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Mariner of the first water



K. Parthasaradhi --Photo: C.V.Subrahmanyam

He is one among the rare tribe of mariners who could not only impress upon the Englishmen on his capabilities but also got the War Service Medal for his role in World War II.

Having gained rich experience in marine engineering by serving British India Steam Navigation Company, Government of India, Escorts and Shipping Corporation of India at various levels, K. Parthasarathy is going strong even at 83.

Spending a retired life with his better half, Lakshmi, at his beautifully decorated house named ''Nirvana'' in Kirlampudi Layout, Mr. Parthasarathy is an adept in keeping himself busy. With his sons - Sanjeev, working as a marine engineer mostly away on overseas trips, and Chanakya, employed as the general manager (technical) with Jardine Ship Management in Hong Kong, he takes part in the arbitration of marine and engineering as a consultant and surveyor.

He strolls regularly along Beach Road to keep himself fit, making him a familiar face to morning walkers. One of the founding members of Walkers Club, the octogenarian is also a regular visitor to the tennis court and swimming pool of the Waltair Club.

Born on February 22, 1919, Mr. Parthasarathy did his Intermediate (science) first year at Presidency College, Madras. He was one among the 25 marine and deck cadets selected through an all-India test by Cdr. Digby Beste for training in T.S.

Dufferin, India's first training ship, during 1935-37 and later as marine engineering apprentice at Calcutta.

After passing out from Dufferin, he joined sea service with the British India Steam Navigation Company for seven years till India became free. He had the rare distinction of working as the first and the second engineer and had served throughout the entire World War II.

``It was a memorable experience being one of the few survivors of the troop ship, Erinpura, which sank after coming under air strike by Germans in the Mediterranean Sea on May 1, 1943,'' reecalls Mr. Parthasarathy, who was later selected for the War General Service Medal.

His ship was leading a convoy of 20 vessels with an escort of three Naval ships when it was going to Malta from Port Alexandria. Being the ship's commodore, the ill-fated Erinpura had 900 troops on board when it shook violently, tilted and plunged into water after the air strike. Mr. Parthasarathy, along with a few others, jumped off as the vessel was engulfed in huge balls of fire. There was oil spill all over as a tanker was also struck by the Germans. He did not know what was right or wrong. He was drifting away and the sea was rough. Fortunately, he could lay his hands on a wooden raft on which three persons were hanging on. A minesweeper, which was on a rescue operation, finally pulled them up to safety.

``Yeah, serving with high qualification by any Indian was unheard of during the British rule. Impressed with my courage and valour, the captain used to give me important tasks,'' he recalls.

After getting married on August 11, 1946, he was selected for a scholarship under the Colombo Plan for studies towards the extra first class certificate examination in the UK in 1947. In the process, he became the first Indian to pass the test.

On hearing about Independence in the British ship, Franconian, while sailing to UK, its captain allotted two sides of the ship for celebration of the freedom separately by Indians and Pakistanis.

Later, Mr. Parthasarathy was posted by the Government of India to train as engineer and ship surveyor and examiner of engineers with the UK Ministry of Shipping and Transport and served in various positions in India. He rose to the high echelons like the Registrar of Ships and the Principal Officer in the Mercantile Marine Department. After retirement in 1977, he worked as officer-on-special duty in SCI and a consultant in Escorts. He had also served as an ex-officio trustee of several major ports.

SANTOSH PATNAIK

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