Two months before I left the Navy, the Naval students from Staff College visited Maritime Warfare Centre in Mumbai for computerised warfare games. On the eve of their departure they hosted a Pre-Lunch Drinks to thank us for all the trouble we had taken. Some of my old students asked me what my future plans were. I told them that I was planning to join the Merchant Navy. Suddenly, everyone stopped talking in the Ante-room, the barman dropped a glass, one officer choked on his gin and tonic and the CI Navy stuffed his mouth with fish finger fries so he wouldn’t have to give a suitable explanation for my errant talk. All this because I had used the M-word irreverently in a gathering of the cremede- la-creme of the Navy. It felt good to speak my mind without a Damocles sword (in the form of an ACR) hanging over my head! But the outside world would not be as rosy as I imagined at that time, which I’ll come to a little later.
When I was a young lieutenant on INS Kesari, we had the pleasure of giving a day at sea to a senior Bureaucrat off Vizag who began complaining about how hard and rigid the only chair on the Bridge was. The XO ordered me to cushion the seat with my pillow. I dutifully obeyed and even dressed it up with a freshly laundered pillowcase. That was a big mistake, because sleeping on a pillow which smelt of a combination of poop and methane gas can be counted among the worst experiences in my life. I could put up with massive bouts of truculence (intense pain and suffering), deep discomfiture in heavy seas, but no pillow before, or since, has ever given me such nightmares as that one did.
The DP operator’s chair on SCI Panna has buttons to hydraulically operate the chair from sitting to lying position, forward to backward and raise, lower and gives a back massage. It also has a vibrator for a buttock massage since DP operations can take as long as six to eight hours or more. I don’t sit on it because the Navy has taught me to sit on a hard seat and not crib about it. I prefer to stand and operate the DP.
Back in the seventies, when our pensions were brought down from 70% to 50% and Pune University was going on flash strikes and when Rajneesh was invading the city with white women dressed in plunging necklines and receding skirts, we were passing out from NDA. Those were horrible times because we didn’t get to see any of the necklines. The depression lasted till the mid-eighties. It went on to a climax when even in the movie Terminator 2, Arnie refused to kill anyone for a brief while! Thankfully, the Indian recession has ended now and they have given the Navy some credible machinery to operate. Nowadays, the skirt length is touching the ground but the slit has moved upwards towards the ladies area. The ones without slits have wardrobe malfunctions – All of which are okay with me. But I sometimes wonder why my pants don’t fall off when I’m walking on the cat-walk! And my ship does have a cat-walk for ship side inspection.
In those days when we entered Naval Dockyard for the very first time after passing out from NDA, one of my more erudite course mates began waving his hands in the air and pointing out to an old missile boat which had set fire to Karachi in the 71 war. The ship had no funnel but was belching thick smoke and diesel fumes from a vent close to the waterline. The boat looked more like an anti-mosquito fogging contraption. As soon as the engine started, three guys, presumably the CO, the XO and the EO poked their heads over the guardrails through the heavy smoke, gasping for fresh air, while I was still gawping at this incredible piece of machinery which helped us win the Naval battle. I couldn’t help thinking that if this boat was a drug, it would surely have been crack cocaine, since you could revv it to 25 knots in the water but get a headache from the diesel fumes for trying. Thankfully they’ve got better missile boats now, with none of the problems I’m going to mention below.
Years later I was posted on the same INS Vidyut with (then) Lt Cdr Ramesh Reddy as my CO. I remember when I entered the boat, it got even wilder. The deck head and watertight doors were fit for a guy 5 feet tall and the only toilet seat on the boat was fit for a baby’s ass. It took me a while to adjust my position on the seat before I could begin the booming sounds. Also, my missile panel looked straight from the pages of Issac Asimov. It was festooned with huge knobs and dials and blinking lights, which I didn’t have a clue about. And because the boat didn’t have a credible communication system, I had to send a runner to the Missile Gunnery Officer’s panel at the rear end of the boat every time I did a dummy firing. Best of all, once when we fired a practice missile which was really a shelf expired one, the whole Fleet went helter-skelter in a bid to escape the rogue missile. What fun! Okay, it made a smoke screen and the missiles locked onto unexpected targets, which could be useful in battle, but when you let it up a little, it felt like we were in control of a neutron bomb.
But seriously, where in the Civil world would your colleague offer you his house to stay when you bring your newly wedded wife into station? Young officers would often drop by for dinner and enjoy whatever was put on the table. In the Navy I could rely on a colleague to take my wife to hospital or put her in a train to home station if I was away on duty.
Check out my very first interview for a job in Great Eastern Shipping Company with none less than the Director of Personnel of the Company (who should have been drowned at birth). He was interviewing me while simultaneously reading from a India Today magazine. Seriously, this dude had not mastered the art of speech. He said something like “You know Cow Buster?”, while chewing his gutkha with a mouthful of saliva, and buried his head into the magazine as if his neck was broken, which would have been taken care of by me, only if he wasn’t offering me a job. When I said “excuse me?” he looked up and said “arrey baba! Bow Thruster! Jo front end of ship me Hota hai” And his head flopped back into the pages of his India Today. By the time my interview ended I was staring wistfully through the window in the direction of the Naval dockyard.
Which brings me to my first interview in the Navy, on my first ship INS Amba, where the Captain welcomed me in ceremonial uniform, offered me a cup of tea and biscuits and welcomed me on his ship with the warmth I have yet to see in the outside world. And this repeated itself on every ship that I ever served on in the Navy.
If I had to choose between my present job and the last one, it would be the Navy undoubtedly. I think about that often and smile.
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.