I as ‘Flag Lieutenant’ to Rear Admiral Narpati Dutta ‘Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet’ went along to receive Mrs. Gandhi. She arrived at Hulhulé Island International Airport in an IAF aircraft along with a number of officials – Mr Kewal Singh the Foreign Secretary, Dr KP Mathur her personal physician, Ms Usha her personal assistant, Mr S Haider from the MEA, Mr J Lobo from the IB and many others.
Before I proceed any further - On 26 July 1965, Maldives gained independence under an agreement signed with United Kingdom. The Republic of the Maldives is a chain of around 1200 islands stretching 750 km across the Indian Ocean. The exact number of islands varies according to the season and method of classification - islands come and go with the wind, waves and currents! The tiny islands are geographically grouped into ring shaped reefs called "atolls" and there are 26 of these atoll formations. The Maldives has been a crossroads for sea traders for many centuries and the origin of the people of the country is mixed. Now, of course, the Maldives population of 240,000 is entirely Muslim. It is about 750 miles South West off Kochi as the crow flies. The archipelago of Maldives has been a constant source of attraction to many tourists all over the globe. Its golden beaches, washed by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, are enticing to one who loves to venture into the sea.
Figure 2 - Location
It is really hard to recollect all the details of her visit to Male after a span of 37 long years. In spite of a very long gap, I still remember a few incidents which have permanently etched in my memory. She came across as someone full of energy, very inquisitive and confident. She knew exactly what she wanted. I was appointed as her naval liaison officer for the duration she was on board INS Mysore. Captain of INS Deepak - Capt Rajan Vir was explaining the beauty of the islands with such eloquence, she immediately decided to fly in the helicopter to take an aerial view of the exotic islands. Flying the PM in a single engine helicopter is a daunting task. Such was her excitement, nobody dared to say ‘No’.
That afternoon she was to have lunch in the Admirals Cabin as per schedule. All of a sudden she called me and said ‘Please tell the captain that I will have lunch with the sailors”. Due to her visit the ship was out of routine and all the sailors had already finished their lunch by 1200 h. With great gusto, climbing two sets of vertical ladders she reached the ships recreation room for the event. Seated next to her was a Sardar sailor with a plate full of food making polite conversation but not eating any food. She asked him “App khana kyon nahi kar rahe hai” (why are you not eating your food) to which he unwittingly replied “Madam mai khana kha chuki hoon” (I have already eaten). The ship caught unawares, had collected all the sailors on duty who were in uniform to have lunch once again. In her farewell address to the ship she noted “The navy can do anything, nothing is impossible – including making people eat lunch for the second time”.
Figure 3- With Captain Sethi CO of INS Mysore
Figure 4- Addressing the ships company on the Quarter Deck. Admiral Narpati Datta is next to her. Behind him, my right hand is visible. Ships 6 inch guns in the backdrop.
Figure 5 - Another photograph.I am standing between Mr Cohello the Indian Ambasador and Usha
We hosted a state reception in the Quarter Deck and was attended by President of Maldives, the entire cabinet and other dignitaries of Male. Prominent Indians in Male were also invited for the function. A gentleman suddenly came up to me and said “Hello Pabbi”- I was shocked to find a classmate of mine from the school days whom I had not met since 1963.Suresh was the son of our Hindi teacher ’DSR’ known for his story telling abilities. Suresh had come to Male to teach Mathematics. I also learnt that he had fallen – hook, line and sinker and surrendered his heart to a ‘Maldives Damsel’. The same evening we hosted a state sitting in dinner on the Quarter Deck. It was an extraordinary and amazing dinner with the naval band in attendance, candelabras, polished silver, sparkling glasses, white and red wine, nut crackers and many other items which go to make a perfect dinner arrangement. A gentle sea breeze and the soft lapping of the waves added the required ambiance.
The ‘piece de resistance’ was in the form of two naval cooks the ‘Baruva Brothers’ who had prepared the most outstanding meal for the PM. I learnt from my seniors that Government of India started ‘Ashok’ in New Delhi and the navy loaned the Baruva Brothers to help develop the kitchen. They prepared a dinner to be remembered. The dessert was ‘Rabbit in the Bush’, which is ‘Diplomatic Pudding’