The other day, on the 28th November 2017 to be exact, when my wife and I went for the Families Day at Sea for the Veterans, we saw that the Naval Dockyard (wherein the ship we had to board was berthed) had been converted into a fortress with armed guards everywhere. On board too, wherever the sentries used to be there with batons (Please read: ‘Awkward Sentry’), now they stand and move around with deadly weapons. Terror unleashed by our neighbourly country and its minions has ensured that there is now no rest in harbour too, whilst life at sea always was and is very tough (those who make exercise programmes think that sleep is an unnecessary impediment and can be largely wished away).
Gone are the days, you would think, when Navy was all about ‘Join the Navy – See the World’, and ‘Join the Navy – Meet the Girls’. Gone are the days, you would think, when the time in harbour was spent in partying and socialising. At the Lion Gate, there were any number of girls and ladies awaiting to be received by their hosts and many a times had found new hosts after learning that the actual hosts had gone sailing.
I would tend to differ. Yes, as seen by others, Navy always appeared to be a glamorous service, at that time, much patronised by the filmi-crowd. However, I would like to bring out that terror was always there. Hence, a safer place for all of us was at sea and life in harbour was as tough as it is today.
Take for example a senior officer such as C-in-C or Fleet Commander’s barge or boat going past your ship or a number of ships. The colour of the disc (Red, Blue or White) displayed by the boat or barge would signify what kind of ceremonials the C-in-C would expect. Doing less or even more would get you hauled up for not being observant. Generally, on a ship, the best binoculars would be with the CO and then with dwindling visibility down the line. Hence, the poor quartermaster on duty had the binoculars that would show you stars even during daytime. As also, the quartermaster had to attend to a thousand different thing including outgoing and returning libertymen, and running the ship’s routine. In this scenario, as Officer of the Day (OOD), you had to keep praying that your quartermaster or someone on the upper decks would be able to see the correct colour of the disc and then not only know what to do but actually do it correctly.
During the Colours ceremony (at 8 O’ Clock everyday), the Ensign and the National Flag are hoisted at the stern and the forepeak. The Ensign is hoisted with a Guard of Honour called the Colours Guard. Many a ship got Negative Bravo Zulu (Not well done) for piping or bugling ‘carry-on’ (after the ‘alert’ piped or bugled for the Colours Ceremony) before the senior ship.
Similarly, CO being received or seen off on/from the ship was such a ceremony that all work in the vicinity used to come to a stand-still. During those days, as OODs, we always carried a telescope tucked in the left armpit for everyday ceremonial. All hell broke loose in case we were espied by the CO resting the telescope anywhere else.
During my formative years in the Navy, ships invariably returned to anchorage. Now, at anchorage, you are as good as naked from all sides for all to see. One of the favourites of the C-in-C used to be to go around the ship in his barge, pointing out one thing or the other such as paint peeled off at places and requiring touching-up “now that you are back from your jolly at sea”. Guess what? Ships quickly learnt how to keep the C-in-C in good humour in this too. One ship, for example, had men lowered on stretchers for touching up the paint on port side when C-in-C’s barge went along that side. In the time taken by the boat to come to starboard side, the same men were then shifted to the starboard side. C-in-C was pleased that the ship’s company was hard at work immediately after “the jolly at sea”.
Two of my favourite guys who took terror with them wherever they went, both went on to become the Chiefs of Naval Staff: Ronald Lyndsale Pereira (Please read: ‘The Unforgettable Ronnie Pereira’) and Oscar Stanley Dawson (Please read: ‘Enter Cochin At Your Own Risk’). Incidentally, both headed the training command, that is, the Southern Naval Command. Do you remember what the Australian spinner Shane Warne (at that time rated as the best in the world) had to say about bowling to Sachin Tendulkar? He said he broke out in a sweat at nights thinking of how he was going to bowl to Jersey #10. Well, we would similarly break out in a sweat if we were to see these two either in person or in dreams (nightmares).
Ronnie would chase both officers and sailors if he found, whilst crossing them on the road, that they required proper haircut, were not in proper uniform or didn’t salute properly. Dawson had a commanding officer hauled up when he tried to contact him on residential phone (there were no cell phones during those days, thank God!) and the maid-servant couldn’t tell him where he was. He said residential telephones had been provided to important officers not for fun but so that they could be contacted in case of emergency. After this incident, the conversation between two newly appointed COs went like this:
CO1: They came and installed a phone at my residence today.
CO2: I haven’t still got it.
CO1: Lucky you!
When I was a young officer, two of my COs (both commanded the same ship over different periods of time) terrorised us on board. Both ran taut ships and both meant business. If, for example, Commander L (the HOD of the Electrical Department) was ever announced for to come to CO’s cabin, it was never for a glass of beer or some such nonsense. He would, whilst rushing to CO’s cabin, go over the mental drill, “Lights are working alright, so are alarms and other sensors…..then why has CO called me?”
One of my course mates (God rest his soul) was so terrified of this CO that when the latter asked him a question, he went into quite a spin and also suffered injury as a result of it though not in the manner in which you visualise. (Please read: ‘What’s The Contact Doing?’)
Another senior officer that I knew could roughly be compared with Mogambo of the movie Mr India except that the latter would probably still have some heart. This guy had taken it upon himself that he would keep alive one of the old navy’s uniforms (white shorts and stockings). Hence, wherever he went, he went in these shorts. He terrorised not just us ordinary folks but also a lady Governor of Tamilnadu when he called on her in his shorts. She couldn’t sleep properly for many nights after the meeting and even complained to the Ministry of Defence (Please read: ‘Masala Tea And Knickers’).
The long and short of these guys terrorising us was that when Jihadi terror actually stuck us, we were totally prepared. Indeed, many an officer was heard commenting that nothing could be worse than such and such that we were already used to. I am reminded of this old RK Laxman cartoon about the state of affairs in Bihar. In a train, on the upper berth, a number of passengers dressed only in their under clothings were happily staring down at armed dacoits and telling them: “You must be new in Bihar; the train entered Bihar more than an hour back. We have already been looted.”
The terror that we had in the Navy of old proved to us the good old tenet: ‘The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war‘. I remember the Navy wherein we always sweated. Poor Jihadi terrorists; must have felt terribly let down. I could imagine some of them communicating to their handlers in Karachi or Islamabad or Muridke, “Janaab in Indian Navy waalon ko khauf se darr nahin hai. Yeh to har waqt khauf mein hi rehte hain.”
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