If you have read my ‘They Also Serve Who Are In Naval Headquarters’, you would remember how I clarified that even though you are in the Navy, you can’t be at sea all the time. You have to serve ashore too. And whilst ashore, you are either posted at headquarters or have to deal with one.
No one likes to serve in Naval Headquarters, but sometimes you have no choice. You might have been a Commanding Officer of a ship, regarding yourself as God or even a C-in-C, one up than God too, whose fine taste in everything was admired by the entire command, in Naval Headquarters you are just a staff officer pushing and receiving something called files.
My first and only brush (thank God for that) with Naval Headquarters was in the rank of a Lt.Commander. In a down-to-earth (literally) manner, I was posted in the newly formed Directorate of Tactics: DOT (Mohan Ram Sir, an eminent writer on my Facebook group called ‘Humour In And Out Of Uniform’ would have, with enough justification, christened it as Directorate of Triviality; since that’s what Tactics sound to many but fortunately it wasn’t formed during his time). Down-to-earth was because the directorate was situated in what was called A-Block Hutments and ‘earth’ was all around and over you in its avatar called ‘dust’.
Commodore Ravi Sikka landed up as our director. Having been in command of an indigenously designed and constructed frigate Nilgiri, prior to his appointment at NHQ, it was quite a come down to be at A-Block Hutments. He was the last word in Tactics and was the original author of INFIs (Indian Naval Fighting Instructions). He was with computers, mathematical calculations, algorithms and probabilities even before most people had heard of them.
However, what he was not prepared for was the way of doing things at Naval Headquarters in general and A-Block Hutments in particular. During the first meeting that he had with all of us in his office, he asked me (the junior most) to arrange for some tea. I went out, gave instructions to Gullu (the tea-boy) and came back. Now on his ship, Cmde Ravi Sikka must have been used to tea being served by the steward wearing spotless white gloves and in the finest porcelain. So, when Gullu entered with cups (without saucers) of all hues and shapes, threaded with his fingers through their handles; tea in an empty Hercules XXX rum bottle, and paper cuttings to keep the ‘besan’ on, Sikka Sir demurred and said we could have the ‘damned’ tea if we desired but he would not stoop so low. We dutifully had our tea and besan (sweet made from gram-flour, sugar and oil). The meeting finally got over and we left.
Commodore Sikka’s transformation into a NHQ seasoned officer took place, just like the initiation process for all of us, gradually as follows:
Day#4: “I finally had that ‘damned’ tea. It isn’t all that bad, you know” (we smiled at the ‘discovery’ of the new convert).
Day #7: “I say that ‘besan‘ is quite tasty. Looks like they make it well”.
Day #10: “Tea and ‘besan‘! What a combination! Puts life in you”.
Day #14: “Went for this meeting with DCNS in the morning. As soon as the meeting got over, I rushed back so that I won’t miss my tea and ‘besan‘”.
Naval Headquarters culture claimed another victim!
Officers may come and officers may go but Gullu goes on forever!
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