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Shikwa-E-Sagardhara : Sail on Sea Icon

An icon would have been 95 this morning! Manohar Prahlad Awati loved chocolates, cakes, genuine appreciation and affection. This piece of tearful complaint dear Grand Sire is hard. Born on September 7th, 1927, Late Vice Admiral MP Awati would right now be on his heavenly telescope, keeping an hawk like watch on one of his treasured mentees, Cdr Abhilash Tomy, Kirti Chakra, Indian Navy Veteran aboard Bayanat and about to exit Bay of Biscay as part of Golden Globe Race 2022. Yet let us rewind the reel a little.

November 1982 was my first month in then Bombay, aboard Training Ship Rajendra for my Pre-Sea Training for a career in the Mercantile Marine. It was the season of Asian Games 1982 with the Sailing Races being held off TS Jawahar overlooking the harbour. Television in India was emerging into live coverage. Flagging off and overseeing the races was a handsome Sea Dog and a grizzly white bearded figure in white - the dapper C-in-C of Western Naval Command. That was my first moment of adulation for Vice Admiral MP Awati even if it would be another 25 years before I met him in person. "Johnny' you spoke well," was the treasured response to my my paper on "Anglo-French Rivalry in Bay of Bengal" at the 2007 edition of Annual MHS Seminar. As the Patron Emeritus of the Maritime History Society that he founded on May 12th, 1978 the compliment was exhilarating. Little did I know that there would be another paper, well appreciated again by the Grand Sire. Two papers and I was an "expert" qualified to author a book.

Navy Day 2013 was another stratospheric feel as India's Maritime Icon himself, Admiral Awati introduced, "Timeless Wake : A Legacy of Royal Indian Navy in World War II" published by MHS and released on December 4th, 2013. Just 19 months later, a call from the Admiral and I was soon nurturing his precious child first as Curator and then redesignated as Director, Maritime History Society. That set off a 42 month bonding closely paralleled only with one I shared with my father, Odakkal Master of Kondotty, Kerala. These iconic parental figures were born 20 days apart and provided a near identical cover to enable me blossom as a voyager of learning forever. MHS itself had grown in a steady but bureaucratic pace for 38 years. My saline laden and rapidly turning senile mind launched into some unexpected ventures that would have been crushed by any management. It was the sagacity and vision of Admiral Awati that aided me to get statutory compliances pending for decades and launch an in-house research vision that had warmed the heart of the Patron Emeritus.


In early July 2018 as I handed over a copy of the first ever News Magazine of MHS titled "Sagardhara" the eminent figure of class and clan was teary eyed. He paused and said, "Well done Johnny! I think I am ready to sail on for my eternal voyage." In fact he asked Vineeta my wife as to why she got him a red carnation. His literary and symbolic excellence mentioned the desire for a white carnation offered as a final tribute. We were all stunned. True enough, on the evening of November 3rd, 2018 the maritime legend sailed to the yonder voyage.

Three more years at MHS including the pandemic period unfolded an unbelievable and highly lauded voyage of global reach as an execution of the vision of a man far ahead of his time. Time, you are cruel that I was left to battle storms which would have stilled at the sight and sound of the baritone voice of one and only Manohar Awati. After hanging up my white uniform, I have not been able to gather strength to enter the hallowed portals of a space that Admiral Awati and I battled for and cherished.


I did not study History formally after Grade 10 and yet the icon along with Late Adm JG Nadkarni, equipped me to author "Timeless Wake." Their inspiration has helped me to give keynotes and present papers at a global stage. Recently as a founding member of the Indian Association of Legal History it was such an honour to outline facets of the maritime heritage of India to Legal Scholars at All India Legal History Congress.


Yes this is a "Shikwa" (a complaint) to the ever flowing "Sagardhara" (sea streams)! Why would I be picked up to ride the rising tide of maritime glory and fade away from the stage set by the Sea Icon in the ebb tide? Nevertheless, Sail on Sea Icon. Abhilash Tomy will gladden all our hearts.


All I can appeal to us mortal subjects of the sea scape of life is that give us at #JohnsonOdakkalInitiatives an opportunity to share scintillating tales of seafaring sizzle in the form of Keynote Address or Inspirational Talks for your events. Connect at www.johnsonodakkal.com

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