(This piece first appeared in a Designare Homme travel special in 2011)

Fish and Ships


(pic: Vanuatu, 2008)

I was primed for travel in the womb. My folks, the essence of 20th century over-educated Indians escaping a very inwards looking country at the time, had already sailed the seven seas – literally – onboard merchant navy vessels, by the time I made a worldly appearance.


They were romantics and nomads at heart. Born of an era when everyone was going somewhere and making something of it, they were always looking over the next horizon for that next journey. So it seems natural that we would have ended up living at the crossroads of Asia. And that some of that spirit of adventure would have eventually rubbed off on me.


Or perhaps it was being born in a city that was once seven islands. With the ocean behind me, Koli fishing villages in between, and with a cross section of busy ports and docks disgorging ocean treasures every morning surrounding my leafy lazy Mumbai suburb, come to think of it, it may have all come down to fish and ships.


On the dot of 5am, hand drawn carts would rumble past my second floor apartment window, each with a bell attached, signalling their arrival and onward journey. Immediately awake, the salty smell of fresh fish already in the cool morning air, I dreamt of the boats the fish came in on; how each piece would taste that evening on a plate.


In between my early morning musings, my life was constantly and pleasantly interrupted, by a band of regular travellers who breezed in and out of our home. This fascinating crew of maritime nomads, my parents’ friends, were each exceptionally trained captains and engineers who could sail a massive ship across a thrashing ocean with one arm tied behind their back.


When I moved to Singapore in 1978, the shipping industry was starting to get super exciting. Singapore was at the beginning of its journey to busiest port city; the best of the best maritime nomads, including my parents, decamped from Mumbai’s ports to Singapore.


When it came time for everyone’s shore leave, our spare bedroom was a popular choice. Over tumblers of my stepdad’s finest scotch, my sisters and I would sit speechless on the living room carpet and listen to their eloquent rhetoric. Their tales of escapades on the sea, and wilder escapades on shore, with the more salacious details silently mouthed and giggled over. 


I remember the look in each of their eyes the most. It was as if they could already see their next journey unfold. They came on shore to “refuel” in every sense of the word, but their world was the oceans.


That sense of excitement and dream making which sits in the soul of every traveller, which touched my parents from the word go, and which ironically the fish delivery men who passed my window daily would never get to experience, eventually became my own.


I travel because it runs so deep in my veins I can hardly explain it in a few hundred words. I travel because it’s when time stands so still for me, a cocoon of the unknown and unexpected, which all began with my parents desire to see the world. With my own vivid imagination brought to life through the scenes outside my childhood home. And on the family living room carpet, listening to stories after Sunday lunch from people who couldn’t sit still, or bring themselves to come ashore just yet. One more trip they would say, one more vessel.


I’ve travelled to many, many places. The good fortune of my work is not lost on me. I remain forever grateful for the wonders of how it has all worked out – and I still don’t understand how it really happened, but I am glad that I am here.


On a beach a couple of years ago in Vanuatu, it came full circle in some ways for me. It was Sunday. The stretch was filled with beautiful children playing in the surf. As I looked out over the water, with the sun shining so prettily on its surface, it all felt and looked like a dream sequence. I said a silent prayer then to the universe, for the early gift of being surrounded by people who imagined big, travelled wide, and remained seekers.


I travel so that I can get as close to the edge of the world as possible, look over its tip and come back, having experienced stories as fresh and salty as the fish that trucked past my childhood door, and as gleaming rich as the reflection of light in my parents’ and their friend’s eyes.