My father was posted in Shimla when I joined the Navy. It was a story of ‘From the Hills to the Sea’. During those days, as perhaps now too, no one in our parts of the world was very familiar with the Navy. The only Navy that they could think of was the merchant navy. But, that, anyone could go to sea in order to fight was as unbelievable to them as coming to the hills for anything other than to seek peace (remember the rishis and munis of ancient times?)
I was a square peg in a round hole and they used to wonder as to why a boy from the hills should go all the way south to join the Navy. I was awkward, didn’t know swimming, didn’t know how to switch on a television with its complicated controls such as vertical hold and horizontal hold, brightness, contrast etc. “Guy is a dumbo” was the verdict.
Gradually, I started being accepted in the Navy; I learnt how to switch on the telly, I learnt swimming and became as smart as the next guy; though not as clever.
It was a damn good life and I enjoyed being at sea better than their thinking I was at sea in too many things that all the other guys from Bombay, Madras, Cochin, Calcutta and even Delhi were adept at.
Within three years of my being commissioned, my parents shifted to our present place Whispering Winds, Kandaghat and they continued being here until my father died of a jeep accident in 1984, just 9 kms away from our home.
I became a Navy man but, my heart continued being here in Kandaghat and I wrote an article about this on my blog (Read: ‘Home Is Where The Heart Is – Kandaghat in Shimla Hills’). On my Facebook Group ‘Humour In And Out Of Uniform’ I had put up an anecdote in which my father kept introducing me as an Army officer when immediately after my commissioning I visited my parents. It was very much here in Kandaghat.
If I was at sea in most subjects than any of my course mates, you should meet the Kandaghat people. Their total knowledge of the Navy could be written in the space behind a 5 paisa postage stamp.
Therefore, in the year 2006, when the Navy signal came about having a AFNHB (Air Force Naval Housing Board) colony in Kandaghat, of all the places, my phone never stopped ringing. Just about everyone known to me called to tell me that they had erred in their opinion of me and that I was the smartest of the entire lot who had managed to get a Navy housing colony made in my home place in the same manner as Indian Railway Ministers get a railway track made to their villages in Bihar, Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. One of them went to the extent of saying, “We thought of you as a total dumbo (aside: which we are sure you are), par tum to bahut pahunche hue nikale (but you are very clever indeed).”
During my next leave I went about finding out how an Air Force Naval Housing Board colony happened to come up here in Kandaghat where there is no Air Force or Naval station anywhere close by. It is like having a snow skiing range in Rajasthan.
It came out that the Himachal government in a bid to decongest Shimla made a mini secretariat in Kandaghat, 32 kms from Shimla and made a HP Housing Board colony (HIMUDA – Himachal Urban Development Authority) here. Some land was available and they thought of giving it to the Army. The Army already had made a colony in Shoghi (halfway between Kandaghat and Shimla). They thought that accepting another colony within 15 kms of the first one would get them the tag of being a colonial power. Hence, even though it was rare for a service to share the largesse with the other services, they passed on the colony to the Navy and the Air Force (somewhat similar to how the Pakis ceded Aksai Chin to China). The Navy and the Air Force grabbed it with both hands, toes and knees.
I am on leave here for the nth time now. I just visited the local electricity office and met the Junior Engineer there about one of our power meters not working. “Which one, Sir?” he asked me, “The left one or the right one; or as you say Port one or the Starboard one?”
I visited the Daily Needs shop at the local Petrol Pump. The owner there knows me very well. He asked me, “How long are you anchored here now?”
I am now waiting for the traffic cop to give a ticket to an over-speeding car by telling its driver, “Can’t you see 30 Knots is the speed limit in the town?”
I joined the Navy 41 years ago from the hills; and now, the Navy has come to me in the hills. I remember this from Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist, “When you want a thing strongly, the elements conspire to make it possible.”
Now who says cows can’t fly?
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