Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Humor in Uniform - “PORTHOLE STRATEGY”


A Spoof


In the 1970’s we had a maverick Supply Officer (of the erstwhile S&S Branch) on our ship.

Those days – Supply & Secretariat (S&S) Branch Officers were the self-styled “experts” on all Secretarial matters like office correspondence.

The ship was not air-conditioned – yes – it was one of the last of the Non-AC ships in the fleet.

Also – in the 1970s – there was no internet, no email etc – so all correspondence was on paper by “snail mail” – via the postal service.

If the ship was sailing – which was most often the case – the letters would arrive in “mail bags” – which would chase the ship – and try to catch the ship in the next port-of-call.

Sometimes – it would take a month or so – or even more – for a letter to reach the ship.

One day – as we arrived in a distant port after a long sailing – a mail bag arrived – and among the mail was a letter from Headquarters asking for some inconsequential details – about which everyone in my department seemed clueless.

So – I went to our Supply Officer to seek advice.

“Do you feel the letter is important?” the Supply Officer asked me.

“No Sir – I don’t think this letter is important – it seems to be a standard ‘duty watch’ letter issued to all ships in which they are asking for some trivial details from all ships about which I am clueless,” I said.

“Is the letter classified?” he asked.

“No Sir,” I said.

“Then – just throw the letter out of the porthole,” he said.

“What? Throw this letter out of the porthole into the sea?” I said, taken aback.

“Yes – throw it out of the porthole. The way we are sailing – they will wait for at least a month or two for a reply – and maybe they will forget about it – or they may send a reminder. So – it will take at least two months before the reminder arrives on board. Then – if and when a reminder letter comes – throw that letter out of the porthole too. By the time the next reminder comes – both you and I will transferred be out of this ship – and our successors will figure out what the letter was all about,” the Supply Officer said.

“Aye Aye, Sir,” I said.

“Check again – I hope the letter is not classified,” the Supply Officer asked me.

“No Sir – this letter is not classified – but what do we do to such inconsequential letters in case they are classified?” I asked.

“If the letter is classified – then file it and forget about it,” he elaborated.

I was impressed by the Supply Officer’s Mantra which encapsulated the gist of how to handle inconvenient/inconsequential letters:

“If it was unclassified, throw it out of the porthole – if it was classified, file and forget.”

I did not have the guts to throw the letter out of the porthole into the sea (and I had my doubts about whether the Supply Officer was being serious or was he just pulling my leg).

So – I buried the letter in a file and forgot about it.

And there was no reminder till I was transferred out of the ship 3 months later.

Soon – all ships were air-conditioned – so this “porthole strategy” probably became obsolete.

Also – the S&S branch was abolished and merged into the Executive Branch (“X” Branch) – so such gems of “secretarial expertise” disappeared.

Of course – a few years after the merger of “X” and “S&S” – when some ex-S&S officers reached high rank and threatened to take over as CNS and CinC (since they were “Executive Officers” now) – in order to obviate this possibility – the “powers-that-be” quickly re-created the S&S Branch in a new avatar – and called it the Logistics Branch – but the new Logistics Branch never had the élan of the erstwhile S&S Branch.

And now – with the advent of internet – and leaps in information technology – they may have stopped all paper correspondence  and I wonder how the “porthole strategy” can be applied to digital correspondence – but I am sure that some geniuses must have found a way to do so and now “porthole strategy” must be much easier at the tap of some keyboard keys.


A few years later – I was “posted” to an inter-services organization, dominated by the Army.

One day a letter arrived from Army Headquarters.

The gist of the letter was that the “powers-that-be” had taken a “serious view” regarding misuse of “sahayaks” (batmen/orderlies).

The letter stated that “sahayaks” were combat soldiers – and hence “sahayaks” were not to be employed for “demeaning” work and “undignified” tasks.

The letter specified a list of “degrading” tasks for which the use of “sahayaks” was prohibited.

One of the “prohibited tasks” was walking the officer’s dog (dog-walking).

The letter clearly stated that “sahayaks” were not to be tasked to take the officer’s dog for a walk.

If an officer asked his “sahayak” to take his pet dog for a walk – then it would tantamount to misuse of the “sahayak”.

Well – that is what the letter said.

The letter was marked for wide circulation – and some wisecrack in the office had highlighted the point regarding dog-walking and endorsed: “copy to all dog owners”.

That is how a copy of the letter landed up on my table.

I had a pet dog.

But – being a Naval Officer – I personally looked after my own pet dog and took my dog for walks myself – since I did not enjoy the luxury of a “sahayak” like my army counterparts.

In the evening – when I took out my dog for the customary walk – I expected to see my fellow army officers walk their dogs – in compliance with the directive to army officers that “sahayaks” were not to be employed as “dog-walkers” for officers’ dogs.

But ‘Lo and Behold’ – what did I see?

The dogs were on their walks – but I did not see any army officer taking his dog for a walk.

It was business as usual.

The Brigadier’s Golden Retriever was on his walk with the Brigadier’s “sahayak”.

The Colonel’s Labrador, the Major’s German Shepherd, even the Captain’s Cocker Spaniel – all the “army dogs” were being taken for a walk by their respective “sahayaks”.

Only the “navy dog” was being taken for a walk by his Master (yours truly).

It seemed that the army too followed the “porthole strategy” as far as inconvenient orders were concerned. 

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1. This story 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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