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.