If you are amused at the title of this post being similar to the 17th century poet John Milton’s famous last line in the sonnet ‘When I Consider How My Light is Spent’, the similarity, I hasten to add, is intentional. As we go along, you will understand.

The business end of the navy is at sea and that is where you want to be; that’s where there is life, order, sanity and some justification for being what you are: a sea-warrior. However much you dislike, you can’t be at sea all the time and have to serve ashore some time or the other. And whilst ashore, you have to either serve at headquarters or deal with one. That’s the time you learn, if you are doing it for the first time, how different navy life can be; you acquire a totally different perspective and environment (Earlier, I have written two articles on the subject: ‘The Tail Wags The Dog And How!’ and ‘The Tail Wags The Dog And How! – Part II’)

Ten days ago, the Navy was in the news for having appointed a Flag Officer Delhi Area (FODA) without the consent of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). MoD, unlike what people think, is actually a fighting or combat organisation. It is at all times at war with the armed forces. Here, however, it patted itself on the back (something that it has mastered over years) for having caught the Navy on the wrong foot. The Navy justified the appointment, but, insisted that FODA is now to be called Flag Officer Administration:

“We required such an office as we are very soon going to start work on the construction of Nau Sena Bhawan which will be a big task and otherwise also, the workload had gone up quite considerably in the national capital,” senior Navy sources explained. (The pic on top is of the foundation stone laying ceremony on 20 Aug 14).

The tail is now considerably larger and the poor dog at sea (sea-dog) is ready to be wagged violently and continuously.

In the Naval Headquarters at New Delhi the phrase Navy is not a vocation but a way of life is not entirely reflective of the true picture; for most it is a nine-to-five office job. The gap between theory and practice there is even greater than between the peninsular India and the land-locked capital. One of my course-mates, for example, landed up at NHQ immediately after undergoing the Staff Course at DSSC, Wellington (Nilgiris). In the staff course, he was converted into a Sahib with such theoretical things as Whitehall system of filing and other norms of handling correspondence. At the end of his first day, as he approached me in my ramshackle office (I had joined about a year before him and hence knew my way around there), he had tears in his eyes. Let alone not being able to locate a single file as per the Whitehall system, he was unable to find a chair or table for himself.

They also serve who are in Naval Headquarters!

I remember how amused I myself was when I attended my first meeting at NHQ on the all important topic of ‘The use of Hemp ropes on board ships’. The meeting was to start at 2:30 PM immediately after lunch. By about 3 PM everyone had trickled in except Commander A Singh. The chairman of the meeting, a senior Commodore, waited for everyone without once losing his temper. On the ships, he would have taken everyone’s pants off for keeping him waiting even for five minutes. Now, here, he was just drumming his table and asking, “Should we wait for A Singh or start the meeting?” and the senior officers around him kept saying, “Lets wait for A Singh”. By 3:15 PM, the Commodore’s limit of patience had been reached and he said, “Lets not wait for A Singh anymore. Lets start the meeting. He can join in when he comes.” Everyone acquiesced with this decision. The Commodore began the meeting by welcoming everyone and then he asked for someone to read out the minutes of the last meeting. Everyone said that there was a problem here since the minutes had not been circulated by A Singh (In NHQ, I quickly learnt that the absent member is to be blamed for everything. After leaving the Navy, when I joined the corporate sector, once I attended a meeting in the North Block (the business end of the government; the MoD and the armed forces headquarters are in the South Block) on the issue of ‘Security of SBMs’ (Single Buoy Moorings; whereat great percentage of crude oil is received from VLCCs or Very Large Crude Carriers). The chairman kept saying that this security had been handed over to XYZ. No one had any objection to it. I was quick to notice that the XYZ representatives weren’t attending the meeting. When I pointed this out, it was explained to me that it was deliberate since if the XYZ reps were to attend the meeting, they would have serious objections to it; now, they would learn of the decision through the minutes of the meeting. Naturally, in Naval Headquarters, we quickly learn the ways of our civilian counterparts rather than making them learn our disciplined and orderly ways). After an hour of the meeting on the subject of ‘Use of hemp ropes on ships’ the meeting was called off since A Singh, the most important member of the meeting hadn’t arrived.

They also serve who are in Naval Headquarters!

If you are wondering what I alluded to by the ways of the civilians in the last paragraph, I would like to point out that these are not just to be seen at the top levels. At the ground level (almost all the secretarial staff in the directorates is civilians), it is to be seen to be believed. My office clerk, for example, vanished for 114 days without informing me and I had to do most of my typing myself. When I pointed this to the DOA (Directorate of Administration) guys, they said due to manpower shortages, no relief could be provided. How about taking action against the clerk? They said this would be possible when the clerk would report back on duty. There is never any urgency for anything at the headquarters; things get sorted out on their own.

What about the gallant sailors who do wonders on the ships, who produce results against all odds? Well, in Naval Headquarters, these are mostly from North Indian states who are on home or closer-to-home postings. They are, therefore, least likely to complain about anything even if asked to fetch canteen items or movie tickets.

If I have painted a somewhat dismal environment of Naval Headquarters, I hasten to correct the view that great and difficult things actually happen at the headquarters. Whilst the Navy at sea is only preparing or training to fight against the enemy, in Naval Headquarters, the guys are actually fighting to obtain things for the Navy from the Ministry or ministries. How important this exercise is can be made out from the awards and honours list: a large percentage of those serving in Naval Headquarters find their names in the list.

They also serve who are in Naval Headquarters!

A few years back, when I was still in the Navy, the citation of a Commodore for Nausena Medal (Devotion to Duty) actually read that: “He obtained sanction for ‘ABC’ from the ministry against all odds, thereby accomplishing something beyond the ordinary call of duty.”

The Navy is a combat service, indeed; the MoD ensures we stay that way.

© 2016, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

You may also like