My experiences in life have taught me not to give up come what may. When circumstances hit you, you fall but the real strength is in how fast you can stand up and cope with it.

Very few of you know that I started my professional life with the Merchant Navy and was a navigating officer for 6 years. Due to an issue of partial color blindness I had to leave merchant navy and start all over again with my professional life. Well I would talk about this struggle some other time, but for now I would start this article streak with the learning I gathered throughout my shipping career. In this edition I am sharing with you the start of my shipping career and the learning I picked up through it. I had a long journey of 6 years at sea and will share with you the pearls of wisdom I gather on the way.

“Expect the unexpected and take it in your stride.”

The most beautiful memories of my childhood are of the times, I used to spend with myself. Narcissist as it may sound but that’s the truth. It has been a mix of a huge number of conflicting emotions and unanswered riddles. I had a wonderful time during my schooling years, totally oblivious to what the future would be like, as it is for most of us. Living each day at its merit and enjoying the pampering guardianship of my parents and family. As a child, every decision I wanted to take was taken by others, not to mention for my own good. It left me to be a child, who had to be on the mercy of his family to take any kind of decision,irrespective of its impact on him. It used to be frustrating but I never had a thought of taking a stand as it was a skill I was unaware of at that time.Never the less I was being groomed in a different but effective manner. The true values of life we inculcated in me with crystal clarity.

Once I completed my schooling, the road ahead was full of uncertain turns. I had no clue where I was heading and since most of my decisions or rather all of them were taken by my loved ones, I was made to believe that the ideal career for me was to become a merchant navy officer.

The feeling, of leaving my comfort zone and stepping in the tough domain of professional environment, was very scary and confusing. Few questions which were lingering in my mind were, would I be able to survive the tough job? Would I be able to live in a setup where autonomy and self-dependency were the keys? What kind of people would I meet and work with? Do you remember what were you doing when you were 18? I am sure most of us would say college. My point is, can you imagine the state of mind of an eighteen year old small town boy, who is being prematurely delivered to the professional world? It was difficult I must say. At that tender age, I had the huge burden of doing well professionally, as the expenditure to get me this job had consumed a fair share of my family’s savings. I remember my father saying “You would need to work hard Vikram and remember there is no option of quitting this job. The boats to come back have been burnt.” The very sound of this statement had increased the pressure on me by manifold.

Throughout the flight to Singapore, my joining port, I felt this extreme amount of fear in me. The fear of uncertainty, the fear of leaving the cushion of my family,taking the world head-on and the fear of not living up to my family’s expectations. The feeling of fear, turned in to delight the moment my flight landed at the Changi Airportin Singapore. The very sight of the city and the feeling of being in a different country is a great feeling of elation for Indians and is hard to conceal. Though the feeling of happiness was enormous but it lasted for a very little time as we were informed to join the ship right away. The moment I heard the news, a cold chill ran down my spine, as if I had to be fed to a giant waiting for me with dripping saliva and hungry to the core. There were a couple of other people joining with me, but I was the only one joining for the first time.

“M.T. (Motor tanker) AmerYamuna” was the name of the chemical tanker ship I was joining. It was a 101.4 meters long ship, with 5658 metric tons of deadweight capacity.  It was looking like a very complex structure as there was a mesh of cargo lines spread throughout the deck. Red in colorthroughout, it wasmaking me more nervous.  It was anchored off the coast of Singapore. As soon as I saw the ship, I felt this mixed feeling of happiness and homesickness. I was not able to decide which feeling should be given more importance. We all go through this feeling of nervousness and terror when we start a new thing and most of us know it but a few accept. Before I could understand which feeling to choose I was told to report to the Captain of the ship.

The time taken to climb the couple of floors to reach the Captain’s cabin were deliberately made long by me because I didn't know what to say and what to do. The Captain seemed to be kind hearted but I could sense disappointment in him as soon as he saw me, could not know till later as to why it was so.My first job assignment on this ship was to receive, count and tally 435 paint boxes with the crew. Paint is an important inventory on ships as it prevent seawater corrosion. It was a simple but critical assignment. We did have the luxury of a crane but still had to carry the paint boxes to the paint store. These boxes usually came in 40 liter bucket containers and were extremely heavy. After working for 34 hours continuously, I was so exhausted that I couldn't even change my overall suit and get fresh. Cursing all the people who had advised me to join this profession. It was tough to cope with the strenuous work expected out of me, especially when you have not be used to doing any work. The list of jobs assigned to me was becoming bigger by the day and it included jobs which were totally opposite to what I had expected. Mopping the floors, cleaning toilets, working in the bilges, cleaning the cargo tanks to name a few but above all the curse of loneliness. It was one of the most difficult phases of my life. I felt like throwing the towel on more than one occasion. But I had no other option but to carry on. The boats back home were burnt remember!!

The struggle got over soon and with time things started to ease out. . I got used to the daily routine. The crew helped to learn a lot of things which I was struggling with. They used to put a lot of hours explaining the nuances and ensuring I get to learn the basics. I started enjoying my work gradually as I had persisted with the feeling of giving it a try. People on the ship realized and witnessed my struggle. They, especially the crew, were rendering a lot of support. I soon started to realize that it involved a lot of positives also. I was learning new things. I had become physically and mentally strong. I was this young independent boy, ready to take on the mighty world. I owe my tenacity and calmness to this experience. I would also say that those words from my Father kept me going and helped me overcome every obstacle. Every bad phase in life is life influenza, it takes its own time to go and so did mine.

The career at sea is all about being tough, resilient and determination. I was conditioned slowly to this regime and my mind started to click with this gritty culture. This culture remained with me for the complete duration on my career at sea and helped me to cope with any situation.

In spite of all youraccomplishments and disappointments, life doesn’t end to surprise you. Now when I look back I realize what an eventful life I have had till now. Life is the biggest teacher and your biggest endeavor. Expect the unexpected and take it in your stride

To be continued…….


Vikram Khanna

Vikram works with the HR Team at IFIN and is responsible for the talent development. He likes travelling and is an avid blogger. You can visit his blog at

Opinions expressed by the Contributors are their own and do not reflect any opinion of IL&FS Financial Services on the said subject

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