It was like my house was being demolished: Vice admiral who served aboard INS Vikrant

The roads leading to the Darukhana area in Mazagaon, are a maze of serpentine narrow lanes masquerading as roads. This is the heart of Mumbai’s iron and steel industry.

In pictures: Indian warship INS Vikrant demolished

Vice Admiral I C Rao (retd) takes a picture of Vikrant (in the background) being demolished at the Darukhana area yesterday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Vice Admiral I C Rao (retd) takes a picture of Vikrant (in the background) being demolished at the Darukhana area yesterday. Pic/Bipin Kokate

The higgledy-piggledy sprawl has warehouses and workshops on one side, with slums on the other. A line of trucks were parked on the road, and our bus which was part of a group tour of the Port land areas of Mumbai, nosed ahead carefully.

On either side of the bus, workers ambled along, looking at the bus with a mix of curiousity and amusement. This Darukhana is away from the main road, into the interiors and not regularly accessed by a group like this.

Women squatted on charpoys, combing each other’s hair and weeding rice. Little kids looked on wide-eyed tapping at the bus boldly or ran along it. Little puddles of water and squalour were everywhere.

A goat stood on its hind legs looking for pickings in a dustbin over spilling with rubbish. Soon, the narrow road shrunk dramatically. The bus parked and we trooped out to have a look at the historical Vikrant, ‘for the last time.’

The sun was losing its battle to the dark, it was a sign that Mumbai's weak winter was near. A couple of people were watching the Vikrant, still majestic even in its derelict state. Hordes of press photographers were at the spot, having been tipped off that the Vikrant was being demolished. One could see workers inside the Vikrant.

A lady who was taking pictures shouted in a shocked voice, ‘What are they doing? They are breaking it.’ Suddenly there was a flash of orange-yellow sparks from the ship. Welding was on. Shouts of ‘run run’ were heard.

One saw journalists scrambling down a narrow ladder attached to the ship, running away as it started to come apart. A huge chunk separated from the ship and fell into the shallow sea in an almighty crash.

It was as if the heart was ripped out of a piece of defence history. Vice Admiral IC Rao (retd) who served on the ship in the 1970s, took pictures on his mobile phone. He looked as if he was in a state of shock.

“This is a national shame. It is as if my house has been demolished. I remember the Vikrant with the Indian flag flying high. We went to Sri Lanka and landed at Colombo, where hundreds of Sri Lankans came aboard the ship to see it.

We had also gone to Tehran where the Shah of Iran’s nephew came on to the ship to see it,” said Admiral Rao. Like Rao, the tears of other defence personnel who served on the ship, must have mixed with the sea at the Darukhana area yesterday. The Vikrant is dead. Long live the Vikrant.

What is Vikrant?
>> Was a Majestic-class aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy.
>> Played a key role in enforcing the naval blockade on East Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
>> INS Vikrant was commissioned as the first aircraft carrier of the Indian Navy in 1959 and was decommissioned in January 1997.
>> From 1997 to 2012, she was preserved as a museum ship in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai, until it was closed in 2012 due to safety concerns.

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