A few days ago I was standing in the Bridge Wing, lost in esoteric thoughts of Omar Khayyam Mukhtar, which went something like this “And do you think that unto such as you, a maggotminded, starved, fanatic crew, God gave a secret, and denied it me? Well, well — what matters it? Believe that, too!”
Just then, a port official came onboard and made a rather strange request. “My colleagues,” he said,“told me that you are an ex-naval officer and my nephew can’t make up his mind whether to join the Navy or not. So could I send him to you?”
A few hours later a boat came alongside and deposited a barnacle on my deck in the form of a twentysomething dude in jeans that were falling off his waist and exposing the elastic of his underwear and part of his rear cleavage. It also seemed to me that the last time he visited a barber, he must’ve taken a photograph of an IL76 aircraft and told him “I want my hair to look like that!” In school I once unknowingly wore different coloured socks and Sir Harold stuck his little finger in my nose and while I was still squirming, explained to me that decent people always dressed decently. That little lesson taught me never to put studs in my left ear lobe or tattoos on my forearms.
My first impression of this skinny boy was that if he were to join the Navy they would have to hold him down with mooring ropes to keep him attached to the deck. Little did I know that he had a mouth big enough to take on the might of the whole Navy.
He greeted me with a cheery “Hi Cap, How’s life?” and raised his hand in a highfive salute. I applied the restraint of a saint and in return gave him a glare that should have shaken the seismograph needles in the Pune Meteorological Centre. I didn’t like the idea of this dude calling me ‘Cap’ and it instantly crossed my mind to despatch him on the same boat to the nearest mangroves where he could beat himself with the twigs. There was still time for lunch so I told the Chief Officer that I would take him to my cabin and chat with him.
I let him speak his mind. He sat on my sofa. “You know Cap,” he said, “my uncle is a big shot in the Port and during the last International Fleet Review he sent me onboard a naval ship with some journalists. We were flown in a whirly machine from Vizag airport to a warship at sea. The bird had only one engine and I was wondering what would have happened to me if the gearbox suddenly failed. Luckily, the pilot managed to land on the rolling deck, which had only two feet clearance from the hangar door while I was wiping sweat beads on my brow”.
I knew where this was going, so I replied “Don’t worry dude, Naval pilots are trained to fly in bad weather and land with minimum clearance. In my twenty-six years of service I witnessed only one accident in bad weather when the tail rotor hit the deck, but all the occupants were safe.”
“See, that’s exactly my point,” he pointed out. “My chopper could have gone overboard and the propellers would have left four-inch blobs of my body in the sea!” He continued to yap. “Then when I went to the pantry to help myself to a glass of water, I saw a muntjac staring at me from behind the pipelines.”
“What’s a muntjac?” I asked, intrigued.
“It’s a huge rat,” he replied.
“Oh!” I said dismissing him and not believing half a word of what he said. “You’ll always find rats on a ship. They keep sniffing around to see if they can join the Navy too.” I said. But the effect was lost on him.
He continued to moan. “Then there was total lack of privacy, even when I went to the bogs. Plastic curtains separate the tiny spaces. How am I supposed to bathe and crap with just five minutes of water in the tap?” He asked, without expecting an answer.“Added to that, the machinery is very noisy and it would be difficult to sleep at night. The living spaces were like pigeonholes without windows.”
“Portholes” I said. “Windows you find in a computer, portholes you find on a ship. At least get your terminology right.”
He pretended he hadn’t heard me. In a Sukhoi-30 Fighter your helmet is continuously filled with warnings of missile lock, excess G, imminent stall, etc. I was having the same visions here as he continued his natter.
“Also somebody kept whistling on the PA system to stand easy and dogwatch keepers to close up. You see Cap, I wanted to go from the pantry, which was at 3CPO2 to the Bridge which was at 1AB2, as per the Layout displayed in the passageway, but I had to encounter eight decks, 36 ladders, 2 booby hatches, 1 catwalk, 45 watertight doors (where I banged my head thrice), 55 miles of cables and 1500 CFL bulbs before I reached my destination. But the worst was that there were no open spaces to chill and we were not allowed to have sex with the only two women on board.” “Hahaha” he laughed.
I damn nearly fell off my chair. “What the hell did you just say, you piece of donkey-shit?” I asked quite shocked.
“I was only joking Cap. Where’s your sense of humour?” He asked, looking a little frightened.
At this point I held up my hand to silence him. It was obvious to me that this youngster was attempting to shock me out of my wits so he could have a good laugh. I just knew that I was dealing with a boy who’d probably slept with more women than me. If only he had shown a little interest and courtesy, I would have taken him on a grand tour of the Navy and talked to him about the magnificence of a battleship, resplendent with its array of armament, the silent and efficient service of the smart men in white uniforms, the pride and joy of leading a bunch of disciplined sailors. I would’ve explained to him why the smell of a ship and the sea is ambrosia to a sailor and then I would’ve told him “Dude, you’ve got it all wrong.”
But it was now my turn to churn his stomach.
I said, “Most youngsters join the Navy for the same reason they don’t know what an ‘arugula’ is. But they respect the Forces and are willing to accept the many challenges that they are forced to put up with, with a smile. The Navy is a fighting force and is more professional than any other profession in ‘civvy’street. If you don’t respect the Armed Forces of your country, then it’s unlikely you have respect for even your own parents. So my advice to you is to give the Navy a wide berth and instead apply for a job in a hotel, where the management will probably put you on a desk close to the corridor lift, and you could use the telephone in the lift to find out whether he’ll permit you to have free sex with the front desk lady. Now get the hell out of my ship before I have you thrown overboard.”
Back in the Officer’s Mess room the Chief Officer asked me “Sir, will he be joining us for lunch?”
I replied “I don’t think so. I’ve tied him to a chair on the Quarterdeck with a bar soap in his mouth to chew on. The Navy would never have taken him in the first place, ever.”
—Captain Anil Gonsalves, IN, (Retd) joined NDA in 1975 and passed out in 1978. He commanded Coast Guard ship Rajshree and INS Mahish in the Navy among his varied appointments. He took premature retirement in 2005 and presently is working in the Offshore Division of the Shipping Corporation of India as Master in their Platform Support Vessels