Like Keats’ quote about Beauty being his most famous quote, similarly, the most famous quote of William Shakespeare, the 16th century poet and playwright (the greatest in English literature) is:
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
It was in his most famous play: Romeo and Juliet.
Neither Keats nor Shakespeare served in the armed forces. If they had, they would have known that any discussion on names is Much Ado About Nothing or in simpler (armed forces) words: Just hot gas.
After retirement, I met many a sailor, especially when I had to interview them about jobs in Reliance (wherein I had a job myself). They would tell me about the ships that they served on. In order to get the dates right, frequently I would ask them about the names of their Captains. Guess what? Most of them would remember their Captains as “Captains” and tell me many things about him, except the name; eg, “Our Captain was a very kadak (tough) man but, Sir, dil bahut hi saaf (Very clear heart)”. With that description, they would hope that I would know who he was. Bill Shakespeare would have probably called it ‘Comedy of Errors’, but, I having similar background as the sailors, straightway understood.
You fondly remember many people in the armed forces not by the names their parents gave but how you called them when you served with them. For sailors, a Captain is a God and you don’t start calling God names!
As Signal Communication Officer, the first ship I served on was INS Talwar (the old Whitby class anti-submarine frigate that we had got from the British but later converted by Indian innovation (jugaad) into an SSM (Ship to Ship Missiles) capable platform by retrofitting four P15 missiles from the OSA-M missile boats (the ones that attacked Karachi on 04 Dec 1971 in the most daring surprise attack anywhere in the world) on to the ship).
Ship’s Engineer Officers are called EOs on smaller ships (frigates and below) and Cdr Es on larger ships (destroyers and above). EO, on a ship, is normally assisted by a relatively junior engineering officer called ‘Senior Engineer’, affectionately referred to as ‘Senior’. ‘Senior’ is generally the officer who you would call for various reasons ranging from ‘ship making black smoke’ (not healthy for engines as well as a give-away) to ‘fresh water having not been opened in bathrooms even for ten minutes’.
We had this ‘Senior’ on board, who, after leaving the ship, got transferred to New Delhi. He was even more affectionate than most. I was going to pass through New Delhi during my next leave and hence planned to meet him there. I told him on the phone (landline) my arrival details. He, of course, came to receive me at the railway station and we went to his house.
Dinner was to be late (when two former shipmates meet, dinner has to be late in order to give Hercules XXX Rum a chance; else, it goes waste and armed forces can ill afford wasteful expenditure of anything). All throughout, I kept calling him ‘Senior’.
At about midnight, when the rum-to-blood level, in our bodies, was suitably restored to our former days, ‘Senior’ had a brain wave and asked me, “Sir, I left Talwar more than seven months ago. Why are you still calling me ‘Senior’? You can call me by my name now”.
I was startled. I thought and thought and thought and was surprised that ‘Senior’ wasn’t his ‘actual name’ and then told him the truth, “But, ‘Senior’, I don’t really recall your name.”
By that time, we were called by his wife for dinner.
Next day, he drove me to the railway station (to catch my onward train to Kalka) and when the train was about to leave, he handed me a slip of paper. I opened the slip and there it was, his name: SK Sharma!
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