CHARMING THE INDIAN NAVY
Just when the Indian Navy has been maligned in an unsavoury political controversy centred around Mr Rajiv Gandhi’s voyage to Lakshadweep Islands in 1987 aboard INS Viraat, my mind races back to a charming episode from the constricted space of the Wardroom, of the Navy’s flagship INS Mysore on a similar voyage on a hot, sultry and humid night in May1968. The flagship was on the high seas in the Bay of Bengal on routine training when ordered to hasten and drop anchor at Madras. No sooner had they done so that they learnt that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi would embark the next morning on a forty eight hour voyage to Port Blair.
As is the wont of the Indian Armed Forces, all sailors focussed their energy on the ship-shapeliness of their vessel while the Captain applied his mind to a tentative programme of the PM on board. For the most, the PM would be left to be on her own except for a brief visit to the “Bridge,” tea with the senior sailors and a quiet dinner with the Admiral. And Lieutenant Premvir Das would be her ADC during the voyage.
Now post retirement, Vice Admiral Premvir Das was to recount that “…she moved about quite easily, climbing the several ladders to the “Bridge”with agility… Around 9 pm after dinner she sent word that she would like to visit the Wardroom to meet the officers… it was 10 pm when she asked if anyone could sing… in a flash the Wardroom resounded… sailor songs like ‘Blueberry Hill’… By now everyone had become quite relaxed and one of us proposed that she might give us a song. The PM didn’t bat an eyelid. With a faint smile approaching a blush she said that she knew very few but would sing if we all joined in. “Yes PM” we shouted in chorus and she began “Oh dear Sussanah”;
Oh, I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee!
Going to Louisiana, my true love for to see
Oh Susanna! Oh don’t you cry for me!
For I come from Alabamawith abanjo on my knee…
(Today, listed among the world’s Top Hundred western songs)
The youngest officer, Sub-Lieutenant Robin Gupta who had been denied permission to marry a foreigner and knowing that the PM’s son was set to marry an Italian, found the convivial atmosphere ideal to politely ask as to why he can’t do likewise? The P M smiled and said “…it helped that my son was not in the Navy!” Two months later, Lieutenant Premvir Das “found in my mail an envelope in handmade paper with the inscription ‘Prime Minister’s House’. It contained an invitation for Lieutenant and Mrs Das to attend the wedding reception of Rajiv & Sonia”.
A perfect ending to the Indian Navy’s impromptu voyage for a gracious guest!
QUEST FOR THE PERFECT ARMY
When the 1965 Indo-Pak War ended, it emerged that even though the Indian Army dominated all battles fought but on balance they were not outright victors of that war. So the wise men heading the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (the highest seat of learning the Art & Science of warfare in those times) decided to exercise the minds of the students in the last semester about their vision of the Army for the challenges in decades ahead.
Now, when the Army Chief’s ideas on the structural reforms to “make the Army leaner and fit for a 21st Century war” has received the MOD’s approval, my mind goes back to what Major B.A.D’souza, a fellow student at the DSSC, 1969 had to say, in 1969:
Nav Kalpna or How to Confuse Everyone
All agree that things are bad
Each one has his private fad- Is the Army suitably clad?
Is the administration going mad?
Does armour debouch and then invest
Or sally forth in line abreast? Would Infantry in APCs be best Or on foot display more zest?
Should battalions possess more mortars?
Should we prune a Div Headquarters? Could we rid the staff of rotters?
Can the Sappers bridge all waters? Is there a future in computers?
Should DRs be given scooters?
And the Gunners some pea shooters? When to dump all parachuters?
Do we want exotic lasers?
Does the desert need star gazers? Should all troops be issued razors? And all weapons fire tracers?
How can one reduce the tail
Without the Services emitting a wail? Is the bayonet too large in scale
Why not replace it with a nail?
Why do tankers wear garish scarves Whist the rest of the Army starves? Why split mule troops in halves Couldn’t we instead use calves?
All agree that things are bad Each one has his private fad-
Progressive thought geared in reverse Now all agree things are worse.
The wise ones met in heated debate Full thirty heads – and one bald pate
(Sic. the Commandant)
They all cried out, We must decide Between Nav Kalpana and suicide!
A few days after the essays had been submitted, in conversation during the midmorning, leisurely coffee break, D’souza sparked cheery applause with this invaluable concluding remark;
Array yeh sub baat cheet chodo yaar Let’s go, win the next war!