Friday, September 26, 2014

Humor in Uniform – JAUNDICE ORDERS


Let me delve into my “Humour in Uniform” Archives and tell you this delightful yarn:

Unforgettable Memories of my Glorious Navy Days

Sometime in the late 1970’s there was an outbreak of jaundice in Mumbai (then known as Bombay).

Jaundice is quite a debilitating disease.

The rampant spread of jaundice started badly affecting the Navy.

Soon, this outbreak of Jaundice assumed almost epidemic proportions.

Large numbers of naval officers and sailors on ships were getting afflicted by the disease.

Special jaundice wards were opened in the Naval Hospital.

Some ships were almost down to half-strength.

The Navy had become “jaundiced”  nice and proper.

A bout of jaundice meant two weeks in hospital.

This was followed by a month of sick leave at home, then back to hospital for downgrading and re-categorization of medical category.

And, finally, the worst consequence of jaundice – no alcohol for at least 6 months.

This last fear, of 6 months without alcohol post-jaundice, resulted in a drinking spree.

Everyone was mortified of getting jaundice, especially the hard drinking lovers of Bacchus.

So, on ships, every naval officer was downing peg after peg, consuming enormous amounts of alcohol every evening, as if it was the last day of his life.

It was the last opportunity to drink to your heart’s content till the dreaded scourge of jaundice got hold of you in its clutches.

So you could see wardrooms full of officers on drinking binges.

And sailors drinking away in sailors’ home, till they fell into drunken stupor.

The biggest joke that was most of these heavy drinkers did not get afflicted by jaundice  but they landed up getting alcohol dependent instead.

The “powers-that-be” panicked at the increasing number of jaundice cases heading for hospitalization every day and the consequent depletion of crew on ships.

Force levels were rapidly falling in the “jaundiced navy”.

It was a precarious situation, and if this jaundice induced exodus continued, there would be no one left to man the ships.

So, it was decided to take some drastic measures.

The “powers-that-be” thought that the reason for this jaundice epidemic was because naval officers and sailors were eating unhygienic jaundice-infected food outside in Mumbai city when they ashore on liberty.

So, two “jaundice orders” were passed:

1. All food joints in Mumbai were put “out of bounds” for naval personnel.

2. Shore Leave (Liberty) would now be in uniform till further orders.

(Yes, all officers and sailors had to wear Dress No. 8A white uniform at all times, even when on liberty ashore in civilian areas)

Order No. 2 on wearing uniforms in civilian areas was to ensure that any officer or sailor entering a restaurant or eating outside was instantly spotted by the navy shore patrol and rounded up.

In order to implement this preventive measure, naval shore patrols were sent out on the streets of Mumbai, especially to those areas and food joints frequented by sailors.

On the very first day, a hilarious incident occurred.

The Fleet Commander personally spotted the shore patrol from our ship drinking sugarcane juice in resplendent full dress uniform at a most unhygienic sugarcane juice stall right opposite the naval dockyard gate.

The culprits were promptly arrested by the Naval Police and handed over to the ship for necessary disciplinary action.

On being questioned, the shamefaced sailors pleaded that they had heard that drinking sugarcane juice prevented jaundice.

Hence the shore patrol sailors had decided to fortify themselves with sugarcane juice before they headed for patrolling the jaundice-infected areas.

Since there was a severe shortage of sailors (with half the sailors admitted in hospital with jaundice) the wayward shore patrol was not punished severely, but let off with a warning and a few extra shore patrol duties as punishment.

The next evening the shore patrol was found drinking rum in the sailors’ home.

But then, the sailors’ home was not “out of bounds”.

And maybe, like us officers, the fear of jaundice was driving them to drink to their heart’s content.

So, we looked the other way.

After a few days we officers were fed up of the wardroom food on board the ship, so we decided to venture out to enjoy the culinary delights the city of Mumbai had to offer.

Parading in uniform of the streets of Mumbai was unthinkable, so we adopted a simple modus operandi.

We carried a bag containing civilian clothes with us, smartly walked out of the dockyard gate wearing uniform, and then headed for the Jehangir Art Gallery in Kalaghoda.

Here, we would enter the well-appointed washrooms and change from uniform to civilian clothes, and then venture out to enjoy the delights Mumbai had to offer.

On the way back we would use the change-rooms at the Taj or some suitable hotel and return back to our ships smartly dressed in uniform.

One evening, after a movie at Eros followed by a hearty meal at Gaylord in Churchgate, we enjoyed stroll on Marine Drive and then decided to end the day with some delicious Ice Cream at the Yankee Doodle Ice Cream Parlour.

Our plan was that after enjoying our ice cream, we would use the change-rooms of the adjoining Natraj Hotel to change back into uniform and then we would walk back in uniform to our ship.

While my friends wanted to eat cones, I ordered the signature ice cream of Yankee Doodle – Banana Split – three huge scoops of your choice of ice-cream placed on a sweetened split banana and topped up with yummy fruits and nuts, and embellished with sweet creamy sauces.

This inimitable ice cream was prepared at a special counter and took some time to be assembled.

When my banana split was ready, I picked up the dish and looked around for my shipmates, but I could not see them anywhere.

Maybe they were taking a walk on Marine Drive licking their cones while watching pretty young things.

I decided to focus on my magnificent banana split ice cream.

As I was about to dig into my delicious looking ice cream I noticed that, standing bang in front of me, was our redoubtable Captain.

At first I was terrified.

I had been caught red-handed at an “out of bounds” place and that too wearing civilian clothes when I should have been in uniform.

I looked at my Captain.

He too was dressed in civilian clothes.

Then I saw that he too was eating an ice cream – a chocolate sundae.

And next to him stood his wife relishing a mixed fruit sundae ice cream.

I wished him and his wife – they smiled back.

We talked – but the conversation was strictly restricted to the topic of ice cream and we discussed the various exotic ice cream flavours you got all over Mumbai.

On seeing the Captain, the other officers had disappeared into the darkness and they surfaced only when the Captain and his wife had left.

They anxiously asked me if the Captain had seen them and I assured them that he had not.

Next morning when I saluted the Captain he still had his formidable demeanour, but there was a slight twinkle in his eyes.


I do not know whether it is true or not, but someone told me later that the outbreak of jaundice was due to contaminated drinking water (as a result of leaky sewage lines and cracked porous water pipes) and not due to infected food which was initially suspected to be the cause of the jaundice epidemic.

And yes, I was lucky not to get jaundice during that epidemic.

But since the fear of jaundice made me drink to my heart’s content, I ended up becoming “alcohol dependent” for sure!

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1. All stories in this blog are 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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