Saturday, June 8, 2013

NOBODY BECOMES A SOMEBODY - LEARNING THE ART OF NAVAL COMMAND

NOBODY BECOMES A SOMEBODY
LEARNING THE ART OF NAVAL COMMAND

Excerpt from NOBODY’S NAVY – A Naval Novel by VIKRAM KARVE

An Excerpt (a Chapter) from my Fiction Novel  “Nobody’s Navy”  which I am currently writing

Tentative Chapter 3 of  NOBODY’S NAVY A Naval Novel by VIKRAM KARVE


NOBODY BECOMES SOMEBODY

LEARNING THE ART OF NAVAL COMMAND


Calm Blue Sea, Soft Cool Breeze, Sunset, 31st December 1977.

The lights of Mumbai twinkle in the distance as the city gets ready to ring in the New Year.

It was the happiest moment of his life.

Standing on the bridge-wings of the mighty warship INS Bijlee as she entered Mumbai harbour under his command, for the first time in his life, Sub-Lieutenant Nobody felt as if he was a “somebody”.

At this defining moment of his life, he realized the import of the words the distinguished Admiral had uttered while motivating him to join the navy while he was studying at IIT.

“Son,” the recruiting Admiral had said, “The navy is not just another job. The navy is a way of life.”

Ship life seemed good.

Rank, spit and polish and normal naval bullshit did not matter much on a frontline combat ship like INS Bijlee.

Here it was performance that counted.

So everyone was busy doing his job.

As long as you did your job well, you were given a free hand, and after secure was piped, and the day’s work was over, you were free to do what you liked.

Nobody realized that one bothered him since other officers were busy doing his own work and running their departments.

It was much better over here on a combat ship than the Naval Academy where they treated you like dirt and tried to convert you into a brainless obedient robot.

And it was certainly much better than the Naval Technical Officers’ College which boasted of transforming bright young Engineering Graduates into “Technical Zombies”.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody had survived both these ordeals and still retained his sanity.

It all happened so fast.

He had arrived in Mumbai in the morning after a tiresome train journey, and was picked up in a ramshackle truck and dumped at the boat jetty.

There the ship’s boat was waiting for him and after a rough journey on the choppy sea, Sub-Lieutenant Nobody was deposited alongside INS Bijlee anchored far out at sea.

It was almost noon when he clambered with his bag up the accommodation ladder.

He duly saluted the OOD and said, “Sub-Lieutenant Nobody reporting for duty, Sir. Request permission to come on board…”

The ship was rolling and the ladder staggered so he held on to a stanchion. The stanchion gave way, and Sub-Lieutenant Nobody lost his balance and crashed into the arms of the OOD and both of them fell on the deck in a heap.

“Sorry, Sir,” Nobody said as they gathered themselves up.

“You seem to be quite eager to join this ship. What did you say your name was?” the OOD, a two striper Lieutenant asked with a smile.

“My name is Nobody.”

“Nobody?” the OOD asked, incredulous.

“Sir, it’s an anglicised version of ...”

“Okay. Okay. You can tell me the story later,” the OOD interrupted, “just give me your appointment letter.”

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody said took his appointment letter from his shirt pocket and gave it to the OOD who looked at it.

“Okay, okay, so you’re the new LO? Welcome on board,” the OOD shook his hand and said, “I’m the TASO. Today is make and mend. Captain is not on board. You can meet him tomorrow. The duty Petty Officer will take you to your cabin. Shower up, change into uniform and meet me in the ward room in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes later, freshly shaved and bathed, dressed in sparkling white shorts and shirt naval uniform, Sub-Lieutenant Nobody entered the ward room to find the TASO, wearing civvies, sitting at the bar sipping a glass of beer.

“Ah…there you are. I am waiting for you,” the TASO said the moment he saw the newly arrived Sub-Lieutenant Nobody.

The TASO swallowed his beer in one go, down the hatch.

Then he gave the OOD’s lanyard with a bunch of keys to Nobody, and said, “Hold the deck. I’m off. Don’t bother to see me off. I’ll see you in the morning.”

And with lightening speed the TASO disappeared ashore on the liberty boat even before Nobody could recover his wits.

“Congratulations,” a voice said from behind.

Nobody turned around to see a Lieutenant Commander sitting on a sofa with a huge tankard of beer before him.

“Good morning, Sir,” Nobody said.

“It is already afternoon, my friend” the Lieutenant Commander said extending his hand, “I’m Schoolie, the ship’s Education Officer. You’re the new LO, aren’t you?”

“Yes, Sir,” Nobody said.

“So you are the OOD, the de facto Commanding Officer of the ship now…”

“OOD…?” Sub-Lieutenant Nobody stammered, bewildered and totally taken aback.

“So you are holding the fort for TASO, aren’t you? Smart bugger that TASO. The horny bastard couldn’t even wait one day to screw his wife…”

Seeing the disorientated expression on Nobody’s face, Schoolie said, “Pick up a glass of beer and come and sit here. I’ll tell you what to do.”

Then with breathtaking simplicity, Schoolie elucidated the art of command:

“In the navy, especially on a ship, command is very simple. The art of command comprises just three words – YES, NO and VERY GOOD. From time to time, your duty staff will come and ask you something. It’s a good idea to number their questions. You just reply ‘yes’ to the odd numbered questions, and you reply ‘no’ to the even numbered questions. And if someone makes a report to you, just say: ‘very good’. You got it?”

“Yes, Sir – Odd numbered questions I say ‘Yes’. Even numbered questions I say ‘No’. And if someone makes a report I just say ‘Very Good’ – is that correct, Sir,” Sub-Lieutenant Nobody asked Schoolie.

“Correct. That, in a nutshell, is the art of naval command,” Schoolie pronounced with finality.

Just then the duty Petty Officer entered, saluted and asked Sub-Lieutenant Nobody and asked, “Request permission to revert to three watches, Sir.”

First question, odd numbered question, so Nobody answered: “Yes.”

“Thank you, Sir,” the duty Petty Officer saluted and went away quite happy that he could secure half his men from duty.

“Sir,” it was the duty ERA a few minutes later, “request permission to shut down boilers.”

Question number two, even numbered question, so Nobody answered: “No.”

The ERA nodded, looking quite perplexed, and went away.

“See, you’re learning fast,” Schoolie said as they sat for lunch. 

While going ashore Schoolie gave Nobody a parting shot of advice, “Always remember that it is better to keep your mouth shut and give the impression that you are stupid than to open it and remove all doubt…”

Schoolie, a post graduate, was an Education Officer – the lowest class of officers in the navy who were treated like dirt and who wasted their entire lives teaching basic mathematics to junior sailors who didn’t give a damn, or acting as lackeys to senior officers wives helping them run so-called welfare activities which were more of ego massage and less of welfare.

Once in a while, the brighter among them got posted to ships where they had no work except hang around in the ward room doing nothing and offering unsolicited advice to anyone who cared to listen.

Schoolie enjoyed doing talking to people, pontificating and giving advice on all matters under the sun, to anyone who cared to listen, especially to rookies, like Sub-Lieutenant Nobody, who latched on to each word he said.

It was indeed funny – as far as the officer class was concerned your status and position in the pecking order was inversely proportional to your academic qualifications.

The matriculate cadet entry seamen officers were the prima donnas, the engineering graduate techies and supply guys were the middle rung and post-graduate schoolies were at the rock bottom.

“It is port control, Sir,” the Yeoman of Signals woke up Nobody from his beer-induced siesta and asked hesitantly, “they are asking if we want to come alongside.”

Nobody struggled to open his eyes and thought about it.

One, two, three – this was the third question, odd numbered, so he decisively answered: “Yes.”

“Thank you, Sir, I will signal them at once,” the delighted Yeoman of Signals said and he rushed towards the bridge to make a signal to port control by Aldis Lamp.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody followed the Yeoman to the bridge wings and watched him exchange visual signals with port control, both lamps frantically flashing. 

“Ballard Pier?” port control asked.

It was the fourth question of the day – an even numbered question, so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody assertively said:  “No.”

“Barracks Wharf?”

“Yes”

“Cold move?” port control asked.

“No,” Nobody said decisively.

“Hot move?”

“Yes.”

Everyone on the bridge was praising Sub-Lieutenant Nobody’s foresight in not allowing the boilers to be shut down, otherwise the quick hot move would not have been possible at immediate notice and they would have to spend the whole day waiting for the tug to carry out the laborious cold move.

 “Should we call for a harbour pilot?” the duty Midshipman asked.

It was even numbered question, so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody emphatically said: “No.”

“Sir, should I prepare the pilotage plan?”

“Yes.”

“Shall I chart course between sunk rock and oyster rock?”

“No.”

“Around Middle Ground?”

“Yes.”

“Will you be taking the con, sir?” the Midshipman asked.

“No.”

“Then I will have the con?”

“Yes.”

The Midshipman was filled with happiness and a sense of pride. It was the first time that someone had shown so much confidence in him.

The Midshipman smartly saluted Sub-Lieutenant Nobody and said, “I’ll report when ready, Sir.”

This was not a question. This was a report. So Nobody remembered Schoolie’s advice and said, “Very Good.”

No point hanging around the bridge and being exposed, thought Sub-Lieutenant Nobody, so he told the Midshipman to take the ship alongside and said that he would be available in the wardroom for any advice.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody then went down to the wardroom, summoned the bar steward, and ordered a double large whisky and soda.

He needed the Dutch courage.

His spirits high, fuelled by alcohol inspired courage, and brimming with confidence, from then on Sub-Lieutenant Nobody religiously followed Schoolie’s odd/even command formula with great success, and soon INS Bijlee was underway, sailing smoothly towards the Wharf.

As he sipped whisky in the wardroom, Sub-Lieutenant Nobody was quite clueless as he heard, on the main broadcast, the Midshipman give the conning orders: “Stand-by Main Engines…Haul Anchor…Anchor off the bottom…Anchor Aweigh…Anchor Coming Home…Anchor Sighted and Clear…Wheel Amidships… Dead Slow…Starboard Ten…”

Everything moved like clockwork, everyone knew their jobs.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody also knew what to do. In his mind, he had to keep a count of the questions they asked him and quickly determine the question number – odd or even – and answer according to Schoolie’s formula.

For every odd numbered question he said “Yes”.

For the even numbered question he said “No”.

And from time to time when someone made him a report he would wisely nod “Very Good.”

It worked. The simple “Yes” “No” “Very Good” command formula worked.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody strictly followed the formula and everything went absolutely right.

The ship secured alongside perfectly.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody realized first-hand that the art of naval command was indeed breathtaking in its simplicity.

“Should I announce liberty, Sir?” asked the Duty Petty Officer hesitantly.

Odd numbered question, so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody said: “Yes.”

The broad smile on the Petty Officer’s face and the smartness of his salute said it all.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody had mastered the art of naval command.

The crew were happy to be secured alongside rather than tossing and turning at a faraway anchorage out at sea.

And now, thanks to Sub-Lieutenant Nobody, there would be liberty and the ship’s crew would be able to go ashore to enjoy the delights of “Maximum City” after a long hard time at sea.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody became the hot topic of discussion below the deck in the crew messes.

Each and every sailor admired the guts and initiative of Sub-Lieutenant Nobody.

Despite being a non-seaman officer, he had brought the ship alongside by taking effective charge of the midshipman and by his prompt and clear decisive commands.

Never before had such a thing happened.  Never before had they seen a greenhorn Sub-Lieutenant demonstrate so much confidence and guts on his first day on board a ship.

Anyone else would have hesitated, dithered – but here was a decisive officer, a natural leader, they all said with awe and in unison.

On his very first day on board this mighty warship, Sub-Lieutenant Nobody earned the admiration, respect and esteem of the crew of INS Bijlee.

The sailors were happy to have Sub-Lieutenant Nobody on board and they showed it by their body language, especially in the way they saluted him.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody’s chest swelled with pride.

Nobody had become a “Somebody”.


End of Chapter 3 of Nobody’s Navy by Vikram Karve

To be continued ... 

To know more about NOBODY'S NAVY by VIKRAM KARVE click the link below:

http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2013/06/nobodys-navy-by-vikram-karve-my-naval.html

Please comment and tell me whether you liked the story line and do give me advice on how to go about getting an offer from a reputed publisher to get my novel published.

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright. 
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013 all rights reserved

Did you like this excerpt from my novel Nobody's Navy?  
I am sure you will like the 27 short stories from my recently published anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL
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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) 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 and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve 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
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