Sunday, August 2, 2015

Navy Memories – Why I Grew a Beard

NAVY MEMORIES – WHY I GREW A BEARD

Suppose I had not joined the Navy – I may not have started drinking – and – I may not have grown a beard.

Well – I quit drinking more than 12 years ago – but my majestic beard is still going strong for almost 38 years – uninterrupted – yes – once I grew my beard – I never shaved it off – even temporarily.

Let me tell you why I grew a beard... 

THE STORY OF MY MAJESTIC BEARD
Harking Back to My Glorious Navy Days
By
VIKRAM KARVE

If you are an unemployed unwanted uncelebrated “retired” navy veteran like me  what is the best thing to do?

Reminisce.

Yes  I can hark back in time and reminisce – and I can talk about my “good old navy days”.

But  what do I do if there is no one to talk to?

I can write about my unforgettable reminiscences.

Well  that is exactly what I am going to do now.

I will hark back in time to my early navy days  take you back to the 1970’s  and tell you why  thanks to the Navy  I grew my handsome beard  which adorns my face till today.

By the way  if I had not joined the Navy  I probably would not have kept a beard.

Yes  before I joined the Navy  I was clean shaven  and I had never contemplated having a beard.

But then when you join the Navy  everything changes – and you change – whether it is for the better or for the worse – well  that depends on you!

I remember my first day at the Naval Academy in Cochin (now called Kochi).

The moment we reported to the academy  an army of barbers descended on us to chop off most of the copious hair adoring our heads – and shave the stubble on our faces.

We were given crew cuts  and our faces were shaven clean.

A few young men did have moustaches  but these moustaches were ruthlessly removed.

At the Naval Academy  even moustaches were not permitted – and all trainees had to be “clean shaven”.


“SEAMANLIKE” APPEARANCE

Dear Reader – before I proceed further with my story  let me digress  and tell you a bit about the navy tradition of sailors keeping beards.

After independence  we imbibed our military traditions from our erstwhile rulers – the British – and accordingly  our Navy adopted the customs and traditions of the Royal Navy.

Hence  even on the subject of moustaches and beards  the Indian Navy had adopted, verbatim, the regulations of the British Navy  which required that a naval officer or sailor had either to have both beard and moustache or neither.

This means that you had to have a “full-set beard” (a full beard and moustache).

The beard must be complete  joined from sideburns  covering the entire jawline and chin  and joining the moustache.

A Navy Officer or Sailor had to have a “full-set beard” or nothing.

A moustache on its own was not permitted.

You were required to obtain the approval of your Commanding Officer to “discontinue shaving” or to “continue shaving” – every time you wanted to change your appearance.

If you wanted to grow a beard  you had to put in a request to stop shaving – yes  you had to formally seek permission to “cease shaving”.

If your request was granted  you were allowed three weeks (21 days) to grow your beard.

During this time of 21 days  as the beard grew  the beard grower was not permitted to go ashore or to be seen in public until the Commanding Officer felt that the beard was fit for public viewing.

A Naval Officer or Sailor was required to have a rugged, “full set”, masculine looking, well-developed beard which gave you a macho appearance.

Wispy or wimpy looking beards were not allowed  and “designer stubble” was certainly not permitted.

If the Commanding Officer (Captain) approved of your beard  you were allowed to keep it.

But if your Commanding Officer deemed your beard unworthy of a seaman  you were ordered to “shave off” your beard.

Suppose you were allowed to have a beard  and you kept the beard for a few years  but later  if you wanted to shave off your beard  you had to seek permission to “start shaving”.

Beards were not permitted in the Army and Air Force – but you were allowed to keep moustaches.

Yes  if you are in the army or air force  you can either keep your face clean shaven  or you can keep a moustache (without a beard).

I am sure the Army and Air Force have regulations governing moustaches which specify the types of moustaches permitted, sizes, shapes, styles etc.

But I have seen that the Air Force has a fondness for handlebar moustaches  and so do some Artillery Officers.

Sadly – many officers now prefer the “metrosexual” clean shaven look – in the Navy – and in the Army and Air Force too.


MOUSTACHES IN THE NAVY

Sometime in the 1970’s  due to pressures from youngsters and to be in sync with prevailing customs  the Indian Navy relaxed the provisions governing wearing of moustaches and beards.

The regulations were amended so that  now  the issue of permitting “moustaches without beards” was left to the Commanding Officer’s discretion.

After these amendments  the Captain could permit officers and sailors to wear moustaches and beards or shave them off, if they so desired. 

Moustaches and beard could be worn with or without the beard and moustaches respectively. 

Side whiskers were permitted down to the level of the lobe of the ear. 

Moustaches, beard and whiskers had to be neatly cut and trimmed. 

Of course – this privilege may be withdrawn in cases of untidy growth.

This relaxation has resulted in many navy youngsters sporting moustaches.

Of course  the seasoned sea-dogs preferred “full-set” beards.


WHY I GREW A “FULL SET” NAVY BEARD

After completing our basic naval training  we were sent for our specialization course.

As I told you earlier  consequent to the relaxation of “appearance” regulations  a few young officers had started sporting moustaches  and I too felt like having a moustache.

So  the moment we reported for the specialization course  I applied for permission to grow a moustache.

The Commanding Officer refused permission.

I protested to my training officer  but he showed me the regulations which stated that granting permission for moustache was the Commanding Officer’s prerogative.

“Sir  suppose I seek permission to grow a beard?” I asked.

“If you apply for permission to grow a beard  he will have to grant you permission  at least for three weeks,” the Training Officer said.

My request to “cease shaving” was promptly granted.

I stopped shaving  and my beard started to grow.

Around 15 days later  during Friday morning divisions (parade)  the Commanding Officer  who was inspecting the Under Trainee Officers Division, suddenly stopped before me.

The Commanding Officer looked at my face  as if scrutinizing it  and he said, “You look good in a beard. Your beard suits you. Keep it.”

This happened more than 37 years ago  and my beloved beard has already celebrated its 37th birthday a few months ago.

Quite funny  isn’t it?

I wanted to grow a moustache  but  thanks to quirks of the Navy  I landed up growing a beard instead.

But once I grew my beard  I started liking my beard  and soon my beard became so sacrosanct to me  that I never shaved it off.

I love my majestic beard.

My beard has been my loyal companion throughout my entire naval career  and now my beard is my faithful friend in my lonely retirement days

I am proud of my beard.

I am glad I have a beard.

In hindsight  I do not know whether joining the Navy was good for me  or whether I would have done better in the “civvy street”.

But  one thing is for sure.

I owe my beard to the Navy.

Had it not been for the Navy  I may not have kept a beard.

And as I write this  from time to time  I lovingly caress my lovely beard. 


QUOTES ON BEARDS

In conclusion  let me give you 3 quotes on beards:

A woman with a beard looks like a man – and a man without a beard looks like a woman
~ Afghan saying

There are two kinds of people in this world that go around beardless – boys and women – and I am neither one
~ Greek saying

He that hath a beard is more than a youth  and he that hath no beard is less than a man
~ William Shakespeare

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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Disclaimer:
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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Revised Version of my story posted online earlier in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Blog on 21 Sep 2014 at url: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2014/09/why-i-have-beard-humor-in-uniform.html  and on 29 April 2015 at url: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/04/join-navy-and-grow-beard-story-of-my.html
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