Thursday, January 23, 2020

Humor in Uniform – The Commendation

Humor in Uniform

Fiction Short Story

Part 1


During my long career in the Navy – I performed a variety of jobs.

Around 20 years ago – I looked after HR (Human Resources) and Training in the premier Naval Dockyard at Mumbai.

Among the multifarious HR and Training jobs – one of my tasks was the processing of cases for awards and commendations.

Before doing this job – I was an idealist – who believed that everything was fair and ethical – and only the truly deserving got awards and commendations.

But soon – I realized that I had been naïve – and things were quite different.

Let me tell you a story.

We were processing recommendations for award of commendations.

Since I had newly taken charge of my appointment – and I was doing this “processing” of awards for the first time – my boss advised me to consult Mrs. “T” in Headquarters.

Mrs. “T” was the UDC (Upper Division Clerk) in-charge of processing commendations and awards.

She had been on the same chair for over 20 years – ever since she joined as an LDC – and was an “authority” on the subject. 

In fact – Mrs. “T” was considered so “indispensable” that she had been kept in the same post by successive officers – she had not even been transferred locally within Headquarters.

I don’t know whether it was true or not – but someone told me that Mrs. “T” had refused promotion to the rank of “Office Superintendent” because that may entail transfer out of Mumbai or to a unit in some other part of Mumbai.

She lived quite nearby in Girgaum and commuted to Headquarters (in Fort) by bus – a very convenient arrangement – she was “well set” in her daily routine and did not want to disturb it.

Maybe this was the reason that motivated her to work sincerely and efficiently – and become “indispensable” – so that she would not be transferred.  

I learned one more thing about Mrs. “T” – she had steadfastly refused to accept any award or commendation for her exemplary performance – she had told her successive bosses who wanted to recommend her that it would be “unethical” for her to accept commendations/awards since she herself processed the cases. (This also put “moral” pressure on her bosses not to “usurp” commendations/awards themselves while they were sitting in that chair).

I told my Personal Assistant (PA) to call up Mrs. “T” and ask her a suitable time when I could visit her.

(Protocol demanded that – since I was an Officer – she should have come down and met me in my office – but then – firstly – she was in a different organization – and – secondly – even the lowliest persons in Headquarters thought they were “Shore Based Moguls” who could summon anyone from ships or “subordinate” units. Of course – I could have met the concerned officer – but – my boss had asked me specifically to meet Mrs. “T”)

My phone rang – my PA told me that Mrs. “T” wanted to speak to me – and she connected Mrs. “T”.

“Hello, Sir…” Mrs. “T” said enthusiastically, “do you remember me…?”

“No…” I said, honestly.

“We have met at my niece’s wedding…” she said.

“Your niece…?” I said, confused.

Mrs. “T” told me her niece’s name – she had been my PA in my previous appointment – I had attended her wedding in Girgaum (Girgaon)  – but I did not recollect meeting Mrs. “T”.

Suddenly – Mrs. “T” came on the line – and she said to me: “Sir – is it okay if I come to your office at 11:30 AM…?”

I looked at the wall clock in my office – it was 10 AM – so 11:30 AM was absolutely fine with me.

So – I said to Mrs. “T”: “Please come at 11:30 AM. I want to take your advice regarding commendations…”

“I know, Sir. I will get the file and discuss everything with you…” Mrs. “T” said.

At 11:30 AM – my PA ushered in Mrs. “T” into my Office.

I asked Mrs. “T” to sit down – and – I asked her: “What would you like to have – Tea – Coffee – Soft Drink…?”

“Sir – I have got something for you…” Mrs. “T” said – and she looked at my PA.

“Yes, Yes, Sir…” my PA said, “she has given me her tiffin carrier…”

“Tiffin Carrier…?” I said, surprised.

“Come on, Sir…” Mrs. “T” said, “Everyone knows what a foodie you are. My niece told me how you used to “taste” from everyone’s tiffin – and I see you walking and eating in Girgaum so often – having Sabudana Wada at Panshikar, enjoying Misal at Vinay Health Home – we have even seen you eating Fish at Anantashram in Khotachiwadi…”

This was getting quite embarrassing – so – I decided to change the topic.

“Let’s discuss about commendations first. Then I will taste what you have got for me…” I said to Mrs. “T”.

And then - Mrs. “T” started briefing me about how to process cases for awards and commendations.

“Gallantry Awards are given for specific acts of gallantry – but – for all other awards and commendations – there are “pro-rata quotas” – so that “justice” is done to all ships, units, branches etc…” Mrs. “T” said.

“Are these “quotas” specified anywhere…?” I asked.

“No. No. It’s all unofficial. You can always discreetly ask us – and we will tell you your quota for that award – and how many citations to send…” Mrs. “T” said, “You will have to send some “dummy” recommendations to enable us to “select” the right one…”

“Dummy recommendations…” I asked, curious.

“Yes Sir. For example – we will be asking for citations for a “distinguished service” medal soon. Your quota is just “one” – so – you will have to send at least 4 citations – 3 “dummies” and the one who you want to get the award – we do a similar “sifting” at HQ so that the right names reach NHQ…” Mrs. “T” said, “Your Boss knows all this – and he will tell you the names – of the chosen awardee – and the dummies. You have to write the citations in such a way that it is evident who the genuine recommendation is – you can write them in relative merit as well – in case a lucky second recommendation can be accommodated if there is spare quota…”

“Oh…” I said.

I must have looked confused – so Mrs. “T” said to me: “Sir – don’t worry – all that is later – and we will guide you at that time – and soon – you will become an expert. Now – let’s discuss “commendations”…”

“Okay…” I said.

Mrs. “T” opened her file – she took out a sheet of paper – gave it to me – and said: “Sir – for your ready reference – I have given all details for your “Yard” – the total number of commendations – and the “pro-rata” breakdown – department-wise, rank-wise, branch-wise, officers, sailors, civilians, all cadres – – to ensure that there is “equitable distribution”. Sir –you just send us the names with citations accordingly and it will be easy for us to give a commendation to whoever you recommend – you will save us the effort of “sifting”, “sorting” and “filtering”…”

“Thank You…” I said.

“One more thing, Sir…” Mrs. “T” said, “Please recommend the number of ladies as indicated – our boss believes in women’s empowerment – so there is a “quota within a quota” for women. The “Yard has 3 Lady Naval Officers – so you have to recommend one of them – and – I have indicated details of the quotas for Civilian Lady Employees in pencil against each category…”

We discussed a few specifics – and then – my PA brought in the “Sabudana Khichadi” that Mrs. “T” had so kindly brought for me (for her – it was a “fasting” day – hence the Sabudana Khichadi).

Then – after a cup of tea – Mrs. “T” left for her office in Headquarters. 



We sent out a circular asking for recommendations/citations.

Soon – we were flooded with citations.

So – we vetted the citations and placed them in order of merit.

Then – we made the final list strictly as per the “pro-rata” allocations given by Mrs. “T”.

In order to ensure “women’s empowerment” – as per the “quota within a quota” for women – one Lady Naval Officer (out of the 3 borne) and the specified number of civilian lady employees (in each category) were recommended for award of commendation.

I got the list countersigned and sent to Mrs. “T” in Headquarters.

Mrs. “T” called up the next day.

“Sir – your list is perfect…” Mrs. “T” said, “except for one thing…”

“Well – we made the list exactly as you as advised…” I said.

“I know, Sir…” Mrs. “T” said, “Sir – it is about the Lady Naval Officer…”

“We have 3 Lady Naval Officers – “A”“B” – and – “C”…” I said, “We received recommendations and citations for two Lady Officers – “A” and “B” – well – we found “A” more deserving – so – we have recommended “A” for the commendation…”

“Sir – “A” is not eligible for commendation…” Mrs. “T” said.

“Why…?” I asked.

“Sir – “A” has been awarded the same commendation two years ago…” Mrs. “T” said.

“That must be from the previous unit…” I said.

“Yes, Sir…” Mrs. “T” said, “She was borne here – in Headquarters…”

“So – that commendation was for a different job…” I said, “and for a different period too. We are recommending her for her excellent performance in her present job…”

“Sir – in theory – you are right – but – we have an “unofficial” policy not to give the same person the commendation more than once – so that there is better “satisfaction percentage”. So – Sir – you will have to recommend someone else…” Mrs. “T” said to me.

“Okay…” I said, “We already have a citation for “B” – so – we will “polish” it up and send it…”

“No. No. Sir…” Mrs. “T” said, “We can’t give a commendation to “B”…”


“Don’t you know, Sir…?”

“No. I didn’t see anything in her biodata…”

“Sir – aren’t you aware of her past history…?”

“No…” I said, “Is there some disciplinary matter…?”

“Not exactly – but something even worse – conduct unbecoming. Sir – I will tell you all about that “scandal” when we meet next time…” Mrs. “T” said, “Anyway – “B” is ruled out – so – with “A” and “B” out of the reckoning – you will have to recommend “C” for the commendation – since – she is the only Lady Navy Officer remaining…”

“You want us to recommend “C” for the commendation…? But – her Manager hasn’t recommended her…” I said.

“Sir – just ask him to send a citation…” Mrs. “T” said, “And Sir - please send the corrected list to us as quickly as possible…”  

“Okay…” I said, “I will send you the final list “mutatis mutandis”…”

“Yes, Sir – mutatis mutandis…Mrs. “T” laughed – and she disconnected the phone. 

(Well – mutatis mutandis is officialese – a Medieval Latin phrase meaning having changed what needs to be changed”)

I called up the concerned Department Head and asked him to send a citation for “C”.

He seemed shocked at my suggestion.

“Are you crazy, Sir…? You want to give a commendation to “C”…? She is the most incompetent officer…” he said.

“Well – we have no option. One Lady Officer has to be given a commendation under the “women’s empowerment quota” – and – “C” is the only “eligible” lady officer in the Yard…” I said.

“Sir – she is “good for nothing”. Professionally – she is “zero”. I have just two officers in my department – this useless Lady Officer “C” – and a good Gentleman Officer “D”. The fact is that “D” does all the work – whereas “C” just passes time and does absolutely nothing. “D” is taking the entire workload upon his shoulders and is doing a superb job – that is why I have recommended “D” for commendation…” he said.

“Yes – we have received your citation for “D” and we are processing it – I am sure “D” will get a commendation – but – you must forward a citation for the lady officer “C” too…” I said.

“Sir – there is no question of my recommending “C” for a commendation – in fact – I am going to give her an adverse ACR – and – it would look stupid to give her a commendation and adverse performance appraisal at the same time…” he said.

I explained the situation to my boss.

“He is a “difficult” officer. He won’t budge. I will have to talk to the big boss…” my boss said, “leave the file with me...”

“Sir – I will be away on Temporary Duty for a week to attend the ISO Lead Auditor’s Course…” I said.

“I know. That’s why I told you to leave the file here with me. I will do the needful. You enjoy your course…” my boss said.  

I returned to my office one week later.

I was astonished when I learnt what had happened.

Despite repeated requests from my boss – the citation for “C” was not received.

The Department Head had refused to recommend “C” for a commendation.

Headquarters insisted that the “women’s empowerment quota” for awarding commendations to Lady Naval Officers had to be fulfilled – and – the “Yard” had to forward one citation as per our allocation.

There were 3 Lady Naval Officers in the “Yard” – “A”, “B” and “C” – and – since “A” and “B” were not “eligible” (for reasons mentioned earlier) – the only option was to forward a citation for “C”. 

But – the Department Head was refusing to forward a citation for “C” as he felt she was incompetent and did not deserve a commendation.

So – my boss wrote out a perfunctory citation for “C” – he included her name in the list – and – he took the citation and the revised list to the big boss for countersignature.

This citation needs improvement…” the big boss said after reading the citation written hurriedly for “C”.

“Yes, Sir…” my boss said to the big boss, “We will re-write it…”

Then – the big boss looked at the list and said: “There is an imbalance here in this department – there are only three Officers borne – and – two have been recommended (Lady Officer “C” and Male Officer “D” who was the deserving case originally recommended). It is not fair to recommend 2/3rd of the officers in one department – when in other departments only 10% have been recommended – as per the norms. I will approve only one officer from this department…”

So – my boss came back to his office. 

He called up Mrs. “T” – and sought her advice.

Mrs. “T” gave a solution with was breathtaking in its simplicity: 

1. Remove the name of “D” from the list.

2. Use the citation written for “D” for writing the citation for “C” – in short – reproduce the citation mutatis mutandis (with necessary changes).

This was done and the final list of recommendation for commendations along with the citations was forwarded to Headquarters.

When my boss told me what had happened in my absence – I was aghast.

“Sir – rewarding an undeserving person is bad enough – but – depriving a deserving person of a commendation and giving it to an undeserving person is most unethical. And that too – “C” is the subordinate of “D”…!!! Just imagine how demoralized “D” will feel…” I said. 

“You are right – but there is nothing I can do about it. We cannot give commendations disproportionately to that department – by awarding 2 out of 3 Officers – whereas the ratio is 1 out of 10 officers in other departments. Distribution has to be equitable. And – since the top brass want “women’s empowerment” – the “gender quota” has to be ensured. It is bad luck for “D” and good luck for “C”. These things happen in life. You have to accept it. Remember – life is not fair…” my Boss said.

“Sir – I still feel this is incorrect…” I said.

But – my boss interrupted me and said: “Now listen to me – sometimes you have to ignore your conscience and just do as you are told. You go home – have a drink – and – forget about it…”

Part 3


On the designated occasion – the awards and commendations were announced.

The undeserving incompetent Lady Navy Officer “C” had been awarded a commendation.

“D” was not given a commendation – though he deserved it for his excellent performance.  

“Sir – what is this…?” the Department Head said angrily on the phone to me, “This is total injustice. “D” is totally demoralized – I had told him that I had recommended him – and he was expecting a commendation. And – to make matters worse – “C” has got a commendation – it’s like rubbing salt into his wounds. My entire department is feeling bad that a deserving officer like “D” has been ignored and a “good for nothing” undeserving officer like “C” has got the commendation…”

I felt ashamed – I had no words to say to him – so – I just kept quiet – and listened to his diatribe.

I tried to console myself – that I was not responsible for the injustice – and – that things had happened in my absence – but – my own consolations sounded hollow to me.

In the evening – I walked into the Mess Bar for a drink.

I was surprised to see the Lady Naval Officer “C” in the bar – having a drink.

Maybe – she was celebrating her commendation.

She was looking into her glass – and it seemed that she had not seen me – so – I said to her: “Good Evening. And – congratulations for your commendation…”

She looked up at me and said: “What “congratulations”, Sir…? My life is ruined…”

“Your life is ruined…?” I said, surprised, “You have just got a commendation …”

“Sir – it is this commendation that has ruined my life…” she said.

“What are you saying…?” I asked her.

“It is because of this commendation that I have lost the love of my life…” she said.

“You have lost the love of your life…?” I asked, confused.

“Sir – I am in love with “D” – he liked me too – and we were thinking of taking our relationship to the next level – I was keen on marrying “D” – and I think he too had similar feelings for me...” she said, “Sir – “D” is my “mentor” – he means everything to me – and – I am deeply in love with him. “D” should have got the commendation. Instead they gave it to me – I don’t know why they did this stupid thing – but – he deserved the commendation – but they gave it to me. I don’t want this accursed commendation – I want “D”…”

“It’s okay…” I tried to empathize.

“No, Sir – it is not okay…” she said, “He is deeply hurt. “D” thought that he would get the commendation – and he was disappointed when he didn’t get it. But – when he came to know that I had got the commendation – he was terribly upset. “D” thinks that I have manipulated things and “stabbed” him in the back. He said that I had “betrayed” him.  He even insinuated that there is something going on between me and the Head of Department. “D” said that he “hates” me – he said that he never wants to see my face again…”

“Don’t worry…” I consoled her, “His anger will subside – and – things between you two will be the same again…”

I was wrong.

Things between “C” and “D” were never the same again.

“D” was not present at the official ceremony when “C” was awarded the commendation badge.

“D” had gone on leave to his hometown to get engaged to a “back-home-type” girl who he married a few months later. 


Copyright © Vikram Karve 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. 
© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

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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Copyright © Vikram Karve (All Rights Reserved) 

Part 1 of The Commendation posted earlier in my blog at url:

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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