Friday, December 29, 2017

Memories of My Navy “Alma Mater” – The ““Teetotaller Alcoholic”

The term  “alma mater”  refers to the institution where you have studied. 

In Latin – “alma mater” literally means “nurturing mother” (or “nourishing mother)

Having “studied” in various educational and training institutions – I have many almae matres (or alma maters) – the civilian schools and colleges/institutes where I studied – and – the Naval Academy where I received my initial Navy Training – and – the Naval Ships and the  “Stone Frigates” (shore based Naval Establishments) where I was trained. 

A few days ago – in mid-December 2017 – I had the good fortune of participating in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations of INS Valsura – the “alma mater” of our branch in Jamnagar (where we did our specialisation courses) 

The Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of INS Valsura were spectacular – most grand and impressive in every sense. 

It was indeed a nostalgic experience for me ro revist the places where I received my training – and I was able to meet fellow Navy Veterans and Shipmates after many years. 

I shall always cherish fond memories of the Platinum Jubilee Celebrations of INS Valsura Jamnagar – I was overwhelmed by the excellent hospitality and warm affection shown to us Veteran Valsurians by the Commanding Officer, Officers and Sailors of INS Valsura.

By the way – apart from my specialisation training in the 1970s – more than 40 years ago – I also spent a short tenure on the staff as an “instructor” in this very “alma mater” INS Valsura in 1980/81. 

This is how it happened. 

The best thing that happened to me in the Navy were the two glorious years I spent in Mumbai (then called Bombay) in the 1970 almost 40 years ago.

(Hence  in this story  for Mumbai – I shall use the old name Bombay”  which was the name of Mumbai when this story happened)

Both my ships were based at Bombay.

We sailed for a few days  sometimes visiting various ports  but for the remaining days we were tied alongside in Bombay Dockyard which is in the heart of the city.

I loved sailing.

But more than that  I loved spending time in a harbour like Bombay  which was most exciting as the vibrant metropolis had so much to offer for young bachelors like me with a zest for life.

It was the happiest time of my life.

And  like I said  it was the best thing that happened to me in the Navy.

The worst thing that happened to me in the Navy was my unexpected to transfer to Jamnagar  which put an end to my happy time in Bombay.

I was looking forward to an appointment to a shore billet in Bombay  which would enable me to continue to enjoy the life of bliss in “maximum city” to the fullest.

In fact  a few months earlier  I had been informally told by a Senior Naval Officer that I would be appointed in the Naval Dockyard at Bombay  as was the norm for young technical officers after appointments at sea.

But  someone pulled strings in New Delhi  and  I was on my way to Jamnagar.

After a fantastic time in Bombay  the desolate Naval Base at Jamnagar was most disappointing  especially for a young bachelor like me who had a zest for life.

My only aim was to get out of that dreary place as fast as possible. 

Luckily – I managed to get out the place after a short tenure of around 9 months as I was selected to undergo the prestigious 2 year M. Tech. post graduate course in Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology New Delhi aka IIT Delhi

I vowed that I would never go back again to my “alma mater” in Jamnagar – which I considered a rather desolate place. 

I succeeded in avoiding an appointment to this “alma mater” throughout my Naval Career – and the only time I visited the place – was for a mid-level leadership management short course of 10 weeks around 30 years ago in the year 1988. 

When I was completing my M. Tech. at IIT Delhi – I was told by the “powers-that-be” that since I had done an incomplete  tenure of only 9 months at my “alma mater” before coming to IIT Delhi for my M. Tech – I would be sent back to my “alma mater” after completing my M. Tech. for a full tenure on instructional duties. 

Luckily – that did not happen – and – on completing my M. Tech. two years later – I was posted to DRDO Headquarters in New Delhi – followed by a posting to IAT Pune. 

In hindsight – my tenure on instructional duties in my “alma mater” was not that bad. 

In fact – I cherish fond memories of those “couldnt-be-bothered-nothing-to-lose” days in Jamnagar – especially our Training Days at INS Valsura Jamnagar.  

During my visit to INS Valsura a few days ago for the Platinum Jubilee – I visited my favourite haunt – the Wardroom Bar – where I had spent most evenings imbibing generous amounts of Rum-Pani (Rum and Water) – which helped me digest the rather spartan food, enabled me to sleep peacefully in drunken stupor in the bed-bug infested beds, and survive the boredom of that place without going crazy.  

While reminiscing in the Wardroom Bar about my good-old Valsura days – I remembered this story. 

Dear Reader – let me relive this hilarious memory of my training days at my “alma mater” INS Valsura Jamnagar – and share the story with you... 

THE TEETOTALLER ALCOHOLIC 
Delightful Memories of my Halcyon Navy Days
A Spoof
By
VIKRAM KARVE

The TEETOTALLER ALCOHOLIC  a Rum Tale by Vikram Karve

Long back  40 years ago  sometime in the 1970 we were young officers just introduced to the pleasures of alcohol during our specialisation course at INS Valsura Jamnagar.

We youngsters thoroughly enjoyed our newly found freedom by topping up to the hilt  – drinking copiously – in the Wardroom Bar every evening 

(In the Navy Wardroom means Officers Mess)

Though this “Stone Frigate INS Valsura was supposed to be a Technical Training Establishment  the atmosphere was more OG than Gunnery School.

And – to make matters worse  we were located in a desolate remote place in the back of beyond.

Apart from playing sports  the only recreation for us bachelors was drinking alcohol. 

Also  in order to sleep soundly in the bedbug infested cabins  you had to imbibe a reasonable amount of alcohol every evening.

So  every evening  after a vigorous round of games – we would assemble in the wardroom bar  and top-up our tanks” with Rum-Pani (Rum and Water)  – till the last sitting for dinner was announced.

In order to curb our excesses  the PMC set a daily limit of 3 Large Pegs of Rum for each individual officer. 

One Large Peg was 60 mL of Rum – so three Large Pegs (180 mL or Quarter Bottle) of Rum was considered sufficient as Survival Daily Quota of Liquor for us Under-Training Officers by the PMC. 

The PMC (President Mess Committee) was the seniormost member of the Wardroom. 

In this “Stone Frigate” INS Valsura – the PMC happened to be the Executive Officer (XO) – also known as the Base Commander – the secondmost senior officer in the Naval Base 

(The seniormost officer – the Captain (aka Commanding Officer) was not a member of the Wardroom as per Naval Tradition) 

For reasons best known to him  the PMC set a daily limit of 3 Large Pegs of Rum for each individual officer.  

Well  during those days  we drank only large pegs – and 3 large pegs total about 180 ml of hard liquor – nearly a quarter of a bottle of rum  which has almost 13 large pegs.

Now  for tough young Naval Officers like us in their early 20’s  only 3 large pegs of rum were just too little  especially for an ardent passionate drinker like me.

So  I devised a simple strategy. 

I caught hold of my course-mate “X” – who was a strict teetotaller.

Of course – like most “Teetotallers in Uniform  my friend “X” was quite a money-minded “Businessmen in Uniform too. 

You will be surprised – but – “X” was the only strict teetotaller in our course.

Nowadays – you find a large number of “Teetotallers in Uniform” – but – those days it was quite rare to find a Teetotaller in the Navy – in fact – most Naval Officers and Sailors were hard drinkers. 

Anyway – let me get back to the story of “X”. 

I saw “X” sitting in the bar with a soft drink”. 

So – I walked over to “X” and made him a proposition. 

I said to “X”:

“If you let me have your Rum Quota  I will pay your entire Wine Bill  including whatever Soft Drinks and Snacks you have...”

“You will pay my entire Bar Bill...?” an unbelieveing “X” asked me.

“Yes – I will pay your entire Bar Bill. You see – your daily 3 peg rum quota is going waste  since you are a teetotaller. I am a heavy drinker – and the rum quota” of 3 large pegs of rum is too little for me – and – I need at least 4/5 pegs every day. So – if you give me your daily rum quota – I will pay your entire bar bill every month....” I said to “X”

Being a “Businessman in Uniform – “X” readily agreed to my proposal – since I would be paying for his soft-drinks and snacks too. 

In fact  I am sure that in his heart – he jumped with joy. 

So  we instructed the bar steward accordingly. 

The Bar SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) was as follows. 

Every evening  the steward would put my first 3 large pegs of rum in X’s bar-book.

Whatever subsequent pegs I drank beyond the first 3 pegs  they would be entered in my bar-book. 

Yes  those days – in Navy wardrooms – we had bar-books which we had to sign at the end of the evening  or by next morning.

So  every evening  as I sat down to drink  my first 3 large pegs of rum would be written in X’s bar-book.

In case I drank a 4th or 5th or 6th peg of rum  the steward would write them in my own bar-book.

I seldom drank more than 6 large pegs  except on rare occasions like parties  but on such occasions of unrestricted drinking  booze was on the house  and we were not subject to any drinking quota.

So  thanks to my friend “X”  every evening  I could enjoy a generous amount of booze.

This raised my spirits – so  my morale was high  and I was quite happy.

“X” was delighted with this arrangement. 

“X” sat down with us in the evenings  downing soft-drink after soft-drink  eating plenty of small eats – knowing that I was paying for all his soft-drinks and snacks too. 

Since he was a “Businessman in Uniform – while drinking soft-drinks and eating snacks  I am sure “X” kept calculating the cost of his soft-drinks and snacks in his mind – estimating how much money he was saving – since I was paying his entire Bar-Bill

I am sure that in his mind he was wondering what a sucker I was.

A couple of months passed happily.

One morning  the PMC suddenly entered the Training Hall  and he thundered: 

“Who the bloody hell is Sub Lieutenant “X”...?” 

The PMC shouted X’s name  and he looked around the hall.

“X” meekly stood up.

The PMC strode up to “X”.

The PMC brandished X’s bar-book menacingly.

Then  the PMC shouted at “X”: 

“What the hell is wrong with you...? Do you want to become a bloody alcoholic...? You have been religiously drinking 3 large pegs of rum every day for the last two months. I am stopping your booze. No more drinking. You better sober up.”

And then  as suddenly as he had come  the PMC stormed out of the hall  rendering a hapless “X” dumbstruck and speechless.

Poor “X” – his reputation as a “drinker” spread pretty fast. 

At parties  when “X” had his usual glass of cola in his hand  the PMC would suspect that X’s soft drink was was spiked with rum. 

So “X” started drinking lime juice  but even then  the PMC was sure that X’s juice was spiked with Gin or Vodka. 

The PMC kept telling the Training Officer that he suspected that “X” was still drinking heavily.

Accordingly  the Training Officer kept warning “X” to stop drinking.

Meanwhile  I had found other sources to replenish my “thirst” for alcohol  like picking up a few rum bottles from married officers on the staff.

The biggest joke was that the PMC thought that “X” was taking rum bottles from married officers  and – “X” was warned repeatedly by the Training Officer to abstain from drinking.

Soon X’s reputation as an alcoholic was growing.

“X” feared that his appraisal report (OLQ Marks) would be ruined by an adverse remark about his alcohol dependence – and he would be branded as an alcoholic throughout his Naval Career.

So  one day  “X” told the Training Officer the whole story. 

The Training Officer told the PMC the story.

And soon  I found myself being marched up to the PMC.

The PMC had two bar-books in his hand – X’s Bar-Book  and  My Bar-Book. 

He was turning page after page.

The PMC asked me: 

“Is it true...? You seem to drinking 4 to 5 large pegs of Rum every evening. Sometimes even 6 pegs of Rum.”

“Yes, Sir...” I meekly said to the PMC. 

I was trembling inside  expecting to be logged  or be severely admonished by the PMC – who was also the XO. 

I surely anticipated that my booze was going to be stopped  so I was thinking in my mind what new arrangements I needed to make to obtain an adequate supply of rum to satisfy my “thirst” for booze  maybe  my friends in the Army or Air Force could help me out.

The PMC held up the bar-book of “X” and he asked me: 

“And what about this officer  your friend “X”  is he telling the truth that he is a Teetotaller  or  is he also a bloody Alcoholic like you...?” 

“Sir  he is an Alcoholic Teetotaller...” I blurted out.

“What...? Alcoholic Teetotaller...? Bloody Hell...!!! This is the first time I am hearing this crazy oxymoron...” the PMC remarked – looking at me curiously.

“Sir  I meant that “X” is a Teetotaller Alcoholic...” I mumbled sheepishly.

Teetotaller Alcoholic...” the PMC repeated, looking confused.

And – suddenly – the PMC burst out laughing  and he said to me: 

“Come over to my house for a drink this evening. You seem to be an interesting chap.”

Maybe  I reminded him of his youthful days. 

Yes  I did indeed remind him of his wild younger days  that is what he told me after a few drinks – and  I could see that the PMC really enjoyed his liquor.

In the evening  sitting on the lawns of the PMC’s bungalow  as we imbibed peg after peg of the best Rum  the PMC  an old sea-dog  he was overcome by the Auld Lang Syne Complex 

So – the PMC harked back to his halcyon Navy Days  and he excitedly told me about his glorious drinking escapades when he was a young Naval Officer – and we kept drinking and talking  till the wee hours of the morning.

Cheers  That calls for a drink...!!! 

I hope my good friend and coursemate “X” – the “Teetotaller Alcoholic” – he reads this memoir – and has a good laugh.

VIKRAM KARVE
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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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