Submariners are a class apart. They are cooler than the arctic ice that you saw in the movie Ice Station Zebra in which Rock Hudson played Commander James Ferraday, Captain of the US attack submarine USS Tigerfish. Some of you who saw the movie would recall that the movie was ostensibly about rescuing British personnel on a drifting ice weather station in the arctic but actually about a classified intelligence mission. There was this scene in the movie when Commander Ferraday welcomes ‘Mr. Jones‘, the British intelligence agent on board by telling him, “Here on this boat, we are very informal. Everyone is known by his first name. My first name is ‘Captain’.” How cool that sounded. Well, submariners are like that.
Before they join the branch, there is a special psychology and psychiatrist test for them to qualify; for, if they ain’t the cool type, amongst other attributes, they can commit fatal mistakes in the closed confines of a submarine (In the F class of submarines, for example, the sailor on watch in the DG compartment didn’t have space enough to stand erect). Our famous tall submariner is Admiral VS Shekhawat. His bunk was extended by more than a foot on the submarine so that he could at least sleep properly. He was my CO on a ship and he was cooler than any cucumber.
Anyway, I hope you got the point about the submariners being the coolest of the cats.
What do all of us in the Navy do when we are not at sea? You would expect us to be enjoying life (“Coolex” as the navy men say it; the suffix ‘ex’ is used for exercises. Hence, TACEX would be a tactical exercise. In the same manner, ‘Coolex‘ would mean an exercise in cooling one’s heels!) or twiddling our thumbs. Far from it. Half of us are busy writing reports of the exercises done at sea (most of us return ashore bleary-eyed since the naval authorities are convinced that the time at sea is very costly for the nation and every minute must be made use of). The other half is given to such tasks as the ones ashore should have been doing but being overworked, they have to reluctantly pass it on to the people on the ships after they have enjoyed themselves doing nothing at sea.
One of the tasks given to me when I was commanding my boat Vipul was to conduct a Board of Inquiry into circumstances leading to an Assistant Logistic Officer (ALO) by the name of Lieutenant Devgun having walked away with Rupees 33 Lakhs from the accounts of the Submarine Base in Mumbai (COMCOS (West)). I was one of the members (a BoI normally has three members including the President). Our President was then Captain (later Rear Admiral) Kochhar, CO of the carrier Vikrant. And then we had a Logistic Officer, Commander Anand, who had all rules and regulations concerning accounts at the back of his hand.
To complete the background, I must mention that the rear wall of any BoI and Court Martial room has to have a picture of the President of India in his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces.
As we commenced the BoI, we realised that the cool submariners had left everything to the super cool Devgun. The Logistic Officer, Devgun’s immediate boss, for example, had become an expert at solving crosswords since he totally trusted his assistant Devgun to handle accounts, cash, money warrant, ledgers, and locking unlocking of the money safe held in his personal custody. All the others in the Base were equally cool about trusting Devgun with even surprise muster of accounts. He not just maintained Imprest Account but others, busy as they were, coolly disposed off even the handling of their Non-Public Fund accounts to him. The more we went into their coolness, the more we realised that anything and everything had been left to the man with a gun and the Hindi name for god in his name.
Indeed, the President of the BoI mentioned during one of the tea-breaks conjectured as to why couldn’t they have madee him the COMCOS (Commodore Commanding Submarines) since Devgun virtually did everything as a Lieutenant; and, he had risen to this rank from being a sailor?
More and more skeletons came out of the submariners’ cupboards as we took up one thread or the other. As an example, lets say there was a party at the Submarine Base. Who do you think did the local purchase of things required for the party? Well, you have easily guessed it; the cool submariners’ most trusted officer Devgun did it and made underhand money there too (as if 33 Lakh rupees (a huge sum during those days) wasn’t enough). Finally, we decided that we would have to restrict the scope of the BoI since it was otherwise becoming gargantuan with no end in sight. We informed the command headquarters accordingly.
One day, one of the witnesses (a woman) brought out that Devgun was also running a Chit Fund with the promise of making everyone rich. Whilst her evidence was being recorded, we had a tea-break. During the tea-break, the President enquired from the lady stenographer given to us to record the proceedings (in shorthand) (she was a steno at the submarine base itself) about this Chit Fund. She mentioned that many women employees of the Base had given him money for the Chit Fund so as to become rich. She also shyly suggested that many had even illicit relations with him.
On an impulse, the President BoI asked her if she too had lent money to him for the Chit Fund. She lowered her eyes and nodded.
After she went out, the President asked if we should remove the President’s picture from the rear wall and put up that of Devgun because he was the only one who had succeeded in even making women to pay for the fun he had.
After months of the BoI, once, by sheer accident, Devgun was caught and they put him in custody in a cell whilst awaiting court-martial. It is customary to put the personnel from the same unit as guards as well as officers to keep a watch and so the cool submariners guarded Devgun in sharp contrast to how he used to guard their interests in the past.
After being in the cell for a day or two, he mentioned to the cool officer on duty that both he and the officer could take a break and paint the town red. His I-Card and wallet were hence given back to him by this cool officer and as promised, Devgun took him to the apartment of a woman of ill repute. She lived on a higher floor in a multi-story building. Devgun handed over his I-Card, wallet and gold-chain etc to the officer waiting down there in his jeep whilst he went to have fun (as John Milton famously said: They also serve who sit in the jeep and wait). After 30 minutes or so Devgun emerged and told the officer that she was waiting for him. So now it was the turn of the officer to give him his I-Card, wallet etc whilst he (the officer) too went to taste the paradise.
That was the last that was seen of Devgun!
Kya Cool Hain Hum?!
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