I was the Signal Communication Officer (SCO) of the newly commissioned ship Ganga, named after the holiest of the Indian rivers. SCO’s job is the most thankless job on board a ship; at least it was during those days. Many officers of the ship felt that they could have done wonders in their particular fields of specialization (such as Anti-submarine Warfare, Gunnery, Engineering, Helicopter operations and Missiles) if only the signal had reached them in time. I was soon to learn that signals on a ship are never so important unless – like monthly periods of a maiden girl – they are missed.
It is, therefore, the earnest desire of every SCO to pray that the ship would get all signals well in time. All SCOs’ anthem is the Railway Signalman’s song that goes like this:
[lineate]It’s not my job to run the train,[/lineate][lineate]The whistle I can’t blow;[/lineate][lineate]It’s not my job to say how far,[/lineate][lineate]The train’s allowed to go.[/lineate][lineate]It’s not my job to let off steam,[/lineate][lineate]Nor even to clang the bell;[/lineate][lineate]But let the damn thing run off the track,[/lineate][lineate]And see who catches hell.[/lineate]
We were going off for two days sailing when just before sailing a signal was received from Dunagiri, a Leander class frigate commanded by the Navy’s most upcoming officer of his rank at that time, Commander Vinay Singh. His ship had completed a refit and he had invited my Commanding Officer together with important dignitaries from the Command Headquarters including C-in-C, Fleet including the Fleet Commander, Dockyard including the Admiral Superintendant, and various other dignitaries from ships and organisations for a dinner party on board at 1930 hours (7:30 PM) on Saturday. We were scheduled to return to harbour at about 2100 hours (9 PM) a day before that, that is, on Friday.
My Captain knew it was an important party not just because Commander Vinay Singh was bright and everyone was already predicting that his thoroughly professional attitude would one day see him rising to become the Chief of the Naval Staff; everyone knew that the party was going to be very well attended and was an occasion to be seen by the C-in-C, ASD and the Fleet Commander.
Everything was okay for us since we were to return the day before the party, enabling my CO to attend the party on Saturday. There was only one problem. The RPC (Request Pleasure of your Company) signal invited my CO for Saturday but the date given was that of Friday. It was obvious that the Communication department of Dunagiri had goofed it up. My CO wanted me to check up and confirm the date just before we sailed. He said if it was going to be on Friday he would like to return a few hours early so that he could attend the party. My course mate Lieutenant Commander Lalit Kapur was the Executive Officer (XO) (second in command) on Dunagiri. I sent one of my sailors to check up from the Communication department of Dunagiri; however, to be on the safe side, I also hopped across to meet Lalit and re-confirm the date. Both, the Communication department of Dunagiri as well as the XO assured me that the party was on Saturday. I came back on board Ganga, told this to my CO and we sailed off.
On Friday we returned at the appointed hour of 2100 hours and proceeded to take up a berth just two or three berths away from Dunagiri. As we made our approach to come alongside we noticed there was a party on in full swing on Dunagiri, complete with party lights, naval band etc. My heart sank. I knew that even while we made our approach to the berth my CO would want to eat me up or convert me into a space shuttle and send me into outer space. Rage was building up in him even whilst he feigned calm in giving the conning orders for the ship. As soon as we were alongside he fulminated. Most of what he told me (or rather screamed) cannot be printed here. However, the softer version was to do with how the bloody communicators cannot be trusted with anything and could easily f— up the simplest of things.
I too was furious. Why couldn’t Lalit tell me about the correct date? I can understand both ships communication departments botching it up. But, why did Lalit had to do this to me?
So, whilst my CO was moping in his cabin I went to Dunagiri to call Lalit out of the party and ask him for an explanation. I reached their quarterdeck and sent the quartermaster to call out Lalit from the party. Lalit came and I proceeded to dress him down for the botch up. He just kept smiling; his smile getting bigger with every invective that I was throwing at him.
Finally, he said, “Well, Ravi, the party is still tomorrow. This is our CO’s idea of a dress rehearsal so that nothing would go wrong tomorrow”.
I returned on board to tell this to my CO. His laughter could be heard at the other end of dockyard.
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