For the benefit of other-than-armed-forces readers, I must first explain what a Calling-on is; especially in the Navy. It is a ritual, a getting-to-know each other when a new officer joins a station. It can be done both formally when the officer calling on is received with a guard of honour in ceremonial rig. It is mandatory for those who take over as Commanding Officers and join in senior positions. The Call is made by the officer in junior position on the one in senior position; eg, when an officer takes over as Commanding Officer he calls-on the senior officers in station such as the Fleet Commander, the C-in-C, the ASD (Admiral Superintendent Dockyard) and many others authorities including Commanding Officers senior to him. If a senior authority such as C-in-C takes over, the others in station call-on him and for important people, he even returns calls.
Now, it is obvious that you can’t just barge into the office of a senior officer at your will and expect to call-on. So, you make a signal to him: ‘Requesting Time convenient to Call on you’. In the Navy, this signal is called an RTC (from the initials of the message) signal. The senior officer may just give you a time in his signal reply; in this case it would be a formal call-on in ceremonial rig complete with the guard of honour being paraded. On the other hand he may just signal: ‘Consider calls made and returned; Will be Delighted to See you informally at_____(date and time). As is easy to guess, this signal is called a WDS signal. On receiving the WDS signal, you informally call on the senior officer in working rig.
I hope you have understood the procedure and the signals and now we proceed with the incident:
One day, CO Ganga, was in one of his naughty moods (it wasn’t rare to find KKK in those moods). I was his SCO (Signal Communication Officer) and he asked me how could he go about having free drinks and lunch and fun at someone’s expense. During such times, as I had quickly learnt, it used to be prudent to feign ignorance and I dutifully feigned loads of it. “Ah” he quipped, “Communicators will never learn. I shall make an RTC signal to a senior officer and hopefully he’d invite me for PLD (Pre-Lunch Drinks) and lunch on a Make and Mend Day (Wednesdays and Saturdays when afternoons are free; a tradition from during the days of sail when sailors used to keep the afternoons of these two days for making and mending various riggings)….it is, dear SCO, as simple as that.”
I saw one serious flaw in this ‘plan‘ and I immediately voiced it: I told him that when he took over as CO, he had already called on all and sundry. “Ah” he dismissed my observation as a child would about going at 100 kmph on his new mobike, “There is Commodore NK Mukherjee who has taken over as CO of INS Angre (the depot establishment for Mumbai) and I haven’t called on him.”
I saw another serious flaw in it and, this time, gingerly voiced it, “But, Sir, he is your course mate; you can’t call-on your own course mate.”
“Says who?” KKK shot back, “In the Navy list his name occurs before mine and hence there is nothing wrong in calling-on him. Now, come on, no more of your ifs and buts; just make the RTC signal to COMBRAX (CO Angre is also referred to as Commodore Naval Barracks).”
There is only so far a communicator would go. Once a decision is taken, a communicator worth his salt does what he is told to do. I dutifully made the RTC signal from Ganga to Angre (on that Friday afternoon) and KKK expected a WDS from the latter with invitation for lunch. He even told me how he would do justice to the beer since with perpetual sailing he hadn’t gone on a binge for a long time.
Five times in the afternoon he called me to check up if the WDS reply had arrived. By late evening, I was able to confirm to him that a reply had indeed arrived. He was triumphant about having successfully (and cleverly) plotted to have free drinks etc and told me to read out the signal aloud.
I read: CONSIDER CALLS PAID AND RETURNED. WILL HAVE LUNCH ON YOUR SHIP AT 1245 HOURS TOMORROW, SATURDAY.
He took the signal from me and after staring at it for several minutes, he retorted, “Obviously CO Angre has a smarter SCO than I have”!!!
I told him I would try to do better next time!!!
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