To the best of my knowledge Henry Wadsworth Longfellow never visited A-Block Hutments, Dalhousie Road, New Delhi. For, if he had, he would have surely revised his famous lines:
“Dust thou are and to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.”
Those who served in A-Block Hutments had even their souls drenched in dust.
And to think that we in the Navy wore white uniforms in summers and black serge tunics and pants in the winters. Dust indeed showed more than our name tallies and hence our actual introduction. Monkeys outnumbered us ten to one. Whilst access was strictly controlled for us through rigorous identity checks, these simians entered and exited at will. Sometimes, honestly speaking, we envied the monkeys; they had more freedom of movement, for one thing.
I remember during those days there was a small news-item (I have kept the cuttting somewhere): Delhi administration had written to Himachal Chief Secretary asking him if the latter wanted a few thousand monkeys to be gifted to Himachal, free of cost. HP Chief Secy had responded, “No, thanks; we have enough of our own”.
DOT or Directorate of Tactics in Naval Headquarters occupied the ramshackle building, the first building next to the road named after James Andrew Broun-Ramsay, 1st Marquess of Dalhousie KT PC and known as The Earl of Dalhousie or simply Dalhousie, the erstwhile (early to mid nineteenth century) Governor General of India. Being from Himachal, when my father was posted in Chamba, we used to visit the Hill Station named after Earl of Dalhousie. It is a most picturesque and pleasant hill station. However, Dalhousie Road in New Delhi should make the Earl turn in his grave.
Most of the Tactics that we drafted out there are classified or highly classified. However, this one can be shared:
When I reported there, after the usual chat with my seniors, I asked them as to where my office was. One of them couldn’t control his laughter, whilst the others suddenly remembered that they had urgent file-notings to make. So, I came out and asked the office staff. They followed similar tactics, making me believe that everyone selected to be part of DOT was because of his/her strong ‘tactical acumen’. Finally, a kind hearted Petty Officer M Singh told me, “Sir, jahan aap ko achha lagta hai, wahin office bana leejiye” (Sir, wherever you see a good place, make it your office). I realised that in addition to ‘tactical acumen’, ‘innovation’ was called for.
Within a few days I managed to get a table and chair and ‘installed’ it in the verandah. If you notice the word ‘installed’ in inverted commas, I must explain. In the armed forces, we always use officious sounding lingo. For example, if you are doing the Middle Watch on the Bridge of a ship, and you have this sudden urge to have coffee, you don’t ask the Midshipman of the Watch to go fetch some. You invariably tell him, “Snotty, go and organise some coffee”. That makes him look important. (Now please don’t ask me what ‘Snotty’ means; look up on Google; else, I shall not be able to complete my story).
A visit to the Directorate of Administration (The Navy has now a Flag Officer Administration after the MoD objected to the Navy appointing a Flag Officer Delhi Area (FODA) without their approval) (Please read: ‘They Also Serve Who Are In Naval Headquarters’) got me some plywood with which I could cover the face of the verandah and lo and behold, I had an office! That got rid of the dust.
James Ivory and Ismail Merchant, unlike Longfellow and Dalhousie, surely seem to have visited A-Block Hutments for they named their 1983 movie ‘Heat and Dust’ that starred, amongst others, Shashi Kapoor and tabla-maestro Zakir Hussain. Hence, after getting rid of the ‘dust’ (somewhat), I had to now tackle the ‘heat’.
A hole was made in one of the plywood sheets and a desert-cooler (an appropriate name for where I was) was installed. It felt like paradise; somewhat similar to how the best cuisine in the world doesn’t seem as tasty as the omelette you make yourself.
This entire process took about one year but, you should have seen the transformation in me. Here I was, in Naval Headquarters and within a year of my being in A-Block Hutments, I had an office to myself!
‘Tactical acumen’ and ‘innovation’ helped. I got a name plate made: LtCdr RPS Ravi, ADOT (Coord) and for the next one year I basked in self glory.
When I left for my staff course after that, having won an award there (seriously, no jokes; I will tell you about it shortly; in the next Part), I felt like singing:
तूने तिनका-तिनका चुन कर, नगरी एक बसाई
बारिश में तेरी भीगी काया, धूप में गरमी छाई
ग़म ना कर जो तेरी मेहनत तेरे काम ना आई
अच्छा है कुछ ले जाने से देकर ही कुछ जाना
चल उड़ जा रे पंछी …
Kuchh na kaho,
Kuchh bhi na kaho.
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