HUMOUR IN UNIFORM
A NAVAL YARN
ON THE HOUSE
The best thing that happened to me was the Navy. Way back, in the 1970s, when I joined the Navy, life was good. There was never a dull moment. Something was always happening, and I came across a variety of unique personalities – yes, exciting situations and inimitable characters.
Those were the best days of my life. Even now, whenever I reminisce about my “good old” Navy days and recall the unforgettable characters I met there and whenever I hark back to the hilarious incidents (in hindsight), those cherished memories always fill me with cheer, and sometimes bring a smile, maybe a laugh, to my lips.
They say every Naval Officer has a book inside him (or her). I am writing mine. In fact, I have decided to write two books – a fiction novel based on my early life in the Navy way back in the 1970s and a “memoir” comprising non-chronological vignettes from my naval life.
I will tell you more about that later. Now, let me regale you with one such hilarious vignette featuring an unforgettable character. Let’s call him “F”. Why “F” – well, it will be quite evident as you read on.
There was a time when senior naval officers were large-hearted and magnanimous. The senior always stood a drink for the junior, and whenever we had a party in the wardroom (officers’ mess), the party share was on stripe basis. You counted the total number of stripes on the shoulders of officers present and simply divided the overall damages for food and drinks by the total number of stripes and calculated the stripe share. You paid depending on the stripes you wore on your sleeves or shoulder – a Commander (who wore three stripes on his shoulder paid three times the share of a Sub Lieutenant who wore a solitary stripe). In effect, the seniors subsidized the bill of the juniors.
As traditions and attitudes began to change, and officers started becoming money conscious, the stripe share concept gave way to the “on the house” concept in which the party share was distributed equally amongst all present and all members of the “house” paid the same amount irrespective of how much food and drink they consumed.
Of course, when things were “on the house”, those who drank and ate less subsidised those who topped-up to the hilt and gorged to their hearts’ content.
With the passage of time, as people became more and more money-orientated, and materialism became a way of life, officers started counting their drinks (and worse, they counted others’ drinks too…!!!). Now we had a “chit system” and the party share was based on the principle of soldier’s share, or Going Dutch, in which you signed chits and paid for whatever you consumed. In this “signing chits” scheme of things, no one subsidized anybody, and it was each for his own, irrespective of rank and seniority.
Soon, wardroom traditions were turned upside down, money-consciousness gave way to stinginess and sort of “feudal” culture owing to selective interpretation of the RHIP concept which resulted in the proliferation of freeloaders in the senior ranks and it was now the “magnanimous” juniors who were subsidizing their tight-fisted freeloading seniors. (You know what RHIP stands for, isn’t it – Rank Has Its Privileges – and some thought it was their “privilege” to freeload and sponge on their juniors).
Things seem to have turned a full circle … hey, I am digressing … let me get on with my story …
This story happened during the days of transition from the “on the house” to “soldier’s share” parties. There was some confusion – some parties were “on the house” and some parties were on the “chit system”. Now our protagonist “F” was a true moukatarian – and decided his “party strategy” accordingly. If it was a “chit system” party – he would survive on water, or hang around someone and try to sponge an drink off him, or try to pilfer one of those gratis “ladies” soft drinks when he thought no one was looking, or at the worst, if the party was too long and his freeloading tactics didn’t work, F would order a small peg of the cheapest rum and paani and hold it for the entire party. And if the party was “on the house” … well read on …
“F” arrived for a grand party one evening and asked me, “Is it chit-system?”
“No, Sir, on-the-house,” I told him, as planned, and winked at the barman. The PMC, who was nearby, gave me a knowing smile of approval.
“Which whisky have you got?” F asked the barman.
“Sir, we are serving Black Knight and Red Knight,” the barman answered. The party was ashore and we were serving IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor).
“BK and RK?” F turned his nose up in disgust, “Get me Peter Scot.”
The barman looked at me for a decision (Peter Scot was the most expensive IMFL whisky in the bar those days).
“Okay,” I said to the barman, “Sahab ko Peter Scot pilao…”
Delighted that he was getting Peter Scot on-the-house, F decided to make the most of it, and drank peg after peg, and at the end of the party, he had to be carried to his cabin in drunken stupor. F had grandly “enjoyed” the cocktail party.
A month later F entered my office furiously waving his wardroom mess bill in his hand and angrily demanding how he had been charged for 11 large pegs of Peter Scot.
I was waiting for him, and said, “Sir, let’s go to the PMC.”
“Any problem?” the PMC asked looking up from his desk, the moment we entered his cabin.
“Sir, I have been charged for 11 large pegs of Peter Scot for that cocktail party,” complained F.
“So?” the PMC said, “you drank 11 large pegs of Peter Scot, didn’t you?”
“Sir, I don’t remember.”
“But I do – you were in such glorious high spirits that you had to be carried away at the end of the party.”
“But Sir, the party was on-the-house.”
“Who told you?”
“The Mess Secretary,” F said, pointing an accusing finger at me.
“Well, he is quite a clueless chap. All parties here are on the chit-system. You should have signed your chits before ordering your drinks and you should have checked the bar-book next morning if you had any doubts. No disputes now. That’s the Mess Rule,” the PMC pronounced, and dismissed F with a wave of his finger, and looked at me with a glint in his eyes.
That’s how we taught this moukatarian freeloader a lesson. Well, I taught him another lesson too – but that’s another story.
I enjoy writing and I have now started writing my two books – both the engrossing novel, which I assure you will be gripping and “unputdownable”, and my “memoir”, something like Tales of the South Pacific. I am going to write leisurely, unhurriedly, savouring every moment and I am going to enjoy the writing process as I relive my navy days in my mind’s eye. But I’ll take a break from time to time, and, right here in my Creative Writing blog, I will regale you with some more of my naval yarns, like this one.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
About Vikram Karve
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures(2008) and is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
Vikram Karve Academic and Creative Writing Journal: http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile Vikram Karve: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve
Vikram Karve Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/vikramkarve
Vikram Karve Creative Writing Blog: http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com/blog/posts.htm
Fiction Short Stories Book
Foodie Book: Appetite for a Stroll