Sunday, July 10, 2016

Humor in Uniform – “Porthole Strategy” – How to Deal with Inconvenient Orders

HUMOUR IN UNIFORM

“PORTHOLE STRATEGY”
How to Deal with Inconvenient Orders
A Spoof
By
VIKRAM KARVE


NAVY STYLE “PORTHOLE STRATEGY”

Around 39 years ago – in the 1970’s  we had a maverick Supply Officer (of the erstwhile S&S Branch) on our ship.

Those days – Supply & Secretariat (S&S) Branch Officers were the self-styled “experts” on all Secretarial matters like office correspondence. 

Later the Supply & Secretariat (S&S) Branch was renamed as the Logistics Branch and Supply Officers are now called Logistics Officers.

Why this was done – I do not know – but – the Navy seems to have a penchant for changing names and uniforms.

Getting back to the story – our ship was not air-conditioned.

Yes – our ship was one of the last of the Non-AC ships in the fleet – so this ship had portholes (windows) on the ships side – which we always kept open for fresh air and ventilation.

Also – in the 1970s – there was no internet, no email etc – so all correspondence was on paper by “snail mail” – via the postal service.

If the ship was sailing – which was most often the case – the letters would arrive in “mail bags” – which would chase the ship – and try to catch the ship in the next port-of-call.

Sometimes – it would take a month or so – or even more – for a letter to reach the ship.

One day – as we arrived in a distant port after a long sailing – a mail bag arrived – and among the mail was a letter from Headquarters asking for some inconsequential details – about which everyone in my department seemed clueless.

So – I went to our Supply Officer to seek advice.

“Do you feel the letter is important...?” the Supply Officer asked me.

“No Sir – I don’t think this letter is important – it seems to be a standard duty watch” type letter issued to all ships in which they are asking for some trivial details from all ships about which I am clueless...” I said.

“Is the letter classified...?” he asked.

“No Sir...” I said.

“Then – just throw the letter out of the porthole...” he said.

“What...? Throw this letter out of the porthole into the sea...?” I said, taken aback.

“Yes – throw it out of the bloody porthole. The way we are sailing – they will wait for at least a month or two for a reply – and maybe  they will forget about it – or they may send a reminder. So – it will take at least two months before the reminder arrives on board. Then – if and when a reminder letter comes – you throw that letter out of the porthole too. By the time the next reminder comes – both you and I will transferred be out of this ship – and our successors will figure out what the letter was all about...” the Supply Officer said.

“Aye Aye, Sir...” I said, happily

“Check again – I hope the letter is not classified...?” the Supply Officer asked me.

“No Sir – this letter is not classified...” I said.

“Good...” he said.

“Sir – I have a question...?” I said.

“Go ahead...” he said.

“Sir – what do we do with such inconvenient and inconsequential letters in case they are classified...?” I asked.

“If the letter is classified – then file it and forget about it...” he elaborated, File and Forget (“F&F”)...

I was impressed by the Supply Officer’s Mantra which encapsulated the gist of how to handle inconvenient/inconsequential letters:

“If the letter was unclassified  Throw it out of the Porthole

If the letter was classified  File and Forget...”

I did not have the guts to throw the letter out of the porthole into the sea – and  I had my doubts about whether the Supply Officer was being serious  or – was he just pulling my leg.

So – I buried the letter in a file  and I forgot about it.

Luckily – there was no reminder till I was transferred out of the ship 3 months later.

Soon – all ships were air-conditioned – so this “porthole strategy” probably became obsolete.

Also – the S&S Branch was abolished  and – the S&S Branch merged into the Executive Branch (“X” Branch).

So – after “S&S” was absorbed into the “X” Branch  and all “S&S” officers became “X” officers  such gems of “secretarial expertise” disappeared.

Of course – a few years after the merger of “X” and “S&S” – when some erstwhile S&S officers reached high rank and threatened to take over as CNS and CinC (since they were “Executive Officers” now) – in order to obviate this possibility – the “powers-that-be” quickly re-created the S&S Branch in a new avatar – and called it the Logistics Branch – but the new Logistics Branch never had the élan of the erstwhile S&S Branch.

And now – with the advent of internet – and leaps in information technology – the navy may have stopped all paper correspondence and become a paperless organisation using e-governance techniques and digital correspondence

I wonder how the “porthole strategy” can be applied to digital correspondence...?

But  I am sure that some tech-savvy geniuses must have found a way to do so  and now  “porthole strategy” must be much easier at the tap of some keyboard keys.


ARMY STYLE “PORTHOLE STRATEGY”

A few years later – I was “posted” to an inter-services organization  dominated by Army Culture.

One day a letter arrived from Army Headquarters.

The gist of the letter was that the “powers-that-be” had taken a “serious view” regarding misuse of “sahayaks” (batmen/orderlies).

The letter stated that “sahayaks” were combat soldiers.

So  “sahayaks” were not to be employed for “demeaning” work and “undignified” tasks.

The letter specified a list of “degrading” tasks for which the use of “sahayaks” was prohibited.

One of the “prohibited tasks” was walking the officer’s dog (dog-walking).

The letter clearly stated that “sahayaks” were not to be tasked with dog-walking the officer’s dog.

Yes  army officers were directed that they should not ask their “sahayaks” to take the officer’s dog for a walk.

If an officer asked his “sahayak” to take his pet dog for a walk – then it would tantamount to misuse of the “sahayak”.

Well – that is what the letter said.

The letter was marked for wide circulation – and  some wisecrack in the office had highlighted the point regarding dog-walking and endorsed: “copy to all dog owners”.

That is how a copy of the letter landed up on my table.

I had a pet dog.

But – being a Naval Officer – I personally looked after my own pet dog and took my dog for walks myself – since I did not enjoy the luxury of a “sahayak” like my army counterparts.

In the evening – when I took my dog out for the customary walk – I expected to see my fellow army officers walk their dogs – in compliance with the directive to army officers that “sahayaks” were not to be employed as “dog-walkers” for officers’ dogs.

But Lo and Behold  – what did I see...?

The dogs were on their walks – but I did not see any army officer taking his dog for a walk.

It was business as usual – and – it was the “sahayaks” who were taking their officer’s dogs for a walk.

The Brigadier’s Golden Retriever was on his walk with the Brigadier’s “sahayak”.

The Colonel’s Labrador  the Major’s German Shepherd  even the Captain’s Cocker Spaniel – all the “army dogs” were being taken for a walk by their respective “sahayaks”.

Only the “navy dog” was being taken for a walk by his Master (yours truly).

It seemed that the army too followed its own version of “porthole strategy” – to deal with inconvenient orders – they just ignored the orders.

VIKRAM KARVE
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