The Rime of the Ancient Submariner

First Person

The Rime of the Ancient Submariner

Illustration: Saachi Mehta/ Arré


he signal started flashing, somewhere in the afternoon. Or I think it was afternoon. We’d been on a sortie for three weeks and the days and nights had merged into each other, in a haze of artificial white light.  Once you go underwater, only the officer who mans the periscope is able to see sunlight. The rest of us had come to terms with living without it and losing touch with our biological clocks until we could no longer tell the hours anymore.

The day of the leak started like any other; the constant battle between inertia and alertness that marks life in a submarine continued. It was all relatively new for me. I was in the first year of service, after having completed my training. Living with 70 men, who have not seen sunlight or breathed natural air for two months, sharing two toilets, maintaining a closely monitored silence, and living in sub-optimised levels of oxygen – I was still getting used to it all as well as the undercurrent of friction that runs through this subterranean, ghostly world that has a singular, unremitting purpose – to listen in on the world outside.