By Roli S
“Yes, this has become the inspiring story all over the world, especially after the accident that happened in 2018 and his remarkable comeback…” One of the messages I received after Commander Abhilash Tomy (Retd) achieved the second position in the 2022 Golden Globe Race which is the third edition of the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. A solo around-the-world sailing race, it started on 4 September, 2022, from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France. The race is considered the most grueling and toughest on Planet Earth. Cdr Abhilash Tomy took this journey with a titanium rod inserted in his spine due to back injuries sustained from his previous Golden Globe attempt in 2018. Now we all know that he finished second in the race and has become the first Asian to do so. Abhilash set off on 4 September, 2022, from Les Sables-D’Olonne, France, and finished on 29 April, 2023, after sailing non-stop for 238 days and 14 hours. The race was won by South African female contestant Kirsten Neuschäfer, who returned to Les Sables-d’Olonne on 27 April, 2023, after an official time of 233 days, 20 hours, 43 minutes, and 47 seconds at sea, approximately one day ahead of her closest rival, Cdr Tomy.
Here, I would like to mention that there were sixteen participants from around the world who took part in the race, and it was Kirsten and Tomy who finished the race.
Personally, I was keeping track of the race every now and then. First, because Cdr Abhilash Tomy is a retired naval officer and known to a few of my friends in the Navy and, more importantly, because what he was attempting was something out of the ordinary and I was very keen to know what he would give credit to if he ever finished the race.
In the interviews that he gave after winning, he talked about his sponsors, his fine boat, his backbreaking routine on the boat, the tough weather, his ground support in the form of his cheerleaders, his wife, his mother, and many of his other supporters. He emphasised how he was already ready to take on any other similar challenges that should come his way. His confident persona and witty remarks kept me interested in him, as always, but I kept thinking about one interview that he gave in 2021 after taking retirement from the Indian Navy and fully recovering from the injuries that he sustained after the accident in 2018. He talked about ‘Turiya’, the boat that he had had to abandon, and the moments when he had met with the accident and his indomitable spirit to fight and survive. That is when the thought struck me that more than anything else it was, in fact, ‘Turiya’ and Titanium that won the race for Tomy and Bayanat!
You may ask, ‘how is that?’ I would say that the very mention of ‘Turiya’ and his understanding of this very important state of consciousness mentioned in the Mandukya Upanishad is reason enough to delve deeper into the understanding of his tough mental strength as without that it would not have been possible for him to achieve the formidable task of completing the toughest race on the planet.
The Mandukya Upanishad explains three stages of consciousness and, also, the fourth, called ‘turiya’, which is a transcendental state also known as samadhi. Tomy mentioned his tough military training and he also talked about ‘Turiya’, breathing and meditation and his learning from the Upanishad to keep his spirits high and his morale up. This made me curious to learn more about what was stated in the Mandukya Upanishad. The Upanishad states that everything, the whole world that we see, feel, perceive, figure out and identify with, is one immortal sound, that cosmic vibration – Aum. It is what has been, what is, and what will be, and it is beyond time itself! So, did Tomy feel its enormous power resound through his being when he chanted it and meditated on it during sailing? Or did he hear it being chanted by the waves in the stillness of the vast ocean? Did it calm him deeply? Those three sounds unite to make Aum. A…U…M. Did he enjoy the brief pause right after the chant, when the last of the M still hangs in the air? Did Tomy feel everything around him – the monstrous waves of the ocean, the howling winds, the dark scary nights and overly bright sun turn into the soundless moments of utter peace and quiet during that golden moment of his Golden Globe race? I am sure if Tomy followed the instructions of Mandukya Upanishad and concentrated on his breathing, his own physical body must have melted away losing its shape, and form and even his name Tomy and merged into the cosmos just as A melted into U and U into M. The universe itself must have felt to be held by him at that moment! Ayamatma Brahma! The moment felt by Tomy when the ‘Atma’ inside him, his individual soul…was Brahma. Tomy was God. He was the master of the Universe, of Bayanat, of the oceans, of everything around him. The ‘self is God’ lesson, from Mandukya Upanishad and the power of ‘Turiya’ must have been enough to make Tomy victorious. No frills, no flourishes, just the simple fact of life that ‘Self is God’. One can control one’s breath, one’s mind and one’s conscious state to achieve the impossible. And that is when the realisation sunk in. If only we all knew how to reach and claim that utter calm and truly feel like God!
(Roli S is an Educator, Teacher Trainer, Author and School Reviewer based in Thane.)