Monday, March 2, 2015

Humor in Uniform - LAW OF TRIVIALITY


Management Musings of a Retired Military Veteran
A Spoof


A few weeks ago, sometime in January 2015, I was invited to deliver a guest lecture” at a prestigious inter-service training institution.

I was delighted to meet a Commodore, who I had served with earlier, and who was once a student of mine at this very same institution 30 years ago in the mid 1980s.

He was wearing blue combat uniform (No. 10) instead of the customary navy whites (Uniform No. 8/8A) which we normally wore at this institution.

This was quite strange, since the place was an academic training institution far removed from combat – probably the only combat out there were the internecine turf wars between the 3 wings of the services.

What was even more startling, was the jarring golden star on his collar.

I had never seen commissioned Naval Officers wear collar tabs.

(Earlier, till the late 1970s, Master Chief Petty Officers wore collar insignia which were subsequently changed to shoulder tabs).

I was, therefore, quite surprised to see a most flashy oversized golden collar tab looked totally incongruous on naval uniform.

In fact, this ostentatious golden collar star looked most ridiculous and gaudy on blue combat uniform.

When I asked the Commodore about this new piece of jazzy collar accoutrement, he said that golden collar stars for Commodores and Admirals had been recently introduced on the First of January 2015.

I was happy to note that the LAW OF TRIVIALITY was still very much in action in the Defence Services.

Instead of tackling urgent complex operational problems faced by the Defence Services – the “top brass” were devoting their energies to trivial issues like embellishing uniforms with “stars” to show off their ranks.

(If you have been following the news  you will know that there is a great obsession with “stars” in the Army  with Generals displaying their “stars” at the most imaginative places – and it looks like this “star virus” has affected the Navy too).

Since independence – if anything has changed the maximum in the defence services – it is uniforms.

Yes – the “ornamental” and showy uniforms the defence services wear today bear little resemblance to the simple military-like uniforms of the 1950s.

This increasing penchant for frequently changing uniforms and enhancing ornamentation of military regalia (by introducing new badges/accoutrements/adornments etc) bears testimony to the fact that “The Law of Triviality” is proliferating in the Armed Forces.


I am sure you have read a book called  PARKINSON’S LAW  and are familiar with Parkinson’s First Law:

“Work expands to fill the time available for its completion”

This law had its genesis in an analytical study of the Admiralty and most of us have seen this law in operation in the military and civilian bureaucracy.

Parkinson’s First Law comprises Chapter 1 of this book.

As you read on, in Chapter 6 titled HIGH FINANCE, you will find another interesting law: THE LAW OF TRIVIALITY

The author describes the goings on in a finance committee meeting.

An atomic reactor costing 10 million pounds is cleared without much discussion because most of the committee members are clueless about the intricacies of an atomic reactor.

A proposal for a bicycle shed costing 350 pounds is hotly debated for more than an hour and finally not approved as members feel the estimate is too costly.

This is because everyone can visualize a bicycle shed, everyone has some idea about construction costs, and the paltry sum of 350 pounds is within everybody’s comprehension.


Haven’t we seen similar things happening in uniform, both at the macro and at the micro levels?

A sophisticated expensive weapon system or an extravagant technology project costing hundreds of crores of rupees is sanctioned quickly without much debate because the powers-that-be comprising politicians, bureaucrats and “non-technical” senior officers are quite clueless about state-of-the-art technologies.

On the other hand, a comparatively trivial expenditure like a small monetary allowance to soldiers or “one rank one pension” to ex-servicemen is acrimoniously debated and discussed ad nauseum, and in all probability, the powers-that-be are reluctant to sanction this comparatively trivial expenditure because they can clearly comprehend the proposal.

I gave you the example of frequent trivial changes in uniforms and ceremonials which are totally unnecessary and these cosmetic changes do not enhance operational capability or improve combat efficiency in any way.

In the Armed Forces, this “law of triviality” can be observed at the micro level too.

Take the example of Officers Mess General Body Meetings.

The all-important financial balance sheet is passed without much discussion.

I remember an instance where a junior officer who asked some uncomfortable questions about large expenditures shown in the balance sheet was told to shut up and sit down by the PMC who admonished him, “The Balance Sheet has been audited by a CA – you are a piddly Lieutenant – do you know more about accounting and finance than a bloody CA?”

On the other hand, trivial items of expenditure like increasing daily messing charges, enhancing party shares, purchase of crockery, glassware and flowerpots, which newspapers and magazines to buy for the library, nominal increase in honorarium to mess employees – these are hotly debated issues since everyone is a “know-it-all” on these matters.

If you have served in the armed forces or civil services – I am sure you have seen the Law of Triviality operating everywhere.

Dear Reader – do tell us:

Have you observed the LAW OF TRIVIALITY in action in your organisation?

Do tell us about your hilarious experiences.

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 article is a revised version of my blog post LAW OF TRIVIALITY 

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