Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Art of Drinking

Consumption of alcohol – popularly known as ‘Drinking’ comes in many forms - social drinking, binge parties, pub hopping, cocktails, pre lunch drinks (popularly known as PLD in the navy), bouncing (popular in the Air Force where the juniors bounce on a senior officer at odd hours demanding a drink or two), and many more. In the navy drinks were a part of our life and we grew up accepting it as a social requriment.There were many who did not drink and yet formed a part of this society. As bachelors we enjoyed these parties a lot.

Alcohol may be man's worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.
Frank Sinatra quotes (American Actor and Singer, 1915-1998)

At one point of time we all bid good bye to the wild bachelor days and embraced marriage. Matrimony has its share of very good things and not so good things. Some time after the honeymoon, the wife realises that her dear husband drinks. Some wives accept the reality and all is well for the dear husband. Some do not and that is where the trouble starts. Initially it comes as a surprise to her and soon develops into a rude shock. If the wife were to come from a non drinking family the shock is even greater. After many failed efforts on her part and broken promises on his part, she decides to exercise her powers of veto bestowed upon her by none other than Mr Manu (of 'Manava Dharma-Shastra’) himself. She says enough is enough and declares ‘Dry Days’ throughout the year. This is the biggest blow to the married man as he imagines the whole world collapsing in front of him, friends deserting, feeling of becoming a social taboo, a butt of all jokes and the rest. As time progresses he looses all confidence and in no time he is half his original self. Wives of lesser calibre impose a conditionality and an upper limit such as - ‘once a week’, ‘only on weekends’, ‘ not more than two’, ‘only with guests’, ‘not after 9 PM’and the list is endless

Just when the married man is about to accept his fate, the ‘Artful Dodger’ with his skill and cunning appears on the scene. He is a master who has successfully weathered the storm of dry days and come out totally wet. He has the distinction of converting drinking into fine art. He is full of practical advice and narrates a series of incidents of innovative methods of drinking. He tells the anxious married man to rest all his worries and listen to what he has to say.

The ‘Artful Dodger’ recalls –
As soon as the sun set, this officer from Kochi used to stand in his second floor balcony and invite any one passing by, to join him for a drink. Having overcome the condition imposed by his newly married wife - ‘only with guests’ with grace he would proceed to enjoy his drink. Just when you thought all the troubles of ‘Officer from Kochi’ were over the second condition would pop up - ‘not more than one’. The crafty OFK would pour neat whisky into one entire glass and nurse it the entire evening.

What about the gentleman who used to dodge ‘not more than two’ with utmost elegance. As soon as the drinks were served he would take a sip or two and leave the half filled glass on the table ensuring it was in full view of his wife and proceed inside to the bar to talk to the host. While talking, he would pour himself another drink in a separate glass named herein after as the ‘working glass as against the ‘show glass’ next to his wife. The show glass would be filled only twice the entire evening and the poor working glass would do over time like any other working class.

Once we went to a newly married friend’s house in the evening to be greeted with Aqua. Some minutes later the conversation practically died and there was no life left in any one. All were told to move to the table to start the dinner. The evening was full of surprises, first the aqua and then the disgusting looking dark coloured glasses and jug on the table. The friend took great pains in serving what we thought was water. The first sip revealed it was good old XXX pre mixed with water. To the utter disbelief and astonishment of the wife in question the conversation suddenly revived and the party reverberated on the table.

Charlie married late and he found shaking off his bachelor habits extremely difficult, they were sticking to him like barnacles. In the old days the navy observed what is known as ‘Make and Mend’ a tradition from the sail days when the sailors were given off on Wednesday afternoon to make and mend their clothes, sails etc. Over a period of time the MAM was utilised to meet other officers and interact. It provided an excellent platform to exchange ideas and sort out problems. To ensure, the interaction flowed freely, the MAM was accompanied with a glass of beer. At times, people got totally engrossed in their conversation and the beering continued late into the afternoon. Charlie thought it wise not to disclose this noble naval tradition to his young wife. He would go home late to be greeted by his wife who thought he had come early. This deception was indeed a double whammy.

Another hilarious incident took place in Mumbai when the husband entered the house with his friend quite late in the afternoon after a very satisfying MAM. Knowing that the end was near his appearance slowly started to resemble a jelly fish with no jelly inside. The wife having, no time measuring device in the house had dozed off only to wake up when the door bell rang. Thinking it was early afternoon the LOH offered the two some more beer. Who said life is not fair.

The other day I met my friend Dharwadkar who was very reluctant to strike any conversation which I found was totally against his grain. On enquiry I found that he was proceeding home to Smirnoff a glass or two – a perilous act on a weekday afternoon. Probing a little further as to how he mustered the required amount of courage to indulge in such an act, he astonished me by saying that it was safe. He found safety in numbers in the form of relatives who had arrived in his wife’s absence. His assumption was that he would not be subjected to breath analyser test in front of the guests. He is still alive and kicking.

Kumar and his brother with their respective wives were treated to dinner at the Tiffany by their parents. Kumar ordered a beer and his brother a whisky with ice and soda. The party went on very well and all enjoyed the evening very much. On returning home poor Kumar had to go through the third degree – the newly married wife said “you need to learn a lot from your elder brother – he not only took small drinks but diluted it with ice and soda and look at you - drinking the whole bottle by yourself”. This is sheer bad luck but what to do – we are like that only.

The ‘Artful dodger’ has given all the married men enough ideas to get by the hurdles of marriage.

This blog is not to belittle the fair sex but to look at life through a wine glass. Cheers!!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Navy Days - The Influential Khalifa

In early December 1990 I reached New Delhi to take up my appointment in Naval Head Quarters. Heavy East winds had already started to blow over NHQ. On reporting, I was allotted accommodation at the Naval Officers Mess, Kotah House situated in the exclusive South Delhi area of Pandara on Shahjahan road. The Kotah House from the outside gave an appearance of all royalty and splendour but the insides were in dire need of repairs.Kotah House had been declared a heritage building by the government and as a result no repair could be carried out by the navy. The main building housed the state rooms and a few VVIP quarters. However the bulk of the accommodation was located around the main building and was affectionately referred to as the ‘Stable’. Originally they were the stables of the Maharaja of Kota.

On completion of all the in coming routine I was allotted a cabin in the stable. I collected the keys and approached the cabin with great anticipation as it would be my abode for the next one year. After depositing the luggage in the main room I decided to inspect my quarters in greater detail only to find that the rear door had only one part and the other was missing. Further scrutiny revealed that two windows and one ventilator also had left this cabin very long time back along with the stable boys of Kota. The cabin gave me a feeling of being ‘Outdoors’ while being ‘Indoors’. One night of this ‘Indoor cum Outdoor’ arrangement was sufficient to cause a severe nervous break down even amongst the toughest of sea goers.

The next morning I had to be literally thawed and then woken up by the civilian bearer Manga Ram to give me a cup of tea. There were more surprises in the offing. I noticed a long time resident cat occupying the spare bed with authority and confidence and giving me ‘you are the intruder’ look. To add to my woes, I found the geyser was not functioning. The icing on the cake came in the form of extremely dull lighting and an over cast sky.

I said to myself that god had played a trick on me and everything would be normal in due course. That’s when the door bell rang. The mess Khalifa had arrived to give me a haircut. Khalifas if you have noticed have an uncanny knack of striking conversation and keeping you engrossed in their narration. They have many interesting stories, anecdotes, galley rumours, gossip to tell. I had once the privilege of having my hair cut by a Khalifa who was also a potential movie script writer. That was in 1971 on board INS Kavarati. There was no way one could escape the narration as the cutting went in tandem. If you stopped paying attention or did not ask relevant questions he would stop the cutting and hold you in ransom.

In a very short period of time the Kota Khalifa had presented his credentials and was busy clipping away. As any long time resident of Delhi would do, the Khalifa also narrated the names of all the VVIPs he knew and how he was their trusted hair stylist and cutter. He also made a very important policy statement which came naturally to him being in Delhi for many years – he said “make no mistake, in spite of knowing all the big wigs of Delhi, I treat every one from “Sentry to Mantri” alike. If my hands were not caught in the sheet which covered me, I would have clapped endlessly in admiration. As the cutting finished and entered into the head massage phase, we touched upon various national issues and finally settled down to long discussion on mechanics of work. Under the influence of massage one kept agreeing to what ever he said and he always had the last say. The discussion ended when he said “Sahib, there is no work in the fouj” unable to grasp this complex Aristotleish statement I sought more clarification to which he said “Sahib, work should have a start and finish point without which it can neither commence nor end, Fouj me kam kabhi start huva khabi katham hoga kissiko pathanahi”. I really do not know with what purport he told me this philosophical statement, but it did leave me unnerved for a long time – was all my work aimless?

Having reached the payment phase the conversation also became lighter and more down to earth. He enquired if  I had settled down in my cabin. All my pent up anger came out and PG Woodhouse would have said, to quote “He was like a bottle with full of fizz not interested in who uncorked the bottle, as long as there was a chance for the fizz to come out”. I fizzed forth all my complaints to the barber.

The hair cut and massages session ended and I tipped the Khalifa more than usual, fully knowing that barbers are very influential and well connected people and the most important thing in Delhi is to be connected. While packing up his instruments he casually asked “Sahib, where did you come from” and I said “Vizag”.He suddenly stopped what ever barbers do after a hair cut and became very attentive and posed the next question “Are you with the bade Sahib” meaning the Chief of Naval Staff designate who also happened to come from Vizag.I gave him a smile but no answer. The all knowing, influential and philosopher Khalifa departed saying “Samajgaya sahib”.

After a hot bath in my neighbour’s cabin and a good breakfast I settled down in front of my cabin, reading TOI.

Few hours later my reading was interrupted with the arrival of a tallish stern looking gentleman with an unmistakable military bearing. He caught my attention and said “Sir, I am Hardit Singh, the Chief Steward of the mess and I have come to apologise for mistakenly allotting a sub standard cabin to you – we have prepared another cabin for you and with your permission I will ask these two boys to shift your luggage to the new cabin”. He gave the necessary instruction to the boys and wished me a happy stay in Kotah house.

I was totally bowled by this sudden windfall. Unable to contain my curiosity as to what caused this sudden change of cabin I asked “How come this change all of a sudden” For the first time the stern looking Hardit Singh dropped his guard and permitted himself a half smile and said “I have my own source of information, sir” and walked away in the general direction of the barber shop.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Navy Days - Lighter Side of War

It was in June 1971, I reported on board INS Nashak an attack missile boat, then the latest acquisition of the Indian Navy. Later on in Dec 1971 these boats were to distinguish themselves as the “Karachi Killers” having carried out a bold and daring missile attack on Pakistan Naval ships and setting ablaze the fuel dumps of Karachi.

As a missile officer of the ship I had a number of serious responsibilities especially when the clouds of war started gathering over our heads in quick time. Every one on board was excited that the navy would be fighting a battle and we would a part of it. Amidst all the seriousness of war the life on board had its share of lighter moments.

One day the Executive Officer of the ship, Lt Ravi Vohra summoned me to his cabin. To me he always looked the desi version of Phantom – tall, huge, handsome man with penetrating but pleasant eyes and a deep metallic voice. He said "Pubs I want you to go and get 480 litres of milk from some big ship as we are running into serious problem with our victualling account and I want this sorted out within this week". When Ravi Vohra says get milk one simply goes and gets milk. There are no ifs and buts. I made a hasty retreat to my cabin.

Being young and new to the ways of the navy I did not have the faintest idea as to how to get the milk. The books of reference were of no use and they only mentioned the daily allowance. A stray idea popped up – get a cow but I discarded it quickly as impracticable. I finally mustered enough courage and decided to make a visit to a big ship.

I decided to try out INS Dharani first as it was our depot ship. I straight went to the supply officer and asked him directly if he could spare 480 litres of milk. He gave me one solid dirty look - mixture of surprise, disgust and anger. He said “Young subby, Dharani is neither a dairy farm nor I a cow". I decided to sound the retreat and head towards the gangway before he summoned the doctor and the duty watch.

My visit to the next two ships also met with similar fate, dirtier looks and quicker departures. Finally I decided to try my luck with INS Mysore the Flag Ship before facing Phantom again. Winding my way through the ship I finally reached the Supply Officers cabin and stood face to face with my saviour. He listened to my strange tale with utmost patience and called for Petty Officer stores, who on arrival fired a broadside saying that the Flag Ship itself was running short of milk. The kind officer would not take no for an answer. He told the PO “there must be some way of helping out these chaps. We must sort out their problem – they should be worried about missiles and not milk”. Having made this very important statement he left us to attend a meeting.

The PO went to the office to consult his colleagues, while I patiently waited with a long face which was slowly starting to resemble that of a cow. After a long wait he returned to announce that he could spare some chicken. Holding on to my temper I said “PO I want milk and not chicken – how on earth is it going to solve my problem”. He gave me one of those sarcastic smiles and a grunt which when decoded meant “You are still young in this game”.

He held out the rule book and read out “Under Article 43 rule (d) Para (ii) – Due to circumstances herein after mentioned ….. The Commanding Officer may authorise eggs in lieu of chicken and milk in lieu of eggs etc etc……He then pronounced the verdict “Sir you transfer 480 litres of milk on a voucher and finally we will adjust it against chicken.

Triumphantly I entered the ship looking like a proud cock. The EXO asked “what is all this excitement” I said “Sir I have found someone who can convert Milk into Chicken" which left him completely bowled for the first time.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Bengaluru Days - The Joy of Summer Holidays – Unlimited Outdoor Activities

Getting up in the morning on the first day of summer holidays was an extraordinary feeling. The exams were over and you were a free bird. There was no attempt by the mother to wake you up and you didn’t bother to look at the watch to see what time it was. In any case I did not possess a watch and the only wall clock in the house was in the drawing room. Bangalore in the sixties was still very cold and one needed a blanket even in April. I still remember the way, entire National High School field used to be covered with mist in the morning. If you stood at the Samaj end one could not see the high school.

The best brand ambassador for Bangalore is certainly one by two coffee. But there were other lesser known traits peculiar to Bangalore only. At the stroke of seven my swimming mate MC Krishna used to be at the gate of my house and shouting “Pabbi, Pabbi, Pabbi” and would continue until someone from the house replied saying “he is having a bath and he will be there or some such thing”. Both the Q and A was heard by all the neighbours if they were awake or definitely got up thereafter. Nobody seemed to mind the loud early morning exchange of communication. After all the poor chap had come all the way walking or at best on a cycle and he had every right to shout on the top of his voice. This behaviour was predominant in South Bangalore before the advent of cell phones. Many years later six of us went on a trip to Kollegal, which is 160 KM from Bangalore on scooters and motorbikes. On reaching our friends house we shouted from the gate“Govinda, Govinda, Govinda” to our utter shock came the answer “Avanu manenalli Illappa” – He is not at home

Apart from swimming, cricket and visits to the theatre there were a number of other activities during the summer holidays. Choice of activity depended on ones age group. However, all activities were mostly outdoors and away from the constant gaze of parents and relatives. Unlike this day, our sports involved no financial expenditure. As long as you did not ask for money from your parents all was well. The options were many.

Bugari or the Spinning Top

For the uninitiated - Wikipedia says “A top, or spinning top, is a toy that can be spun on an axis, balancing on a point. This motion is produced by holding the axis firmly while pulling a string.

Bugari was an integral part of our lives. The game is simple, you draw a circle of 2 ft dia on the ground and the looser keeps his bugari inside the circle. The rest, one by one aim their bugari at the target and hope like hell the nail leaves a mark. Normally there are three outcomes – the target gets a hit and a small chunk of wood flies off (it’s called Gunna), in the next outcome, the nail gets embedded in the target and the rest are free to drop a huge stone on the target so that it splits – the ultimate is when the striker breaks the target into two parts. If the striker’s bugari does not hit the target and dies in the circle, then it becomes the target and so on. Kemp Mane- Red house Sitaram was a pro and his bugaris were huge and more importantly the nail end was as wide as a tooth and razor sharp. Whole of Shankarpuram and the adjoining areas were afraid of him. The cost of playing was almost negligible but loss of pride was immeasurable if ever your bugari got hit and split. The news spread fast and far.

Goil or Marble

Goli needs no explanation and I will deviate a bit from the actual sport. My father used to work in India Tin Industry located near White Field. One of the processes of tin making involved rolling glass balls on the huge tin sheet under weight to give it a mirror finish. At the end of the process the glass balls wore off and were reduced to various sizes, all resembling golis.The glass balls were of no further use to the factory and were discarded. My father seeing I had entered the Goli age brought home a gunny bag full of these golis of assorted sizes and colours. There could have been no better present. I instantly became the most sought after kid in entire Shankarpuram and Gavipuram.I had the power to gift, exchange golis and play recklessly. Not to mention, the golis could be bartered for many other necessities such as pencils, erasers, old stamps and at times Masala Dosa at Sri Venugopala Ananda Bhavan, popularly known as “Jiddi Hotlu”.

Ghalipata or Kite

Kanthu lived next to my grandparent’s house in Gavipuram. He was my hero. Nobody made ghalipata better than him. Unknown to the rest of the world his kites were made from black paper which carried the x ray report. His brother in law worked in an x ray lab and Kanthu had an endless supply of these sheets. But it is still a mystery as to how he selected this particular paper for the kite. An aeronautical achievement indeed. Kite flying involved planning, gathering of raw material, production, QA and finally the product. Apart from paper we required well cooked rice in lieu of glue (as it was costly and no family support or subsidy was available for its purchase), straws from an old broom, balangochi the stabiliser tail made from old news paper or a light sari and finally the thread. Then came the most difficult part of the game – to make the Sutra – a strong thread tied to the kite at two places - on top and at the bottom which held the running thread. The angle of the sutra was the most crucial factor in kite flying as it determined the lift, drag and other aerodynamic forces responsible for the kite to remain air borne. In this Kanthu was simply brilliant. Our kite used to reach the maximum height and reach the longest distance and stay for many many hours. My role was limited to holding the ball of thread and standing close to Kanthu.

Marakothi or (is there a translation) Monkey on the Tree

To play this game you need a tree which is low slung but having a number of branches. We had one such Chakotnehannu or Grape Fruit tree in my neighbour Prasannas house. A very strange game where in the looser is left behind on the ground and the rest climb the tree. The people on the tree have to come down and take hold of the game stick being defended by the person on the ground. In the process the tree person is out of the game if he is touched by the ground person and the game continues till all are out. The players needed to be very agile and adept in climbing trees, capability to spot an opportunity and jump from high branches, fast footed and leap up to the tree like a leopard. This game was not meant for the non athletic and the weak hearted.

Soor Chandu or (I think) The Fast Ball

It is played with an old tennis ball. This was a popular game with the male students of Mahila Seva Samaj and played during the lunch break. Two teams were formed. The aim of the game was to hit the opposing player with the ball with utmost force. Like modern day football, this game also involved tactics of marking and counter marking. The best hits were when you struck your opponent from a very close distance. If you happened to be the victim, then you spent a restless night in pain. Richmond was Lionel Messi. Here again, one is required to be fast footed and blessed with strong arms. More importantly thick hide to absorb the strikes.

Bache or (I really do not have a translation)

A very unusual game which has vanished completely from the face of Bangalore. This game is usually played in the afternoons when there is hardly any traffic on the road. Bache is a square iron plate of about 2mm thickness and 5 to 6 cm in width with a hallow in the centre. At the road intersection all the players placed the required number of empty cigarette packets (packet of 10) in a circle. I found mine behind City Institute in a rubbish bin. The players have to stand 100 meters away and throw the disc at the packets. Packets which come out of the circle are your reward.

Gilli Danda

Gilli Danda was an extremely popular game played in many big sports ground. The game involves striking the gilli on the ground with the danda in the hand and measuring the final distance the gilli has travelled using the danda. If you could get the gilli off the ground and pop it into the air with a soft touch and strike it again - was termed Madras and if the gilli was popped twice it was Bombay and so on. The game could take better part of the day. My friend Jay Kumar had Tendulkar status in this game. People used to come from all over Bangalore and take him to play for their team.

Racing Pigeons

Back to MC Krishna. He had a terrace full of Pigeons and some were trained to fly for long hours and in the end come back home. I would spend hours in MC’s house (with a constant supply of the best Iyengar Pulliyogare) watching the Parvalas in the air circling in gay abandon. At that young age it was simply fascinating to see them fly and then return to their master’s house. The game was all about endurance of the birds and their ability to return. MC was good at training them. This sport was carried out in total secrecy as I had an inkling that my parents would not approve of this. Over a period of time the idea of keeping a bird in my house began to take shape. On the fateful day MC and self walked all the way from Shankarpuram to Shivajinagar crossing the great cultural divide latitude at the Double road. Two South Bengaluru boys on their way to North Bangalore to buy Pigeons. On my return from the bird buying voyage I found my mother unusually quiet and appeared to distance herself from both the bird and me. This behaviour was strange as she normally sided with me in many of my adventures. MC had warned me that I should shift the bird inside the house after sunset till such time we built a permanent cage on top of the terrace. Once inside and as the evening slowly unfolded into a dark night two things happened. Father returned home from work and the pigeon started cooing gudugoodu gudu gudugoodu gudu gudugoodu gudu. It took some time for my father to locate the source of this strange noise in the house and a shorter time to pronounce the verdict.

An unsuspecting MC came home early in the morning shouting Pabbi, Pabbi; Pabbi to enquire about my latest acquisition. His enthusiasm was very short lived as he saw me desperately running towards the gate with the pigeon.

During the holidays we came home only for recharging and resting. The entire recreation was outdoors and at no cost to the exchequer. With so many options for outdoor sports it was hardly surprising that the elders complained that we had all become “Beedi Basavanna”.(bull on the road)