Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Memories of Navy “Babudom” – Anti-Intellectuals in Uniform


Around 3 years ago – in September 2013  I was invited to conduct a workshop on “Blogging” at the Pune International Literary Festival (PILF).

During the discussions  a smart young lady sitting in the first row asked me a question: ‘Sir  I have read your book of short stories and I regularly read your writings  especially your fiction stories  on your blog. I was wondering – Sir  how is it possible that you can think so creatively – despite having spent so many years in the Navy...?

At first  I was stumped.

But I quickly recovered my wits and said: ‘Life in the Navy is so eventful  you meet so many unforgettable characters  you have so many interesting experiences  that you get plenty of material to write about.’

‘No, Sir. I didn’t mean experiences. I am asking about thinking ability – doesn’t Military Life affect the ability to think creatively...?’ she asked.

‘I really didn’t understand your question – could you please elaborate?’ I asked her.

‘Sir  I was an Army Officer till recently  and  I found the atmosphere quite stifling and restrictive  which inhibits creative thinking,’ she said.

‘You mean the military “anti-intellectualism” which suppresses intellectual activity – the... “don’t use your brain – just do as you are told” Army culture...?’ I asked.

‘Yes, Sir – that is exactly what I mean!’ she said.

I smiled to myself.

She was echoing the thoughts of Liddell Hart  who  while highlighting the dangers of “anti-intellectualism” in the Army  had pointed out that: “A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought culminates so often in there being nothing left to express”.

There is a saying which applies to the Brain : “Use it – or you will lose it”.

I have read somewhere that there is a relationship between mental activity and cerebral blood-flow  and  like muscles  the brain atrophies from prolonged disuse.

The young ex-Army lady had a point – living for prolonged duration in a dogmatic “don’t use your brain  just do as you are told” strait-jacketed “anti-intellectual” insular military environment can certainly affect your creative thinking abilities.

Obviously  during her days as an Army officer  the young lady had experienced this intellectually suffocating feeling – and  maybe she had also observed the detrimental effect of the prevailing military culture of “anti-intellectualism” on the creative faculties of her peers and seniors.

Maybe  she felt that this blinkered thinking Army culture was constraining her creativity  and – maybe  that is the reason why she had quit the Army to enable her creative juices to flow freely – and – after leaving the Army  her creativity was certainly flourishing  as was evident from the inspired creative writing on her blog.

Well  I told the young lady that the intellectual culture in the Navy was certainly more liberal and “broadminded” – and  in general  the Navy Milieu was conducive to creative thinking.

In fact  I found Navy Life quite eventful  and  this probably gave my creative thinking ability an impetus  as there was never a dull moment in the Navy.

I had a delightful discussion with the charming young lady  and  in jest  I told her that  during my Navy days  I always carried Two Brains inside me – a “Military Brain” for regimented military thoughts – and  a “Creative Brain” for interesting thoughts where I could let my imagination run wild.

Most of the Naval Officers I met were cerebral types  but I did come across a few anti-intellectual specimens in Naval Uniform too.

Let me tell you about one such unforgettable character – an “Anti-intellectual in Naval Uniform I came across 30 years ago – in the 1980s. 

Unforgettable Characters I Met in the Navy
A Spoof


After slogging for 5 years in the Navy  afloat and ashore  I was “selected” to undergo the 2 year M. Tech. course at IIT Delhi.

On completion of my post graduation (M.Tech.)  I was posted to the military “Babudom” in Delhi – what we in the Navy jokingly referred to as the landlocked “Northern Naval Command”.

Though ostensibly it was an R&D billet (in consonance with my recently acquired M.Tech. qualification)  in actual fact  I was a pen-pusher  a Babu in uniform.

One afternoon  while I was elbow-bending” – drinking Beer  in the Bar of our Navy Wardroom  I met an ex-shipmate of mine  who was a few years senior to me.

We sat down to drink and talked about the good old days on the ship.

He told me that he was recently posted to Delhi and was looking after Training.

I told him about my M. Tech. and that I was posted to R&D.

“Hey  you are an intellectual type – why don’t you do a Management Course? We will fund you – at least your tuition fees,” he said.

I was clueless.

He told me about the new “Learn while you Earn” scheme to motivate Naval Officers to learn new things and acquire qualifications in their spare time  in the evenings and on holidays  in off-working hours.

“Come tomorrow to my office,” he said, “I’ll give you the application form and explain the details. Basically, all you have to do is to take admission to a part time evening course and we will reimburse your tuition fees once you qualify. Also, all efforts will be made to keep you in station till you complete the course.”

“That’s great,” I said, “I want to do a course in management.”

“Good. Come to my office tomorrow and I will tell you about all the good management courses in Delhi,” he said.

Next morning, while I sat his office, he gave me a form and said, “I spoke to your appointer in DOP – he said that they were going to keep you here in Delhi for 3 years, so I suggest you apply for a proper evening course – I have tick marked the course in the form – now all you have to do is to get the signature of your boss and give me the form and I’ll give you approval in principle and permission to the give the entrance test. Once you qualify the entrance test and clear the interview and are selected for admission to the course, we will give you the proper sanction letter.”

I duly filled up the form  and placed it before my boss for his signature.

My boss, a Commodore, was not impressed.

He said disinterestedly: “What management course? There is no need for you to do a management course. You better concentrate on your work here.”

“Sir  the classes are in the evening  after working hours,” I said.

“I know all that. These civilian courses are of no use. You are a permanent commission officer and you know that you can’t leave the navy. So you better focus on your career. Let me tell you frankly – in the Navy, qualifications do not matter – how you perform in your job is all that matters. I am not recommending your application. Just go to your office  and get on with your job,” my boss said firmly, handing me back my application form.

“Sir  what’s the harm in learning new things? After all  even the Navy wants us to learn – that is why they must have started this ‘learn while you earn scheme’. Please Sir  I want to do this management course,” I persisted.

“Stop giving me bullshit,” my boss shouted, “I know what’s good for you. I don’t want my officers wasting their time and efforts doing management courses. There is plenty of work here. So just forget about this management course and focus on your job.”

I felt terribly disappointed. 

I had never expected my boss to have such a negative anti-intellectual attitude. 

In fact  I had thought that he would encourage me to do the management course.

I walked across to my ex-shipmate’s office in Training and told him the story.

“Leave the form here,” he said, “I will speak to my Director and try to do something.”

In the afternoon  I got a call on the intercom.

It was the Admiral’s Staff Officer: “Come fast. The Admiral wants to see you.”

“The Admiral wants to see me?” I asked, surprised.

The moment I reached the Admiral’s Office, the Staff Officer said: “Go right in. He is waiting for you. And  by the way  your boss has just gone inside and he seems to be furious.”

Before I could react, the Staff Officer ushered me in.

The Admiral was reading a file.

My boss was sitting opposite him.

On seeing me  my boss gave me a threatening look.

“Good Morning, Sir,” I said, looking at the Admiral.

The Admiral looked up.

I saluted the Admiral.

He did not ask me to sit down but got straight to the point, “What’s all this crap about this bloody management course?”

Before I could answer my boss, the Commodore, interrupted, “Don’t you worry, Sir – I will see to it that this officer is severely punished.”

“Punished? For what?” the Admiral asked, looking a bit bemused.

“Sir, he has bypassed the chain of command – instead of following the proper channel  he has gone over my head directly to you,” my boss said.

“He hasn’t come directly to me. DNT spoke to me and sent over this form,” the Admiral said, tossing my application form on the table towards my boss.

My boss picked up the form  but he did not say anything.

Looking at the Commodore, the Admiral said: “What’s wrong with you...? Why don’t you want to recommend the bugger for the management course...? It will be better he spends his evenings sitting in a classroom learning something  instead of boozing away in the bloody bar  which he seems to be doing every evening...”

“Sir, I don’t want my officers wasting their time doing these management courses,” my boss said.

“Waste of time? I thought all that management stuff that the bugger learns may help him do his job better. That’s what the DNT thinks anyway,” the Admiral said.

“Sir, his work will be affected. He will refuse to work late  he will refuse to go on temporary duty…” my boss said.

“Will you?” the Admiral looked up and addressed me.

“No, Sir. I will do all my duties sincerely. I have to do all my duties, Sir – it is an evening course, subject to exigencies of service…” I said.

“That’s right,” the Admiral said; then he looked at my boss and asked him, “any problem?”

“Sir, he will keep studying in working hours,” my boss said.

“Will you?” the Admiral asked me.

“No, Sir. I will not bring any books to the office. I will study in my spare time at home,” I said.

“Sir, he will keep going to the library…” my boss interrupted.

“Please, Sir – I will not go to the library in working hours – even if I want to draw a book  I will do so in lunchtime…” I pleaded.

“Sir  I don’t want him to do the management course. His work will be affected...” my boss persisted.

“But how...? How the hell will his work be affected...?” the Admiral asked, a bit incredulous.

“Sir  he will be always thinking management thoughts’...” my boss said.

“What? Management thoughts...?” the Admiral said, looking quite bewildered.

“Yes Sir  he will be always thinking management thoughts...” my boss repeated.

The Admiral looked at my boss and asked him: “What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Sir  his brain will be full of thoughts about what he is learning in the management course  and he will always be thinking these management thoughts even during working hours,” my boss said.

“May I say something, Sir?” I asked the Admiral.

“Go ahead,” the Admiral said to me.

“Admiral Sir  how can he control my brain...? Can he prevent me from thinking erotic thoughts in working hours?” I said, pointing to my boss.

“That’s enough,” the Admiral said, trying to suppress a smile.

My boss was looking at me angrily.

The Admiral looked at my boss.

My boss  the Commodore  remained silent.

So  the Admiral said to the Commodore:

“Tell me  in the office  isn’t it better that the bugger thinks management thoughts – rather than think  horny erotic thoughts’...?

My boss promptly signed the form and gave it to me.

My anti-intellectual boss did try his best to create hurdles and make it difficult for me to do management studies  but I succeeded in completing the Management Course with flying colours.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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1. This 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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Abridged and Updated Extract of my article THE CRAZY COMMODORE WITH A PHOBIA FOR “MANAGEMENT THOUGHTS” written by me Vikram Karve on 19 November 2013 and posted online in my various blogs including in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal 

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