Ships’ canteens have great fascination for army officers and their ladies. They forget the fact that officers and sailors in the navy salute with their palms inwards because they couldn’t have saluted the queen with dirty palms through cleaning and holy-stoning the decks; but, from their distance they see only glamour and star lights. Fortunately,  the air force officers and ladies are different; from their height they don’t see us at all.

What fauji rum is to civilians, navy canteen items is to army. When a Major’s wife flaunts Cobra perfume in the regimental mess party and lets it to be known to others that her brother got it from Viraat, it is now incumbent on the Colonel too to find a ‘brother’ in the Navy.

They don’t like our ribbons upside down but perfumes from ships’ canteens in any juxtaposition are welcome.

And lest you feel the fascination wears down over years, recently I carried loads of perfumes for my sister, after many years of her husband and me having retired from the fauj.

Thus, when my Higher Command course reached Mumbai on their Southern tour that included Hyderabad, Bangalore and Port Blair: suddenly the navy officers Anil Sharma and I were much in demand.

From the list obtained from the DSs, it turned out that most of the items were available on one of the Giris on Berth F. We trooped there en-masse. Unfortunately, the gangway had been removed because of some crane movement at that particular time. So I told the DSs that we could accomplish our given task after lunch on Viraat where we had all been invited. But, they all insisted that since the items were confirmed to be readily available there, we would be taking too much of a chance to let them go.

So, I shouted across to the gangway staff, got a jumping ladder lowered and we raided the ship’s canteen. On the return journey, the items had to be lowered down by a heaving line.

Over lunch, the only talk was as to who had managed to get what. We had some sad and long faces who had found that others had managed better.

Bye bye to ships after we left Mumbai. A few days later, we reached Port Blair and there, during the FORTAN reception, my DSs and course mates observed that I was surrounded by young LtCdrs and their ladies. I told them that they were all COs of LCUs and I had known them from my earlier tenures.

The first question they asked was, “LCUs, well, well, well….how well stocked are your ships’ canteens?”

The Mumbai stampede repeated there though we didn’t have to climb jumping ladders.

The AN32 that carried us back to Mhow via Vizag (lunch and refuelling halt) had lovely smell about it with some of us testing the perfume sprays for genuineness.

We like their piping hot samosas at 118 Hanif Brigade near Siachin. We return the favour to them by giving them Mayfairs at Kala Pani.

I was lucky to have done my higher command course with the army. I have written a number of articles in the then College of Combat about the army’s ops that I got glimpses of. I maintain that the nation has to be thankful to the Indian Army that Kashmir is still with India; and that’s not just because of their fighting spirit. When I last took the Naval Higher Command Course to J & K, I was impressed with Sadhbhavana and the strategic sense that has come to the Indian Army. I salute the Indian Army.

Most navy officers know the worth of our brave Army. Hence, anytime their army counterparts need ‘perfumes and powders’ they feel great obliging them. What is p&p in comparison to Kashmir and keeping this country intact?

I guess it would do a fine post to journey along various stages of an officer’s career in the navy together with the changing preferences of various canteen items.

The first few items that one is introduced to are Kraft Cheese and Luncheon Meat to go with the drinks such as Johnnie Walker and Teacher’s and even Chivas Regal. Then there are Rothman’s cigs to impress people ashore and to get movie tickets instantly.

Some of the popular Ship's Canteen items
Some of the popular Ship’s Canteen items

Then, as soon as you get a girlfriend,  you initially start buying chocolates and as intimacy builds up, you graduate to Yardleys and Toscas. At the same time you start investing in Brut for yourself; no point in her smelling sweet and you smelling like a pig.

As soon as you become a bundleman (navy’s slang for a married man; for, he takes a bundle home), first you interest her into all your bachelor days things; but, she is smarter. She soon knows what exactly she wants. She is the one who tells you what about Maggi Chicken soup and oils including olive oil. Kraft cheese, at this stage gives way to cheese spread. It is easy to make sandwiches with and those glasses she loves them. She also asks for Tabasco and Maggi sauce.

Once in a while when you get tempted to relive bachelor days, you take a few chocolates home and few packets of After Eight mints. But, she tells you it is wastage off money.

That’s the time when you truly start obliging army officers with all that bachelor days stuff.

You are a certified bundleman for the rest of your life.

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