The story so far:
In Part I, Episode I of this post I described to you that I was made the Naval Liaison Officer (NLO) of Merchant Vessel Nancowry which was part of the Amphibious Task Force (ATF) given the task of taking the army personnel and wherewithal for an Amphibious Assault on Carnicobar from the port of Vizag in Andhra Pradesh. My team had tough time during the midnight embarakation of army personnel.
Nancowry was hardly the luxury liner that one reads about or sees in the movies. It had countless portholes. It was tough time for my team and I to instill discipline in hundreds of jawans to keep them closed so that no light would show outside. It appeared to me that CATF (Commander Amphibious Task Force) staff and AFC (Amphibious Force Commander) staff had nothing else to do in the night but to keep making urgent signals to Nancowry to darken ship immediately. And no sooner that my staff would succeed in closing one particular porthole pointed out by AFC that another would open. By the morning, in this Porthole Test Match, the Army had won 127 – 82 to the Navy represented by my staff of just five. We didn’t even know which porthole had light showing through it until we would get a nasty signal. Significantly, in my report post the Amphex, I did mention that in the next Amphex the Navy need to get vessels without any portholes. Saawan me andhe ko hara hi hara dikhaayi deta hai(the one who becomes blind in monsoons sees only greenery). Likewise, I associate Amphex with portholes.
My team and I managed to get about 2 hours of sleep each in the wee hours of morning.
If we had this complaint against the Army about the portholes discipline or lack of it, their list of complaints ran into hundreds of pages. If portholes were to be kept closed then messes were stuffy, was one of them. The others ranged from cooking standards, shortage of water and not having to do anything worthwhile at sea.
I had another three days and nights to go before we would reach Carnicobar, our place of amphibious assault. And I reckoned that I had to think fast so that the rest of the time on board won’t be as miserable as the first night.
But, who should I turn to for advice? Captain Kabina, the master of the MV Nancowry was a former Commander of the Indian Navy and that too from my branch: Communication. However, till as long as his ship was chartered to the Indian Navy, for operational purposes, he was to be under my orders as per the Navy Act. Hence, turning to him for advice in an operational matter was ruled out.
The only other person to turn to was Commodore Mukherjee, the AFC. I raised him on the walkie-talkie. One of the difficulties of naval communications is that with the signalese perfected over a period of time, one is never able to convey one’s emotions properly, even if one is on walkie – talkie. It is not like a wife telling a husband, “Sunate ho jee, Bunty ne phir aaj apani nicker phaad di; main to tang aa gayi hoon usake kapade seete seete. Mera sir phata jaa raha hai. (Are you listening? Bunty has again torn his shorts; I am tired of mending his clothes. I have a splitting headache”. Naval communications, on the other hand, go something like this:
One Alpha, this is Charlie Six: Over
This is One Alpha Over, what is the trouble? Over.
(You want to tell him that the trouble is not over but only just begun; but you control your emotions, the unnecessary part of naval communications)
This is Charlie Six: Sir, how to keep the pongoes (naval slang for army personnel) busy? Over.
Charlie Six, this is One Alpha: Find a way. I repeat: find a way. Over and out.
Some of the departmental sailor chiefs who have approached their departmental officers for specific instructions to sort out vague problems have often returned with the age-old order, “Carry on, Chief Saab”. I was stunned that the AFC had subjected me to similar treatment. Urdu poets of yore had wonderful couplets for this situation; one juicy one being:
“Unase mil kar badhi aur dil ki khalish,
Guftugoo bhi hui khaamoshi ki tarah”
(A tryst with her increased the anxiety of my heart,
Discussion took place like total silence)
The inventor of a location or position called Square One must have been happy to see me occupying the position after my guftugoo with the AFC. But, the fact is that one cannot spend one’s life in Square One; one has to move on. I thought and thought and thought and came up with options I had. And finally it hit me like a bolt from the blue. I issued out orders regarding the routine of the day from Hands Call to Pipe Down with Morning and Evening PT (Physical Training) thrown in, in good measure.
It was nice to see hundreds of jawans, NCOs and JCOs and officers lining up the upper decks twice a day and sweating it out to the whistle of our PTI. In an earlier article, I had written how a good haircut is seen to solve most naval problem (Please read ‘Cut, Cut, Cut…..’). Now, a few good rounds of PT at sea solved the following problems:
1. Coming on the upper decks helped jawans to fill up air in their lungs and hence portholes could be kept closed at night.
2. The strenuous (at sea it is strenuous to do these things since one has to do so countering the rolling and pitching of the ship) exercises built up appetites and they attacked their food without complaining (hungry souls hardly complain about quality of cooking).
3. They had something to keep themselves busy at sea. Their officers added their own drills and orders to keep them busy.
In the night, my walkie-talkie crackled again:
Charlie Six this is One Alpha: Over.
One Alpha this is Charlie Six: It is over Sir.
This is One Alpha: Good boy. Roger out.
Next day on the Bridge I wanted to ask senior communicator Captain Kabina how was it that whilst stressful emotions were scarcely conveyed over naval communication nets, feelings of elation were instantly communicated?
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