The Navy owns ships, submarines and aircraft. But, to commute on land you require road transport. That’s where the Navy finds itself totally at sea.
We envy our Army counterparts whose jeeps, jongas and Ambassador cars look ‘battle-worthy’ from outside and are fitted with the latest luxury items inside if the allotment is even for a unit Officer-in-Charge.
The one Achilles Heel of the Navy personnel has always continued being road transport in general, and staff-cars in particular. Let’s say the Navy finally deems it fit to provide you with a staff-car, as a Captain/Commodore, just a few years before retirement, it would be competing with the Chhakdas (that you see in the Saurashtra region: they are indigenously designed from Royal Enfield mobikes) for comfort and looks. The chances are that the Chhakada would take you places but your staff-car won’t.
The Navy makes you a practising communicator the moment you are given a staff car. You communicate your next day’s requirement to the civilian driver when you secure him. But, come the morning, you make series of calls to the Naval Transport Pool (NT Pool) enquiring as to what happened to the transport. It would be nothing less than an hour and two dozen calls when you learn that either the transport or the driver has packed up.
And imagine this happening before Command Divisions. You are resplendent in your ceremonial rig, complete with a sword and shining brass on your peak-cap, you look yourself in the mirror several times to congratulate yourself at having arrived in life. The timings of sailors and officers arriving at the venue have been fixed and rehearsed and then, to your horror, you find that the transport has failed to report. No phone calls can help now. You start your own car, rush to the venue and find that the parking for self-driven cars is about a kilometre away from the venue. You lock the car, and run to the venue, ruffled and sweating and a far cry from the proud officer who viewed himself in the mirror indulgently just half an hour back.
I was once an Admiral-in-the-waiting (for the simple reason that no Admiral was free that day and I was the senior most Commodore) for a visiting PLA (Navy) (People’s Liberation Army (Navy) of China). My staff-car R42 (the number specifies how far have you reached in the Command; C-in-C’s are R1 and R2 and so on) finally arrived after several calls and heart-burns to take me to the airport to receive this Chinese Admiral. One thing curious about this car was that it made more noise than speed. But, even at that, through my constant communication with the driver, we managed to arrive at the airport just as the dignitaries were stepping into the arrival lounge. They had to go to the ITC Maratha hotel, close to the airport terminal, for dinner and I smartly took a seat next to the Admiral in his Merc and we reached the hotel. I espied through the corners of my eyes (if you are in the armed forces, you realise that the corners of your eyes are far more important than the eyes themselves) that my car was not following. During the dinner I made several trips outside to look for R42 and found that all the other cars in the convoy had arrived except for the elusive R42. Finally, when the Admiral was getting into his Merc to go back to the airport to catch a flight to New Delhi, I learnt that R42, true to its form had packed up at the airport itself. The Chinese Admiral pretended (they all do) that he didn’t know English and Hindi but, when he was getting down at the airport terminal, his ‘interpreter’ told me that the Admiral had instructed his driver to drive me back home after seeing off the delegation.
Various fascinating experiences with transport or staff-cars in the Navy that I have experienced or heard would make into a serialised book in various volumes. However, here are some of the pippins:
- I was once a DSO (Duty Staff Officer) at Naval Headquarters and I was to take rounds of the units at great distances from NHQ in Delhi. Invariably, my communication skills with the NT Pool at INS India never produced the transport on time and there were occasions when I had taken rounds in the middle of the night instead of at 8 pm. After that, in the Night Rounds Book we were to write ‘Rounds correct’ or otherwise and sign. I noticed that the book never had an ‘otherwise’ entry. So, one day, I wrote in red ‘Rounds not correct as transport did not report’. This book was periodically inspected by CO India. The next time when I did my duty again as DSO, I noticed that the CO had signed but there was no action whatsoever.
- In Goa, once, a Staff Officer (Operations) had to receive a visiting ship on the jetty. His communications to the NT Pool fell on deaf ears and finally, when the hour of reckoning drew close, he screamed that come what may some transport had to report to him. After twenty minutes, to his shocked surprise, he found a mobile-crane waiting outside his residence to take him to the jetty about six kms away.
- When the Government of India letter came about with sanction of transport for all officers in the Navy from residence to place of work, provided the distance was more than 1 kilometre, a C-in-C, before admitting the claims of a few officers, got the distance physically measured with a measuring tape. So, in the same colony, if your house happened to be 987 metres away from office, you were denied to claim for road transport but in the very next building an officer enjoyed the privilege.
- We were privileged once with a visit by the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy and Plans) to our station, Vizag. All along, officers were denied road transport due to “lack of funds”. This ACNS (P&P) in an open forum attended by all Command officers ‘not-on-essential-duties’, in answer to a query by a young officer, brought out that Naval Headquarters had made adequate funds available to the Command for hiring of transport, but that, his record showed that the Command had been returning large portions of these funds unused year after year.
- In a Command meeting once I brought out that the rates of hiring of transport by NT Pool were significantly more than in the Port Trust wherein I was a Trustee. I was ‘excommunicated’ for deliberately not understanding the ‘compulsions’ of the NT Pool.
But, the real pippin is this experience of mine as a young Acting Sub-Lieut when I was appointed to INS Himgiri for earning my Watch-keeping certificate. Our CO, as Commander, was to share his allotted staff-car with two other COs of Durg class of corvettes. These COs, despite their best communication, never got the staff-car since our CO was the senior most and his own requirements didn’t leave anything for the others.
Once, when the staff-car reported at our gangway to take our CO for an important Fleet Office meeting, our CO observed just before leaving the ship that curiously a Midshipman occupied the right rear seat whilst our CO was to get into the right left seat. Since I was on duty as Assistant Officer of the Watch (AOOW), he asked me find out what that Midshipman was doing there. My query revealed that the Midshipman was occupying the CO Sindhudurg end of the Staff Car as instructed by his CO. After that, I learnt that our CO started sharing the car with the other two.
In the Navy, you can be CO of an Aircraft Carrier or of the latest Stealth Frigate. But, as far as civilians are concerned, your proud existence is like the opening line of a song: Jungle mein more naacha, kisane dekha? (A peacock dancing in the Jungle is unseen). Your true pride comes in when you sit in a staff-car, wherein neither the car nor the driver pack-up when you require it most.
I retired from the Navy in 2010. I do not know if the situation has changed now.
© 2014, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.