Sunday, 12 May 2013

Changing Course

"I think it's time to change course."
The room went quiet with the weight of uncertainty bearing down heavily on the two people present - the husband and the wife.
 "We cannot continue with our dream if we always have to wait for others to provide us with the means", said Manoj quietly.
"That needs money...We will spend our entire life paying off the loan," reasoned Sabina.
"At least we will have something to work on. All those with whom we have liaised so far, are getting their own boats for the surveys. Very soon we will be left high and dry."

   Guwahati was warm and humid with sudden downpours of the monsoon rains. I sipped the glass of chilled drink sitting on the deck of Alfresco. The wide Brahmaputra, swollen with the waters fed from the hills, lapped against the hull of the boat. Today is the inaugural of Alfresco, Sabina and Manoj's first baby, taking the plunge into tourism. Sabina and I sat a little away from the invited guests, trying to catch a quiet moment. In the last ten years that I've known her, she’s always been chirpy and full of sunshine.  
    “Here, by the river every problem is dwarfed. I feel there is nothing that we cannot take on. These last few months that we spent over hauling the boat, I've been intrigued by it. The amount of trash that it tolerates, our efforts to tame it and yet it moves on" she said trying to tuck in her windswept hair 
    As the boat glided over the brown waters, all the guests soaked in the moment. Gradually the chatter died down and the only sounds were the drone of the engine and the whistling wind.

     Months rolled by. I got married and moved out with my husband. I was sporadically in touch with Sabina. From friends back home, I knew that Alfresco was doing well.
    The next time I went to Guwahati for a vacation, I got a call from Momy, " Lets meet at Alfresco this evening." I loved the idea but wasn't too sure, "You know Ma, Momy. We are here just for a week and she's very possessive about the time spent with her."
 ”I’ll speak to Aunty. As it is we don't get to meet you every day" Mommy insisted. Fortunately my mother agreed and I was excited at the thought of meeting my friends. Secretly I wished to flaunt the Alfresco and the enterprising duo in front of my husband.
  We reached the site where the Alfresco was anchored, well in time for the sun-set cruise. We were delighted meeting after such a long time.
   "How did you manage to get her out Momy?" laughed Sabina. You won't believe the promises I made to aunty!" said Momy rolling her eyes, "I promised to call her up every weekend, visit her once at least every two months and she promised me two bottles of her pickles".
      Our chatter seemed a series of disjointed observations, and memories while our husbands endured patiently with sheepish grins.  And all this while, Sabina left us at intervals- sometimes to check on the operations, at times to inquire after the other guests on the cruise. I watched her slip into her many roles seamlessly - the mistress of the ship, the host, the friend... The hour long cruise ended too soon for my liking. We stayed on as the other guests trickled out reluctantly.
 "Come here I want to show you something," said Sabina with a toss of her head. She led us down the stairs to the other side of the boat.
 "What do you think of our new addition!" she asked with a smile. Another boat lay bobbing. The three of us trooped into Agam, treading over the gangway that was thrown across. The interiors were warm with cane furniture adding to the rustic beauty. The canopied upper deck was done up to accommodate parties and events. As we wandered around, Pradip, an old hand with Alfresco came in to announce dinner.
    "So, how is your family Pradip?" I asked him ambling as Sabina hurried off.
   "They are both doing well, baidew”smiled Pradip and followed Sabina. Momy let me into an incident.
 “His wife was due for delivery. It was late at night when she developed a sudden pain. You know how difficult it is to get a transport in Guwahati after eight in the evening. Manoj was not around, Sabina somehow managed to get an auto and took them to the hospital just in time. She managed to find a doctor also. Their baby was saved.”
" You know, I've noticed they are good with their employees and they in turn understand this" continued Momy.

   The river flowed on relentlessly in every season. In the monsoons, it gushed recklessly threatening to breach embankments, slashing away huge chunks of land and was always in  spate. During this time Sabina and Manoj  conducted local hour long cruises. When the fury died down  after a couple of months, they had  long distance cruises to Kaziranga National Park and Majuli, the river island and the Assamese spiritual hub, giving a glimpse of tea gardens and villages on the way. This was their elixir - navigating with a crew that knew the river like the back of their hands; respecting the river's ways and blending with it. During the winters when the water is low exposing sandbars, day long picnics or over- night outings are arranged under the starry sky.
   Once when I was in Delhi, Momy called up to say Manoj had to undergo a kidney transplant at Coimbatore. I spoke to Sabina, “Have you found a donor?"
   "No, it’s been three months but the doctors are hopeful" she sounded worried.
    "Don't lose heart. It'll work out just fine."
  "I can only hope for the best. I don't want to leave Manoj alone but our work is suffering back there."
  "So, what have you thought of?"
  "Manoj wants me to go back. I'll have to send someone to be with him. It’s going to be difficult but we have no choice." I agreed. Tough times called for difficult choices.
  Later I learnt that Sabina made several trips to Coimbatore till the transplant took place successfully. She trudged on, looking after her home and the ship operations with her family of staff. Manoj was finally back after many months but still weak. He couldn't stay for long hours at work. One evening he was home early taking rest, and Sabina was working from home. The ship was out on a local cruise with a party on-board in full swing.  They got a call late in the evening.
" Dada, there is an emergency! The ship with the Railways party is stuck in the sand in the middle of the river. It cannot move and there is a thick fog around it." 
 Manoj and Sabina immediately rushed to the river bank which was a little distance away. When they reached, they found the passengers already  safe on the shore and the ship being towed in by the rescue team of Inland Water Transport. Harilal, one of their  staff, had already swung into action sending SOS calls to IWT and river police.  Knowing his employer's condition, Harilal went ahead with the rescue operation keeping the passengers' safety and the organisation's reputation  in mind. 
      It was with the same sense of belonging and identity that some of Manoj and Sabina's employees refused to join the National Waterways Authority of India when it opened up lucrative opportunities. Although the couple sent many of their boys to join the organisation citing future prospects and job security, some of them refused. Harilal was one of them.
" This is my company also. How can I leave it and join someone else?" said Harilal when Sabina tried reasoning him.

     Two years back I came across some photographs uploaded on the Facebook.  Sabina was seen receiving an award in Bengaluru for a hospitality category. It set me thinking as I was myself staring at a crossroad then. When you truly set your heart and soul on your dream and follow it with a passion, it reveals a treasure at every bend.

     It was last winter, waiting to meet her; I gazed at the bend in the river. How amiably the river accommodated the turns and the twists, the little ferries and the launches on its back. Sabina and Manoj's indigenous Manasputra was homing in. This ship was the biggest and the most suave of them all. With decks on two levels, a restaurant and neatly tucked cabins, it was bustling with guests and smart uniformed crew.

     The last rays of the sun etched the silhouette of the ship. The somber river rocked it playfully. Sabina stood at the far end of the deck looking out at the river… for tomorrow was another journey ...for her and her crew.


I wish to get my story published in Chicken Soup for the Indian Entrepreneurs Soul in association with


  1. Thank you Suresh! You've made my day :)

  2. its something that you keep thinking for a while. Lovely words :)

  3. Reality is more amazing than imagination. True stories of life touches every one.


Your words keep me going :)