Smooth Sailing

Padma Shri Commodore (SCC) Rabi Ahuja (Wilson, 1953) tells us how sailing has been in his blood and is his life. 

had a flash of insight when I was with Commodore (SCC) Rabi Ahuja. It felt like I was talking to someone my own age. This active septuagenarian runs
an organisation known as theSea Cadet Corps (SCC) with an enviable vitality and enthusiasm. I was fascinated by his life before Partition, when he studied in an English school in Karachi (Karachi Grammar School), and then his arrival at the Cathedral Boys’ School, Fort, when he moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1948. He nostalgically recounted his daily commute from Andheri to school and “mucking around” in the quadrangle with his pals, “rarely ever going home clean”.

“A large focus in school was on sports — cricket, football, hockey — and far less on studies than it is these days,” says Ahuja. He would sail on Saturdays and train in the SCC every Sunday. He was initiated into sailing by his father, who was the founder of the Sea Scout Group in Karachi, an offshoot of the Boy Scout movement. In 1951, it was renamed Sea Cadet Corps. Since 1966, the headquarters reside in the Training Ship Jawahar, named after Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who laid the foundation stone (or “keel”) of the ship in 1963. Commissioned in 1966 by Dr. Radhakrishnan (then President of India), it is today an organisation with more than 2,000 young boys and girls from all strata of society in Mumbai and another 3,000 in 10 Service Establishments (the Navy, Army and Coast Guard) and an international school across India, including as far away as Port Blair.

“We impart practical nautical and allied training to children,” says Commodore Ahuja. “Many kids don’t have the same skill set learnt in schools such as Cathedral. We teach them how to march, tie a knot, pull an oar and some even sail a boat to inculcate the correct way of doing things and learn responsibility, teamwork and leadership.”

The organisation has had several moments in the sun, first in 1976 when its Sea Cadets won India’s first medal for sailing in a World Championship; then in 1988, it won the first Gold Medal in a world event in yachting, and, in 1989, India’s first Gold medal abroad in China.

“A very small group of our kids actually learns to sail,” admits Commodore Ahuja, explaining that most are taught basic and practical techniques and learn how to “understand the elements”. He says Indians aren’t very comfortable with water, despite being surrounded by it. The primary aim of SCC is to break down those barriers. Commodore Ahuja generously extended an invitation to all those interested to come aboard and see the training facilities. Training Ship Jawahar is affiliated with INS Viraat and an annual regatta with more than 400 Cadets pulling, canoeing, kayaking and sailing.

A number of Cathedralites in the ’50s and ’60s joined the Corps — KSM Anees (1953), Sohrab Kapadia (1956), Bejon Nadir (1956), Dante Mody (1958) are just a few. Gradually, many youngsters joined and helped make the organisation what it is today. Ahuja, our feisty Head Boy of 1953, is involved seven days of the week and oversees the running of SCC. Despite his busy schedule, he enthusiastically joined his batchmates for their Golden Jubilee reunion in 2003, and he remains a true-blue Cathedralite at heart.

~ Dhanwanti Rajwade

(ICSE 2000)