It was to be our first transfer out of Bombay after marriage and that too to Naval Headquarters in New Delhi. We had nightmares of packing and unpacking even though we hadn’t got much (Please also read: ‘Giving Away Memories’).
With the kind of ‘packing-sense’ that comes to ‘faujis‘ almost naturally, I told my wife only to look after our sons, three-year old and six months old and that I would do everything. We ‘faujis‘ are really good at it and we divide the entire work into easily manageable phases, as we do with wars and battles: the Planning Phase, the Preparation Phase, the Execution Phase, and finally the Aftermath.
The ‘packing-sense’ that descends upon us from heavens tells us that we should have black wooden boxes with our names prominently painted in white together with our rank. This same ‘sense’ tells us that boxes are to be serially numbered. It also goads us to buy locks for the boxes with numbers of the corresponding boxes painted on them. All keys are to have stickers on them with numbers corresponding to boxes and locks.
Gods are fond of ‘faujis‘ and this ‘packing-sense’ that they give us also tells us to first plan and then prepare boxes with list of contents of each noted in a notebook. I mean, we ‘faujis‘ are a very systematic lot. With a sense of pride (another thing about ‘faujis‘ is that whether or not we have money and other worldly possessions, we have abundance of ‘pride’) I then told my wife the essential difference between ‘faujis‘ and civilians: we do everything in orderly fashion. I explained to her that whereas a civilian in a new station would be trying by hit-and-trial to locate, say, a gas-lighter, a ‘fauji‘ would tell you precisely that it is in Box No. 38, left hand top of the box.
My wife was impressed. Who wouldn’t be?
Finally, we landed up in New Delhi and the baggage fetched up within two days, having been despatched by railway container. Just as the battle plans and preparations last only up to the first shot being fired, now all my plans went for a six. We hadn’t got a house, not even a temporary shelter. The railways were very helpful (they always are). They told me that for each day of my failing to receive my baggage, I would have to pay exponentially increasing demurrage. Finally, after running from pillar to post (one activity that keeps us ‘faujis‘ fit and fine), I could manage an outhouse in Kotah House Naval Officers Mess. In the days of the Rajah of Kotah, his retinue staff used to stay in those erstwhile ‘servants’ quarters’. In order to keep the servants in good humour, these were called ‘outhouses’ rather than ‘servants’ quarters’; they had just one room with a covered verandah each at the back and front.
When the railway container arrived, we faced problem similar to the conductors of Madhya Pradesh buses plying between Mhow and Indore; viz, how to adjust 300 plus passengers in a 42 seater bus. The labourers were perspiring and agitating about our quickly finding place for our boxes. Finally, we had them stacked up all around the two beds in the room and some in the verandahs. And off they went after receiving their money and bakhshees for wasting their time with our indecision.
We got food from the mess for the first three days but soon made a discovery (‘faujis‘ are born Christopher Columbses) that unless we started cooking etc we would land up with fat bills that we could ill afford.
And that’s where elaborate packing came in handy! We knew which boxes exactly had gas stove, utensils, gas lighter etc. But, there was a major problem. Those boxes were stacked at the bottom or middle of stacks that, if moved, would bring down the entire stack like a house of cards. In any case, I estimated that it would require more efforts to bring them out and open them than Atlas did in holding up the sky that he was condemned to do.
So, finally, this ‘systematic fauji‘ with all his elaborate planning, preparation and execution went about buying afresh everything that his wife required after satisfying himself that the required item were in such and such boxes that were lying at the bottom of the stack.
Aftermath: It is not such a bad thing having two of everything! In any case, I am a Gemini!
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