Wednesday, June 19, 2013



Memories of my Navy Life

1. Please read this only if you have a sense of humour. This is a spoof, a yarn, just for a laugh, so please take it with a pinch of salt.
2. Serious humourless mentally straitjacketed “Service Minded” husbands and wives, and those strait-laced “married to the service” (army navy air force) types, are advised not to read this.
3. This story is a work of fiction. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013 all rights reserved


In the 1970’s, when you were carefree navy bachelor serving on a ship, especially in Mumbai, there was so much fun and life outside, 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 “SODA + NOWA” wife 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.

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

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.

But I am still confused about one thing.

Suppose a female naval officer marries a male naval officer:

Can the lady naval officer become a member of NOWA?

Or can the naval husband of the naval lady 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 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 found that my NOWA contribution had been duly deducted.

In the navy you have no choice in these matters.

Whether you want 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” who probably didn’t care much for 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 don’t recall her going to any NOWA event.

In fact, except for the “Ladies Club” at IAT Pune (an inter-service institution) which she regularly attended, I don’t think she participated in NOWA at Mumbai – we lived quite far away, I was busy on a ship and she 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 – sometime in the mid 1980’s NOWA was renamed as NWWA.

We love changing names – names of roads, and so many cities, have been changed.

In the Navy too, “Supply and Secretariat” (S&S) Branch became “Logistics”, TAS became ASW, inter-service training “schools” became “colleges” and “institutes”, and even NHQ has become IHQ.

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

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

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

Besides events like those grand “husbands’ nights” 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 to bring up the baby.

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


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 became the ex officio head of NWWA.

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.

Interest waned.

The sale of tickets for the Navy Ball fell sharply.

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

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 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).

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.

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 two couples turned up for the preliminary round.

They could have crowned them then and there – as the winners and first and second runners up.

But this did not happen.

The “head honcho” of NWWA was furious.

She was determined to make her “trailblazer” first time in a Navy Ball “made-for-each-other couple” contest a grand success.

Her prestige was at stake.

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

So she pressed her cohorts into action.

QRs were drawn up and lists of “target couples” were sent to ships and units who 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 “directives” were passed on to the wives via NWWA channels.

Unfortunately, we, my wife and I, were 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.

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

She was upset.

She told the NWWA flunkies that she did not want to leave our baby daughter alone and hence could not participate.

But they refused to listen saying that they had made baby care arrangements.   

When she bluntly told them that she was not interested in taking part in the contests, subtle hints were dropped that her “negative” attitude may not be good for my career.

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 contest that I thought was quite ludicrous.

We did not go for the preliminary round for the “made-for-each-other” contest.

Next morning, my boss summoned me to his office.

“Look here. You know me. I never interfere in the personal lives of my officers. But I beg of you – please take your wife and go for that bloody preliminary round in the evening,” he said.

“Sir, that was last evening,” I said.

“Only five couples landed up. So it is re-scheduled at 7 this evening. You buggers don’t go 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, for heaven’s sake, please go.”

“Sir, my wife …”

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

“Sir, please listen …”

“What …?”

“Our 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 – we may get divorced,” I said with a sad face.

“What? You never told me all this.”

“I am sorry, Sir, but under these circumstances 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’ll tell them. But you must sort out things with your wife. You must take some help in these matters. I’ll see what I can do. You can go now,” my boss said 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 – one to the NWWA powers-that-be and one to his wife.

The result was that NWWA was asked to intervene and try to “save” our marriage.

Now, ladies like to gossip, so the rumour mill was instantaneously abuzz and various theories were floated by “know-it-all” gossipmongers.

“They are incompatible,” the more charitable one’s said, but most agreed that I, as the husband, was to blame for the “breakdown” of our marriage and some let their imagination run wild and even painted me as a drunkard and wife-beater.

Luckily, the NWWA “marriage counsellor” lived above our house and knew us well.

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

The “marriage counsellor” had a hearty laugh and said, “I know them well and I have seen so many marriages. Nothing is wrong with their marriage. It looks like her husband is up to some mischief. I’ll tell her and she’ll straighten him out.”

“Are you sure?”

“My marriage may break, but they are not going to split – that’s for sure.”

They, the “marriage counsellor” neighbour and my wife, were waiting for me in the evening.

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.

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 (since rumours never die).

By the way, the “made-for-each-other couple” contest was discarded the moment the C-in-C was posted out.

The traditional Navy Queen pageant was started again and continues to this day.

I sometimes wonder whether NWWA is a “system based” organisation or a “personality driven” organisation.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this book review. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013 all rights reserved

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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1 comment:

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