Out of all my course mates, the most effervescent of the entire lot, was PR Chowdry. Since he was a police officer’s son, he was nicknamed Bobby and everyone called him that.
He and Sabera Chowdry were amongst the most gracious hosts that I have come across. I have spent many a delightful evening enjoying their hospitality. They were so hospitable that by the time they were seeing you off from one dinner at their residence, they were already inviting you for another. Regrettably, we lost Bobby (to cancer) in Oct 2007, a few months after he got his daughter Prianka was married. Bobby had no idea that when he was moving around spiritedly, deadly cancer was growing within him.
Bobby had been an endless source of mirth to all around him. No one ever won an argument with him, though many tried (Suffice it to say that Bobby had his inimitable ways of winning!)
This anecdote takes me back to the year 2000 when Bobby was in command of Godavari and Billoo (another course mate P Chauhan) was in command of the newly commissioned ship, Brahmaputra. I happened to be in Mumbai from Vizag, undergoing my PCT (Pre Commission or Command Training) to take over Jyoti (later changed to Aditya because a C-in-C didn’t like me). And that was the day of Brahmaputra’s Anniversary cocktails (she had finished one year of commision in the Navy).
Bobby and Sabi graciously offered to take me to the ship by their car. And there we had a beaming Billoo to greet us (we have spent 40 years together and I haven’t yet seen him when he is not beaming! He is like a lighthouse).
Even though Billoo offered good Scotch, Bobby somehow felt that the party was too dull. Also, because of the Fleet Commander, at that time Rear Admiral Sangram Singh Byce being on board as the chief-guest, Biloo himself was rather subdued (a rare phenomenon indeed).
Bobby, therefore, decided to liven up things. The first ‘sensible‘ step was to gulp down large quantities of Scotch. The next ‘sensible‘ step was to regale all the guests, especially ladies, with lurid though humorous anecdotes. And the last – I guess it became a concomitant or collateral step because of the first two – ‘not-so-sensible’ – step was to kiss everyone within range.
After the Fleet Commander departed, the livening up role that Bobby had embarked on became quite zealous. Somewhat similar to how hard core holi revellers don’t leave anyone in vicinity uncoloured, Bobby had not left anyone on the helo-deck (the party-deck) of Brahmaputra unkissed.
Billoo, the perfect host that he always is, couldn’t wind up the party as long as guests like Bobby and others were around. But finally, there were only three guests left – looking from L to R – Bobby, Sabi and me. All the hosts, including ladies, had been kissed several times in acknowledgement of good quality of Scotch and some were visibly fidgeting because of lateness of hour.
Finally, their covert and not-so-covert looks had effect on Bobby’ s conscience and he decided to leave after a few more rounds of drinks and kissing.
He stepped on the brow and alighted on the Cruiser Wharf. Before getting into his car, he noticed the ship’s Master-at-Arms, standing there with a baton, looking smart and erect. Bobby was in a happy and gregarious mood. Even the sight of a provost (naval police) sailor didn’t mar his mood.
Bobby went to him, gave him a hug and kissed him on both his cheeks.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever visit Cruiser Wharf, in Naval Dockyard, Mumbai, you will find a memorial there honouring the gallant provost sailor who instantly died of mortification, that night! His children now tell stories about how their courageous dad withstood the wars: the 1965 and 71 wars with Pakistan. But, how, a kiss finally did him in. Years of reputation of being fierce and ferocious gone in a few seconds!
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