Now that I have joined the Veterans’ community six years ago (We wear a badge to that effect in all our gatherings; we in the armed forces have always taken badges so seriously that many of us gave up our lives to earn two inches of ribbon and a badge (medal)), I find that not only that ailments are a constant companion with most of us, talking about our ailments is an irresistible hobby.

Here is how two Veterans meet:

Veteran 1 (heartily): Nice to see you, buddy (it is almost an exclamation at finding him still alive).
Veteran 2 (equally heartily): Nice to see you too, ole chap (“I am also stunned that you can still be seen”).
Veteran 1 (coming straight to the important issue): So how is your gall-bladder these days? (This in the tone of one inquiring about a close family member).
Veteran 2 (wistfully, as if missing the loss): I had it removed. How is your Psoriasis?
Veteran 1 (as if talking about a pet dog): Behaving. I have to keep visiting Asvini. But, it is great fun meeting all the old friends there.

Veterans are at, what the author James Michener used to call as, the age of metal; that is, silver in their hair, gold in their teeth, and lead in their walk (though James used a more disparaging term).

Hence, whatever be the original topic of discussion between them, it is dexterously steered to the most significant issue of ailments and solutions. I am reporting an actual conversation (the names ain’t actual):

Veteran A: I heard the good news about your daughter Nalini getting married last month.
Veteran B: Yeah, she and Vikas are quite happily settled in the USA.
Veteran A: USA is the place to be. What does Vikas do?
Veteran B: He is a doctor.
Veteran A: A doctor, is it? Somehow the best of our doctors have all gone abroad. The other day I went to Asvini to see a urologist; this b—-r didn’t know his ass from his elbow and I had gone all the way from Kandivli to see him.
Veteran B: You are telling me? I had gone to get medicines for my cardiac condition and this chap was simply clueless. On top of that, at the ECHS clinic they didn’t have the requisite medicines after making me – a cardiac patient – wait in the queue for over an hour.
Veteran A: Ahh ECHS. They never have the medicines and the guys there talk so rude too. I keep telling them, “Wait till you retire beta; then you will know“.

ECHS or Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme is the second most favourite topic with us. Gone are the days when we used to be fitness freaks and talk at length about climbing this hill or that or trekking or going for cross-country runs. Earlier, our contribution towards our post-retirement health was to pay in advance for the treatment. Now, it is to go from pillar to post fetching medicines.

In the Annual General-body Meetings (AGMs) of the Navy Foundation, just about the only agenda items are those related to ECHS. It appears that happiness is spelt with a capital E; the moment we have sorted out all our ECHS problems, this bird called Happiness would sit on our window-sill and tweet our favourite tunes. Have a look at one of the AGMs in progress with this singular agenda point in various garbs:

In AGM after AGM we listen intently to how "in the near future" our ECHS problems would be sorted out.
In AGM after AGM we listen intently to how “in the near future” our ECHS problems would be sorted out.

With all our focus on medical and ECHS issues, one would feel that most veterans would look frail and ailing and as the saying goes one foot in the grave and other on a banana peel. Surprisingly, the number of octogenarians honoured every year during the AGMs is rather large:

(Octogenarians of 2015 AGM with the Navy Foundation (Mumbai) office-bearers.
(Octogenarians of 2015 AGM with the Navy Foundation (Mumbai) office-bearers.

Perhaps all the running around to get ECHS and medical issues sorted out and to obtain the treatment and medicines actually keeps them fit! They fully deserve the memento that’s given to them:

Memento given to honour the octogenarians.
Memento given to honour the octogenarians.

This year the AGM was held in Lonavala. At the end of energetically discussing all the ECHS problems, our dedicated and forever witty Secretary informed the members that there is indeed good news: the Command Headquarters have informed the Navy Foundation that they would send a wreath (free of cost) for any veteran kicking the bucket and in case he is a gallantry award winner, then a bugle would be sent to play at his funeral. Needless to say this brought unrestricted smile to the faces of all veterans. Wow, a wreath and (in the case of lucky ones) a bugle!

If you see in the picture ladies smiling more than the men, it is because they would actually hear the bugle!
If you see in the picture ladies smiling more than the men, it is because they would actually get to hear the bugle!

Life in the armed forces, for the veterans, was full of challenges and joys. Life after the armed forces is still full of challenges and joys. However, the most welcome and joyous part of the armed forces, as laid out for us, is death ushered in with flowers and bugles.

© 2016, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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  1. Lovely article

    Mum (and Dad when he was alive ) has always experienced courtesy, warmth and even friendship from Command Hospital Air Force and the ECHS Polyclinic… She has even written letters of appreciation to AVM Behl when Dad passed away…
    The happiest memories for my daughter are in 2014 when my dad lay in the Offr’s Ward dying of Cancer… The number of friends the then little one made … They even had a party for her when one of the Offrs was discharged…

    We used to visit the Nursing Officers at the Ward even after my Dad’s Demise…

    The Commandant used to visit the indomitable old soldier daily… My dad who never ever complained even when his Right Jawbone was surgically removed…

    Imagine this scenario in a commercial private hospital…Haha!!!😊😊😊

    1. Too good Arun. We have a good thing going and we know it. When I was in RIL, I was entitled to best private medical treatment. When I encountered the forever greedy interests of the civil doctors, I thanked God for having given us the armed forces doctors who are genuinely concerned about our condition. But, crib we must!

  2. Hilarious as usual Ravi. The meeting at ECHS PC is like meeting in Amar circulating library in NOFRA mkt Bombay. Must change the name to VCHS. Reduce discussions in AGMs for a while. New initials take some time to sink, especially for proverbial cribbers.

    1. Thank you Vijayasarthy Sir. VCHS! Ha, ha. One thing that can be said about most of us is that neither cribbing nor sense of humour has left us. And the reward? Well, flowers and bugle await us!

  3. Vow Ravi – got me into splits! One good thing I did was manage a Bugle from MS a long time ago. Need to learn how to use it. Maybe I could play it and then jump into the coffin before you guys dump me into the hole !

    1. Thanks John for always being encouraging of my efforts. Viru has a bugle too and if that fails, he has a Bosun’s pipe. Take ECHS, ie, Extra Care of your Health and Serenity.