Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Humor in Uniform - THE “JAUNDICED” NAVY


Let me delve into my “Humor in Uniform” Archives and tell you this delightful memoir:

Hilarious Memories of my Glorious Navy Days
A Spoof


Sometime in the late 1970’s there was an outbreak of jaundice in Mumbai (then known as Bombay).

Jaundice is quite a debilitating disease.

The rampant spread of jaundice started badly affecting the Navy.

Soon, this outbreak of Jaundice assumed almost epidemic proportions.

Large numbers of naval officers and sailors on ships were getting afflicted by the disease.

Special jaundice wards were opened in the Naval Hospital.

Some ships were down to half-strength.

The Navy had become “jaundiced”  nice and proper.


A bout of jaundice meant at least two weeks in hospital till your Bilirubin levels came down.

This was followed by a month of sick leave at home  then back to hospital for downgrading and re-categorization of medical category.

And  finally  the worst consequence of jaundice – no alcohol for at least 6 months.

This last fear of total abstinence – the prospect of having to spend 6 months without a drop of alcohol after a bout of jaundice – was most scary for sailors.

This fear resulted in a drinking spree.

Everyone was mortified of getting jaundice  especially the hard drinking lovers of Bacchus.

Today – it may seem laughable – but in those morbid days  the thinking was – if you cannot drink alcohol after you get jaundice – might as well top up before you got jaundice.

So  on ships  every naval officer was downing peg after peg  consuming enormous amounts of alcohol every evening  as if it was the last day of his life.

It was the same with sailors – who were drinking away to glory in Sailors Home.

It was the last opportunity to drink to your heart’s content till the dreaded scourge of jaundice got hold of you in its clutches.

So you could see wardrooms full of officers on drinking binges.

And sailors drinking away in Sailors’ Home  till they fell into drunken stupor.

The biggest joke that was most of these heavy drinkers did not get afflicted by jaundice  but they landed up becoming alcohol dependent instead.

The “powers-that-be” panicked at the increasing number of jaundice cases heading for hospitalization every day and the consequent depletion of crew on ships.

Force levels were rapidly falling in the “jaundiced navy”.

It was a precarious situation  and if this jaundice induced exodus continued  there would be no officers and sailors left to man the ships.

So  it was decided to take some drastic measures.

The first anti-jaundice measure was the promulgation of “Jaundice Orders”.


The “powers-that-be” thought that the reason for this jaundice epidemic was because naval officers and sailors were eating unhygienic jaundice-infected food outside in Mumbai city when they went ashore on liberty.

So, Two “jaundice orders” were promulgated:

1. All food joints in Mumbai were declared “out of bounds” for Navy Officers and Sailors.

2. Shore Leave (Liberty) would now be in uniform till further orders.

(Yes  all officers and sailors had to wear Dress No. 8A white uniform at all times  even when on liberty ashore in civilian areas)

The reason for Order No. 2 (on wearing uniforms in civilian areas) was to ensure that any officer or sailor entering a restaurant or eating outside was instantly spotted by the navy shore patrol and rounded up.

Yes – in order to implement this preventive measure – special jaundice shore patrols were sent out on the streets of Mumbai  especially to those areas and food joints frequented by navy sailors.


On the very first day  a hilarious incident occurred involving the jaundice shore patrol” from our ship .

The Fleet Commander personally spotted the shore patrol from our ship drinking sugarcane juice in resplendent full dress uniform at a most unhygienic sugarcane juice stall right opposite the naval dockyard gate.

The culprits were promptly arrested by the Naval Police and handed over to the ship for necessary disciplinary action.

On being questioned  the shamefaced sailors pleaded that they had heard that drinking sugarcane juice prevented jaundice.

So  the shore patrol sailors had decided to fortify themselves with sugarcane juice before they headed for patrolling the jaundice-infected areas.

Since there was a severe shortage of sailors (with half the sailors admitted in hospital with jaundice)  the wayward shore patrol was not punished severely  but let off with a warning and awarded a few extra shore patrol duties as punishment.

The next evening the shore patrol was found drinking rum in the sailors’ home.

But then  the sailors’ home was not “out of bounds”.

Maybe  like us officers  the fear of jaundice was driving them to drink to their heart’s content.

So  we looked the other way.


After a few days we officers were fed up of the wardroom food on board the ship.

So we decided to venture out to enjoy the culinary delights the city of Mumbai had to offer.

Parading in uniform of the streets of Mumbai was unthinkable  so we adopted a simple modus operandi.

We carried a bag containing civilian clothes with us and smartly walked out of the dockyard gate wearing uniform.

Then – we headed to the nearby Jehangir Art Gallery in Kalaghoda.

Here  we would enter the well-appointed washrooms  and change from uniform to civilian clothes.

Then – in our civilian clothes – hoping that shore patrols would not recognize us – we would venture out to enjoy the foodie delights Mumbai had to offer.

On the way back we would change back from civilian clothes into uniform using the change-rooms at the Taj  or some suitable hotel  and return back to our ships smartly dressed in uniform.

One evening  after a movie at Eros  followed by a hearty meal at Gaylord in Churchgate  we enjoyed stroll on Marine Drive.

After a refreshing stroll in the sea breeze on Marine Drive admiring the “flora and fauna”  we decided to end the day with some delicious Ice Cream at the Yankee Doodle Ice Cream Parlour.

Our plan was that  after enjoying our ice cream  we would use the change-rooms of the adjoining Natraj Hotel to change back into uniform  and then we would walk back in uniform to our ship.

My friends wanted to eat icecream cones.

I ordered the signature ice cream of Yankee Doodle Ice Cream Parlour – the inimitable Yankee Doodle Banana Split”.

Yankee Doodle Banana Split consisted of three huge scoops of of ice-cream (lavours of your choice)  which were placed on a sweetened split banana  and topped up with yummy fruits and nuts  and then embellished with sweet yummy creamy sauces.

This inimitable Yankee Doodle Banana Split ice cream was prepared at a special counter  and it took some time to be assembled.

When my Banana Split ice cream was ready  I picked up the dish  and  I looked around for my shipmates.

But I could not see them anywhere.

Maybe they were taking a walk on Marine Drive  licking their cones  while watching pretty young things.

I decided to focus on my magnificent Banana Split ice cream.

As I was about to dig into my delicious looking ice cream I noticed that  standing bang in front of me  was our redoubtable Captain.

At first I was terrified.

I had been caught red-handed at an “out of bounds” place – and that too wearing civilian clothes when I should have been in uniform.

I looked at my Captain.

He too was dressed in civilian clothes.

Then I saw that he too was eating an ice cream – a chocolate sundae.

And next to him stood his wife relishing a mixed fruit sundae ice cream.

I wished him and his wife – they smiled back.

We talked – but the conversation was strictly restricted to the topic of ice cream  and we discussed the various exotic ice cream flavours you got all over Mumbai.

On seeing the Captain  the other officers had disappeared into the darkness  and they surfaced only when the Captain and his wife had left Yankee Doodle Ice Cream Parlour.

They anxiously asked me if the Captain had seen them  and I assured them that he had not.

Next morning  when I saluted the Captain  he still had his formidable demeanor  but there was a slight twinkle in his eyes.


I do not know whether it is true or not  but someone told me later  that the outbreak of jaundice was due to contaminated drinking water (as a result of leaky sewage lines and cracked porous water pipes)  and it was not due to infected food  which was initially suspected to be the cause of the jaundice epidemic.

And yes  I was lucky not to get jaundice during that epidemic.

But – the jaundice epidemic had a curious side-effect on me.

Since the fear of jaundice had made me drink to my heart’s content  I ended up becoming “alcohol dependent” for sure.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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1. This story is a spoof, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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This story is a revised version of my blog post BREAKING BOUNDS – JAUNDICE AND ICE CREAM posted in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve Blog on Sunday, January 12, 2014 - 

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