You already know that I am member of the 27th IAE. However, the previous batch, 26th, is also here and is on the verge of finishing its winter period. It, 24 of them, came here exactly 390 days ago and still has 75 more days to go. Its leader and Station Commander is Mr. D Jaypaul, Director, Geological Survey of India, Logistics leader is Col Suresh Kumar of Corps of Engineers, Indian Army, and it has 2 doctors, namely, Dr Ganesh Chaudhry and Dr Udaya Uthappa. There are 4 scientists (one each from GSI, IIG, NGRI, SASE), 2 doctors as above (one surgeon and one anaesthetist), two experts from the Indian Meteorological Deptt (to record weather related data and make forecasts on weather esp. on low pressure, wind speed, and possibility of a blizzard), 2 communication experts, and 16 members of the logistics team. What an important and crucial role the Logistics Team plays in the success of the Expedition and the Station, I shall tell you some other day. Cook is Mr. Ram Das from Indo-Tibetan Border Police and fulfils perhaps one of the most important roles of the Team. Everybody tries to keep him in good humour because their health and mood depends on him.
Currently this is the transition period when the Logistics members of the both the Teams will work together in cooperation for final handover. Since, the entire Team of 27th IAE is yet to arrive by ship (by end of December), that's why this long transition. I am one of the early birds of our Team.
Contrary to my expectations, I found the members of 26th Team in very cheerful mood, high spirits and full energy levels. We were given a very warm reception. The team members get along with one another very well. They all look fit with no obesity or apparent weight loss. A number of them have developed and acquired new hobbies and skills. Ram Das who had not played Carom in his life and did not know how to hold or move striker, now challenges other accomplished players of the game, no matter if he loses. Many have discovered their singing talents under the watchful eye of Mr. Jeeva who himself is an accomplished piano-accordion player. Hence S K Singh, Rajbir Singh, Virender Bisht, Pankaj, Ganesh are the frontline singers of any cultural evening. Ganesh has now a thick note book full of songs that he has mastered. At other times he can be found in the gym developing his biceps and triceps. Rajan, Gurdeep, Om Dutt can dance to their music the whole night. Gosain and Sanjay have turned out to be expert masters of ceremony who would enthrall the audience with their own 'shaayari' (Urdu poetry). Pyrography is the new art which most of the members like Om Dutt, Ram Baksh, Suresh, GS Rao, Virender, Tej Ram, Shankar et al have mastered. They produce a piece of art on wood with a hot wire. Good quality wood is available in plenty from the boxes which bring equipment. Many have handled computer for the first time in life and acquired skills to write emails and keeping their journal as a new mode of communication. Sriniwas provides IT solutions to all.
Virender has become an expert in Adobe Photoshop and is always in demand for giving finishing touches to members' photographic efforts. Tripathi and others will give Kapoors and Khannas a run for their money when it comes to trying new dishes and recipes. I am sure once they reach home, they will put their wives and mothers to shame in kitchen, not only by making delicious dishes but keeping the kitchen and kitchenware neat and tidy. Niyas is an expert hairdresser now and all the members depend on him for their hairstyles. He can start a successful salon back home. Udaya is an outdoor man and is a regular member of any short or long distance convoy. He has done a survey of animal life all by himself driving a snowmobile and going around the ice-shelves holding a GPS. He did it with the advice/suggestion/request of Secretary, and has received a letter of appreciation for his work.
Fortunately, there have been no health hazards during one year stay of this team. The usual health problems have been dental, mild rise of BP, or aches and pains.
Tobacco consumption and increased alcoholism have been described as a few of the health hazards of Antarctic wintering. Most of the smokers of this Team have given up smoking, and only 5 of the 25 now take alcohol that too on functions only. At the time of arrival in Antarctic nearly half were regular or social drinkers. The station quota of whiskey and beer is still lying unused.
This is not to say that there have never been any problems. Like any other groups this batch also had its lows and highs. The period of polar nights was especially stressful when members were confined within the station only with no or only very limited outdoor activity. People tended to become easily irritable or took offense easily. For example, 'you did not wish me when you saw me' or 'you said you were going to toilet but you are sitting in the lounge' etc. However, even if there were sparks flying many times, there was never any physical fisticuffs. There was no reporting of any increase in alcohol or tobacco consumption. On directly enquiring the 2 doctors, it did not appear that anybody suffered from any detectable depression, leave alone psychotic phenomena. All these behavioural changes have been reported in the literature, and also periodically from different batches of IAE. The 26th IAE Team has put a big challenge to the team of the 27th IAE. How the wintering members of 27th IAE will behave? I am sure they will accept the challenge to equal them, if not surpass them, and rise to the occasion.