathi and others, my academic enquiry presented for the first time a climatological assessment to review possible sea routes in early history between Odisha and Bali, Indonesia.
Seven years later, I was invited by the Indian Maritime Icon, Vice Admiral Manohar Awati to curate the subsequent journey of Maritime Consciousness at Maritime History Society. It would be another two years when the seeds of my 35 year of navigational learning would come through in a session at the 2017 Annual MHS Seminar in terms of Indian Nautical Heritage. In the further progress of this academic study I am grateful to a number of young colleagues, Heena Sofi, Poorvi Shriyan, Maithili Tagare, Neha Mhatre, Pranav Sethuratnam and my special research kids – Janhavi Lokegaonkar, Amruta Talawadekar & Dennard D’Souza, apart from many others. They enabled me to add a bit more in each season to the work in Indian Nautical Heritage. Significant work was done to dispel the so called discovery of a methodology of Ocean Navigation by the British Admiralty. It claimed measurement of Longitude to be possible only after the emergence of an accurate chronometer in 18th Century by Jon Harrison. Documentary and archaeological evidence combined with a host of community content are key to unwrapping a robust and rich Indian Heritage of Oceanic Navigation.
In this context I have had the amazing blessing to be part of Dr Ashok Rajeshirke’s work on the translation of accounts of Kutch Boatmen in the work “Malam-Ni-Pothi” which was published by Maritime History Society last year. Dr Rajeshirke and I travelled to Mundra in Gujarat to retrieve a much larger set of Pothis that were almost lost to Indian scholarship. The family of various Pothis on the West Coast of India carry a collation of orally transmitted traditions and practices. Written in ancient Kutchi, Arabu-Malayalam and Arabu-Tamil, these texts carry a treasure trove of millennia of navigational data.
With my superannuation from Indian Navy last year, the active academic research has taken a pause. A few days ago, it was a nostalgic recall to see a paper titled “Climatological Aspects in Indian Navigation.” This work supported by my co-author Ms Janhavi Lokegaonkar was presented at the 2020 ICWA Seminar mentioned earlier in the now published (January 2022) compilation edited by Ms Nutan Kapoor Mahawar and Dr Pragya Pandey. It enabled me to be truly grateful to the Indian Navy for the opportunity to specialise in Marine Navigation and provide me a memorable journey of six plus years at Maritime History Society.
Maybe in a few years, if not earlier, some astronomical combinations will work together to see this significant work re-ignite and come alive.