Tuesday, November 19, 2013



Unforgettable Characters I Met in the Navy

An Apocryphal Story

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 (all rights reserved)


Around two months ago, in September 2013, I was invited to conduct a workshop on “Blogging” at a Literary Meet.

During the discussions, a smart young lady sitting in the first row asked me a question: ‘Sir, I have read your book of short stories and I regularly read your writings, especially your fiction stories, on your blog. I was wondering – how is it possible that you can think so creatively despite having spent so many years in the navy?’

At first, I was stumped.

But I quickly recovered my wits and said; ‘Life in the Navy is so eventful, you meet so many unforgettable characters, you have so many interesting experiences, that you get plenty of material to write about.’

‘No, Sir. I didn’t mean experiences. I am asking about thinking ability – doesn’t military life affect the ability to think creatively?’ she asked.

‘I really didn’t understand your question – could you please elaborate?’ I asked her.

‘Sir, I was an army officer till recently and I found the atmosphere quite stifling and restrictive which inhibits creative thinking,’ she said.

‘You mean the military “anti-intellectualism” which suppresses intellectual activity – the “don’t use your brain – just do as you are told” army culture?’ I asked.

‘Yes, Sir – that is exactly what I mean!’ she said.

I smiled to myself.

She was echoing the thoughts of Liddell Hart who, while highlighting the dangers of “anti-intellectualism” in the army, had pointed out that “a lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought culminates so often in there being nothing left to express”.

There is a saying which applies to the brain: “Use it – or you will lose it”.

I have read somewhere that there is a relationship between mental activity and cerebral blood-flow and, like muscles, the brain atrophies from prolonged disuse.

The young ex-fauji lady had a point – living for prolonged duration in a dogmatic “don’t use your brain, just do as you are told” strait-jacketed “anti-intellectual” insular military environment can certainly affect your creative thinking abilities.

Obviously, during her days as an army officer, the young lady had experienced this intellectually suffocating feeling (and maybe she had also observed the detrimental effect of the prevailing military culture of “anti-intellectualism” on the creative faculties of her peers and seniors).

Maybe she felt that this blinkered thinking army culture was constraining her creativity and that is the reason why she had quit the army to enable her creative juices to flow freely – and her creativity was certainly flourishing, as was evident from the inspired creative writing on her blog.

Well, I told the young lady that the intellectual culture in the navy was certainly more liberal and “broadminded” and, in general, the navy milieu was conducive to creative thinking.

In fact, I found navy life quite eventful and this probably gave my creative thinking ability an impetus, as there was never a dull moment in the navy.

I had a delightful discussion with the charming young lady and, in jest, I told her that during my navy days in I always carried two brains inside me – a “fauji brain” for regimented military thoughts and a “creative brain” for interesting thoughts where I could let my imagination run wild.

Most of the naval officers I met were cerebral types, but I did come across a few anti-intellectual specimens too.

And since we are talking about “thoughts”, let me tell you about one such unforgettable character I came across 30 years ago.


After slogging for 5 years in the Navy, afloat and ashore, I was “selected” to undergo the 2 year M. Tech. course at IIT Delhi.

On completion of my post graduation (M.Tech) I was posted to the military “babudom” in Delhi – what we in the Navy jokingly referred to as the landlocked “Northern Naval Command”.

Though ostensibly it was an R&D billet (in consonance with my recently acquired M.Tech. qualification), in actual fact I was a pen-pusher, a Babu in uniform.

One afternoon, while I was elbow-bending in the bar of our Navy Wardroom, I met an ex-shipmate of mine, who was a few years senior to me.

We sat down to drink and talk about the good old days on the ship.

He told me that he was recently posted to Delhi and was looking after Training.

I told him about my M. Tech. and that I was posted to R&D.

“Hey, you are an intellectual type – why don’t you do a management course? We will fund you – at least your tuition fees,” he said.

I was clueless.

He told me about the new “Learn while you Earn” scheme to motivate naval officers to learn new things and acquire qualifications in their spare time, in the evenings and on holidays, off working hours.

“Come tomorrow to my office,” he said, “I’ll give you the application form and explain the details. Basically, all you have to do is to take admission to a part time evening course and we will reimburse your tuition fees once you qualify. Also, all efforts will be made to keep you in station till you complete the course.”

“That’s great,” I said, “I want to do a course in management.”

“Good. Come to my office tomorrow and I will tell you about the good management courses in Delhi,” he said.

Next morning, while I sat his office, he gave me a form and said, “I spoke to your appointer in DOP – he said that they were going to keep you here in Delhi for 3 years, so I suggest you apply for a proper evening course – I have tick marked the course in the form – now all you have to do is to get the signature of your boss and give me the form and I’ll give you approval in principle and permission to the give the entrance test. Once you qualify the entrance test and clear the interview and are selected for admission to the course, we will give you the proper sanction letter.”

I duly filled up the form and placed it before my boss for his signature.

My boss, a Commodore, was not impressed.

He said disinterestedly, “What management course? There is no need for you to do a management course. You better concentrate on your work here.”

“Sir, the classes are in the evening, after working hours,” I said.

“I know all that. These civilian courses are of no use. You are a permanent commission officer and you know that you can’t leave the navy. So you better focus on your career. Let me tell you frankly – in the navy, qualifications do not matter – how you perform in your job is all that matters. I am not recommending your application. Just go to your office and get on with your job,” my boss said firmly, handing me back my application form.

“Sir, what’s the harm in learning new things? After all, even the navy wants us to learn – that is why they must have started this ‘learn while you earn scheme’. Please Sir, I want to do this management course,” I persisted.

“Stop giving me bullshit,” my boss shouted, “I know what’s good for you. I don’t want my officers wasting their time and efforts doing management courses. There is plenty of work here. So just forget about this management course and focus on your job.”

I felt terribly disappointed. I had never expected my boss to have such a negative anti-intellectual attitude. In fact, I had thought that he would encourage me to do the management course.

I walked across to my ex-shipmate’s office in Training and told him the story.

“Leave the form here,” he said, “I will speak to my Director and try to do something.”

In the afternoon, I got a call on the intercom.

It was the Admiral’s Staff Officer: “Come fast. The Admiral wants to see you.”

“The Admiral wants to see me?” I asked, surprised.

The moment I reached the Admiral’s Office, the Staff Officer said: “Go right in. He is waiting for you. And, by the way, your boss has just gone inside and he seems to be furious.”

Before I could react, the Staff Officer ushered me in.

The Admiral was reading a file.

My boss was sitting opposite him.

On seeing me, my boss gave me a threatening look.

“Good Morning, Sir,” I said, looking at the Admiral.

The Admiral looked up.

I saluted the Admiral.

He did not ask me to sit down but got straight to the point, “What’s all this crap about this bloody management course?”

Before I could answer my boss interrupted, “Don’t you worry, Sir – I will see to it that this officer is severely punished.”

“Punished? For what?” the Admiral asked, looking a bit bemused.

“Sir, he bypassed the chain of command – instead of following the proper channel, he has gone over my head directly to you,” my boss said.

“He hasn’t come directly to me. DNT spoke to me and send over this form,” the Admiral said, tossing my application form on the table towards my boss.

My boss picked up the form, but did not say anything.

“What’s wrong? Why don’t you want to recommend the bugger for the management course? It will be better he spends his evenings sitting in a classroom learning something instead of boozing away in the bloody bar, which he seems to be doing every evening,” the Admiral said.

“Sir, I don’t want my officers wasting their time doing these management courses,” my boss said.

“Waste of time? I thought the management stuff the bugger learns may help him do his job better. That’s what the DNT thinks anyway,” the Admiral said.

“Sir, his work will be affected. He will refuse to work late; he will refuse to go on temporary duty…” my boss said.

“Will you?” the Admiral looked up and addressed me.

“No, Sir. I will do all my duties sincerely. I have to do all my duties, Sir – it is an evening course, subject to exigencies of service…” I said.

“That’s right,” the Admiral said; then he looked at my boss and asked him, “any problem?”

“Sir, he will keep studying in working hours,” my boss said.

“Will you?” the Admiral asked me.

“No, Sir. I will not bring any books to the office. I will study in my spare time at home,” I said.

“Sir, he will keep going to the library…” my boss interrupted.

“Please, Sir – I will not go to library in working hours – even if I want to draw a book I will do so in lunchtime…” I pleaded.

“Sir, I don’t want him to do the management course. His work will be affected,” my boss persisted.

“But how? How the hell will his work be affected?” the Admiral asked, a bit incredulous.

“Sir, he will be always thinking management thoughts,” my boss said.

“Management thoughts?” the Admiral said, looking quite bewildered.

“Yes Sir, he will be always thinking management thoughts,” my boss repeated.

The Admiral looked at my boss and asked him: “What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Sir, his brain will be full of thoughts about what he is learning in the management course and he will always be thinking these management thoughts even during working hours,” my boss said.

“May I say something, Sir?” I asked the Admiral.

“Go ahead,” the Admiral said to me.

“Sir, how can he control my brain? Can he prevent me from thinking erotic thoughts in working hours?” I said.

“That’s enough,” the Admiral said, trying to suppress a smile.

My boss was looking at me angrily.

The Admiral looked at my boss and said, “Tell me, in the office, isn’t it better that the bugger thinks management thoughts rather than horny erotic thoughts?”

My boss promptly signed the form and gave it to me.

My anti-intellectual boss did try his best to create hurdles and make it difficult, but I succeeded in completing the management course with flying colours.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© 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 (All Rights Reserved)

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Did you like this story?  
I am sure you will like the 27 short stories from my recently published anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL
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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.

Vikram Karve Academic and Creative Writing Journal: http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile Vikram Karve: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve
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Email: vikramkarve@hotmail.com
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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