Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Humor in Uniform – PROMOTION BLUES

Humour in Uniform

An Apocryphal Story

In his candid and controversial autobiography SPYCATCHER Peter Wright tells us about the lesson he learnt after meeting Klop Ustinov (father of actor Peter Ustinov) who was in near penury after retirement:

“...I learned a lesson I never forgot: that MI5 expects its officers to remain loyal unto the grave, without necessarily offering loyalty in return”

When one observes the plight of veteran ex-servicemen, it seems the same holds true in our environment too.

In the Navy, I have seen officers giving their dedicated loyalty and devotion to service, but the service does not reward them with loyalty in return once they retire or, worse, when they are superseded for promotion and fall by the wayside.

Maybe it is the same in the Army and Air Force too.

Here is a story, which happened many years ago, in the 1980’s, much before the 2006 AVS Cadre Review Bonanza, when there was a selection board for promotion from Lieutenant Commander to Commander rank after around 15-16 years of service – now things are cool and every officer automatically becomes a Commander in 13 years.

Lieutenant Commander “X” was passed over for promotion to the rank of Commander.

“X” was devastated.

“X” was a typical service minded ex Sainik School, ex National Defence Academy (NDA) Officer – the only world he knew was the “fauji” military world.

And since he had joined the Navy after NDA, the Navy was the “be-all and end-all” of his life.

For “X”, getting superseded for promotion was the end of the world.

It was extremely cruel for a devoted service minded officer like “X” to be told at the age of 35 that it was the end of the road as far as his naval career was concerned.

Observing how badly supersession had affected “X”, the Captain called all officers to the wardroom, and in our presence, the Captain gave “X” a pep talk.

“Come on, cheer up. What is there in a promotion? The navy is not everything. There are so many other aspects to life. Your career is just one small part of your life. And just because you are superseded does not mean you are not a good officer. There are just not enough vacancies. You must take it in your stride in the right spirit and keep working with full josh. Even as a superseded officer you can contribute…blah blah blah…and you can take up a second innings in the civvy street too – so many ex-navy officers have succeeded in their civilian careers…you must put the past behind you and move on…blah blah blah…” the Captain went on and on.

“X” wanted to put up a representation against his supersession, but the Captain said to him: “There is no point fighting the system. You must accept your destiny with grace…blah blah blah…”

And then the Captain continued to pontificate the usual platitudes of consolation and rhetoric of motivation.

But “X” was so heartbroken that he was not convinced by the Captain’s comforting words.

“X” wanted to quit the navy there and then, for he did not want to suffer the ignominy of serving under his juniors.

However, his friends and wife convinced him to hang on for at least 5 years more till he completed the minimum 20 years required for getting a pension.

“X” stuck on for 5 more years in the navy, serving in insignificant appointments meant for those officers who had fallen by the wayside.

The moment he completed 20 years of service, he quit the navy.

Meanwhile, the Captain did well in service, and in due course he was promoted to Flag Rank.

It was strange and ironic that hardly any officer from his ship had been promoted, even his Heads of Department, the XO, EO and LO had missed their promotions, but the Captain had become a Rear Admiral.

After a few years passed, one morning, I suddenly met “X” in the INCS Canteen.

I took him over to the club, and we sat down for a glass of beer and talked of old times.

He told me that he had got a good job and was doing well in civilian life.

“Our Captain was right,” he said, “promotion is not everything. There are so many aspects to life. I was unnecessarily so upset that I did not get promoted.”

Suddenly a shipmate from the same ship came into the bar, and the moment he saw us, he joined us.

He had come on Ty Duty from Delhi.

Our ex-Captain had been posted to Delhi, so “X” asked him: “So, how is our old man, our ex-Captain – he is an Admiral now, isn’t it?”

“He is bad shape,” the officer said.

“He is in bad shape? What happened to him?”

“Don’t you know how desperate he was to get promoted? He was so ambitious that he even wanted to be the Chief. Unfortunately, he missed his promotion to Vice Admiral and the shock of being passed over has driven him crazy – he put up representations, statutory complaints, fought court cases – in fact, he is still fighting the system and has become very bitter and depressed – his supersession has affected him so badly that he has even had a heart attack and is suffering from hypertension too…”


It is easy to console others, but it is difficult to console yourself.

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. 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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