Saturday, June 2, 2018

“Dead Letter” – Twisted Sense of Humor or a Cruel Joke...?

This story happened 5 years ago – in the year 2013... 

Link to the original post in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal: 

Twisted Sense of Humor or a Cruel Joke...?


In the famous War Novel CATCH-22 – there is a character called Doc Daneeka.

Doc Daneeka is a civilian doctor who was building up a good medical practice in New York – when World War II suddenly broke out – and they drafted him into the US Army Air Force for the War as a Flight Surgeon.

One of his requisites of being an Air Corps Doctor includes logging four hours per month of Flight Time in order to earn his Flight Pay.

However  Doc Daneeka hates to fly – he is very scared of flying.

Though Doc Daneeka is scared of flying  he still wants to get flight pay.

So  he asks his bombardier friend Yossarian to persuade a Pilot named McWatt to falsely enter Doc Daneeka’s name in his Flight Log on Training Missions and Non-Combat Flights (Milk Runs).

“What difference does it make to anyone whether I am in the plane or not...?” Doc Daneeka says to his friend Yossarian.

So  Yossarian helps Doc Daneeka by convincing his friend McWatt to enter Doc Daneeka’s name on the flight roster on routine non-combat flights.

Thus  Doc Daneeka’s flight hours are duly recorded without him having to leave the ground.

This enables Doc Daneeka to collect his flight pay every month without ever having to get into an aircraft.

This arrangement goes on satisfactorily for many months.

Then  suddenly  while on a training flight  McWatt flies too low and he crashes into a mountain – and whole aircraft instantly goes up in flames.

Since McWatt’s flight roster includes Doc Daneeka’s name  it is assumed that Doc Daneeka also died on the flight.

So  Doc Daneeka is officially pronounced dead.

Though Doc Daneeka is physically alive  on paper he is declared dead – and in the military bureaucracy  it is paper that rules supreme.

Since Doc Daneeka is officially declared dead  his rations, his pay, and all his entitlements are stopped. 

As per bureaucratic procedure  Doc Daneeka’s wife is notified of her husband Doc Daneeka’s death. 

Doc Daneeka’s wife is back home in New York – while Doc Daneeka is fighting the war overseas. 

Doc Daneeka runs from pillar to post trying to prove that he is actually alive – but to no avail  since the “unstoppable” bureaucratic processes have been set in motion – once Doc Daneeka has been officially notified as dead – since his name was on the crew manifest of the aircraft that crashed.

He writes a desperate letter to his wife back home telling her that is alive.

Doc Daneeka’s wife informs the War Department of her husband’s letter. 

But – the War Department writes back confirming that Doc Daneeka is dead – and says that the letter must have been written by some sadistic and psychotic forger in her husband’s squadron – and – the War Deparment advises Doc Daneeka’s wife that she should ignore all such letters in future.

So, Doc Daneeka’s wife ignores all future letters from her husband.

Meanwhile  since Doc Daneeka is officially declared dead while on duty in a war zone  he is declared “Killed in Action” (KIA).

Doc Daneeka’s wife receives considerable financial benefits from insurance, pension, ex-gratia payments, gratuities etc since her brave husband has been “martyred” in war while serving the nation.

Having become considerably wealthy thanks to her husband being “killed in action”, Doc Daneeka’s wife relocates to a more posh neighbourhood, and since she is fed up with receiving repeated letters purportedly written by her distraught husband Doc Daneeka begging her to tell everyone that he is alive (which she thinks are written by some imposter), she leaves no forwarding address.

Thus  we have a cruelly hilarious situation of a living man being declared dead.

Around 5 years ago – in the year 2013 – we were “victims” of a similarly cruelly hilarious situation  but exactly the opposite  where a dead man was presumed to be “alive”.

Catch-22 is fiction  but sometimes – truth can be stranger than fiction.

In Catch-22  the US Army declared a living man dead.

In this story  the Indian Army once declared a dead man alive.

Let me tell you about it.


My late father-in-law joined the Indian Army soon after Independence – as a Cadet – via the prestigious First Course of the National Defence Academy (NDA) (or 1st JSW  as he liked to call it).

He retired as a Brigadier in 1986.

If he had been alive today  he would have been more than 86 years old.

Sadly  my father-in-law passed away in the year 2008. 

(This story happened in the year 2013 – 5 years after his death)

When my father-in-law died in 2008  we intimated all concerned  including Army Headquarters.

We filled up the required forms  forwarded his death certificate  and completed the necessary paper formalities.

His widow (my mother-in-law) duly received a letter of condolence from Army Headquarters.

More than five years passed since his death.

One morning – suddenly  5 years after his death  in the year 2013  the postman delivered a letter in a typical shabby khaki makeshift envelope which is used for official “fauji” correspondence.

The Brigadier’s widow was taken aback when she saw that the letter had been addressed to her husband  who had died more than 5 years ago.

At first  we thought it was a mistake on the envelope  but when we opened the letter – we saw that the letter was very much addressed to the dead Brigadier.

There are phrases in the letter addressed to the dead Brigadier like: 

“…payment of rank pay arrears in YOUR respect is pending…” 

“…YOU are requested to forward details directly to…”

The frequent use of the words “YOU” and “YOUR” – and the tone of the language used in the letter clearly indicated that the officer signing the letter believed that the addressee (my father-in-law) was still alive.

To top it off  to add insult to the injury  the letter ended with the salutation (in bold letters) to my dead father-in-law:

“All ranks of your Army convey their greetings and best wishes to you and your family”

My father-in-law was already resting in peace in his heavenly abode for the last 5 years.

Maybe  he could convey the “greetings” to his wife when she too reaches heaven...!!!

(I wonder if that is what the Army wanted...?)

It is good to know that the Army cares for you after you are dead and gone.

Never mind that they did not bother much about you when you were alive and serving.

If the Army cared about you  they would have paid rank pay arrears in time when you were serving  and not waited for so many years after you had retired from service and were dead and gone.

In fact  if the Army Top Brass really cared for its Officers and Soldiers  there would be no need for “arrears” of any kind – as all payments and dues would be made promptly on time.

Maybe I am digressing  so let me look at the letter addressed to the dead Brigadier once again.


Perusal of the letter reveals the following.

Instead of taking the pains to sign each letter after checking that the details are correct  it appears that – inter alia – the following short-cut “chalta hai” shoddy staff work was resorted to:

1. The letter was typed leaving details of the addressees blank.

2. One copy of the letter was signed by the Staff Officer.

3. Xerox copies of the letter were made.

4. It was to left to the clerical staff to fill in details of the addressees and dispatch the letters.

5. The Staff Officer did not bother to check the letters and confirm that the correct details filled in before the letters were dispatched.

Is this not lazy slipshod staff work...?

Is this what is expected of a DSSC Staff College qualified Staff Officer (which obviously every Staff Officer posted in Army Headquarters would be)...?

Does Staff College teach Army Staff Officers to address letters to Dead Officers...?

This letter is signed by an Army Officer  so surely the Army can’t blame Politicians and Civilian Bureaucrats for this insensitive faux pas

(If the staff officer did indeed check and confirm correctness of addressee details  it indicates that records have not been updated for many years – and there are many such “dead officers” – who still are “alive and kicking” – as per Army records).

Like it happened in Catch-22  if an “alive and well” officer can declared be “dead on paper”  then why can’t an actually “dead and gone” RIP officer not be declared “alive and kicking” on paper...?


“What’s the big deal..?” you may say, “Such minor errors happen. Or maybe  it’s their sense of humor – resurrecting the dead  like in the movie Dracula Has Risen from the Grave – so just chill...”

Yes  it all depends on how you look at it – a trivial oversight  or an insensitive blunder.

My late father-in-law had a great sense of humor.

If I could tell him about this gaffe  he would have a good laugh – he would have even threatened to come back to earth from his heavenly abode.

But – from the perspective of my mother-in-law  or other widows of dead officers who have received similar letters addressed to their dead husbands  I really don’t know how they feel.

From their point of view  is this “faux pas” a rather perverted Twisted Sense of Humor – or is it an insensitive Cruel Joke...? 

Copyright © Vikram Karve
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1. This story is a fictional 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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Link to the original post in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal:  and reposted in my Navy Yarns Blog at url:

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