Lets face it, the guys (or girls or whosoever) who designed uniforms for the armed forces, did a smart job of it and rejected our heritage of combat in dhoti, langote, lungi and the like. Guru Gobind Singh was the first one to signal departure from d.l.l. and the like in his army that fought the mughals and directed the Khalsa to assimilate five Ks so as to have smart turnout in battle.
Lets also face it, you can’t be in uniform throughout, certainly not on Sundays when you want to relax. That’s the time when some of us return to our roots or d.l.l. and let it all hang down or up, depending upon what we are wearing. Of course there is a joke – now hackneyed – of this Punjabi in his vest and one of the Ks on a sunday but still sporting a neck-tie. When asked about the strange combination, he replied with aplomb that the former was for relaxing on a sunday and the latter just in case some guests came visiting.
Seeing an officer in d.l.l. can be a very comical sight especially if you are accustomed to seeing him in smart naval uniform and especially if he is an officer much senior to you. One can imagine that with one small item missing from the uniform such as name-tally or tag, one can earn a rebuke of “being naked on parade”. Hence, a man in dhoti or lungi without shirt and footwear would be much closer to being undressed.
My better half has all the good qualities of being a good naval wife except that she can’t make out one rank from the other (Please also see: ‘Married To The Mob‘). Her difficulty, such as the way it is, is multiplied manifold if the officer is not in uniform. Her good qualities include being very social otherwise and always able to help out the neighbourhood with whatever is required to make life amiable and comfortable.
Hence, when a new officer and family shifted in our neighbourhood, Lyn put on her Girl Scout’s act and knocked at their door to ask if we could do anything to make their shifting in our neighbourhood easier. She returned after a while red-faced and said that she was very embarrassed. My probing brought out that she had knocked at the door and their servant in lungi and vest opened the door and she asked him, “Sahib aur mem-sahib ghar mein hain kyaa?” (“Are the sahib and mem-sahib at home?”) and this servant responded, “Tell me what can I do for you, lady?”
A Navy man, with his brother officer slighted (to be thought of as a servant because he was dressed in lungi and vest), doesn’t take very kindly to the lack of respect for rank prevalent amongst people. Therefore, I let her have it for her inability to recognise an officer just because he wasn’t in uniform. I told her that it took ages to have the air of an officer and uniform only added to the demeanour that is so typical. “Shame on you”, I concluded, “For having been a navy officer’s wife for seven long years and still not being able to read the tell-tale signs of an officer.”
She was taken aback by my strong reaction. However, I felt that like any other officer worth his salt, I must send a signal to take officers and their ranks seriously.
That same evening there was an electric supply failure in our building. Like any other Indian faced with this frequent situation, I looked out of the window and found that other buildings had lights. During those days I was a telly fan and my favourite programme was to start in fifteen minutes. We didn’t have a residential telephone (I was only a Commander whereas such perks as residential telephones and staff-cars were given to only Commodores and above). Hence, I went to the neighbour’s and phoned up the MES complaints Room. Fifteen minutes later the TV programme would have started and yet there was no sign of the MES Electrician. Hence, once again I went to the neighbour’s house to make another call to him. I had to repeat this another three times at fifteen minutes intervals. The MES man kept saying that he would reach our building any time; however, he was more difficult to sight than the moon is for those ladies who keep a fast for Kadwa Chauth. With each phone call, I would lose my temper more and more until I was competing with those who had etched their names in golden letters (or is it bloody letters?) in the list of those who had touched absolute rock bottom in losing temper.
A little later I was hit by Tsunami of a brain wave though nobody had heard of Tsunami at that time (indeed anything Japanese was Greek to us at that time). Could it be possible that this MES bijli-wala had gone straight to the Fuses and Meters Room in the building especially since the power failure was not at my house level but at the building level? So, I took an electric torch and headed to this room. My anger preceded me by a few steps. And sure enough, there was this MES man in his lungi and vest with a pen-torch stuck in his mouth, repairing the fuse. Good. However, since it was already more than an hour after my original call and since he appeared to have just arrived, I thought of giving him a piece of my mind. “Abhi aa rahe ho?” I began, “Kam se kam paanch baar phone kar chuka hoon main aur do ghante (a good naval officer must always exaggerate to bring home a point) ho chuke hain. Isiliye to Hindustan tarakkee nahin karta.” (“So, now you arrive? At least five times I phoned you and two hours have elapsed. This is the main reason for India not progressing as a country.”
This MES man calmly took out the pen-torch from between his teeth, turned the torch towards me and asked, “So, what can I do for you, young-man?”
I uttered garbled apologies to our new neighbour and hurried back home. By then, he had repaired the fuse and once again there were lights. This helped me to look at my wife Lyn’s earlier-in-the-day encounter with this officer in a new light. I profusely apologised to her since she was still sulking from my forenoon chastisement.
When I went to sleep that night I thanked God for having given me G.O.D., that is, Gyan Of the Day: ‘Lungis and vests, or for that matter all d.l.l. are great equalisers indeed.’
P.S. To make up for my inability, that night, to recognise demeanour that is so typical of an officer, I have been saluting everyone wearing a lungi and vest, until recently a certain Salman Khan lifted his lungi over his vest, showed me his Dixcy Scott and burst into euphoric, “Pehante hain Sirjee, pehante hain.” Ugh.
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