Like any other young man wanting to join the armed forces, I was mighty impressed with Netaji Subhash Chander Bose. Though not half as qualified as Nandu Chitnis of my Facebook group ‘Humour In And Out Of Uniform’ (HIAOOU) wherein Nandu has single-handedly destroyed all enemies within thousands of miles of India, Netaji could have really won us independence just as Nandu destroyed Karachi and won us war against Pakistan. Sadly for the bespectacled Subhash, HIAOOU had not yet been conceived and winning and destroying anything wasn’t as easy.
What connection do I have with NS? Only this that after finishing my bridge watch-keeping training on board Indian Naval Ship Himgiri, I was sent to Calcutta to bring a 400 tons LS HSD (Low Sulphur High Speed Diesel) tanker for Naval Dockyard Bombay, along with two other officers. One of them was the late DB Roy and the other was Sushil, the submariner, who retired as C-in-C South. This tanker was being built in a Yard in Calcutta and we had to accept it and sail it back to Bombay before the monsoons.
We were accommodated in an establishment called INS Netaji Subhash. It was a laid back no-hurry-to-do-anything type of establishment and as far from Netaji’s ‘Kadam kadam badaye ja khushi ke geet gaaye jaa’ as anyone can get. The establishment had decided that doing everything at snail’s pace was as good as reliving the memory of the great Netaji.
The Wardroom had some of the old relics that had been looted from the East Pakistan five years ago. One of the officers who was on permanent duty there told us that after these were displayed in the wardroom, these were re-looted by a number of officers who were appointed there as Mess Secretaries and PMCs; in exactly the manner paintings on the tanker Shakti that was built for the Indian Navy in a Yard in West Germany vanished after her first commission.
The Wardroom had other old relics too. These would be sitting on the bar stools in the wardroom between 7:30 to 10:30 PM every evening and prove that they could take all the three Xs from the Hercules rum bottles that they consumed and post these against their names, presence of mind and Netaji Subhash like qualities. The three of us too joined their august company in the evenings.
Sometimes, life was supposed to be infused into the rag-tag groups of officers that had assembled in Netaji Subhash for some vague purpose or the other. One of these was this All Calcutta Officers Navy Hockey Tournament that was held on the weekends in the month of April. First of all I was surprised to know that INS Netaji Subhash had so many outlying units attached to it that a tournament with that kind of lofty name could be held. Secondly, the three of us with a few other temporary duty officers were asked to form a team. And thirdly, since I was a lion-hearted (Singh) Punjabi, the others in our team took it for granted that I knew how to play hockey.
It took me very little time to learn the game. Even if the business end of my stick rarely touched the ball, it made not-so-inadvertent contact with the shins of quite a few of the other team players. We won the tournament – as the expression goes – by hook or simply by crook. It was decided that the rolling trophy would be presented to us in the month-end Captain’s Divisions the next day, that is, Friday.
That night our joining the old relics in the wardroom of INS Netaji Subhash was very sentimental. The old relics kept telling us how superbly we played. The opponents stealthily nursing their shins admitted that we had a unique technique not ever mastered by the likes of Dhyan Singh and others. To cut a long story short, several rounds in the name of the great Greek/Roman warrior Hercules were called for and some of us became sort of unfit to attend the next day morning Divisions. One of us – no names at this juncture – was also supposed to be the Guard Commander.
These were special Divisions; ladies too were invited as spectators. Officers and ladies had started taking their seats under the awning whilst the Divisions assembled. And after the Parade Commander took his post, he screamed with all the lung power given to Bengalis that nearly won us independence, “Guard onder laayo” (March in the guard).
Our friend, the Guard Commander, not used to the meridian where Calcutta is situated, took it for granted that the guard will be called for at 7:55 AM, five minutes before the Colours, and had remembered to set up his alarm at 7 AM to pierce through his condition caused by the Greek warrior and bring him back to mother earth named after the Indian warrior. Little did he know that the proceedings at Netaji Subhash were an hour earlier.
Ten minutes before the guard was to march in, one of the Gunnery sailors had got the brainwave that the Guard Commander had not made his appearance (Gunners are very good at ‘brainwaves’ and had run up to the first floor of the building adjoining the Parade Ground (erstwhile battle ground of war named hockey tournament) to somehow get him to his feet).
The Parade Commander’s call of ‘Guard andar laayo’ at 6:55 AM coincided with his (Guard Commander’s) donning the tunic though still unbuttoned. In panic he ran to the veranda and screamed back, “Abhi laaya shrimaan” (Bringing the guard in, Sir). With this whilst still buttoning his tunic with one hand, holding his sword in the other, he ran down the veranda and steps and shouted his command from the first floor itself, “Guard baayen se tez chal” (Guard, quick march, by the left). The guard started marching, the drummer gave the marching beat, and the Guard Commander joined in just before the guard halted in front the saluting dais.
After the Parade was brought to vishraam (at-ease) by the Parade Commander, a GI (what will we do without them?) marched up to the Guard Commander, smartly saluted him and brought some semblance of uniformed service in the wantonly appearance of the Guard Commander in about 30 secs. These worthy gentlemen (GIs, that is) can change people’s appearance in less than a second when they want to; but that is another story!)
Finally, after the Commanding Officer Netaji Subhash took the salute, inspected the Guard and Divisions, proficiency awards were given to a few sailors and then the Hockey Rolling Trophy was presented to DB Roy.
As he marched (!) from the ranks of the ‘spare officers’ standing on the left of the dais facing the parade; I too had a Gunners style ‘brainwave’ and I understood why was it called a ‘rolling’ trophy. DBR rolled on to in front of the dais to receive it, almost rolled off when it was handed over to him and then rolled back to regain his position in the rank and file of ‘spare’ officers swaying in all possible directions.
Straightway after the Divisions, we rolled back into our rooms and decided to break all ties with Hercules; a historic decision that lasted with us for quite some time……..until the evening that is.
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