Monday, November 24, 2014

Humor in Uniform – Unforgettable Memories of My Navy Life – IS HAMAM MEIN SAB NANGE HAIN (इस हामान में सब नंगे हैं)

Next week is Navy Week (Dec 4 is Navy Day).

Let me delve deep into my blog, and pull out one of my favourite “Humor in Uniform” posts for the occasion titled HAMAM MEIN SAB NANGE HAIN  ( हामान में सब नंगे हैं (Everyone is Naked in the Bathroom).

I smiled while I relived my unforgettable navy “memoir”.

I am sure the anecdote will bring a smile to your lips too.


HAMAM MEIN SAB NANGE HAIN  ( हामान में सब नंगे हैं )
(Everyone is Naked in the Bathroom)
Hilarious Memories of My Unforgettable Navy Days
A Spoof

हामान में सब नंगे हैं  

HAMAM MEIN SAB NANGE HAIN (Everyone is Naked in the Bathroom) – A Spoof by Vikram Karve


Dear Reader, tell me, who do you think is the most important person on a warship?

“The Captain,” you would say, in all probability.

If you were a “technical fanatic”, you may say that the Chief Engineer is the key man, as it is the engines that move the ship.

Some die-hard branch loyalists would plum for specialist officers of their own branches – the gunnery officer, torpedo officer, navigating officer, or even the most redundant of them all, the communications officer.

“The Ship’s Medical Officer, the Doctor,” the hypochondriacs would probably say.

Some would root for the Quartermaster (or helmsman) who steers the ship.

A Foodie may say that the ship’s cook is the most important individual on the ship, since good food is the sine qua non of high morale.

Aviators think they are prima donnas, especially on aircraft carriers.

Everyone has their own view and you can debate till the cows come home.

But on this ship, on which I was presently serving, indisputably, without a doubt, the most important man was the “Fresh Water Tanky”.

Of course, if you are fond of American spellings you may spell “Tanky” as “Tankey”  like they spell “Whisky” as “Whiskey” – but that is a matter of minor detail.

And since the Indian Navy mostly follows Royal Navy traditions, I will use the British spelling – “Tanky”.


The “fresh-water tanky” is a junior sailor from the engine-room branch responsible for the fresh-water supply in a ship.

In my earlier ships, all steamships, there was an abundance of fresh water and the “fresh water tanky” was an insignificant cog in the wheel and most of us did not even know who he was.

But on this ship, which invariably suffered a terrible scarcity of fresh water when we were at sea, the “fresh water tanky” was a VIP, the most sought after individual on the ship, so much so that even the Fleet Commander, a Rear Admiral, personally called the “Fresh Water Tanky” to his cabin at 0010 Hrs – Ten minutes past midnight.


The “fresh-water-tanky” was fast asleep on his bunk in the engine-room junior sailors’ mess when he was rudely woken up by the Duty Petty Officer and told to report to the Admiral immediately in person.

The “fresh-water-tanky” wore his overalls, put on his cap and rushed up to the Captain’s Cabin, which had been taken over by the Fleet Commander, as this ship was not designed to be a “Flag Ship”.

Only the Captain’s Cabin had an attached bathroom and toilet.

For all other officers, there was a common bathroom.

Similarly, sailors too had huge common bathrooms, one for senior sailors and another for junior sailors.

Since the Admiral had moved into the Captain’s Cabin, the Captain had evicted the XO, who had moved into the spare bunk in Cdr (E)’s cabin, and the fleet staff had moved into various spare bunks and a few junior officers slept in the wardroom.

It was terribly crowded, and the water shortage made it worse.

This ship was not designed for the prevailing hot, sultry, humid, sweaty tropical climate where you needed to bathe at least once or twice a day to keep yourself clean.

The ship was designed for much colder arctic climates where you hardly sweated and you could go without a bath for many days.

There were cultural aspects, as well, as far as personal hygiene is concerned.

Those people needed much less fresh water than us for daily use – they were not in the habit of bathing every day.

Even for their ablutions they used toilet paper.

On the other hand, for us, “Cleanliness was next to Godliness” and we needed plenty of water for our daily baths and ablutions.

And even our style of cooking required lots of fresh water.

Thus, this ship catered for far less fresh water than required for our needs, and there was a perpetual water scarcity, though ironically, there was plenty of sea water around us which we could not use for our daily needs.

Metaphorically, it was a case of “water water everywhere but not a drop to drink”.

This shortage of fresh water necessitated strict rationing of water which in turn entailed observance of a strict water routine and water was opened for bathing only for a few minutes in a day.

But during this long sailing, even this bathing water routine could not be followed due to some breakdowns and water was opened only for a few minutes at dawn for brushing and shaving.

All of us were without a bath for days, which made us feel miserable.

We were all “dry cleaning”.

And so was the Admiral.

But now the Admiral had decided to have the luxury of a bath.

That is why he had summoned the “Fresh-Water-Tanky” at this unearthly hour, well past midnight.


The “fresh-water-tanky” reached the Captain’s cabin flat on the double, he knocked, and a loud voice said, “come in”, and he entered, and he saw that the Admiral was standing naked but for a towel round his waist.

“I want to have a bath – open the fresh water,” the Admiral bellowed.

“You want to have a bath now, Sir? It is the middle of the night,” the perplexed fresh-water-tanky stammered.


“Sir, water routine is from 6 in the morning…” the fresh-water-tanky mumbled.

“I know that. During your water routines the water is pressure is so bloody low that hardly any water climbs up to this deck as everyone opens up all taps and showers on the lower decks…”

“Sir, there is a problem…”

“Don’t tell me your problems – just do as you are told and open the fresh water for 10 minutes – come on – move – chop chop…!!!” the Admiral barked at the nonplussed sailor.

The “fresh water tanky” decided to play safe.

He tiptoed down to the Senior Engineer’s cabin.

The Senior Engineer Officer had hit the sack an hour ago, after a hard day’s work slogging away in the bowels of the ship and after his customary nightcap – a generous swig of rum from the hip flask he always carried in the pocket in his overalls.

He was in deep sleep, snoring away, on the top bunk, above me.

There was a knock on the cabin door.

I cursed at being woken up from my sleep and opened the cabin door.

The moment I saw the fresh-water-tanky, I got angry and told him to get lost.

But when I heard the reason why he had come, I quickly got up from my bunk, stripped off my lungi and vest, put a towel around my waist, picked up my soap case, and rushed down to the officers’ bathroom.

Meanwhile, the fresh-water-tanky gave the Senior Engineer a “hard shakeup” to wake him up from his deep sleep and asked his permission to open the fresh water.


Jolted out of his deep sleep, for a few moments, the Senior Engineer Officer appeared to be in a daze.

Then, as he recovered his senses, the Senior Engineer squinted his eyes and looked at the clock – it was 12:15 (0015 Hrs in Naval Parlance) – 15 minutes past midnight.

“The Admiral wants to have a bath now?” the puzzled Senior Engineer asked the fresh-water-tanky.

“Yes, Sir. He called me personally to his cabin and ordered me to open the fresh water.”

“What’s the level?” Senior Engineer asked the fresh-water-tanky.

“Very Low, Sir,” the fresh-water-tanky answered.

“Okay. We’ll conserve water tomorrow. Now just open the water for 5 minutes – strictly 5 minutes – and make sure you don’t tell anyone – let them sleep peacefully,” Senior Engineer said, stripping off his overalls and grabbing his towel.

“Aye, Aye, Sir,” the fresh-water-tanky said.

But before he went to open the fresh water, the fresh-water-tanky surreptitiously went down to his mess-deck, quietly stripped off his overalls, picked up his soap and put on a towel round his waist.

This furtive activity was observed by a few engine-room sailors who had come off watch and were lying in their bunks trying to sleep – and suddenly they were roused into a flurry of action and all of them were seen rushing towards the sailors’ bathroom, clad in their towels.

I don’t know how it happened, but the “secret” news, of water being opened at the midnight hour, spread like wildfire, and everyone was seen rushing in various states of undress to the bathrooms, and standing naked under the showers, waiting for water to sprinkle on their bodies.

Yes, on this ship, everyone bathed in his “birthday suit”, even the officers.

On my earlier ships, where there was the luxury of abundant fresh water, it was possible for OLQ oriented officers to bathe in an “officer-like manner”, bathrobe, privacy of shower-curtain, et al

But on this ship, water was a great leveler, and things like modesty, etiquette and protocol had no place in the bathroom.

The scene epitomized the famous Hindi proverb “Is hamam mein sab nange hain” meaning “everyone is naked in this bathroom”.

So, whatever your rank, if you happened to be on this ship, you were “nanga” in the “hamam”.

IS HAMAM MEIN SAB NANGE HAIN  (इस हामान में सब नंगे हैं) 

By the time water gushed out of the showers, there were 20 officers standing stark naked under the 4 showers in the officers’ bathroom.

It was a tight squeeze, bodies rubbing against each other, hands with soap moving wildly, a free-for-all, and in the frenzy you could not even make out who was lathering whose body.

The TASO, an aficionado of sandalwood soap, would emerge from the melee smelling of the strong heady scent of the aromatic herbal soap used by the Mallu Senior Engineer.

The Gunnery Officer, on middle watch, had handed over the deck to the cute watch-keeping Sub Lieutenant, and rushed down from the bridge without towel or soap – he would “bum” both from someone, as was his habit of bumming everything.

The cute watch-keeping Sub Lieutenant would go for his bath later, if he was allowed and if there was time enough after the return of the Gunnery Officer, and the water routine was long enough, or he would rather skip the collective nude bathing session – he suspected the proclivities of some of the rather bawdy officers who seemed to have a glad eye on him and he did not want to risk a repeat of what had happened in the previous free-for-all bathing fracas.

While the officers were enjoying their bath, so were almost all the sailors, with all showers open full blast and all the ship’s bathrooms filled with bodies chock-a-block.

The result of all of this frenzied full-scale bathing on the lower decks was that not a drop of water climbed up to the Captain’s Cabin where the Admiral was standing patiently in his birthday suit under the shower.

Now, the Admiral was an old sea-dog, who had commanded this very ship, and he realized what was going on.

So, he wrapped his towel around his waist and marched bare-chested down to the officers’ bathroom.

“Bloody, Guns! What the hell are you doing here?” he shouted at the Gunnery Officer who should have been on the bridge during middle-watch.

Before the shamefaced Gunnery Officer could reply, the Admiral shouted at him: “Go and sound ‘Action Stations’ – come on, move.”

Then he looked at the Senior Engineer and commanded: “You make sure the water remains on in full force till I finish my bath – I want the fresh-water-tanky standing by outside.”

As “Action Stations” were sounded and everyone was rushing to his post, the Admiral stripped off his towel and stood under the shower to enjoy a leisurely bath.

As the Admiral was enjoying his bath, his newly appointed cute and coy Flag Lieutenant peeped in.

Like most Flag Lieutenants, he was a pretty boy – a “Sea Doll.

The charming Flag Lieutenant was lucky to have served on comfortable ships.

The coy “Sea Doll” Flag Lieutenant seemed a bit shy and timorous to walk around semi-nude in front of sailors who were rushing up and down in the ships alleyways.

That is why the demure Flag Lieutenant was dressed up for a bath in an “officer-like” manner – in a full bathrobe covering almost his entire body.

The Flag Lieutenant saw the totally nude brawny “Sea Dog” Admiral standing in his birthday suit”  stark naked under the shower.

Horrified by the outrageous sight before him, the Flag Lieutenant hesitated.

On seeing his Flag Lieutenant’s coyness, the Admiral shouted at him: “Come on pretty boy – hurry up, take off your clothes fast – take off everything and come in under the shower – Is Hamam Mein Sab Nange Hain.”


I will never forget my wonderful time on this glorious frontline warship.

During my long naval career, I have served on many ships and shore establishments.

But it was on this ship which had the best camaraderie among officers; and even relationships with sailors were the best.

Despite the tough time we had and the hardships we faced, this was a Happy Ship”.

Maybe it has got something to do with being “Nanga” in the “Hamam” ... !!!

Can there be any better bonding than being Nanga” together in the “Hamam”?

This incident happened long back – during the days of the “all male Navy” – much before the Navy started inducting women as officers.

But even now, the Navy does not post women on ships.

Now, after reading this story, I am sure you have guessed why !!! 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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1. This yarn is a spoof, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. 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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