This article is in good humour and not a punch below the belt. Some of my very good friends have been at one time or the other posted to the Personnel Branch. Read on.
This article is a tribute to the Personnel Branch guys in the Naval Headquarters; the demi-gods and gods. If the Army and Air Force friends and even civilians see some similarity with what they have, it is not just coincidental; it must be universal. Post retirement from the Navy, I am working in a corporate now and I can assure you the HR guys here are the all powerful, sought after, God’s own people and creme de la crème.
Their reasoning appears to us a little cockeyed (since we are not used to it). But, there is always method in their madness. For example, lets say you are looking for a transfer out of Vizag. The correct approach with your appointer (it never fails) would be: “Sir, just called to thank you for sending me to Vizag. We have just moved into ‘A’ type accommodation, children have finally been admitted to Timpany School after many years of waiting, and wife has found a job. I was wondering if you would keep me here for a few more years….” By the end of the day, your transfer orders, by signal would be issued.
These guys are full of empathy. Indeed, they would never have been appointed in the Personnel Branch if they hadn’t displayed this trait somewhere or the other. In the Executive Branch of the Indian Navy, most of them were (during my time in the Navy) from the Navigation and Direction branch since ’empathy’ requires great navigational and directional skills. Just to give an example, in May 1984, my father died at the age of 56 years in a jeep accident. So, I sought a transfer closer home, ie, New Delhi itself. I wrote to my appointer and since they advertise it ad-infinitum, called on him in his office in Naval Headquarters. He responded with great empathy that he felt for me. And then he added with greater empathy (for his branch type, that is) that his analysis showed that 57.67 per cent officers lost one or the other parent at my age and that if Naval Headquarters were to transfer all of them to New Delhi, it would be like opening an orphanage. Since then, I have never stopped marvelling at the first four letters of the word analysis.
It appears that the two great principles of life that P branch people follow as gospel truths are:
1. People can always learn on-job and anything at all. Hence, it won’t make any difference whether you put square pegs in round holes or vice-versa. P branch is like the other P business: Police, that is; the customer is always wrong.
2. No matter whatever wretched place you transfer people to, they will eventually get so used to it that they won’t like to be transferred out from the place they didn’t want to be transferred in to.
P branch people listen to so many stories that they become great story tellers themselves. The most efficient of them have five stories to tell for every one of yours. There was one who became the Chief of Personnel and he was a great story-teller. So, if you ever went to him telling how all hell had broken loose at your home or in the ship, he would, in great style, open his table-drawer, take out one of his self-published books named Stephen’s Violin or some other musical instrument. He would vouch for it that one reading and all your problems – whilst they may not go away – would become insignificant. The guy who told you how to get rid of your severe headache by hitting yourself hard on the toe with a hammer was certainly a P branch guy.
How can you make out a P branch guy? Do they have special insignia? No, nothing of that sort; they don’t need anything special; they are special. For one thing, they use the pronoun we in their speech very often; eg, “We are looking at your peculiar problem with your best interest in our mind. And soon (mentally thinking of one or two years), we will have it behind us (and then it becomes our successors’ problem!). Secondly, they are always invited for promotion (stripe-wetting) parties on two counts: one, they make it appear like they are somehow responsible for the poor guy’s promotion; and two, promotion entails transfer and it is in the hands of these worthies. So, keeping them in good humour at all times is the done thing.
Can you guess as to which is the word that they have adapted their life to? The word is called flux. So, they are very much in control if they can keep maximum people in a state of flux. Contented people don’t even remember God; however, discontented, dissatisfied, and distressed people remember their Maker and Appointer until the three d’s last. The P branch people, therefore, keep you thus until it becomes a habit with you to remember them. Do you remember the Jenson & Nicholson paints ad: whenever you see colour, think of us. It is the same with P branch people guys: whenever you are in __it, think of us.
What else do they do in Naval Headquarters other than keeping the entire naval community in a state of flux? Well, they attend meetings and conferences. So if you are in so much __it that you can’t breathe, and you are desperately phoning up your appointer, anticipating the nature of the __it you are in, he doesn’t take your call for the next several days, he being busy in a meeting or conference until the __it settles down on its own.
Your ship or establishment is down to barest minimum officers and now out of two that you have, one has been sent to Timbuktu, you don’t know how to sail your ship or run your establishment. You are desperately trying to raise ACOP (HRD) on phone but he is attending meetings or conferences or both in India or/and abroad. Finally, when you get to him after ten sunrises and sunsets, the very first thing that he tells you is this: “Oh, please don’t tell me about manpower shortages”; as if, being ACOP (HRD) the only reasonable thing to discuss with him would be the state of underwater hull or firing rates of ship’s main weapons.
The P branch Johnnies have perfected the art of poking fun at all and sundry. For almost four decades when I was in the Navy, year after year, a P branch team would visit the Commands and give presentations on ACRs or Annual Confidential Reports. Besides PJs on pen – pictures such as “He would go far; the farther the better”, they would bring out hilarious mismatches between the pen-pictures and PP (Promotion Potential) points or vice-versa. If you ever sat in the front few rows during these presentations, you had no choice but to laugh appreciatively lest they should notice your lack of enthusiasm at their brilliant humour and transfer you to Timbuktu or neglect giving you or your ship’s officers and sailors their due awards and honours. By the way, there is hardly any officer appointed to P branch who hasn’t conferred upon himself an award during his tough tenure.
Changing Personnel Policies as frequently as Imelda M used to change her shoes is part of the flux plan that I discussed earlier. The joke going around in P branch is that when a senior officer retires or is transferred from the branch, during his farewell party, they handover to him all his policies as a farewell gift.
Two anecdotes about them before I close. One, there was this Flight Commander on Himgiri who had always been writing his first choice of transfer as Port Blair knowing pretty well that that effectively kept him from being transferred there. One fine day his transfer actually came to Port Blair because his appointer – hold your breath – took pity on him. He cursed and cursed.
Then there was this case of Jaggi Bedi who was CO Ranvir at that time (he retired as a Vice Admiral and C-in-C West), attending a Combined Fleet party on Ganga in Kochi after a theatre level exercise. For about half an hour after the party started we bemoaned that no stewards came our way with either drinks or small-eats. JSB too was upset. But afterwards we noticed that a bevy of stewards stood around him with drinks and eats. We enquired from him the cause of this quick and welcome transformation. He said that having got fed up, he let it slip out that his next appointment, after handing over command of Ranvir, was to be DOP (Director of Personnel). And then the drinks and eats started flowing.
P branch people are the modern-day Pied Pipers.
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