POLARMAN: 3rd July, 2008
Guest column by Dr Abhijeet Bhatia
(Abhijeet is a wintering member of the 27th Indian Antarctic Expedition, and maintains his own blog: www.natureinbliss.blogspot.com)
The big day was finally here. The biggest festival in Antarctica- the Mid-Winter Day! It was the darkest day (or should we call it the darkest night) of the polar night. According to an old tradition, anyone who is in Antarctica on 21st June is called a Polarman. But it does not come so easily. Anyone who is here on this day has to spend almost a whole year here. That is because it is not possible to commute to and fro Antarctica during the winters, that is, from April till beginning of November. The last flight leaves this continent around March and start only in November. The ships also start arriving in only in December after leaving Antarctican shore in March-April. Hence, This privilege of being called ‘Polarman’ is reserved exclusively for the winter teams. So this was a memorable day for all of us, especially the first timers. After all, being a polarman is a rare feat. Congratulatory messages had come pouring in from all over the world and other Antarctic stations.
The Mid- Winter Day also means that Antarctica will only get brighter now. Half of the period of polar nights is now over. We will be able to see the sun again after 1 month, though only for, may be, four minutes. But winters are far from over. July and August are the coldest and the windiest months here. That means that the winters are just peaking.
The Russians came over to join us for the celebrations from the nearby Russian station, Novo. They were expected around 10 AM, but were late. They can't be blamed because driving time in Antarctica is highly unpredictable. When they did arrive, we all had a gala time. We exchanged small gifts, and then it was time for drinks, snacks and then tambola exclusively for the Russians. The Russians did not know how to play, so we guided them. They were playing for bottles of rum. Hence there was cut throat competition. They guzzled alcohol like water. We were no match for them. We interacted with them freely and took them around the station. Language was a major problem. But that did not hinder the conversation, which flowed like liquor. They enjoyed Indian dishes thoroughly. We had made every effort to cook according to their tastes- no chillies, minimum oil.
We had made some good friends. It was nice to see some new faces after a long time. We are now ready to face the rest of the time in Antarctica with renewed vigour, with the knowledge that now it's all downhill from here.
As our leader said- Ab hum roshni ki taraf ja rahe hain.