You might think that the title of the article suggests a movie shoot and a burly man sitting on his canvas folding chair shouting these three words through a megaphone, in the manner of a Muslim man shouting to his third (or whatever number) wife, “Talaaq, talaaq, talaaq“.
Well, you are as far away from what this post is about as you can get. This post is about the penchant for haircuts that the armed forces leadership has.
As far as armed forces are concerned, anything at all that needs to be done well requires a haircut – a smart haircut at that.
Lets say, for example, you are expecting a VIP to visit the ship. It is a 5000 Crores of latest destroyer with state of the art weapons and sensors to impress the VIP with. However, we sincerely feel that unless the ship’s company (crew) has a fresh crew-cut, the VIP is unlikely to be impressed. Or, lets say, we want to launch ourselves into Operation Prakaram, going the harm’s way, close to Makaran Coast. Nothing like a fresh haircut, we believe, to put us in the right mood and resolve. You can almost hear the Indian Naval force commander tell his men, “Alright gentlemen, lets tighten our girdles, keep our powder (gun-powder that is) dry and have a close haircut to teach the b——s a lesson.”
This sacred knowledge that wars can be won and success in anything can be achieved by simply having haircuts is passed down from generation to generation – like the gospel truth. It came my way when I was just an Acting Sub-Lieutenant (we acted our roles so well that soon Naval Headquarters finished with the rank itself; but, that’s another story) engaged in earning my watch-keeping certificate on board INS Himgiri. Rear Admiral MR Schunker was our Fleet Commander. The last time when men in his family had hair longer than half an inch was in the 17th century.
The C-in-C in the Western Naval Command was the legendary Vice Admiral Robert Louis Pereira. He was being transferred to Naval Headquarters as the Vice Chief and the Fleet was to give him two farewells: one in harbour with Guard of Honour and Parade and another at sea the traditional way. Parade and Guard rehearsals were being held every morning so that Ronnie (nickname for RL Pereira), as a hardcore gunner, won’t find a flaw. On the penultimate day the Fleet Commander himself was present on the Cruiser Wharf to satisfy himself that everything was ship-shape.
He inspected the Guard and to my horror and utter surprise declared that at least half the men in in the Guard required proper haircut. After the Fleet Commander left, these unfortunate men were lined up separately for their unthinkable misdemeanour of not having proper haircut. I went behind the line to have a look and nearly fainted after what I saw. These men were repeatedly given such crew-cuts in the last few days of the rehearsals that the barber would have to probably cut through their scalps to find any more hair.
However, I, a young subaltern, had learnt a valuable lesson about naval readiness states.
Until I left the Navy, this lesson never left me. The truth is that even after leaving the Navy, I associated haircuts with preparation for anything of import. Last to last year I got my son married. Whilst the rest of the family busied themselves in preparations for various functions of the wedding, my primary concern was to have a haircut so that I would look smart as the father of the bridegroom.
What a life we in the Navy lead? We always insist on having short haircuts and never value long hair. Therefore, for most of us, long hair abandon us at a certain age; a kind of hair-today-gone-tomorrow. We keep having haircuts until it is no longer necessary to have haircuts at a certain age.
Hence, whenever the ship’s company is gathered on the deck to read out Warrant of Punishment, it is preceded by a reading of relevant excerpt of the Navy Act 1957. The last line is invariably about haircuts; viz:
“…….or such other punishment as is hair-in-after mentioned….”
Everyone removes his cap at this stage and confirms that there is no hair-in-after.
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