Haridas Kundu is a soft-spoken man, who mastered initial lessons
in swimming at a village pond in Kalyangarh, West Bengal.
"We had lots of fun along with friends learning swimming in the pond. I was in Class-III then and we used to regularly catch fish with the help of pots and pans," says the 33-year-old sailor, now posted at the Southern Naval Command (SNC) at INS Venduruthy in Kochi.
Haridas was cleared for a one-to-one interaction with OneIndia during a visit to SNC recently. He holds the rank of POA (ACMD), which means Petty Officer Aviation (Air Crewman Diver).
Serving the Indian Navy for the last 14 years, Haridas cleared the Staff Selection Commission (SSC) exams after 12th. Until then, he was helping his father in making sweets.
"It is our family business and I helped my father in making rasagulas and gulab jamuns (both poplar Indian sweets). I took care of the shop along with my younger brother," says Haridas, who joined the Communication Wing (Tactical) of the Indian Navy in 2002.
Today, Haridas is among the most sought-after divers at SNC, a fact he is very proud of.
"For me serving the Navy comes first above all. I wake up with loads of inspiration every day and I think I am a born diver," he adds.
Presence of mind is the key to any diver
In 2006, Haridas was among the 16 selected for Diving Course out of a total of 150 volunteers in the Navy.
"As a diver you must have excellent physical and mental fitness. Presence of mind is the key to any diver. I have had some challenging missions," he says.
According to Haridas, fishing nets getting stuck on to the propeller of ships and boats are a common problem being faced by the Navy.
Naval officials at SNC say that the underwater outlets and inlets, critical for the functioning of the ships, had to be often cleared by the divers.
"Nets are floating objects which can entangle divers. There are instances of divers getting into trouble. Hence, a diver has to be alert all the time while undertaking a mission," says an official.
Active during the Thekkady boat tragedy
Haridas was part of the night SAR (Search and Rescue) operations undertaken by the Indian Navy in September 2009, following the boat tragedy in Thekkady.
Forty-five tourists had died then after the double-decker boat (Jala Kanyaka) sank in the Periyar National Park lake situated in Thekkady.
The Indian Navy had undertaken extensive SAR operations following the incident. "We left the venue only after confirming that there were no bodies missing in the lake," says Haridas.
An avid follower of football, Haridas now wants to apply for the Civil Services exams.
"That's my next dream. But I want to be always remembered as a good naval diver," says Haridas, who is blessed with a son Hridesh, now five-years-old.
Draws inspiration from Jalveer Smriti
At the SNC, the visitors are greeted by Jalveer Smriti, a unique memorial that has been set up for divers.
"This is a memorial for the silent warriors of the Navy -- the divers. Perhaps, divers are the only breed in the Navy which works in isolation, unlike the traditional naval ships and submarines, where all departments are in combat together," says Commander Sridhar Warrior, PRO, SNC, Kochi.
"I offer my prayers whenever I pass by Jalveer Smriti. It is the sacrifices of these divers that inspire me all the time," adds Haridas, as we head for the photo-shoot.