Friday, May 20, 2016

Army vs Navy – War of the Messes

Humor in Uniform 

A Lesson in “Jointmanship” – Army vs Navy – War of the Messes

Sometime ago  I met an Army Officer who was posted to New Delhi.

He said that he lived in Battle Honours Mess.

“Oh – the Mess on SP Marg...?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“I have lived there in 1981-1982...” I said.

“How is that possible? You were in the Navy. The Army Battle Honours Mess is for Army Officers only,” he said.

“Those days it was a combined inter-service officers mess for Army and Navy Officers...” I told him.

Then – I told him the story of the “War of the Messes” where “Battle Honours” were won.

So – Dear Reader – let me delve into my “Humor in Uniform” archives  and tell you the story of the “War of the Messes”... 

A Spoof

Various Wars have been documented, studied, discussed and analyzed – and relevant literature is readily available online and offline for all those interested in the subject.

But have you heard of the “War of the Messes”...?

Do you know that this “War of the Messes” took place in 1982 on the “battlefield” of New Delhi...?

This was a unique “war”.

In conventional wars – junior officers and men do the fighting – while Generals and Admirals watch on.

However – the “War of the Messes” was “fought” by Generals and Admirals – while junior officers watched on.

This is what happened.

Till 1981  Army and Navy had two common Officers’ Messes in New Delhi – a brand new Mess at SP Marg  and a rather antediluvian Mess at Kota House.

Young Army and Navy Bachelor Officers lived together in these Officers’ Messes in great harmony with a spirit of camaraderie.

Of course  the Air Force  which always believes in keeping a safe distance from the “pongos” and the “sea dogs”  had its iconic Central Vista (CV) Air Force Officers’ Mess on Janpath.

If you were a young bachelor – you could choose your mess.

The ageing dilapidated Kota House Mess was conveniently located in the heart of New Delhi  and the Kota House Mess was preferred by the slightly Older Bachelor Officers.

The younger Officers preferred the modern SP Marg Mess located at faraway Dhaula Kuan.

(35 years ago in 1981  Dhaula Kuan was considered a “distant” place on the “outskirts” of New Delhi).

SP Marg Officers’ Mess was a lively place with a laissez faire atmosphere.

I spent some of the best days of my life in SP Marg Officers’ Mess – and even today – as I hark back to my Navy Days – I fondly cherish my glorious days at SP Marg Officers’ Mess.

Relations between us Naval Officers and our Army Messmates were excellent.

We made a lot of Army friends.

In fact  it was at SP Marg Officers Mess that I first made close friendships with fellow Army Officers – lasting friendships which endure even till today.

We young bachelor officers lived happily together in SP Marg Officers Mess  and  there was an atmosphere of bonhomie in the evenings  when we all sat together on the lawns  or in the bar – enjoying our drinks.

If you wanted to see an example of authentic “jointmanship” and genuine “inter-service camaraderie” – SP Marg Officers” Mess was a shining example.

I am sure it was the same happy spirit of camaraderie and bonhomie between Army and Navy Officers at Kota House too.

Everyone was living happily – but  sadly  it was not going to be a case of “happily ever after” – because suddenly  the “War of the Messes” erupted.

Most of us junior officers did not even know that a “war” had broken out.

As I said earlier – this was a unique “war”.

This “War of the Messes” was not fought on the “battlefields” of SP Marg and Kota House Messes.

Conventional military tactics and weapons were not used in this unique “War”.

This “war” was “fought” in air-conditioned offices in Sena Bhawan and South Block  by Generals and Admirals  using the far more potent bureaucratic weapon – PAPER – the most powerful weapon in peacetime soldiering.

The “war of the messes” was not a physical war – it was a “paper war”.

By the time “cease-fire” was declared  the Generals seemed to be on the brink of victory – and  the Admirals appeared to be on the verge of defeat.

The “spoils of war” were divided.

The “victorious” Army won the coveted modern SP Marg Officers’ Mess.

The “vanquished” Navy was banished to the ancient decrepit Kota House Officers’ Mess.

To commemorate their “victory” over the Admirals in the “war of the messes” – the Generals renamed SP Marg Officers Mess  as  Army “Battle Honours Mess”.

In order to further “celebrate” their “victory” in the “war of the messes” – the Generals evicted Naval Officers from the SP Marg Officers’ Mess.

In a retaliatory gesture of “jointmanship” – the Admirals evicted Army Officers from the Kota House Officers’ Mess.

It was quite sad to see friendly messmates who were living together as buddies  being wrenched apart and separated  as per the colour of their uniform  just to suit the whims and fancies of a few Generals and Admirals.

The scene was reminiscent of partition days – when friends who were living amicably together as friends for many years – had to leave their homes – and go to another land  just because of the decisions of a few politicians.

Metaphorically  Junior Officers of the Army and Navy were like happy children who had to separate due to the “divorce” of their parents (Generals/Admirals) – one parent getting “custody” of one child  and  the other parent getting the custody of the other child.

While the senior officers fought the “war of the messes” with each other – it was the junior officers who suffered as a result of these internecine turf wars, ego battles and personality clashes.

The biggest irony was that not even a single General or Admiral who initiated and fought” the “war of the messes” actually lived in these two Officers’ Messes at SP Marg and Kota House  which were primarily a home for young bachelor officers.

Another amusing paradox was that  many of the officers involved in “fighting” this “war of the messes” with each other were products of the famous “joint training institution” – the National Defence Academy (NDA) – some of them course-mates – who fought with each other most viciously.  

We have seen in the Navy too  that NDA coursemates fight most viciously with each other when they reach higher rank – especially in “succession battles”. 

It seems that the so-called NDA camaraderie is a myth – especially as Officers reach high rank. 

But one thing is sure – whereas ex-NDA Officers fight ferocious peacetime paper wars with each other – but – they get “outwitted easily by the Civilian Bureaucrats – who are experts in paper war strategy

There is no scope for a “war of the messes” in future.

This is because  now  each Defence Service has its own separate Officers’ Mess in New Delhi – so that the Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals can have their own separate fiefdoms.

On many occasions  I have heard Senior Officers lecturing and pontificating about the need for “jointmanship” in the Indian Armed Forces.

But – Dear Reader – please tell me one thing.

What so-called “jointmanship” are you talking about  when you can’t even have a “Joint Officers’ Mess” – where Officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force can live together, drink together and eat together with bonhomie and camaraderie  and build lifelong friendships...?

I think the first step towards achieving genuine jointmanship is to convert all Officers’ Messes in New Delhi into Tri-Service Combined Officers’ Messes for Officers of all 3 Services (Army Navy Air Force).

Then  this “tri-service officers’ mess” concept can be implemented in other military stations  where the 3 Defence Services co-exist.

On the one hand – we talk of “integrating” our three Defence Services.

On the other hand – each Service wants to build its own separate “empire”.

I feel that the first step in “fighting together” is learning to “live together”.

Do you agree...?

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1. This story is a spoof, satire, 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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This story was written by me Vikram Karve more than 3 years ago in 2013 and posted online earlier in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Blog at url:  and later revised in the year 2014 and posted online by me Vikram Karve in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve Blog on 23 Jan 2015 at url:  and later at url:  and url:  and 

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