Chapter- 7: Remembering Home from Antartica

Chapter- 7
Remembering Home from Antartica
17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, 1971-1973, Molodezhnaya, Antarctica
March 16, 1972
2100 hours (Moscow time)
Respected Bauji and Bibiji,
Sat Sri Akal!
I am really enjoying the biggest adventure of my life as a lone Indian participant in the 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, 1971-1973. I hope that Professor P.R. Pisharoty must be giving all the news about my progress to you.
From the port of Punta Arenas, I wrote you a detailed letter about my Antarctic journey and this letter I am writing to you from my own room at the Soviet Antarctic Rocket Launching Station Molodezhnaya. On the 10th of February 1972 we left the port of Punta Arenas and on the 13th reached the Soviet Antarctic station Bellingshausen where our ship stayed for 6-7 days and we left the Bellingshausen station on 19th February 1972 and reached the Antarctic station Molodezhnaya on the first of March. The ship now had to cut and break the solid ice of about 2-3 km for which it took about 5-6 days. A passenger ship Krupskaya had also come to Molodezhnaya to take the Members of the 16th Soviet Antarctic Expedition back to their homes and our ship Navarin had, therefore, to lead it out of the Antarctic solid ice. On the 9th of March I changed over from the ship Navarin to my station of work Molodezhnaya where I was allotted a single seated beautiful room furnished with two room-heaters. I must mention that outside often it snows with strong winds and severe storms but inside my room it is very comfortable. The special warm clothing protects us from the extreme cold while walking outside.
I would now write my impressions about this station. In fact, if seen from a distance, Molodezhnaya looks like a small town beautifully electrified where about 200 people work during the summer and about 100-125 during the winter. All the laboratories, working places and the living places are cenrally heated with a comfortable temperature inside whereas outside these days the temperature varies from minus 15 to minus 20o C which means 15-20 times colder than the winter of Punjab, India. This, however, is the summer of this place and in the winter the temperature falls to about 40 to 90o C below zero with strong winds. Now we are having both day as well as night and the day is getting shortened as the winter aproaches. From May end to July end we would have only night and no day at all, and similarly sometimes there would be a day of 2-3 months without any night whereas for the rest of the 6-7 months we would have day & night both.
About the food it is very good; from 7-8 a.m. breakfast, from 13-14 hours lunch and then from 19-20 hours dinner. We are observing Moscow timings here. Tea or coffee are also sometimes served with the lunch and the dinner. The dining room is very near to our living place at about one minute’s walk whereas the Rocket station is at about half a furlong distance with steep-up and takes about 10-20 minutes. At the working places also there are provisions for tea. I have liked this place very much away from all the worldly disturbances where one can study a lot with concentration. I hope that within a year’s time I would be able to learn my own subject thoroughly. I have liked the food also. Every night at 9 p.m. there is a movie. I learnt that the Soviets are having a few Hindi movies as well which would be very interesting to see. Bauji, I assure you that I will work very hard as this is a rare opportunity I have got to rise in my life.
The Captain of the ship Navarin interviewed me on the 12th of February 1972 and the text of that interview was broadcast in Russian by the Radio Moscow on 21st February at 8 a.m. I think that this text might have appeared in the Indian newspapers as well. The broadcast, I am told was for about half an hour.
Before I left the ship Navarin I had to give a Television interview also. Its text was also for about half an hour. In this interview Vitaly Evanovich, my friend, the Chief Navigator of this ship spoke both in Russian & English whereas I answered his questions in English, beginning with Hindi and ending with Russian. This interview would also be broadcast from Radio Moscow and thus you can hear my own voice on the Radio in the month of May or beginning of June 1972. You will be glad to know that I will be the first Indian ever to winter on the Antarctic mainland and also the first scientist from India to work at the South Polar Ice Cap and the same would be broadcast by Radio Moscow. I have been given a copy of this interview both on paper and on tape. This text would also appear in the Soviet newspapers and later probably in the Indian newspapers as well. I would mail this letter through the ship Navarin expected to reach Leningrad port in the first week of May 1972 and I hope that this letter of mine would reach you before this broadcast which you would really enjoy. If I could learn the date and time of this broadcast I would inform Prof. P.R. Pisharoty by a radiogram who in turn would intimate the same to you.
I bought a photo - camera from Punta Arenas for U.S.$20/- from a Sindhi shop there. It is a good camera. However, yet another camera I have to be supplied here in Antarctica by the station Director free of cost which I will have to return to the station at the end of the Expedition. I hope that on my return I would bring many pictures of the Antarctic continent which may be interesting for you. The ship ‘Ob’ would be the last Soviet ship expected at the Antarctic station Molodezhnaya in April 1972 after which there would be no other ship to Antarctica until the end of the year in December.
Till now I know nothing about our family afairs. I don’t know about Bibiji’s health improvements, Rani’s marriage, Manjit Bhaji’s exams and his result, your promotion and new place of work and similar other important topics. As I had written you earlier, you kindly send such important and urgent family news in brief to Prof. P.R. Pisharoty who in turn has been requested to send me the same radiographically. I must know about Bibiji’s welfare at least once every month through Professor P.R.Pisharoty. About the Jalandhar plot, I think that It would be better if you increase it from 250 square yards to 500 square yards in the next auction. However, you are free to have an independent decision in this respect. Also, earlier I had sent you from the port of Punta Arenas an authority letter through PRL to receive any amount of money from my monthly scholarship, if necessary. You have to inquire about this authority letter from PRL in order to get any sum of money from there as and when required. I know that you won’t need any money, so this authority letter is only a redundancy.
Tomorrow noon the ship Navarin is going to sail away from here for Leningrad and due to the shortage of time I have not been able to write letters to others and not even to PRL but anyway the most important letter to you I have almost completed now which would be sent to you tomorrow through Navarin. With the next ship in April 1972, I would send a letter to Manjit Bhaji as well and also an updated Report of my work to Professor P.R.Pisharoty. Anyway Manjit Bhaji is not separate from us and this letter is for him as well. After he finishes his M.Sc degree please try to set him somewhere either in some good job or some good research profession.
I have now started doing the, Kirtan Sohila Path before going to sleep and really enjoy it very much while reciting it. I feel myself sitting amongst all of you. It gives me a lot of pleasure. I have Sikh religious booklet of Gutka for reciting such holy, verses from there and remembering the God’s name which gives me lot of inspiration and mental peace.
As I had promised to you, I would keep full sikh religious practices. There are all provision of taking bath and, therefore, keeping hair is not a problem and in fact it is a fashion of the Antarticists to grow beard. I take my hair-bath once every month with warm water. However, I didn’t bring much hair-oil with me due to which I have started practising to live without applying any oil or with very little oil with my hair. I always wear the turban while walking out which is covered by a special warm hood of the warm coat.
This Expedition is really a very thrilling experience for me and I am fully enjoying it. I have brought with me enough literature of my subject which I study in my room apart from learning the Russian language because there are only a very few people who know English. There are about 5 Germans who know some English and about 3-4 Russians who know it while others don’t know it. So, I have to learn Russian at the earliest possible.
The Soviets have a tradition of exchanging small gifts especially the picture post cards but unluckily I didn’t bring any of these with me. The first Soviet ship for the next Expedition would be sailing in early November 1972 for Antarctica and would reach Molodeznaya sometime in December 1972. You can, therefore, send me letters through this ship together with the following articles, if possible :
i) Some mustard hair oil (1-2 bottles would be sufficient for 4-6 months if I stayed next summer here and came with the last ship in April 1973.
ii) Some picture post cards depicting the various historical places of India.
iii) Some informatory booklets of India.
iv) Some 2-3 pairs of Punjabi shoes, and about 2 Punjabi trousers (tambas/lungies) for me.
v) Any other typical gift of Punjab or India in general, which may strike your mind and some coins and some stamps of India.
vi) Any other similar small gifts which may not be of high cost in order to avoid any problems of customs duty, etc. about which you can inquire beforehand from any authorised personnel.
All these articles you may nicely pack and later send it to PRL sometime in September 1972 which would arrange to send the same to me via Moscow to Molodezhnaya by the first ship expected to sail in early November for Molodezhnaya, Antarctica. In October 1972, I would also request Prof. P.R.Pisharoty to send me some photo papers and also some colour films to bring some colour photographs for PRL. You may send me a thermos as well so that I may keep hot tea or coffee from our Antarctic kitchen in my room, because all others have their own provisions for preparing tea in their rooms, except for me. You may also send me some special winter food such as ‘Pinnies’, with that ship sailing for Antarctica after 7-8 months from now. You have to first make yourself clear about the customs and excise duty on which would depend whether you send me all the above articles or only very important ones or nothing at all except letters, etc. However, I would signal my stay programme over here beforehand and accordingly you would decide sending me the above articles thorugh PRL . Also you may send me some, Agarbaties, and one pair of Hawai Chappals, Bath room sleepers, and one of ordinary lose shoes of Bata Company for wearing in the room.
There is a direct telephone connection between our station Molodezhnaya & Moscow and also between Moscow & Delhi and in turn between Delhi & Ahmedabad and Delhi & Jalandhar. So if I want and if there is any urgent need or message I can always talk to you or Prof. Pisharoty on the telephone which, however, may be quite expensive. Just imagine how the science has progressed these days because by sitting in our rooms we can talk to one another on the telephone from this Antarctic mainland-the abode of only ice and snow and strong winds. So, there is nothing to worry. Although, we are siting far away but still science has cut down this distance by instant communications.
Please do inform me about Bibiji’s (mother’s) welfare, Bhaiyaji’s (grandfather’s) welfare, Rani’s (sister’s) marriage as to when and how it was celebrated, Manjit Bhaji’s (elder brother’s) Examination results & his settling, your own promotion and new place of work, Rana & Ambi’s (younger brothers) educational achievements, and similar important family news through Prof. P.R.Pisharoty.
Before I conclude, I send my sincere & heartfelt regards & respects to Bibiji, Bhaiyaji, Manjit Bhaji and all my elders. My deepest love to both Rana & Ambi, and to Rani I send my best wishes for a happy married life. Also please convey my regards to all our relatives-Bhaiyaji (maternal grandmother), Mamaji, Mamiji, Masiji, Masarhji, Jagga, Tinda and all others. Also my regards to all our nears and dears. Although, I don’t feel like finishing this letter yet I must do it because if I don’t go to sleep now, tomorrow I may not be able to send this letter. O.K. Bye! Dasveydania!
Rest in the next letter next month with the ship ‘Ob’!
With heartiest regards to everyone,
Ever lovingly yours (Pammi):
(Parmjit Singh Sehra)
(Project Scientist, 17th Soviet Antarctic Expedition, 1971-1973)
(First Indian ever to winter over the South Pole and circumnavigate and explore the Antarctic continent)
Dated : 17/3/1972
(0035 hours, Moscow time).
Place : Molodezhnaya, Antarctica.

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