Thursday, September 8, 2016

Humor in Uniform – How the Navy “Saved” My Marriage

This is a hilarious “memoir” from my Vizag Navy Days – a story that happened around 27 years ago – sometime in the late 1980’s...
 
HOW THE NAVY “SAVED” MY MARRIAGE
A Fictional Spoof
By
VIKRAM KARVE 

Part 1

NOWA  SODA  NWWA  LOHA  (The Navy Ladies)

In the 1970’s  it was a  delightful laissez-faire Navy – especially in Mumbai (then called Bombay) 

And  like me – if you were carefree Navy Bachelor serving on a ship based in Mumbai  there was so much fun and life outside in Maximum City  that you barely knew what Naval Wives did  except for the occasional social interaction during one of those rare ship’s wardroom parties where ladies were invited.

Of course  you had probably heard of an organisation called Naval Officers Wives Association (NOWA) – especially if your Captain’s wife was one those active “Social Bees.

But  if you were a smart career conscious “upwardly-mobile” single Naval Officer  it made sense to hobnob with SODA.

No  I don’t mean the “soda” you mix with whisky.

I am referring to Senior Officers Daughters Association (SODA).

Needless to say  acquiring a SODA wife had great advantages  because you suddenly acquired lots of influential “uncles” and “aunties” in the service.

Now  once a “SODA” daughter married a Naval Officer  she also became a “NOWA” wife.

A double benefit wife  “SODA + NOWA” wife  she was an unbeatable winning combination guaranteed to propel you to high rank.

Now  with the entry of Lady Officers in the Navy  maybe it would be a good idea to start a Lady Officers Husbands Association (LOHA) for the Husbands of Lady Naval Officers to bond together.

Unfortunately  I did not have the honour of becoming a member of any of these exalted organisations.

1. I was not the wife of a Naval Officer  so I was not eligible for NOWA

2. I was not the daughter of a senior Naval Officer  so SODA was out of the reckoning.

3. I was not the husband of a Lady Naval Officer  so no LOHA for me.

I was just a mere Naval Officer

But  I am still confused about one thing.

Suppose a Female Naval Officer marries a Male Naval Officer.

Does the Lady Naval Officer become a member of NOWA...?

Or – does the Naval Officer Husband of the Lady Naval Officer become a member of LOHA...?

Can you wear uniform and still be a member of these “social” organisations by virtue of your marriage...?

I am sure some knowledgeable veteran will clear this doubt and educate us – and – tell us – if so  why so  and  if not  why not.

When I got married in 1982 my newly wedded wife automatically became a member of NOWA.

I discovered this when I saw my monthly mess bill  and  I found that my NOWA contribution had been duly deducted.

In the Navy you have no choice in these matters.

Whether you like it or not  the moment you get married  your wife becomes a member of NOWA  and  the subscription is compulsorily deducted.  

However  at that time  the Chief of the Naval Staff was a lifelong Confirmed Bachelor.

He was a true devoted Sea Dog – “married to the navy” – and  he probably didn’t care much for NOWA (and other such wives associations).

So  in the absence of a “first lady”  it seemed that NOWA was adrift and defunct  at least in New Delhi  where I was posted at that time.

Meanwhile  my wife started working  and  I do not recall her going to any NOWA event.

In fact  except for the “Ladies Club” at IAT Pune (an inter-service institution) which my wife regularly attended  I don’t think she participated in NOWA at Mumbai – since – we lived in Vasant Sagar in Churchgate – quite far away from the Navy Township  and – while I was busy on a ship – my wife was busy with our small son.

The only time my wife actively participated in NWWA was when we were posted to Vizag (Visakhapatnam).

Yes  you read right. 

Yes – NOWA had become NWWA – sometime in the mid 1980’s  NOWA was renamed as NWWA.

We love changing names – names of roads are changed  names of cities have been changed.

In the Navy too  “Supply and Secretariat” (S&S) became “Logistics”  TAS (Torpedo Anti-Submarine) became ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare)  inter-service training “schools” became “colleges” and “institutes”  and even Naval Headquarters (NHQ) has become IHQ (Integrated Headquarters).

Similarly  Naval Officers Wives Association (NOWA) was re-christened Navy Wives Welfare Association (NWWA)

Those were halcyon NWWA days in Vizag  which was jokingly called the “Entertainment Naval Command” (ENC)  the others being the “Working Naval Command” (WNC)  and  “Sleeping Naval Command” (SNC).

My son had started going to school  I was away sailing most of the time  and my “homemaker” wife thoroughly enjoyed NWWA activities  and  she made lots of friends.

Besides social events like those grand “husbands’ night” parties with magnificent entertainment and delicious food   NWWA did a lot of genuine welfare and education activities too  in which my wife loved to participate.

Once our daughter arrived  my wife had to taper off from NWWA activities to bring up the baby.

The story I am about to narrate occurred during this period. 

Part 2

“MADE FOR EACH OTHER” COUPLE

The most eagerly awaited event of Naval Social Calendar is the annual Navy Ball held in December.

And the two highlights of the Navy Ball are the Fashion Show and the Navy Queen Contest.

We were surprised to see that the Vizag Navy Ball was much more grandiose than the Mumbai Navy Ball – the fashion show had top models walking the ramp  and the Navy Queen Contest had the best of gorgeous beauties participating since this prestigious beauty pageant was a stepping stone for a career in showbiz and the glamour world.

Then things changed.

There was a new C-in-C.

His wife automatically became the ex officio Head of NWWA by virtue of her husband’s appointment.

NWWA is the acronym for Navy Wives Welfare Association – earlier known as Naval Officers Wives Association (NOWA)

The new Head of NWWA (C-in-C’s wife) was a charismatic and forceful personality (she even dominated her hubby  the C-in-C’s – who wisely focused on professional affairs and let his wife run social affairs)

Also – the new C-in-C’s wife was a staunch feminist  and she had “progressive” ideas.

She decreed that there would be no “commodification” of women.

So  the Navy Queen Contest was scrapped.

Instead of the Navy Queen Pageant  there would be a “made-for-each-other couple” contest. 

The “feminist” NWWA Head-Honcho also scrapped the Fashion Show by Female Models – because – as I told you earlier – the “activist” NWWA Boss was against the “commodification” of women.

Now – the Navy Queen Contest and Fashion Show were the highlights of the Navy Ball.

So  with the scrapping of the Navy Queen Contest and Fashion Show – all interest in the Navy Ball waned.

The sale of tickets for the Navy Ball fell sharply.

This problem was solved by compulsory sale of tickets to all officers. 

All Officers were ordered to attend the Navy Ball.

The second problem was that there were no entries for the “made-for-each-other couple” contest.

The high profile Navy Queen Pageant was an open competition – and –the Navy Queen contest used to attract a large number of entries from young ladies – from Vizag  and  even from places as far away as Calcutta (now Kolkata) Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar and Madras (now Chennai).

However  it seemed that no married couple wanted to sashay on the ramp for the “made-for-each-other couple” contest.

Yes  only married couples were eligible for the “made-for-each-other couple” contest  well – the NWWA head-honcho may have been a self-styled feminist  but apparently she was not a “liberated” feminist.

Civilian couples of Vizag did not fancy parading on the ramp  and  it seemed that the Navy Couples too were not keen on participating in the “made-for-each-other couple” contest. 

After many years of Navy Queen Contests  people were quite skeptical about this new “made-for-each-other couple” contest.

So  there was not even a single entry for the “made-for-each-other couple” contest.

The powers-that-be were disappointed with the poor response.

So  NWWA was pressed into action.

All “young” wives were told to “report” with their husbands for the preliminary round of the “made-for-each-other couple” contest in the ENC Officers Mess.

My wife ignored the missive.

She did not even tell me about it.

In fact  most naval wives did the same.

The result was that just 3 couples turned up for the preliminary round.

They could have crowned the 3 couples then and there – as the winner “made-for-each-other couple” – and first and second runners up.

But  this did not happen.

The “head honcho” of NWWA was furious.

She was determined to make a grand success of her “trailblazer” idea – the “made-for-each-other couple” contest  which was being held for the first time in the Navy Ball.

Her prestige was at stake.

Yes – for her  the success of the “made-for-each-other couple” contest became a “prestige issue”.

So – she pressed her cohorts into action.

Qualitative Requirements (QRs) were drawn up  and “target couples” were identified for the “made-for-each-other couple” contest. 

Lists of “target couples” were sent to ships and units  and commanding officers were ordered to direct those officers and their lady wives to “volunteer” – and be present for the preliminary round of the “made-for-each-other couple” contest that evening.

Simultaneously  similar parallel “directives” were passed on to the wives via NWWA channels.

Unfortunately  we  my wife and I  were identified as a “target couple”.

A message was accordingly passed on to me  that my wife and I should be present for the preliminary round of the contest at 7 in the evening – my wife in a Sari  and me  in Red Sea Rig uniform. 

I decided to ignore the “order”.

When I reached home  before I could speak  my agitated wife told me about the visit of some NWWA office-bearer” ladies.

She was upset.

She had told the NWWA flunkies that she could not leave our baby daughter alone at home  and hence  she could not participate in the “made-for-each-other couple” contest.

But  the NWWA gang refused to listen to her pleas  and – they said that NWWA had made Baby Care arrangements at the Navy Ball.  

When my wife bluntly told them that she was not interested in taking part in the “made-for-each-other couple” contest  subtle hints were dropped  that her “negative” attitude may not be good for my career.

Remember  this was ENC – the “Entertainment Naval Command”.

We had earlier been posted in WNC – the “Working Naval Command” – where the culture was different – and – for my wife  this was the first time NWWA was exerting pressure and compelling her to do something she did not want to do.

I did not want to force my wife to do anything against her will  especially participate in such a “made-for-each-other couple” contest  which I thought was quite ludicrous. 

We decided not to participate in the “made-for-each-other couple” contest.

So – w my wife and I  we did not go for the preliminary round for the “made-for-each-other couple” contest. 

We were duly marked “absent”.

Part 3

MY MARRIAGE IS “ON THE ROCKS”

Next morning  my boss  a Commodore  summoned me to his office.

He looked at me and said to me: “Look here. You know me. I never interfere in the personal lives of my officers. But – I beg you – please take your wife and go for that bloody preliminary round of the “made-for-each-other” couple contest in the evening...”

“Sir, the preliminary round was last evening,” I said.

“Well – last evening – only 5 couples landed up. So the preliminary round of the “made-for-each-other couple contest is re-scheduled at 7 this evening. You buggers don’t go for events – and we are being asked explanations from the top. Please make sure you go. I know you have a small son and a baby daughter. My wife will look after them. But you and your wife – please go for the preliminary round of the “made-for-each-other” couple contest  for heaven’s sake – please go – otherwise...” he pleaded with me.

“Sir, my wife …” I tried to reason with him.

“No excuses. I don’t want to hear any excuses...” my boss said.

“Sir, please listen …” I pleaded.

“What …?” my boss asked.

My marriage is on the rocks. My wife and I – we are not on speaking terms. There is so much marital discord that it looks like my marriage is going to break up – it seems that we are heading for a divorce...” I said, with a sad face.

“What...? Divorce...? Your marriage is on the rocks...? You never told me all this...!” my boss said – with a surprised look on his face.

“I am sorry, Sir – but under these circumstances of marital discord – I don’t think it is appropriate for us to take part in the made-for-each-other couple contest...” I said sheepishly.

“Okay. I can understand. I will tell them. But you must sort out things with your wife. You have small children. You may have some marital discord  but divorce is not a solution. You must try and make your marriage work. You must take some help in these matters. I will try and see what I can do. You can go now...” my boss said to me – with a worried look on his face.

Back in my office  I congratulated myself for my quick thinking  which had extricated us from the “made-for-each-other couple” contest.

Then  I had a good laugh to myself.

While I was laughing  my boss was acting.

He made a two calls.

First  he called up the NWWA powers-that-be.

Then  he called up his wife.

The result was that NWWA was asked to intervene – to try to “save” our marriage – which was “on-the-rocks”.

Now  ladies love to gossip  so  the rumor mill was instantaneously abuzz  and various theories were floated by “know-it-all” gossip-mongers.

“They are incompatible...” the more charitable ladies said about us.

But  most ladies agreed that it was me  as the husband  who was fully to blame for the “breakdown” of our marriage.

Some ladies let their imagination run wild  and they even painted me as a drunkard and wife-beater.

Luckily  the NWWA “marriage counsellor” lived directly above our house in Naval Park  and she knew us well.

She got a call from the NWWA “head honcho” asking her to talk to us  and then brief her on the “marital discord case”.

The “marriage counsellor” had a hearty laugh  and she said to the NWWA head-honcho: 

“Ma’am  I know them well. Nothing is wrong with their marriage. In fact  I had a chat with the wife just a few moments ago on the way up to my house. It looks like her naughty husband is up to some mischief. I will tell her  and she will straighten him out.”

“Are you sure?” the NWWA “head honcho” asked.

“I have seen so many marriages. My marriage may break  your marriage may break  but they are not going to split – that’s for sure...” the NWWA “marriage counsellor” remarked about us.

The “marriage counsellor” felt – that – my wife and I  were in fact a genuine “made-for-each-other couple”.

In her opinion  we were not a fake “made-for-each-other couple” – like many others. 

(Well – that was her opinion)

When I reached home in the evening – I saw that the “marriage counsellor” neighbour and my wife  both of them – were waiting for me.

I told them everything  and we had a big laugh.

And yes  thereafter  no one asked us to take part in the “made-for-each-other couple” contest  which was won by a truly “made-for-each-other couple” – who were good friends of ours.

After this  for the rest of our tenure in Vizag  my embarrassed wife steered clear of NWWA  in order to avoid the knowing looks of pity and sympathy for having such terrible husband like me (since rumors never die).

By the way  the “made-for-each-other couple” contest was scrapped and discarded  the moment the C-in-C was posted out along with his “feminist” wife. 

The new C-in-C made sure that the traditional Navy Queen Pageant in the Navy Ball was started once again.

And  I hope – that the Navy Ball with its unique Navy Queen Pageant continues to this day (unless – someone has again changed things again just to suit his/her whims and fancies”)

As they say in the Navy: “Normal Service Resumed”

VIKRAM KARVE
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1. This story 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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