Thursday, November 26, 2015

Humor in Uniform – The Law of Triviality


Musings of a Navy Veteran
A Spoof


Early this year  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 in the Navy  and who was once a student of mine at this very same institution more than 30 years ago in the mid 1980’s.

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 –which was far removed from combat.

Probably – the only combat out there were the internecine turf wars between the 3 wings of the defence services and “ego battles” between senior officers.

What was even more startling  was the jarring golden star on the Commodore’s collar.

I had never seen commissioned Naval Officers wear insignia on their collars like the gaudy collar tabs (or collar dogs) the Commodore was wearing on his shirt collar.

(Earlier  till the late 1970’s  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 which looked totally incongruous on Navy 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 the Urgent and Important Complex Operational Problems, Equipment Obsolescence and Human Resource Issues faced by the Defence Services – the Military “Top Brass” focusing on “Fashion Design” and were devoting their energies to Trivial Issues like Embellishing, Decorating and adding “Colour to Military Uniforms with all types of decorative insignia” “stars” “badges” “tabs” “emblems” and gaudy colourful accoutrements to show off their ranks – just like “peacocks” show off their plumage.

(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 military uniforms.

Yes – the “ornamental” and showy uniforms the Armed Forces and Police wear today bear little resemblance to the simple Soldierly Military 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 of a simple bicycle shed  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” generalist 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 granting of “one rank one pension” (OROP) to ex-servicemen is acrimoniously debated and discussed ad nauseum  and in all probability  the generalists and powers-that-be are reluctant to sanction this comparatively trivial expenditure because they can clearly understand and comprehend the simple proposal.

In the first section above – I gave you the example of frequent trivial cosmetic changes in military uniforms and ceremonials which are totally unnecessary  since these cosmetic changes in uniforms and ceremonials 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 asked some uncomfortable questions about large expenditures shown in the balance sheet.

He was curtly told to shut up and sit down by the PMC – who admonished the junior officer: “The Balance Sheet has been audited by a Chartered Accountant (CA), You are a piddly Lieutenant – and that too from from NDA. Do you know more about accounting and finance than a bloody CA...?”

Important issues are disposed off quickly without any discussion – since most senior officers are quite clueless on these subjects.

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.

I remember once that many hours were spent in heated debate on which flower-pots to buy for the officers mess – but items worth lakhs of rupees were approved without a murmur.

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

In personal life too – we gullibly buy a house costing crores of rupees  or purchase expensive jewellery and electronic items costing lakhs of rupees without due diligence – spend huge amounts of money on ostentatious events like weddings and give lavish parties without a second thought  but we haggle with the vegetable vendor for a few rupees. 

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 article is a spoof, satire, 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 stories 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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