Being a bank employee my dad was eligible to avail annual leave travel concession. Since the annual concession will only be for a very minimal amount, we used to combine the holidays over a period of five years which helped us cover more distance with a larger amount at disposal. One such trip was to Visakhapatnam, the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command. Mom’s brother was a commander in Navy and obviously they were our host for the vacation that year.
My brother and I had great company there with two of our cousin brothers who were almost the same age as us. We did have quite a lot of fun together day and night with games throughout, even ignoring the warning from the parents to sleep at night. I remember watching a black and white movie named Victoria over and again for multiple times at a stretch which today seems like an absolutely crazy thing to do! We didn’t care. We were having one of the best vacations ever!
The highlight of the vacation of course was a visit to the naval yard where uncle took us to the wonderful world of Indian Navy. I was excited and equally proud to be visiting a war ship! I could imagine multiple pairs of eyes, green with envy, looking at me when I get back to school and narrate all the wonderful stories to my friends. Truly this was meant to be an experience that was unique to me and something which no one else could’ve shared.
The dock was colored gray with multiple naval ships stationed there. Uncle took us to his ship and opened the fascinating world of Indian military for us! We were welcomed aboard by a couple of white naval uniform clad gentlemen. They promptly took us to a briefing room sort of arrangement and told us a few things we need to know while being on the ship. We were to mind the heights of the doors since they were pretty low which naturally didn’t apply to me. Small mercies of being a little kid :)
A few additional instructions were given and while this was going on another smart officer entered the chamber. He carried a tray with him on which was placed one of the most enticing sights I’ve ever experienced till then. Four bright colored cans painted with the legendary red color on which that magical word was written – Coke! That was my first ever introduction to Coke and a carbonated drink sealed in aluminium can!
The can was chilled to perfection to ensure that the beverage tasted the best. All the known definitions till date about chilled drinks suddenly seemed dated! I was so thrilled to see a can for the first time in my life that I was enjoying the beauty of it rather than trying to open and taste the drink. The officer suggested that it was time we took a tour of the ship. He must’ve noticed how amused I was about the can that he specifically said that I could take the can along with me.
The can was quite cold that I could hardly hold it with my bare hand. Mom being protective about her little one suggested that we’ll leave the can at the chamber itself, take the tour and come back and collect it. I agreed only after opening the can and taking a sip of it. We walked out of the door of the briefing room while the Coke can seem pleading, ‘Come back for me’!
The tour of the ship followed which was an absolutely mesmerizing experience. All the while seeing the different sections permitted in the ship my thought went back to that red aluminium can that seemed to be even more appealing than the gray object that surrounded me.
We finally finished the tour and reached where we began. I was so happy to see the briefing room again and eagerly jumped inside the chamber and looked at where we left the cans. To my utter shock and surprise I couldn’t see my beloved prize I received just a few moments back. I searched all over the room and to my dismay could still not find the can that contain the life giving brown color liquid that was to be one of the biggest highlights of the stories to my friends.
I asked my uncle about it and his answer left me with a total vacuum, that I felt it would’ve been better if that ship sunk right at the moment. He said, ‘Oh, you left the can there and the boys would’ve thought it was a leftover and trashed them’.
I could feel the chillness on the can creeping across my little heart. I felt a pain that was quite deep and it still remains…