I have no idea how old it is, but it looks like it could have been designed in the 17th century by the submarine’s inventor, Cornelius van Drebbel himself, whose craft reached a depth of 15 feet during trials in the Thames River, England. It has an OM on its prow — a seed-syllable believed by Hindus to contain the beginning, duration, and dissolution of the universe — and an Indian swastika above that — the most ancient symbol known to man, and a symbol of universal energy. The portholes are decorated with petal motifs.
“What is that?”
“It’s a submarine.”
“You’re kidding. What’s it doing here?”
“It’s suffering for its sins.”
“How can a submarine sin?”
Sunil stopped rowing and gave me one of his, ‘now let me tell you, funny Western person who understands nothing’ looks.
Everything in Varanasi has a story to tell. Why should a mini-submarine be any different? The one that locals tell (told so many times that it’s now as written as history) is that the craft belonged to the Indian navy. It sank to the bottom of the Bay of Bengal during a routine exercise, taking the lives of its forty crew members with it. Hard to imagine this tub being sea-worthy, let alone going underwater, let alone with forty people. For some reason the captain was not on board at the time. Wracked with guilt, he offered the sub to the Ashram at the Burning Ghats, where it continues to do penance for its sins…