(Reliving a memory of nearly four decades ago)
JOM is a Junior Officers’ Mess on board ships. Sometimes, as was the case on Himgiri, there is more than one JOM: the Upper JOM for the senior amongst the junior officers and Lower JOM to indicate your status of being as low down in hierarchy as worms. Nevertheless, the middle word of the expansion of JOM, as far we were concerned, signified our having realized a life time aim, that of becoming a commissioned officer in the armed forces of our great nation. On board the Cadet Training Ship Delhi and Midshipman Training Ship Tir, we were as far away from becoming officers as Man was from landing on the Moon before Neil Armstrong actually did that small step for himself and giant leap for mankind. But, now we had arrived.
And, to give credit to the Navy, it treats you like officers too. During your watch at sea and in harbour, you have the charge, for example, of a modern Leander class frigate costing the nation – at that time – nearly a thousand crore rupees. Nothing moves on the ship without your permission. You are Captain of the frigate for the time being; empowered by the Regs Navy to be in command. Sailors, however senior they are, ask your permission to proceed ashore and you are responsible for them and everything that happens on board.
So, the last thing that you want is some senior one coming to you and bullshitting you about the way you live, similar to how they used to do in the Academy days checking your toothpaste caps etc.
One evening, however, we had an unexpected visitor to our Lower JOM: the Captain of the ship himself: Commander NN Anand or Baby Anand as he used to be called. We were lying on our bunks in various stages of dress and undress; mostly undress. Having the Captain standing in our midst was unimaginable. However, it was happening to us. We sprang out of the bunks somewhat similar to the goalies in the recently concluded World Cup during the shootouts. However, our Captain was determined to score one goal after another.
Since I was the tallest of the lot and most visible, he turned towards me and said, “Hey you, let me see your towel.”
The Navy trains its officers well. When they are faced with potentially dangerous situations, their minds don’t close like quick shut-down valves. I was the first one to seize the opportunity and the lone hanging towel in the JOM and claim it as my own. That left my other seven comrades towel-less. I had that gleeful look on my face that sometimes you see on the face of a Buzkashi contestant who seizes the buz (goat) and carry it to the goal.
However, this joy was short-lived since the next question was to Billoo, “And you, let me see your bed sheet.” And, I espied through the corner of my eyes that Billoo had grabbed the multi-coloured and multi-stained bed sheet that was nearest to him and claimed it as his own.
Baby Anand seemed to have come prepared to put us to shame. If we had thought that not having enough towels and bed-sheets between us was embarrassing, next he was asking such intimate questions as about the whereabouts of our pillows and pillow-covers, kerchiefs, and even under-wears and vests.
The great emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar when he was exiled to Burma wrote his famous ghazal there that had a line, “Do ghaz zameen naa mili kuye yaar mein.” Likewise, eight of us in Lower JOM (It had never appeared so ‘Low’ in our estimate earlier), didn’t find two yards of zameen to bury our mortification.
There is a Bombay Dyeing show room in Colaba opposite the mandir. All of us were sent there to the shop to buy clean bed-sheets, pillows, pillow covers, and towels; whereas another departmental store became richer by a few hundred bucks with eight young acting sub-lieutenants buying kerchiefs and underclothing.
The next afternoon, CO Beas Cdr Shivamani was a guest of our CO for lunch. One would think that the COs of ships when they meet over drinks and lunch have such important things to discuss as ship-handling and navigation and the international maritime situation. But, nay, discussing the hygiene and living style of their junior officers appear to be high in the agenda. And how do we know that? Well, the same evening, as we walked along Colaba Causeway, we found our course-mates led by Minhas, frantically purchasing towels, bed sheets and pillow covers at the Bombay Dyeing.
One good deed deserves another.
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