The business end of the Navy is at sea: the ships, submarines and aircraft; the Navy being the truly three-dimensional force amongst the armed forces of the union of India. However, the Navy has something common with the other forces in that it has another dimension ashore: the headquarters. The headquarters has – hold your breath – heads; what else? These heads roll out stuff that people at sea sometimes find difficult to comprehend.
Do you remember the story of a Russian trying to sell a radio set to a farmer in Siberia, by his sales-pitch: “With this radio set, comrade, you can be in any part of Russia and still be able to hear Moscow”?
The farmer, in the story, wasn’t impressed and asked: “But, do you have anything by which Moscow can hear us?”
It is the same disconnect between headquarters and units at sea sometimes. It appears to people at sea that these ‘heads’ ashore dish out reams and reams of paper on every conceivable subject. Lets say, for example, that a VIP Visitor on board puts his or her hand/foot/other parts of body exactly where the sign says: ‘Wet Paint; Don’t Touch’; the headquarters are likely to issue detailed instructions titled: ‘Instructions For Receiving VIPs on Board Ships And Submarines’ complete with several appendices and annexures.
They expect you to read and follow the plethora of these instructions. However, your one or even half pager enumerating problems on board doesn’t see the light of the day. If you insist on a response and send some gentle reminders, you are likely to get a cryptic reply: “Refer to your Letter such and such dated such and such. Your attention is drawn to WENCO (Western Naval Command Orders) such and such, article such and such.”
In case you are a persistent one and notice that the article in question doesn’t exist, you can write another letter bringing out that the quoted article doesn’t exist. But then, you are back to square one. As also, you, busy in getting your point across to headquarters, missed sending them the fortnightly return on VIP Visitors on Board as asked for by Appendix P of Letter regarding ‘Instructions For Receiving VIPs On Board Ships And Submarines’. Headquarters and Police are two unique organisations where the customer is always wrong.
Captain KK Kohli on newly commissioned Ganga had got fed-up of headquarters indulgence in every matter on board except where their inputs were specifically requested for. Once we received detailed instructions on receiving some foreign dignitaries on board including a lavish lunch for them post PLD (Pre Lunch Drinks). KKK requested for a sanction for X Rupees. As always, headquarters approved an amount X divided by 50. Headquarters heads do this kind of thing for no r or r. The sanction letter said the menu for the party may be sent for C-in-C’s approval.
KKK’s reply was classic:
“1. Refer to HQWNC Letter such and such dated such and such.
2. Based on Headquarters sanction, the menu for the party would be:
a) Half pint of beer for half the people and Nimbupaani for the other half.
b) Rice and dal for lunch together with PPK.
c) One Eclair each as dessert.”
Needless to say the heads at headquarters saw not just the comedy in KKK’s mail but also merit. A fresh sanction letter of X amount was released and……this was to be seen to be believed……there was no mention of sending “draft menu for C-in-C’s approval”.
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