We were cadets on the Cadet Training Ship (CTS) cruiser Delhi. We were learning the skills required to do a Watch on the Bridge of the ship, from where the ship is controlled.
The watches on board a ship are divided into four hourly watches dependent upon the time of the day; ie, Forenoon Watch from 0800 to 1200 hrs, Afternoon Watch from 1200 to 1600 hrs, First Watch from 2000 hrs to midnight, Middle Watch from midnight to 0400, Morning Watch from 0400 to 0800 hrs. That leaves the time from 1600 to 2000hrs; instead of calling it the Evening Watch, it is usually divided into two watches of two hours each called the Dog Watches. It is done so that in a three watch system there would be odd number of watches and people wouldn’t end up doing the same watch over and over again.
In the officers’ roster on Delhi, there was this Lieutenant (Lets call him Lieutenant A in order to maintain anonymity) who had a bad reputation of closing up late on his watch (generally one is supposed to close up fifteen minutes earlier so as to facilitate proper handing/taking over between the outgoing and incoming watches; but, Lt. A had the reputation of closing up 30 minutes or more late. This was especially true for the night watches, ie, First Watch, Middle Watch and Morning Watch.
Once when he was required to close up on Middle Watch, ie, Midnight to 0400 hrs, the officer who was closed up on the First Watch, ie, from 2000 to midnight, sent one of the cadets to wake him up one hour before his closing up time, ie, at 2245 hrs (10:45 PM) so that, for once, Lt. A would be on time. This has to be imagined to get the true flavour of it. Cadets were under mortal fear of Lieutenants on board as they could take it out on the cadets at the slightest pretext. The difference or the seniority gap between the cadets and the Lieutenants was perceived by us to be more than between the Lieutenants and the Admirals.
Now, you imagine a Cadet going into the mess of the Lieutenants, finding the right bunk and then waking him up with all dexterity at his disposal without causing inconvenience and annoyance to the other Lieutenants sleeping there.
Our brave cadet entered the mess and by hook or crook managed to find the bunk of Lieutenant A and whispered to him to wake up. There was no visible effect. So, he raised his voice a bit and said, “Sir, it is time for your watch.”
This earned the Cadet a few angry “shhhs” from the adjoining bunks and no reaction from Lieutenant A.
So, he thought of going back to the Bridge and informing the Lieutenant already on watch that Lt. A was sound asleep. But, he disposed off these thoughts as impracticable since, one, 15 minutes had already gone by and he himself was getting close to being relieved by another cadet; and two, the Lieutenant on watch had already warned him to return to the bridge only after Lt. A had fully awaken and out of his bed.
Hence, our man realised that this kind of challenge was what separated men from boys. He thought of the tales of resolve of intrepid Captains of ships who stood on the decks of burning and sinking ships and unflinchingly went down with the ship rather than abandon. Cadet M decided to stand bravely there and do everything by word or gesture to wake up Lieutenant A.
Some of his exhortations are now famous nautical poems:
To his horror, he found that Lieutenant A’s mother had really given birth to a very stubborn child who was as far from waking up as our politicians are in the parliament when discussions on defence budget start.
Cadet M, at this time when more than 30 minutes had gone by, decided that he had to quickly decide whether to be slanged by the incoming OOW (Officer of the Watch) or being sent on the Crow’s Nest (the highest point of the mast) by the relieving OOW. Sterner action was, he concluded, required.
So, he shook the sleeping figure of Lieutenant A hard and started a much louder version of the nautical poem mentioned above.
Cadet M told us later that with this even Kumbhakaran, the sleeping God, would have been awake. But, Lieutenant A was undeterred by this rough treatment and continued to sleep like a baby in its mother’s arms.
Now, for Cadet M, it had finally become a matter of ‘Do or Die’, the kind of challenge that real men serving the nation sometimes face.
He spotted a tumbler lying there, filled it up, and returned to the bunk where the modern-day avatar of Kumbhakaran slept. He poured a handful in his right hand and sprinkled it on the face of Lieutenant A.
Eureka! There was a small movement and Lieutenant A stirred in his bed and in his heavy droll asked Cadet M, “Whhhat isss ittttt?”
Cadet M was close to success and had started seeing visions of being nominated for the gallantry award. So in his best, loudest, firmest voice he said, “YOUR WATCH SIR.”
The stirring in the bunk hadn’t totally died down. Lieutenant A, took out both his arms from under the white sheet, and with the right hand carefully removed his wrist-watch from the left wrist, gave it to Cadet M, and went to sleep again.
Can you picture Cadet M, standing there in Lieutenant’s mess, after 45 minutes of cajoling, being rewarded with having one more watch at his hands than the one he was doing?
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