Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Humor in Uniform – April Fool – On the 1st of April 1983

Today – is the 31st of March. 

Tomorrow  is the 1st of April – April Fool’s Day 

So – here is my story for April Fool’s Day:



One of my weaknesses is that I am a simpleton – I easily trust people – and  due to my trusting nature – I am most “gullible” – as can be seen from this story  where I was made an “April Fool”...

Unforgettable Memories of My Delightful Navy Life 
A Spoof

April Fool’s Day (also known as All Fools Day) is celebrated annually on the First Day of April. 

It is a time for the traditional playing of pranks on unsuspecting people – the victim of such a prank being called an April Fool.

One of my weaknesses is my trusting nature – I easily trust people.

Because of my simple trusting nature it is easy for anyone to take me for a ride.

Yes – you can easily make a fool of me – and so – I have been made an “April Fool” so many times – right from my childhood.

In fact – owing to my trusting nature  I a simpleton – yes – I am quite a gullible person – and therefore – I am a prime target for April Fool Pranks.

When I hark back and think of the occasions when I was made an unsuspecting victim of April Fool Jokes – and when I recall all the April Fool Pranks I was subjected to – I can never forget how I was made a total April Fool”  37 years ago – on the 1st of April 1983.

Here is my April Fool story – have a laugh... 


New Delhi
01 April 1983

It was 10 AM (1000 Hrs in Navy Parlance) on the 1st of April 1983 – and I busy with my research work in IIT Delhi.

(Yes  after slogging for 5 years in the Navy  afloat and ashore  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 from July 1981 to July 1983)

It was the last (4th) semester of my 2 year M.Tech. Course  and I was busy with my dissertation work.

My ex-shipmate entered the Tropo Lab” located right on top of IIT Delhi.

He was also doing M. Tech. at IIT Delhi  but in a different specialization.

He said excitedly: 

“Hey Vikram  congratulations – your appointment letter has been issued – you will be going to IAT Pune after your M. Tech.”

I was very happy and joyfully excited to hear this.

Pune is my hometown.

I had never expected a posting to Pune in my Naval Career  as I thought that  except for a few billets at the National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakwasla  there were hardly any billets for Naval Officers in Pune  especially for Technical Officers.

In fact  I was worried that they may transfer me back to INS Valsura Jamnagar – where I had spent less than one year (1980-81) on instructional duties  before escaping from there – as I was selected for my M. Tech. at IIT Delhi.

I had no desire of going back to that godforsaken place again.

“You don’t seem to be happy to go to Pune...” my friend said.

“I am very happy to go to Pune...” I said, “but how do you know about my appointment...?”

“I had gone to INS India – to Base Supply Office  for some work. I saw your name in a NA List over there. I have just come from there  and I came straight here to tell you the good news that you have been transferred to IAT Pune on Instructional Duties after your M. Tech.” 

[Those days Naval Headquarters (NHQ) published a weekly Navy Appointments List (NA List) which listed all appointments (transfers/postings) issued during that week. 

Now – things must have changed – I understand that even the name of NHQ has been changed to IHQ

Also – Base Supply Office (BSO) is now called Base Logisitics Office (BLogO) since the erstwhile “Supply and Secretariat branch was renamed as the “Logistics Branch

By the way – IAT was the acronym for Institute of Armament Technology – which was renamed as DIAT (Defence Institute of Advanced Technology) – and later – a part of the institution was renamed as MILIT (Military Institute of Technology)

As you can see – the Navy has a penchant for changing Names (and uniforms too)]

So – to come back to my story – my friend said to me: 

“I had gone to INS India – to Base Supply Office  for some work. I saw your name in a NA List over there. I have just come from there  and I came straight here to tell you the good news that you have been transferred to IAT Pune on Instructional Duties after your M. Tech.”

“What about you...? Is your name in the NA list...? Has your new appointment been issued too..?” I asked my friend.

“No – I saw only your name in the NA list. Why don’t you go down to NHQ and personally get your appointment letter...?” he prompted.

As I said  I was really delighted to be transferred to Pune  my hometown.

So  so I immediately drove down on my scooter to NHQ.

First  I went to INS India – to the Base Supply Office  and I checked the NA List folder.

Yes  my name was very much there  at Serial No. 12 of the list of 20 names  and entry in the NA list said that  I was appointed on Instructional Duties to IAT Pune July DTBR 

(In Naval Parlance  DTBR means Date to be Recorded” – which meant that I could report to IAT Pune on any date in July – from 1st to 31st July)   

I wrote down the relevant details of the NA list on a piece of paper (a chit).

Then – I went to the Base Supply Officer (BSO)  a Commander.

I showed him the chit – and I asked him if my appointment letter had come.

The Base Supply Officer called for the NA List folder.

The BSO looked at the NA List  and he said: 

“This NA list has just been issued. It will take some time for the appointment letter to reach here. They take their own sweet time to dispatch the letters. Why don’t you go across to DOP and get your personal copy...?”

(DOP was the acronym for Director of Personnel at Naval Headquarters)

Those days we were very scared to go anywhere near DOP – because they were always on the prowl looking for “murgas” to transfer to “Kala Pani” – and other such remote places.

But I was so excited  that I drew up courage  and I walked into the office of the DDOP (Deputy Director of Personnel) who looked after our appointments.

I was delighted to see an officer who I knew very well sitting in the chair of DDOP – a Commander  he was a course-mate of my previous ship’s XO.

During those glorious sea-time days – when he was a Lieutenant Commander – he used to visit our ship quite often. 

He was fond of drinking – and we had spent many evenings drinking together – and drinking together develops a unique camaraderie.

The DDOP was happy to see me.

He told me that he had just taken over as DDOP just a day earlier on the 31st of March.

He enquired about me  about my M. Tech. course  and then  he asked me what I wanted.

I told him the story. 

Then  I gave him the chit on which I had written details of the NA List  and – I asked him if I could have a copy of my appointment letter.

The DDOP called his deputy  the ADOP (Assistant Director of Personnel) – a Lieutenant Commander.

The DDOP handed the ADOP the chit with NA List details  and the DDOP told the ADOP to give me a copy of my appointment letter.

The ADOP looked at the NA List details.

Then  looking confused – the ADOP said to the DDOP: 

“Sir  we haven’t yet issued any appointment letters for officers doing M. Tech. at IITs. Anyway  I will just check and get back to you, Sir.”

After a few minutes the ADOP came back and said to the DDOP: 

“Sir – the NA list with this number has still not been issued.”

“What...? How can that be...?” the DDOP said, surprised.

Then – the DDOP looked at me – and he said to me: 

“Are you sure you saw this NA List in the INS India Base Supply Office...?”

“Yes, Sir...” I said, “it is right on top in the NA list folder in the Base Supply Office.”

The DDOP picked up the telephone and he dialled a number.

He seemed to be speaking to the Base Supply Officer (BSO). 

The DDOP read out the number of the NA list – he waited for some time – he listened to the voice on the other side  and then  he said to me: 

“You just go down to the Base Supply Office and get the NA list folder – I want to get to the bottom of this mystery.”

As I was leaving  I could hear him speak on the phone: “I am sending the officer to you…”

The moment I reached the hutments where the Base Supply Office was located  I found a big gang of my friends waiting outside for me with broad smiles on their faces.

Among my friends – standing prominently with a big smile on his face – was the Captain of my previous ship – my ex Commanding Officer (CO)  who was now a Commodore posted in NHQ.

My ex ship’s CO told me that it was he who had orchestrated the whole practical joke.

I knew I had been made an “April Fool”.

That afternoon  as the “victim” of the “April Fool” joke  I had to treat everyone to Beer in the INS India wardroom – and the DDOP and Base Supply Officer (who were also parties to the “April Fool” prank) – they also joined in the elbow bending PLD session for a glass of chilled beer.


During the PLD Beer Session  I put on a mask of cheerfulness  but deep inside  I was feeling terrible.

I think the Commodore (my ex ship’s CO) and the DDOP noticed this  so they asked me for my choice of transfer on completion of my M. Tech.

“IAT Pune – I want to be posted to IAT Pune like you did in the “April Fool” joke...” I said tongue-in-cheek – and then I added, “but if that is not possible – please post me anywhere except Jamnagar.” 

But – DOP did not transfer me to IAT Pune.

Thankfully – they did not transfer me to Jamnagar – as I had feared. 

They gave me an appointment in New Delhi itself – which meant that I would’t have to move out of New Delhi.

Yes – 3 months later  I was transferred to a billet in New Delhi as Assistant Director Naval R&D. 

I was enjoying my tenure in New Delhi. 

Suddenly – 2 years later  in June 1985  one day  out of the blue  I saw an appointment letter placed on my table. 

I opened the letter – dreading the worst.

When I read the appointment letter – I was overjoyed.

I had been appointed as Faculty for instructional duties to IAT Pune July 1985 DTBR

Yes – the “April Fool” joke had become a reality – and – I have been given my choice transfer to IAT Pune. 

Maybe it was as a recompense for the “April Fool” prank  from the DDOP and my ex ship’s CO  and from all those who had played the “April Fool” joke on me...

All’s well that ends well...!!!

Wish You a Happy “April Fool” on ALL FOOLS DAY

Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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1. This story 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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Saturday, March 21, 2020

An Engineer Par Excellence – Remembering Benoy Roy Chowdhury

Sharing an evocative obituary of a distinguished Navy Veteran written by Commodore Srikant B Kesnur (with permission of the author)

 Cmde Srikant B Kesnur

The nation lost an illustrious son and the Indian Navy an eminent veteran with the passing away of retired Vice Admiral Benoy Roy Chowdhury AVSM, VrC a few days ago, on 28 Feb 20, at the CMRI Hospital Kolkata. He was 90. Affectionately called Bilu (the moniker I will be using in this piece) or Biloo, the Flag Officer had a distinguished career in the Navy and was a hero of the 1971 war.

The bare details of his CV are impressive enough. Born on 22 Jul 1929, he was commissioned into the Indian Navy on 01 Sep 51 in the Engineering branch. Bilu was an apprentice at Railway Workshop at Jamalpur (Bihar) before he passed the Navy exam and subsequently went to UK for dagger course. (Note. Those days Bengalis largely went to engineering from Shivpur, Jadavpur etc. and normally landed up topping the engineering courses in UK. Dagger engineers’ courses were only for Royal Navy. But when they found Indians topping they reluctantly allowed Indians to join those courses too.)

He moved up the professional ladder tenanting many appointments ending in the very senior rank of Vice Admiral. He was a recipient of the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) for distinguished service of exceptional order and the Vir Chakra (VrC) for gallantry in the 1971 war, becoming the first Engineering Officer to be honoured with a VrC. He also, subsequently, became the first engineer to attend the prestigious RCDS course in UK and this when the Navy used to get a vacancy only every alternate year for the said course. Remembered fondly as a ‘good person’, he was also an avid Golfer and Captained Naval Team as well as that of RCGC Kolkata. He took early retirement in mid 1980s and moved to ONGC as Member Technical.

His near contemporary (five years junior to him) and another eminent Engineer Officer, Vice Adm IC Rao (Retd) recollects that ‘He was an outstanding Naval Engineer who brought glory to the Indian Navy as Engineer Officer of INS Vikrant during the war for liberation of Bangladesh. He was a wonderful person and a great personality. We will all miss him in the Naval fraternity’.

It is, therefore, fitting that his contribution as Cdr E of Vikrant is recounted, especially for many of my younger friends in the Navy and for those outside the Navy who may not be aware of it.  But, before that, a small incident to describe the kind of man he was. In end 1970, a Greek Merchant ship ‘Ampuria’ ran aground off Porbandar. Cdr Chowdhury with 8 sailors was directed to board the ship to try and remove the oil (fuel) before the ship broke up in high seas. Due to sea state and bad condition of the ship, Ampuria’s Captain gave the order to ‘abandon ship’. Bilu told his men to leave if they wished but ‘he was staying behind’ to finish the task. Needless to say, his eight men stayed with him till they could do the needful. This was leadership and courage of high order. Bilu saved the country several crores of rupees and prevented oil pollution of thousands of tons by his derring-do in the salvage of the ship.

In 1971, in the months prior to the war, the Naval headquarters had decide to deploy the aircraft carrier Vikrant, in the Bay of Bengal, correctly estimating that the East would be the decisive theatre of war. As war clouds loomed, some worries enveloped the Naval planners. One of the boilers of Vikrant had become inoperative and the other three boilers were playing truant. Being of British make, normal repairs would have entailed getting expertise and replacements from Britain and elaborate time in harbour, a luxury the planners did not have. The ideal solution was new water drums for the boilers, something beyond indigenous capability at that time.

While the elaborate details of how this was addressed is contained in the Navy’s official history for the period 1965 to 1975, titled ‘Transition to Triumph’ authored by the late VAdm GM Hirananadani (incidentally Fleet Operations Officer, Western Fleet during the war) and some other books of that period, suffice it to say that Bilu and his team with some innovations ensured that other three boilers were restored to near maximum efficiency. But with the A 1 boiler still down, the speed of Vikrant was limited to only 14 knots. At this speed she would not only not be able to operate her aircraft but also be very vulnerable to submarine attack. 

(Note. For the completely uninitiated launching and recovery of aircraft on the Carrier requires certain amount of wind on deck – relative wind – which is a function of the true wind conditions and the ship’s speed. Axiomatically, therefore, a ship needs to steam at higher speeds, usually more than 20 knots, to generate the winds that enable flying in all conditions.) 

Also, with only three boilers there would have been no supply of steam to the catapult which enabled flying operations.

This speed restriction naturally worried everyone from the Navy Chief, Admiral SM (Charles) Nanda, to the FOCinC Eastern Command VAdm N Krishnan, the ship’s Captain Capt Swaraj Parkash and the Squadron Commanders of the Carrier borne aircraft Lt Cdr Gigi Gupta (Sea Hawk Squadron, also called the White Tigers) and Lt Cdr Ravi Dhir (Alize squadron, also called the Cobras). That’s when Bilu and his men showed their mettle. With some backing from the CNS, CinC and the Captain, they decided to make the boiler operational notwithstanding some risks associated with it. Cracks on the surface of the water drum of the boiler was one of their big worries – if they had burst, superheated steam would have engulfed the boiler room and other machinery spaces resulting in catastrophic consequences.

To digress a little here, having commanded two ships with steam turbine propulsion or steam ships as they are called in the Navy, I can confidently state, without disrespect to other branches, that the Engineering sailors who serve on them are a class apart. The engineering spaces on these ships offer just about the toughest working conditions and yet the spirit, camaraderie and the josh that these guys bring to the table is unbelievable. I remember an incident where a Brigadier fresh from Siachen, undergoing NDC, had embarked INS Vindhyagiri, the ship I commanded for a sea sortie. After a walk around of the Engine and Boiler rooms he declared “I will any day prefer to be in Siachen then here… hats off to your guys”. Indeed, Stokers (navy phrase for these blokes) are a class apart and can be said to be in frontlines of combat every day at work.

Thus, Bilu and his Engineering team (ably led by his Senior Engineer, Lt Cdr B Bhushan, who also rose to be VAdm later) carried out several innovations and repairs at sea and away from base port without falling back to the original manufacturers – the Brits, to keep the other boilers going at full load (which would have enabled aircraft operations under marginal conditions) and to repair the A1 boiler. This included putting a steel strops (bands) around the boiler, adjusting the safety valves to accept greater risk, leaving the boiler room unmanned (or sparsely manned) but monitored at all times, adjusting the oil flow to the boilers from a control valve near upper deck  and numerous other technical measures. These not only required supreme technical skill and competence, but also leadership, ability to convince your men and in turn faith in their ability to do the job without flinching and the gumption to take calculated risks anchored in self-belief.  

Bilu was the perfect man for the job. He had immense experience having done two stints earlier on Vikrant - as the Senior Engineer and the Flight Deck Engineer Officer - and knew exactly what was entailed As Swaraj Parkash, his Captain, recollected later “With his past experience and professional competence, Bilu’s contribution to decision-making at this crucial juncture was important”. Vice Adm Krishnan, put it succinctly, when he remarked “My worry about the condition of machinery was mitigated by the fact that the Engineer Officer of the ship was Bilu Chowdhury.….I had seen him close at work…. and was aware of his professional competence….whereas so many technical officers were against, it Bilu exuded confidence and never baulked at the idea of steaming Vikrant’. In the words of the Naval Chief Nanda, ‘Bilu went about his job in his customary, professional, enthusiastic and thorough manner’. In fact, it is Charles Nanda’s description of Bilu as ‘an Engineer par excellence’ that provides the title for this obit.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Seahawks and Alizes embarked in August ‘71 and from then on carried out extensive work up. All the boilers were flashed up and Vikrant was able to steam at more than 20 knots. They were kept under the eagle’s eye of the Engineering department and issues and situations attended to promptly. Vikrant turned out to the decisive factor in the war and the lynchpin of the maritime operations of the Eastern Front which resulted, through Air Strikes, in heavy bombardment of east Pakistan cities and ports of Chittagong, Cox’s Bazaar, Khulna, Chalna, Mongla, destruction of their airfields, power house, wireless stations, fuel tanks, port and other infrastructure, interdiction of their Navy and merchant marine ships including smaller gun boats and tugs, control of contraband and virtual throttling of the then East Pakistan from sea. This, in turn, led to the eventual dénouement of surrender and more than 90000 prisoners of war as there was no escape from the sea for them. As Hiranandani states ‘In retrospect Vikrant's contribution to naval operations were beyond anyone's expectations. Vikrant stretched everything and everybody to the limit to launch and recover aircraft In addition to the achievements of the air strikes, Vikrant's assistance in contraband control was invaluable. Without Vikrant, the limited number of ships that constituted the Eastern Fleet could not have coped with the task.”

In fact, even as the war raged and the Vikrant was leading the assault, Bilu was handling machinery problems such as what frequently obtain on board ships. One of the more prominent ones which again caused some worry was the flooding of the forward machinery space which occurred when one of the condensers of the turbo generator needed repairs. In peacetime, this would only have been attempted in harbour after shutting down machinery. This repair was attempted at sea despite the inlet and outlet valves being 20 feet below the waterline and operated by rod gearing. The danger of water gushing past the loosened plate of the turbo generator suction filter was real if some of the valves malfunctioned and this is what happened. Again, the situation was resolved by some deft leadership allied with excellent technical skills and smart use of 1000 ton pump in the machinery space to pump out water and carry out repairs.

Vikrant's Air Operations would not happened but for Bilu and his brave men. Often, in the heat of war and the dust of the aftermath we forget the contribution of the silent many – the ones who operate behind the scenes. In the Navy, the nature of our job is such that we all fight together from the ship; hence the saying that we swim or sink together. Bilu illustrated this wonderfully well and the Vir Chakra that he was awarded and the encomiums showered on him was richly deserved.

VAdm Benoy Roy Chowdhury is survived by his wife Mrs Mina Chowdhury and nephew Mr Pradipta Bose. In fact Meena and Bilu eloped to get married. His mortal remains were consigned to the flames on 29 Feb 20. However, the memory of his heroic exploits will remain forever. His spirit will hover as a guardian angel at Kochi where the new Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC 1) to be called Vikrant is slowly taking shape. Unlike the earlier incarnation, this Vikrant will be a proud “Made in India’ product showcasing our indigenous prowess and our mettle in shipbuilding, assiduously built over the years. However, the traditions that this ship will imbibe will be from its predecessor and her gallant crew – people like Swaraj Parkash, Gigi Gupta (both MVC) and Ravi Dhir and Bilu Chowdhury (both VrC) and several other magnificent men who flew from its deck or toiled below decks to show the world and our countrymen the difference that the Aircraft Carrier makes to the outcome of war.

RIP Bilu Sir. And Salute.

15 Mar 20. Some Photographs below 

PS. The author wishes to acknowledge some inputs and information given by Navy Foundation Mumbai Chapter (NFMC) and, more importantly, Shri Probir Roy who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of matters Navy. In fact, the book written by his father and another illustrious Navy officer late Vice Admiral MK Roy “War in the Indian Ocean’ brings out that Bilu Chowdhury while being in the senior echelons of Marine Engineering at Naval Headquarters in the early eighties had accompanied Dr Raja Ramanna and VAdm Roy to the erstwhile Soviet Union twice for discussions on leasing nuclear submarine from that nation. That possibly is the subject for some more research.
PS 2.  All quotations and much information has been taken from the official History book of the Navy referred in the article as well as the autobiographies of Adm SM Nanda and Vice Adm N Krishnan.

(Author : Commodore Srikant B Kesnur)