WHAT?

In the last twenty years we’ve seen such a plethora of mobile phones from First Generation to 4G and now there’s talk of 5G. You can call from India to New Zealand on Skype, WhatsApp, Duo or VoIP – all at the press of a button, without paying a paise extra, and in crystal clear audio.

But back in the day we had the all black ubiquitous telephone which was patented shortly after Graham Bell invented the phone and was the hallmark of the Victorian era.

One Sunday morning, in my first term at NDA, my Div O (Divisional Officer) gave me the task of giving him a shake-up call at 0530 in the morning. Which meant I had to get up at 0430 hrs and wait next to the phone with my eye on the clock for precision timing. So, donning my finest acrylic fibres in the form of a PT short and T-shirt and white canvas shoes, which were perfect, unblemished, and polished like a guardsman’s belt buckle, I tottered to the end of the lobby so that I could gawp at the black instrument and practice in my mind what to say when I woke him up. Most telephone instruments of those days looked old and battered, but this one in the light of the early morning looked extra antique. I put the handset to my ear. There was no dial tone emanating.

Occasionally it coughed a little blurp of hope as I tinkled with the wires, trying to breathe some life into it like a man marooned on an island breathes life into a sliver of flame — but never quite succeeding. Eventually I managed to get a dial tone coming and had to hold the instrument in one hand and the wire in the other. It was quite irritating to sit there in the corner being gently marinated in my own sweat and holding stuff in both hands in the most delicate way.

At the appointed time I called up the DivO’s number but the line was so unclear that both of us ended up saying ‘What’ to each other about 10 times. Seriously, my DivO hadn’t mastered the art of speech when getting up from sleep. Finally I uttered a sound of joy when I thought I heard him saying something, which was quickly followed by a sound of despair when I realised that he was awarding me 7 days Restrictions for saying ‘What’ too many times.

Fearful that I had missed out on some crucial aspect of the conversation, like ‘Well done my boy’, the light bulb in my head told me that I better call him back from another telephone. So I ran to the neighbouring squadron like my pants were on fire and called him up again. We followed the same old protocol of saying What to each other about 10 times at the end of which I clearly heard him awarding me another 7 Restrictions.

When I put down the phone, I remembered that I hadn’t wished him Good Day. So I called him up again to say Good Day sir. For which I was awarded another 7 days Restrictions.

At the end of this episode I took a deep breath and began sauntering in the direction of my cabin, making bovine lowing noises to clear my head. At which point, the CSM stepped out of his cabin as unruffled as an embassy dinner. Upon seeing me bellow, his countenance adopted the look of a goldfish. When he heard me mooing loudly his chin dropped and his mouth began forming the word What? And, his tongue wasn’t just tied, it looked like a corkscrew! He looked at me as if I had accidentally set his hair on fire and was trying to put it out by pouring scalding hot water on his head.

I didn’t waste any time. Before he could say anything at all, I began rolling on the carpet till he disappeared into the bathroom. At this stage I had regressed to a point that if anybody had begun saying the word What, I would automatically do five star jumps!

I couldn’t for the life of me understand how I had collected 21 Restrictions for saying Good Morning three times. My worst nightmares were beginning to come true in NDA. But not as bad as the nightmare I had after watching the Terminator movie, when Arnie refused to kill anyone!

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.

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