Friday, July 15, 2016

Humor in Uniform – “Nobody” Becomes a “Somebody”

Humour in Uniform

A Spoof

How Sub Lieutenant NOBODY became a “Somebody”

Calm Blue Sea  Soft Cool Breeze  Sunset  31st December 1977.

The lights of Mumbai twinkle in the distance as the city gets ready to ring in the New Year.

It was the happiest moment of his life.

Standing on the bridge-wings of the mighty warship INS Bijlee as she entered Mumbai harbour under his command  for the first time in his life  Sub-Lieutenant Nobody felt as if he was a “somebody”.

At this defining moment of his life  he realized the import of the words the distinguished Admiral had uttered while motivating him to join the Navy while he was studying at IIT.

“Son,” the recruiting Admiral had said, “The Navy is not just another job. The Navy is a way of life.”

Ship life seemed good.

Rank  Spit and Polish  and normal Naval Bullshit – all this did not matter much on a frontline combat ship like INS Bijlee.

Here it was your professional performance that counted.

So everyone was busy doing his job.

As long as you did your job well  you were given a free hand  and  after secure was piped  and the day’s work was over  you were free to do what you liked.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody realized that no one bothered him  since other officers were busy doing their own work and running their departments.

It was much better over here on a combat ship than the Naval Academy  where they treated you like dirt  and tried to convert you into a brainless obedient robot.

And  it was certainly much better than the Naval Technical Officers’ College  which boasted of transforming bright young Engineering Graduates into “Technical Zombies”.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody had survived both these ordeals and he had still retained his sanity.

It all happened so fast.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody had arrived in Mumbai Central Railway Station in the morning after a tiresome train journey.

There he was picked up in a ramshackle truck and dumped at the boat jetty.

There the ship’s boat was waiting for him.

After a rough journey on the choppy sea  Sub-Lieutenant Nobody was deposited alongside INS Bijlee anchored far out at sea.

It was almost 12 Noon when he clambered up the accommodation ladder to the quarterdeck of the ship with his bag hanging on his shoulder.

He duly saluted the Officer of the Day (OOD) and said: “Sub-Lieutenant Nobody reporting for duty, Sir. Request permission to come on board…”

The ship was rolling and the ladder staggered so he held on to a stanchion. 

The stanchion gave way  and Sub-Lieutenant Nobody lost his balance  and he crashed into the arms of the OOD – and both of them fell on the deck in a heap.

“Sorry, Sir...” Nobody said – as they gathered themselves up.

“You seem to be quite eager to join this ship. What did you say your name was...?” the OOD  a two stripe Lieutenant asked with a smile.

“My name is Nobody...”

“NOBODY...?” the OOD asked, incredulous.

“Sir, it’s an anglicized version of ...”

“Okay. Okay. You can tell me the story later,” the OOD interrupted, “just give me your appointment letter and genform...”

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody said took his appointment letter and genform from his shirt pocket and gave them to the OOD.

The OOD looked at the documents.

“Okay, okay  so you’re the new Electrical Officer (LO)...? Welcome on board,” the OOD shook his hand and said, “I’m the TASO (Torpedo Anti-Submarine Officer). Today is make and mend. Captain is not on board. You can meet him tomorrow. The Duty Petty Officer will take you to your cabin. Shower up  change into uniform  and meet me in the wardroom in ten minutes.”

Ten minutes later, freshly shaved and bathed, dressed in sparkling white shorts and shirt Dress No. 8 Naval uniform  Sub-Lieutenant Nobody entered the wardroom.

He saw the OOD – the TASO  wearing civvies  sitting at the Bar  sipping a glass of Beer.

“Ah…there you are. I am waiting for you...” the TASO said  the moment he saw the newly arrived Sub-Lieutenant Nobody.

The TASO swallowed his beer in one go  down the hatch.

Then he gave the OOD’s lanyard with a bunch of keys to Sub-Lieutenant Nobody  and he said to Nobody: “Sub-Lieutenant Nobody – you hold the deck. I’m off. Don’t bother to see me off. I’ll see you in the morning...”

And – with lightening speed  the TASO disappeared ashore on the liberty boat  even before Nobody could recover his wits.

“Congratulations...” a voice said from behind.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody turned around to see a Lieutenant Commander sitting on a sofa with a huge tankard of beer before him.

“Good morning, Sir,” Nobody said.

“It is already afternoon, my friend” the Lieutenant Commander said extending his hand, “I’m Schoolie”  the Ship’s Education Officer. You’re the new LO  aren’t you...?”

“Yes, Sir...” Nobody said.

“So you are the OOD  the de facto Commanding Officer of the ship now…”

“OOD…?” Sub-Lieutenant Nobody stammered – feeling bewildered and totally taken aback.

“So you are holding the fort for TASO  aren’t you? Smart bugger that TASO. The horny bastard couldn’t even wait one day to screw his wife…”

Seeing the disorientated expression on Nobody’s face  Schoolie said: “Pick up a glass of beer and come and sit here. I’ll tell you what to do...”

Then with breathtaking simplicity  Schoolie elucidated the Art of Command:

“In the Navy  especially on a ship  command is very simple. 

The Art of Command comprises just 3 words:

1. YES

2. NO 


Remember these three key words – YESNO and VERY GOOD.

From time to time  your duty staff will come and ask you something. 

It’s a good idea to number their questions. 

You just reply ‘YES’ to the odd numbered questions

You reply ‘NO’ to the even numbered questions

And  if someone makes a report to you  just say: ‘VERY GOOD’

You got it...? Is it clear...?”

“Yes, Sir – Odd numbered questions I say ‘Yes’. Even numbered questions I say ‘No’. And if someone makes a report I just say ‘Very Good’ – is that correct, Sir...?” Sub-Lieutenant Nobody asked Schoolie.

“Correct. That  in a nutshell  is the art of Naval Command...” Schoolie pronounced with finality.

Just then  the Duty Petty Officer entered.

He saluted Sub-Lieutenant Nobody and said: “Request permission to revert to 3 watches, Sir.”

First question  odd numbered question  so Nobody answered: “Yes”

“Thank you, Sir,” the Duty Petty Officer saluted  and he went away quite happy that he could secure half his men from duty.

“Sir,” it was the duty ERA, who came a few minutes later, and he asked Sub-Lieutenant Nobody: “Request permission to shut down boilers.”

Question Number Two  even numbered question  so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody answered: “No”

The ERA nodded  looking quite perplexed  and he went away.

“See  you are learning fast...” Schoolie said as they sat for lunch. 

While going ashore  Schoolie gave Nobody a parting shot of advice: “Always remember that it is better to keep your mouth shut and give the impression that you are stupid  rather than to open it and remove all doubt…”

Schoolie, a post graduate, was an Education Officer – the lowest class of officers in the Navy.

Education Officers were treated like dirt  and they wasted their entire lives teaching basic mathematics to junior sailors who didn’t give a damn  or acting as lackeys to senior officers wives – helping them run so-called welfare activities  which were more of ego-massage  and less of welfare.

Once in a while  the brighter among them got posted to ships  where they had no work except hang around in the wardroom doing nothing – and offering unsolicited advice to anyone who cared to listen.

Schoolie enjoyed doing talking to people  pontificating and giving advice on all matters under the sun  to anyone who cared to listen  especially to rookies  like Sub-Lieutenant Nobody – who latched on to each word he said.

It was indeed funny.

As far as the officer class was concerned  your status and position in the pecking order was inversely proportional to your academic qualifications.

The matriculate cadet entry seamen officers were the prima donnas

The Engineering Graduate Techies and Graduate Supply and Secretariat (S&S) guys were the middle rung.

And  the post-graduate Schoolies were at the rock bottom of the Navy status hierarchy.

“It is Port Control, Sir,” the Yeoman of Signals woke up Sub-Lieutenant Nobody from his beer-induced siesta and asked hesitantly, “they are asking if we want to come alongside.”

Nobody struggled to open his eyes and thought about it. 

He counted the questions he had been asked so far – the first question by the Duty Petty Officer regarding 3 Watch System (which he had answered YES) – and  the second question by the Duty ERA regarding Shutting Down Boilers (which he had answered NO)

One, two, three – this was the third question  odd numbered  so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody decisively answered: “YES”.

“Thank you, Sir  I will signal them at once...” the delighted Yeoman of Signals said – and he rushed towards the bridge to make a signal to port control by Aldis Lamp.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody followed the Yeoman to the bridge wings and watched him exchange visual signals with port control, both lamps frantically flashing. 

“Ballard Pier...?” port control asked.

It was the fourth question of the day – an even numbered question  so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody assertively said:  “NO”

“Barracks Wharf...?” 

Fifth question – an odd numbered question  so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody assertively said: “YES” 

And then  Sub-Lieutenant Nobody scrupulously followed the Odd YES – Even NO rule.

“Cold move?” port control asked – the sixth question – even numbered.

“No,” Nobody said decisively.

“Hot Move...?”


Everyone on the bridge was praising Sub-Lieutenant Nobody’s foresight in not allowing the boilers to be shut down  otherwise the quick hot move would not have been possible at immediate notice  and they would have to spend the whole day waiting for the tug to carry out the laborious cold move.

“Should we call for a harbour pilot...?” the duty Midshipman asked.

It was even numbered question  so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody emphatically said: “No”

“Sir, should I prepare the pilotage plan...?”


“Shall I chart course between sunk rock and oyster rock...?”


“Around Middle Ground...?”


“Will you be taking the con, Sir...?” the Midshipman asked.


“Then I will have the con...?”


The Midshipman was filled with happiness and a sense of pride. 

It was the first time that someone had shown so much confidence in him.

The Midshipman smartly saluted Sub-Lieutenant Nobody and said: “I’ll report when ready, Sir.”

This was not a question. 

This was a report. 

So Nobody remembered Schoolie’s advice and said: “Very Good.”

There was no point hanging around the bridge and being exposing his ignorance, thought Sub-Lieutenant Nobody.

So Sub-Lieutenant Nobody told the Midshipman to take the ship alongside.

He then informed the Midshipman that he would be available in the wardroom for any advice.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody then went down to the wardroom– he summoned the bar steward  and ordered a double large scotch whisky and soda.

He needed the alcohol fuelled Dutch courage.

His spirits high  fuelled by alcohol-inspired courage  and brimming with confidence  from then on  Sub-Lieutenant Nobody religiously followed Schoolie’s odd/even command formula with great success  and soon INS Bijlee was underway, sailing smoothly towards the Wharf.

As he sipped whisky in the wardroom  Sub-Lieutenant Nobody was quite clueless as he heard, on the main broadcast, the Midshipman give the conning orders: “Stand-by Main Engines…Haul Anchor…Anchor off the bottom…Anchor Aweigh…Anchor Coming Home…Anchor Sighted and Clear…Wheel Amidships… Dead Slow…Starboard Ten…”

Everything moved like clockwork  everyone knew their jobs.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody also knew what to do. 

In his mind  he had to keep a count of the questions they asked him  and quickly determine the question number – odd or even – and answer according to Schoolie’s odd/even yes/no formula.

For every odd numbered question  he said: “Yes”.

For the even numbered question  he said: “No”.

And  from time to time  when someone made him a report  Sub-Lieutenant Nobody would wisely nod  and say: “Very Good.”

It worked. 

The simple “YES” “NO” “VERY GOOD” command formula worked.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody strictly followed the formula  and everything went absolutely right.

The ship secured alongside perfectly.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody realized first-hand that the Art of Naval Command was indeed breathtaking in its simplicity.

“Should I announce liberty, Sir?” asked the Duty Petty Officer hesitantly.

it was an odd numbered question  so Sub-Lieutenant Nobody said: “Yes.”

The broad smile on the Petty Officer’s face and the smartness of his salute said it all.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody had mastered the Art of Naval Command.

The crew were happy to be secured alongside rather than tossing and turning at a faraway anchorage out at sea.

And now  thanks to Sub-Lieutenant Nobody  there would be liberty  and the ship’s crew would be able to go ashore to enjoy the delights of “Maximum City” after a long hard time at sea.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody became the hot topic of discussion below the deck in the crew messes.

Each and every sailor admired the guts and initiative of Sub-Lieutenant Nobody. 

They were impressed by his prompt and clear decisive commands.

Despite being a non-seaman officer  he had brought the ship alongside by taking effective charge of the Midshipman. 

Never before had such a thing happened.  

Never before had they seen a greenhorn Sub-Lieutenant demonstrate so much confidence and guts on his first day on board a ship.

Anyone else would have hesitated, dithered – but here was a decisive officer.

“He is a natural leader  they all said  with awe and in unison  about Sub-Lieutenant Nobody.

On his very first day on board this mighty warship, Sub-Lieutenant Nobody earned the admiration, respect and esteem of the crew of INS Bijlee.

The sailors were happy to have Sub-Lieutenant Nobody on board  and they showed it by their body language  especially in the way they saluted him.

Sub-Lieutenant Nobody’s chest swelled with pride.

Nobody had become a “Somebody”. 


The story you just read is an excerpt from NOBODY’S NAVY  my abandoned novel about the adventures of Sub-Lieutenant Nobody.

Every Naval Officer has a book hidden within him.

This is my book – a Novel.

Though apocryphal, and a spoof, this fiction story is based on my first hand experience about life in the Indian Navy.

I have not seen a similar novel written in India which is set on a warship depicting the excitement and trials and tribulations of naval life.

Most people think that the Navy is like any other “job”.

The Navy is not a Job.

The Navy is a Way of Life.

I want to give my readers an authentic taste of the naval life we experienced first-hand in the navy, which is quite different from the jingoistic mumbo-jumbo in recruitment advertisements or the heroic hogwash exhibited in most action movies or the “Colonel Blimp” or “Captain Haddock” type caricatures shown in Bollywood films.
The protagonist of my novel is Sub-Lieutenant Nobody. 

 his name is “Nobody”.

That is why the novel is called NOBODY’S NAVY

This story covers a one year period in the life of Sub-Lieutenant Nobody on board ship.

I intend to write a sequel, maybe a trilogy, or a series of follow-on novels, to cover the hilarious yet poignant adventures of this fictitious naval officer called “Nobody” as he plods his way through Naval Life and progresses through his naval career.

The theme of my novel is simple: “THE NAVY BRINGS OUT THE BEST IN YOU”

This part was true in my own life – The Navy did bring out the best in me.

Around 6 years years ago 
 sometime in December 2010 / January 2011  I prepared a book proposal for my novel which I titled NOBODY’S NAVY

As per the guidelines given by various reputed publishers 
 the book proposal comprised a synopsis and three chapters of the novel.

I sent my book proposal to some reputed publishers, one after another.

I was disappointed with the response.


The responses I received from publishers were of four types:

1. Some did not bother to acknowledge receipt and I heard nothing from them 

(Maybe, they dump all “unsolicited” proposals into the slush pile or the waste paper basket)

2. Some sent my proposal back with regrets saying that they were already booked for the next 2 or 3 years with novels lined up for publishing and I should try after that.

3. Some asked me the business prospects of my novel – how was I going to market my book, how many copies would it sell, would I guarantee financial viability. 

(Well I do have Management Qualifications  but I specialized in HR – and not in Marketing. Besides  as a creative writer  I thought that my job was to write an engrossing book with Page Turning Quality (PTQ) – and the “business” aspects would be looked after by the publisher)

4. The remaining publishers sent me financial details for 
self-publishing my novel.

In the present day scenario of book publishing in India  it seems that self-publishing my novel is the only option left for me  if I wish to publish my novel as a printed book.

Though self publishing may satisfy my vanity 
 I know now difficult it will be to seamlessly make available the book to maximum readers  since I neither have the skill  nor the wherewithal  to distribute and sell the book by getting it into the bookstores.

I wish to be creative writer 
 not a marketing manager.

I browsed in bookstores in order to ascertain the “market” for novels.

It seems the only fiction books in vogue are “metro reads” (mushy romances) and contrived campus love stories.

I may be wrong 
 but to me  it seems that present day readers don’t have the inclination nor the appetite to read an authentic “no-holds barred” novel on Navy Life.

I am not going to abort my novel because I have to tell my story.

I have two options before me:

1. Complete the novel (despite having no assurance of publication) 
– and then spend my time peddling my “unsolicited” manuscript to reputed publishers.

This may turn out to be a very harrowing experience. 

It takes a lot of emotional and physical effort to complete a novel – and  after putting in all that effort  I will find it quite humiliating to peddle my manuscript.

– in order to preserve my dignity and to ensure that my creative work sees the light of day  I may have no option but to self-publish my novel  and undergo the frustration of my book not getting its due appreciation and success because of impediments in distribution and owing to sub-optimal marketing.

2. The second option is to upload my book proposal 
 the synopsis and a few chapters on my Blog for everyone to read.

I think the second option has three advantages.

1. Some readers may give me feedback and tell me if this is a good story which people want to read and how to make it more interesting.

2. Some of my benevolent readers may tell some literary friends of theirs about 
Nobody’s Navy – or they may even refer me to a literary agent – or an editor in a publishing house – and maybe  I would be able to strike a deal.

3. The best thing would be if some reputed publisher reads this story 
– and makes me an offer that I cannot refuse.

Is anyone interested in publishing my novel NOBODY’S NAVY...?

The synopsis and six chapters of 
Nobody’s Navy are ready.

If you are game (or know a publisher who is interested) do let me know. 

We can take it forward from here.

Meanwhile do stand by for a chapter or two from NOBODY’S NAVY, my novel about the adventures of Sub-Lieutenant Nobody, which I may be posting on my Blog for you to read. 

And  Dear Reader – do tell me if you liked the story: “Nobody” Becomes a “Somebody” 

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
1. If you share this post, please give due credit to the author Vikram Karve
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

This story is 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.

Copyright Notice:
No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

Abridged and Updated Version of my two blog posts posted in June 2013 

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