Thursday, March 2, 2017

Humor in Uniform – “Shore Based Mogul” versus “Man at Sea” – Tail Wags the Dog

Humor in Uniform 
A Hilarious “Memoir” from My Vizag Navy Days

A Fictional Spoof


During my long career in the Navy  I have observed that  at any given point of time  there are two types of appointments for individuals in Naval Uniform:

1. The “man at sea

2. The “shore based mogul

In theory  the “shore based mogul” is supposed to support the “man at sea”.

But  in practice  it is exactly the opposite that happens.

The hapless “man at sea” is hounded and dominated by the “shore based mogul”.

Of course  like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  a Naval Officer has to undergo both types of appointments  afloat and ashore.

I have seen many a powerful “shore based mogul” reduced to a powerless “man at sea” – when he went for his sea appointment  and – vice versa.

The exceptions are some lucky individuals who never have to go to sea  like Officers in “landlubber branches” and Lady Naval Officers  who always remain powerful “shore based moguls”.

After slogging at sea  and a few “powerless” appointments ashore  one fine day  I suddenly realized that I had become a “shore based mogul” – when I was transferred to the mighty Naval Dockyard at Vizag (Visakhapatnam) on the Eastern Seaboard.

Actually  my department was a “post office”.

Ships raised various defects which they wanted us to repair  and  like a post office does  we stamped the forms.

Our “stamp” indicated how the job was to be done.

Now  let me tell you how my “post office” operated. 


There were many sundry officers and staff in the department doing all sorts of work  but essentially  the whole show was run by two senior foremen – experienced veterans who had spent more than 30 years slogging in various departments of the dockyard.

One was a “good cop” – and the other was a “bad cop”.

If I wanted a job to be done  I would send it to the “good cop” – who would stamp the request accordingly.

If I did not want a job to be done  I would send the request to the “bad cop”.

“Bad Cop” had some interesting stamps in his drawer.

He would then use his ingenuity.

Let me give you a few illustrative examples (purely apocryphal):

He could stamp “SS” – which meant that “Ship’s Staff” is to do the job.

Quite a “Catch 22” case.

If ship’s staff could do the job  then why would they project it to the Dockyard in the first place.

(Of course  I am sure Navy “insiders” know the answer to that one)

Or  “Bad Cop” could stamp “SSRR” – which meant “ship’s staff remove and refit” 

This was like a “carry in” repair – where the ship’s sailors would remove the item  land it in the dockyard  collect it after repairs  and refit the item back into the ship.

This was okay for smaller items  which we had agreed to do  and were handled by the “good cop”.

But  when “bad cop” used the “SSRR” stamp with a wicked smile on his face  he did so for such items which it was impossible for the ship’s sailors to remove from the ship.

We once had a furious Engineer Officer who had been asked to remove his Main Engine and land it in the dockyard – thanks to the “SSRR” stamp the “bad cop” had stamped on the request.


“Bad Cop” had many such interesting stamps  but the “Trump Card in bad cop’s repertoire was the stamp: “QA”

“QA” meant “Quote Authority”

This “QA” stamp threw the ship’s staff into a tizzy.

No one knew who was this “authority” to be “quoted”.

If a confused ship officer landed up asking as to who was the “authority” to be “quoted”  our “bad cop” would say matter-of-factly: 

“Sir  how do I know who is the “authority” to be “quoted”...? If I knew  why would I ask you...?”

This system was running fine.

I believe in the cardinal principle of systems management: 

If a system is running fine  do not tamper with it 

So – I let the system run  and everyone in the department was happy.

One evening  I unexpectedly met an old shipmate in the swimming pool.

We had served together on a ship around 12 years ago  when I was doing my first sea appointment  and he was struggling for his sea watchkeeping ticket.

The Captain made him struggle so much  that the moment he got his watchkeeping ticket  he volunteered for Aviation to escape from the Surface Navy forever.

He was enjoying his Flying when the Navy decided to remind him that he was still in white uniform  and they appointed him as the Commanding Officer (CO) of a Surface Ship.

He was quite disgusted and he remarked to me: 

“You know what a tough time I had doing my watchkeeping. I am bloody clueless  but thankfully my officers seem to be quite clued up  and I have decided to leave everything to them. I hope that this sea tenure is over fast so that I can get back to my flying...”

I told him about myself – where all I had been transferred since those glorious Mumbai days.

“Hey  why don’t you come over for a glass of beer tomorrow...? I will tell them to make your favourite Asian Fried Rice for lunch...” he said.

“Okay...” I said, “I’ll be on board your ship at 12 noon.”

Next afternoon  we sat in the Captain’s Cabin sipping chilled Beer.

I observed that his cabin was in bad shape.

He must have noticed that I had noticed  because he said: 

“Look at this shabby cabin – everything seems to be dilapidated – and just imagine – this is supposed to be the Captain’s Cabin...” he complained.

I nodded.

“Hey  you are in the mighty Dockyard – can you do something...?” he said to me.

“Sure – I will try my best to do something...” I said.

When I returned to my office  I called “good cop” – and I mentioned it to him.

“Good Cop” smiled and said: 

“Sir, no problem – I will visit the ship – and see what is to be done. Then – we will get things moving on top priority. After all  he is your friend...”

My friend’s cabin was refurbished on top priority  and soon  his cabin was the best Captain’s Cabin in his squadron.

He was so happy  that he praised the dockyard effusively  mentioning me in particular  to his seniors in the fleet.

The good words carried  and this earned me words of appreciation from various quarters.

Now  in the same squadron there was a hot-shot CO.

He was commanding another ship in the same squadron as my friend. 

This hot-shot CO was a haughty pompous type who thought he was “cat’s whiskers”.

When this hot-shot CO visited my friend’s cabin  he was so impressed by the decor – that he too wanted his own Captain’s Cabin on his ship to be refurbished.

My friend told him to meet me.

Now  this “hot shot” CO was an officer roughly of my seniority.

But  he thought it below his dignity to come over and meet me.

After all – he was a prima donna Commanding Officer from the crème de la crème Executive Branch of the Navy. 

The “hot shot” CO thought that it was below his dignity to grovel before a “Lowly Technical Officer” like me.

So  he sent an official request asking that his cabin be refurbished.

I promptly forwarded this request to “bad cop”.

“Bad Cop” had a look at the request – he thought for a while  and then stamped it “QA”.

The “cat’s whiskers” “Hot Shot” CO was flabbergasted on seeing the “QA” stamp.

He promptly sent his second-in-command – the Executive Officer (XO) – to find out what “QA” meant.

I sent the XO to “bad cop”.

The “bad cop” patiently explained to the Ship’s XO that “QA” meant “Quote Authority”.

The XO asked the “bad cop”

“What does authority mean...? Who or what is the authority to be quoted...?”

In his typical style  our “bad cop” said matter-of-factly to the XO: 

“Sir  how do I know who is the “authority” to be “quoted”...? If I knew  why would I ask you...? Sir  I am a mere Foreman – you are a Senior Officer – so you must be knowing which “authority” is to be “quoted”...

The XO went back to his ship and told the CO what had transpired. 

The XO advised the CO to meet me and discuss the matter with me personally.

The “Hot Shot” CO thundered at his XO: 

“I am a Commanding Officer. I don’t meet small fry. Get me an appointment with the General Manager (GM) of the Dockyard...” 


Next morning  the GM called me to his office.

The “hot shot” CO was sitting there.

I sat beside him  and  I looked at my GM across the table.

Then  I asked my GM: “Anything, Sir...?”

“He says you refused to refurbish his cabin...” the GM said to me.

“Sir  it is not an operational job. So I asked him to Quote Authority...” I said.

The GM looked at the “hot shot” CO.

Then – the GM said matter-of-factly to the puffed-up CO: 

“Okay. That’s it. You just Quote Authority – and the job will be done.”

The “hot shot” CO complained vociferously: 

“But, Sir  he did the same job on another ship – he refurbished the Captain’s Cabin of Cdr XXX  who is the CO of my one of my squadron ships INS YYY…”

The GM looked at me and raised his eyebrow.

“Sir  that CO is a good friend of mine – he requested me personally – so I did the job on a “bhai-bandi” basis...” I said.

“I see...” the GM said.

Then – the GM looked at the “hot shot” CO  and  tongue-in-cheek – the GM said to the CO: 

“Well, you decide – the choice is yours – either you Quote Authority – or you see if you can get the job done on “bhai-bandi” basis...”

One hour later  there was an invitation from the “hot shot” CO – calling me over to his Ship for a glass of Beer in the Captain’s Cabin...!!!


The “man at sea” must always remember – that it is the “shore based moguls” who call the shots.

Many merchant mariners tell me this is true in the Merchant Navy as well.

Maybe  it is true of the Army and Air Force as well  where the so-called support “Services” dominate the fighting “Arms”.

“Defence Civilians” overshadow the Uniformed Military Personnel who they are supposed to support.

It is not akin to the tail wagging the dog...?

In theory  the Dog is supposed to Wag its Tail 

But – in practice – sometimes – the Tail Wags the Dog

Dear Reader: Tell me – haven’t you seen this universal phenomenon at many places and in many organisations as well...?

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1. This story is a fictional 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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