INS Kursura Submarine Museum, Visakhapatnam
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Inside the museum
It’s 5.30 in the evening. Walking through the narrow decks of the INS Kursura Submarine Museum in Visakhapatnam, a motley group of visitors listens with rapt attention as Indrakanti Ramam, occasionally, pulls out gems from the pages of history.
“You are now in compartment number three of the submarine. The ladder here was the entry and exit point of crew members. The huge space under your feet is where the food for the crew was stocked during naval exercises,” says Ramam, donning his tourist guide’s cap.
The former navy man served on the same submarine during his days in service between 1976 and 1992. Now, he regales crowds with stories from his days as a submariner. The 17- year-old-museum — a must-see tourist destination in Vizag — is managed by a team of former navy personnel.
“The days on the submarine, as it travelled through Bay of Bengal, were hectic. Constant drills kept us on our toes. There were times when the sailors had no contact with their families for over a month,” 60-year-old Ramam says, as he settles down for a chat with STOI. Recollecting his time with the crew, he continues, “We were thick as a family. We wore starched light blue disposable uniforms – each set thrown away after two days as there weren’t any showers onboard.”
Life was tough, but the pride of serving one’s nation kept them going. Even if that meant surviving on Vitamin tablets for days on end! “For the first 10 to 15 days we were served mutton, chicken, vegetables that was stocked up when the journey began. Once we ran out of that, the next 15 days was about surviving on tinned food. And if we happened to be onboard for over 30 days, the Vitamin tablets came out,” Venkata Chalapathi Rao shares. In-charge of the communication department during his INS Kursura days, from 1991-92, he serves as the assistant curator of the museum.
Images of the submarine ascending close to the sea surface every 24 hours or bodies of sailors turning green due to lack of Vitamin D, are still vivid in the memory of this 54-year-old. It was only after they surfaced on land and felt the sunlight that their bodies would slowly come back to normal again.
Though the physical labour of the job has now seized to exist, Phani Raj feels that he is still serving at the submarine. Raj has been associated as curator from the time of the museum’s inception. “The questions that people ask out of curiosity, fascinate me. There have been many instances when school children have told me they want to join the navy,” says 53-year-old Raj who was onboard the INS Kursura for a few months during 1996-97. “While sailing, we felt we were in danger every minute as the submarine was lit by red lights,” he adds. He joined the museum a day after it was inaugurated.
“I have got a platform to educate people about one of the first submarines inducted by the Indian Navy,” says navy man-turned-tourist guide, MVR Murthy. Also in his team is KS Rao who was part of the firing arm of INS Kursura from 1993 to 1996.
“I still remember the mechanical repairs that were carried out during the firing of a dummy torpedo because it was a challenging job. The practices were rigorous because our aim was to be ready at any moment to fire either a missile or a torpedo, if a real-life situation aroused,” Murthy says, though admitting that the job came with its perks. “It allowed us the privilege to sail to places like Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Singapore for goodwill visits and represent our nation at many naval exercises. Those were moments of great pride and honour,” he adds.