Today I attended my sixth Annual General Meeting and lunch of the Navy Foundation, Mumbai Chapter. Once again, I was reminded of this old song by Elton John titled ‘Talking Old Soldiers’. When you read the lyrics and at the end of it listen to Elton John sing the song, you would realise why I get reminded of this:
Why hello, say can I buy you another glass of beer
Well thanks a lot that’s kind of you, it’s nice to know you care
These days there’s so much going on
No one seems to want to know
I may be just an old soldier to some
But I know how it feels to grow old
Yeah that’s right, you can see me here most every night
You’ll always see me staring at the walls and at the lights
Funny I remember oh it’s years ago I’d say
I’d stand at that bar with my friends who’ve passed away
And drink three times the beer that I can drink today
Yes I know how it feels to grow old
I know what they’re saying son
There goes old man Joe again
Well I may be mad at that I’ve seen enough
To make a man go out his brains
Well do they know what it’s like
To have a graveyard as a friend
`Cause that’s where they are boy, all of them
Don’t seem likely I’ll get friends like that again
Well it’s time I moved off
But it’s been great just listening to you
And I might even see you next time I’m passing through
You’re right there’s so much going on
No one seems to want to know
So keep well, keep well old friend
And have another drink on me
Just ignore all the others you got your memories
You got your memories
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Elton John wrote the lyrics together with Bernie Taupin. Whilst the entire song has lyrics that invoke nostalgia and many old ‘faujis‘ would identify with these, here are some words that are said in regret:
No one seems to wants to know…
That’s what happens when you retire from the armed forces. You join a wonderful territory called Oblivion where no one disturbs you. You are by yourself.
We are having an endless debate in the media and elsewhere about something called OROP (One Rank One Pension). As usual, both political fronts, ie, NDA (led by BJP) and UPA (led by Congress) are vying with each other to bring out, rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly, I am sure) how the other front has been responsible for the delay in implementing this for the last many decades. Horrible jokes and cartoons are going around. One of these is about a veteran going through a graveyard and suddenly held by his leg by a hand coming out of the grave and a ghostly voice asking, “OROP aa gaya kyaa?” (Has the OROP (finally) arrived?)
Veterans in my Facebook Group called ‘Humour In And Out Of Uniform’ (HIAOOU) routinely bring out how soldiers are respected in every other country except in India wherein everyone pays lip-service but leaves them in their exclusive territory ‘Oblivion‘.
With this background, lets take stock of yet another AGM of the Navy Foundation; I am sure it is like any other ‘Talking Old ‘Faujis‘ Forum. We didn’t touch the OROP since adequate heat is already being generated about it elsewhere; I believe the Energy companies are seriously contemplating whether they can light up a few cities by converting such heat into electricity. Our most important issue was another four letter acronym called ECHS (Ex-servicemen Contributory Health Scheme); this joke brings us as much mirth as OROP. Indeed, whilst pensioners post 2006 are indeed a happy lot as compared to pre-2006 period, ECHS is one issue that has all of us as hapless victims. ECHS brings home the sad fact to all of us that there are Rules and Regulations and beyond them more Rules and Regulations and beyond them more. The other ‘R’ that you are looking for: ‘Relief’, that is, is lost in these other R’s and R’s. There are experts who have figured out some of these rules and regulations. For others, ECHS rules and regulations act as an index of the health of the ex-servicemen; if you can figure out majority of these, you are fit and do not require any treatment!
Every AGM starts with ECHS and ends with ECHS. The future is bright. Once all the empanelment is complete and the latest R’s and R’s implemented, ECHS would start being beneficial and less tedious, if not downright insulting. Officers who are still in service and somewhat responsible for ECHS invariably assure us that they are doing everything within their means to ensure ECHS becomes effective. However, as veterans we must understand that one, nothing is in their hand and two, whatever little powers they had to purchase medicines have also been usurped by the bureaucrats by a latest order dated 30th April 2015.
Where is humour in this? Well, it is in the fact that about ten of the veterans were given mementoes for having become octogenarian. This means that despite the inadequacies of ECHS veterans do live long. Perhaps the long wait for OROP doesn’t let them go. Many veterans would have become seriously ill but knowing that they would then be at the mercy of ECHS keeps them feeling fit.
What are the other earth-shaking issues of the Talking Old ‘Faujis‘? Here is a really important one (Ha!Ha!): Auto-rickshaws should be allowed by patients visiting ECHS clinics right up to the clinics and not stopped at the gate! This point would be discussed with the Command authorities to understand their point of view and if possible be implemented in due course of time.
Another very significant (Ha!Ha!) point was brought out that to call widows of ex-servicemen as widows is rather demeaning and the veterans must think of a more respected word to describe their status! Someone suggested ‘Wives of Late Veterans’. This was seriously contested by some veterans who arrived late for the AGM and had missed most of the proceedings. They said they weren’t always late but hadn’t reckoned for the traffic conditions. Hence, to single them out for reproach wasn’t called for! Over drinks, I made a suggestion that Hinglish could be used to describe the widows of veterans. Since the retired officer is called Veteran; perhaps his widow could be called Veterani.
The best point of the AGM was a gem indeed:
The venerable secretary of the Navy Foundation announced that arrangements have been worked out with the Command that when a veteran conks off, two sailors in uniform would be deputed by the Command to lay wreath on his/her mortal remains; and, in case he/she is a gallantry award winner, the Command would arrange for a Guard of Honour at his/her funeral.
The ‘R’ of Relief that eludes the ECHS has finally been provided in the form of a wreath and bugle at the death of a veteran.
There was a Ghazal Singer who sang during the drinks and lunch. Most ‘Talking Old ‘Faujis’ however preferred the sound of guzzle (of beer and gin) rather than of ghazal.
We await the next AGM and Annual Lunch for more of ‘Talking Old ‘Faujis‘. We are secure in our knowledge that at least we have earned a flower-wreath after decades of being in the Navy. My former CO on Ganga used to say, “In the Navy, brickbats travel upwards; bouquets travel downwards.” After thirty years, I understood what he was trying to say.
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