“A wake persists very long after a ship has gone past and modern technology can detect clear signatures of the wake hours later. The same is true of the naval heritage and maritime power of today’s India,” states Commodore Odakkal Johnson in the preface to ‘Timeless Wake: The Legacy of the Royal Indian Navy during World War-II’, a history-lovers’ tome authored by him.
The Commodore, Director of the Navy’s Centre for Leadership and Behavioural Studies under the Southern Naval Command in Kochi, has taken nearly three years to notch up a gripping account of the rich heritage handed down by the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) that put the post-independence Indian Navy on a strong footing.
The book is primarily on RIN operations during World War-II, the account showcasing the naval entity as a continuum between India’s maritime heritage and the Indian Navy post-Independence, says Commodore Johnson, who resorts to relating history by way of a series of seaborne tales shared by a RIN veteran, called Baba, with his inquisitive grandson over a period of three years.
As former Navy Chief Admiral (retd) J.G. Nadkarni vouches in the foreword to the book, the narrative technique has made it ‘highly readable’ and makes history appear rather interesting. It was only natural for Commodore Johnson, son of a RIN veteran, to present the sequence of events as a set of stories promised by Baba on a day of naval operational demonstration in Fort Kochi.
While the writings on India’s maritime heritage is impressive, precious little has been documented on the strong Indian presence in RIN operations in the decade that preceded independence. Indian presence in RIN grew steadily through WW-II from just about a few thousands in the beginning to over 40,000 personnel when the war ended, says Adm (retd) Nadkarni.
Brought out as the 17 publication of the Maritime History Society under the Western Naval Command and the first to be authored by a serving officer, the book chronicles in vivid details the maritime history of the country in the opening four chapters. The Malabar Coast’s role in India’s maritime heritage is well brought out, with a detailed account of Kunjali Marakkar’s resistance and fall.
The book captures action narrating quick induction and deployment of vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea and recounts exploits of young Lieutenants Bhaskar Soman in East Africa and N. Krishnan in Khurramshahr.
Pictures of RIN sloops in action, ships’ log book details, gazette notifications and pictorial representations help the reader go through the book with ease.
Of the 18 chapters, the last two are for the post-independence saga of the Indian Navy with the author asking some incisive questions.
“Sea blindness is not a recorded physiological condition (unlike snow blindness)! Nevertheless, it would be a trait that, when found in key leadership or among planers at a national level, renders a fatal blow to the existential fabric of a nation. Did India expose a problem of seeing clearly towards the sea? Are our recent initiatives along reactive rather than active lines? Whereas much credit is taken by many on our maritime resurgence, is this also prone to myopic considerations of vote governance, budgetary machinations and public perception?” he asks.
Priced at Rs 950 a piece, the book is a reader’s delight.
Keywords: Timeless Wake, Commodore Odakkal Johnson, Royal Indian Navy, World War-II, Director of the Navy’s Centre for Leadership and Behavioural Studies, Indian Navy, Malabar Coast, Baba, RIN veteran