In the year 1999, the Navy decided to send me to command the Navy’s largest establishment area-wise, the Very Low Frequency Station INS Kattabomman. Now, being a Punjabi, I had tough time explaining to my larger family and friends in Punjab the name of the establishment that I was going to command. For them ‘katta’ clearly meant a male-calf of a buffalo and they joked that I was the most suitable person to command something as rustic as a ‘katta’ with or without ‘bomman’.
Gradually, however, the sense of pride sank in when I discovered that we were, at that time, one of the only six countries in the world who had such a station. The VLF transmitter is so large that it occupies a complete and huge three storey building. The antenna covers a radius of approximately a kilometre plus 200 metres. The establishment is so large that many a times, the families have gone for a picnic within the establishment.
The establishment was named after Kattabomman or Veerapandiya Kattabomma Karuthayya Nayakkar, the country’s first freedom fighter against the British. He was a courageous 18th-century Palayakarrar (‘Polygar’) chieftain from Panchalankurichi of Tamil Nadu, India. His ancestors migrated to Tamil Nadu from Kandukur area of Prakasam district in present day Andhra Pradesh during the Vijayanagara period. He waged a war with the British six decades before the Indian War of Independence occurred in the Northern parts of India.
I had a grand parade presented to me for taking over and then the erstwhile Commanding Officer and I retired to my office to carry out Handing Over/Taking Over Procedures. After handing over, my predecessor went to the CO’s House to catch an early morning train.
Finally, I had the establishment to myself. The sense of pride and joy was however short-lived.
Within about an hour of my taking over, my XO came rushing in and said that a sailor had climbed the Communication Centre mast (not the VLF mast which is about 300 metres high but the Comcen mast, which was still quite high) and refused to come down and threatened to commit suicide. Now, this was an emergency for me. Imagine, finally in command of a prestigious establishment and you are greeted by the sight of a sailor about to jump from a high mast.
Fortunately for me my wife rang up, at that time, from Vizag to congratulate me on my taking over command. I quickly told her about the determined-to-commit-suicide sailor. She said under no circumstances anyone in authority should talk to him as he was likely to carry out his threat. It should be a lady who should speak to him preferably in his lingo and preferably in civilian attire.
Now, on parade, I had seen our lady doctor and I immediately sent for her. I explained the urgency to her and told her she should talk to him as a friend, or a sister and somehow bring him down and that no attempt should be made to have a show of authority.
Sudha did her job rather well and after about an hour or so the sailor climbed down.
It came out that he appeared for the CW (Commission Worthy) Exam to become an officer, failed and the other sailors chided him relentlessly with such taunts as ‘unfit to be a sailor, unfit to be an officer’; and asking for confirmation if he was finally an aam aadmi like the rest of them.
I did not report the case at all. I worked on the sailor for the next few days. Eventually, he became one of the best sailors in Kattabomman.
Many people emotionally re-enact the famous water tank soo-side scene of the Hindi block-buster Sholay. Basanti may not always be the reason or the cause, I discovered. Soo-side is not just the way the Angrez go (like the famous point by that name in Kodaikanal, named after a British lady). Our indigenous people too get an urge to do it sometimes.
Sholay was right in one respect though: No lamboo (or Jai) can do anything without a willing mausi.
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