Friday, May 23, 2014

Humor in Uniform - AN OILY TALE


In deference to the wishes of my readers who have suggested that I write shorter posts, I am writing this story in Parts.

Here is Part 1

Unforgettable Memories of my Navy Life

Part 1

1000 Hours (10 AM) Sunday 26 October 1980 Navy Base (INS Valsura) Jamnagar

I was all set to proceed on Temporary Duty to Bombay (as Mumbai was known then – however I shall refer to Bombay as Mumbai hereinafter).

The 3-tonner truck arrived at my cabin in the Wardroom (Officers Mess) to pick me up.

“Why have they sent a bloody 3-tonner for an officer? I am going on duty. I thought they would send me a staff car or jeep,” I asked the driver.

“Sir, both staff cars are out – one is with CO and the other has taken the Commodore who has come from Delhi and his family for pilgrimage to Dwarka and Okha – and the XO has taken the jeep to town,” the driver said.

I took my small bag and got in beside the driver.

Instead of proceeding to the main gate, the driver diverted the vehicle to the Married Officers Accommodation.

Lieutenant Commander “X” (a “Schoolie” Education Officer) was proceeding on leave to Madras (now called Chennai) with his family and was taking a lift in the transport meant for me.

I got down, let “X” sit with his wife and small daughter in front with the driver, and I sat behind in the 3-tonner.

At the guard room, there were a few sailors and their families, proceeding on leave, and some libertymen, waiting to take a lift in the 3-tonner, to Teen-Batti, near the Jamnagar Railway Station.

(In those good old “metre-gauge” days, there were only two trains from Jamnagar – The Saurashtra Mail, which originated at Okha and passed through Jamnagar at 11 AM, and The Saurashtra Express which originated at Porbandar and passed through Jamnagar at 5 PM.

The morning Mail was convenient for those going towards Mumbai and the south, and the evening Express was ideal for those going towards Delhi and up-north in the through coaches via Mehesana which were later attached to the connecting metre-gauge Ahmedabad Delhi Mail, though both had connecting broad gauge trains at Viramgam towards Mumbai)

At the guard room, I reported to the Officer of the Day (OOD).

The OOD made an entry in the ship’s log book that I was leaving “ship” and proceeding on Temporary Duty.

Lieutenant Commander “X” had also followed me into the OOD office to make an entry regarding his proceeding on annual leave.

As I started to walk out, the OOD said: “Wait – you have to carry some items to Mumbai.”

“Items?” I asked.

“Yes, you have to carry three oil tins,” the OOD said.

“3 oil tins?” I asked.

“Yes, and deliver them to these addresses,” the OOD said.

He gave me a chit with the names of 3 Commodores, their designation and phone numbers and their home addresses in NOFRA, written below each name.

Now, in those good old days, as far as Naval Officers were concerned, Jamnagar was famous for five things:

1. The Unique Colourful Bandhani (tie and dye) Sarees

2. Soft Lohi Blankets-cum-shawls from Digjam Mills

3. White Uniform Buckskin Shoes made to order by a cobbler in the heart of old Jamnagar city (nowadays, buckskin shoes are not permitted, I think)

4. Luscious Rasgullas from Shrikhand Samrat near Mandvi Tower

And, last but not the least,

5. Groundnut Oil (which was much cheaper in Saurashtra than in Mumbai)

I would have had no problems if someone had requested me to carry the other items, but there was no way I was going to carry three 16 Kg groundnut oil tins.

I came out of the OOD office and saw some duty sailors loading 3 large 16 Kg oil tins into the 3 tonner.

The OOD had also come out of his office and was watching the proceedings.

I looked at the OOD and said: “Sorry, I can’t take the oil tins with me. Please ask the sailors to unload them from the truck.”

The OOD looked at me in disbelief and said: “What? You are going on Ty Duty to Mumbai, aren’t you?”

“Sir, I am not going on Ty Duty to deliver oil tins – the purpose of my Ty Duty is something else,” I said.

“Don’t act smart. The CO desires that you have to carry these oil tins and deliver them to the 3 Commodores,” the OOD said.

“Sir, please try to understand. I just have one small bag. In Bombay, a Lieutenant does not get transport, so I intend taking Bus No. 123 from Bombay Central to RC Church and walk down to Command Mess. I can’t lug these huge oil tins around, and I don’t intend hiring porters just to carry these bloody oil tins – and who is going to trans-ship these bloody oil tins from metre-gauge to broad gauge at Viramgam?” I protested.

“Look here, I told you once – you don’t try to act smart – the CO has directed that you carry these oil tins. All officers going to Mumbai on Ty Duty carry oil tins,” the OOD said.

“Well, I am not going to carry these bloody oil tins for sure,” I said, “and now I have to go – otherwise I will miss my train.”

“Don’t try to take “panga” – I told you that the CO has ordered you to carry these oil tins,” the OOD said.

“Then you can tell him that I am not going to carry these bloody oil tins,” I said firmly.

“If you act funny and disobey orders, they will transfer you out,” the OOD warned me.

This was music to my ears.

So, I said to the OOD: “I would be the happiest person if they transferred me out of this godforsaken place.”

Lieutenant Commander “X”, who was hearing the argument, looked at me and said: “Why are you making such a big issue out of this – everyone going on Ty Duty takes some items that senior officers want delivered.”

“Yes,” the OOD said, “you have to do what the CO says.”

I had my doubts whether the CO had actually ordered me to carry the oil tins to Mumbai, so I asked the OOD: “Why didn’t the CO tell me personally about the oil tins? I think you are bluffing.”

“Are you accusing me of telling lies?” the OOD asked getting angry, “you will not leave the base unless you take those oil tins – do you understand?”

“Listen, Sir – I told you that I am not taking those oil tins with me. I am getting late and will miss my train. If you detain me any further I will not proceed on Ty Duty,” I said firmly.

As I said, I thought that the OOD was bluffing that the CO had ordered me to carry the oil tins, but it seemed that the CO had indeed done so, because on hearing my refusal, the OOD went all berserk – he picked up the phone, dialled furiously, and then started talking excitedly, about my refusal to carry the oil tins.

I wondered who he was talking to, but the way he was “yes sir, yes sir” it was either the CO or someone senior.

Soon, I heard the OOD mention the name of Lieutenant Commander “X” – and then the OOD gave the phone to “X”.

Now, it was “X” saying “yes sir, yes sir” on the phone.

The upshot of the conversation was that now, instead of me, “X” would carry the oil tins to Mumbai.

On reaching Mumbai, “X” would dutifully deliver the 3 oil tins to the 3 Commodores, and then he would catch the Dadar – Madras Express in the afternoon and proceed to Madras (Chennai) to enjoy his annual leave.

End of Part 1 of “An Oily Tale” by Vikram Karve

To be continued…

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This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story 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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