Monday, January 17, 2011

Lots of reasons to be "Proud Indians'

This morning, I was reading TOI dated 17 January 2011 and realised that the front page was an absolute contradiction in terms. Reality on top and SBI advertisement below.

The dichotomy is loud and clear for all to see

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I went to Riga, Latvia

Unknown to me, Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation was signed between India and the Soviet Union on 9th August 1971. The Indian Navy immediately thereafter embarked on an expansion drive which continued till mid eighties. In the mean time the navy decided to send me to Riga the capital of Latvia to commission a Nanuchka class - Missile Corvette, an armed naval escort vessel, smaller than a destroyer. Maybe, the navy selected me because I was one of the school children who went to cheer Mr Khrushchev - Leader of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and Mr Bulganin, during their visit to Bangalore on 26th November 1955 near Lalbagh East gate.

Figure 1 - Nanuchka class Missile corvette - Net
I got married on 22 May 1977 and very reluctantly returned to Mumbai in early June to commence my Russian language course. Mr Jadeja was our Russian language instructor, who paid more importance to grammar than vocabulary and as a result, I could conjugate verbs easily but did not know what potato in Russian was.17th October was my wife’s birthday and after a hectic bout of partying we reached the airport. Our team consisted of eight officers and forty sailors. The airport was full of relatives bidding good bye and dolling out advice. Someone said ‘distance makes heart go wander’ and yet another said ‘there is always safety in numbers’ and so on. I felt terrible leaving Jai behind, who was by then five months pregnant. We left Mumbai in a chartered Air India flight to Moscow via Tehran.

Travelling is fun, especially in a big group, where in you know each other. My colleague KB knew one of the airhostess and we were looked after like Maharajas the rest of the trip. After a short halt at Moscow, we reached Riga and directly went to our Stalavaya (guest house) in Bulderaya Bulli in the outskirts of the city. The Stalavaya was located very close to Daugava River. We were in Riga for three months taking over the ship from the Soviet navy, which meant going to the naval jetty every morning and accepting the ship from Soviet naval officers.

Only the essential sailors had come for the acceptance and the cooks and stewards were to join later. The Stalavaya was run by a posse of female Russian cooks and the one attached to us was ‘Katia’ an elderly lady who used to go out of the way to make us feel comfortable. In addition to the normal fare of bread, butter, eggs, milk, chicken and rice they had a variety of cheese, ice cream and curd to go along. We used to drink lots of Borscht (soup) and Sok (boiled fruit juice) for all meals. Kartoffel (potato) was a part of their daily diet. With my limited Russian vocabulary I once ordered a plate of ‘Portphel’ salad meaning - Briefcase. There were many more blunders – In a restaurant, I once asked the waiter if I could Chicken - ‘Kuritsa’ instead of smoke - ‘kurit’. It was big task for Katia to feed three pure vegetarians amongst us - NL Sharma, Atutosh Anand and Sashi Khera. She finally invented a lovely sauce made of red chilies, onions, garlic and sugar. Katia’s sauce went very well with hot steamed rice and butter. Finally our cooks arrived in end November and took over the kitchen. Dal, Sambhar, puri bhaji, biryani, pakoda and the rest adorned the table. Petty Officer Cook Chennakalai became a hit in the galley and many Russian officers shifted their culinary loyalty.

Wiki says “Riga is experiencing a new Renaissance as the capital of Latvia , and many large-scale restoration projects on old buildings have made Riga one of the most attractive cities in Europe. Most famously, Riga is home to the largest concentration of Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau) architecture in the world. Riga has become an increasingly popular destination for Europeans drawn by its old town image, its historical importance, and its reputation as having the best nightlife in Europe ”. Riga was greatly influenced by Germany and Russia through the two world wars and it finally became independent On September 6, 1991.

Riga is a very pretty city especially in winter. When we arrived in October the temperature was around 8*C and it fell rapidly and reached - 4*C by January. I was experiencing snowfall for the first time and all of us went berserk playing in the snow like children.

Figure 2 – Town hall square – Riga - Net

Finally the Daugava River froze completely, resembling a never ending white bed spread thrown across the river. What an extraordinary sight. Within days the frozen river was full of children practicing ice skating and playing hokey, while the elders were fishing. We also tried our leg at ice skating – an extremely difficult sport – contrary to what one sees on the TV. 54% of the area of the city is made up of so-called "blue zones" (rivers, lakes and canals) and "green zones" (woodland, parks and urban squares), which makes Riga special.

Figure 3 - Posing in the snow

It takes time to get used to Russian winter – ask Napoleon and Hitler – they would have had a lot to say. My experience was limited, but comic. Gopalachari and I decided to visit Moscow and in December. Having finished viewing the change of guard at the Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square, I proceeded to stand in a pre designated place and wait for my shipmate. The temperature was –12* C. The ears became red and looked like frozen red meat. I was unable to stand, as the cold was seeping through the heel, in spite of wearing snow shoes, with inner fur lining, with two layers of woolen socks, each one being separated by a sheet of news paper cut to size to act as insulators. All this was of no help; it was Kadam Tal for 15 unbearable moments of my life.

Figure 4 - Maybe I waited for Chari on the left side - Net

Another incident of interest was an evening out in Riga. All the ships officers were invited to Hotel Riga for dinner by our Russian team leader Mr Savitsky, which meant a very simple operation of getting into a bus in our Stalavaya and alighting at the hotel. Never in confrontation with the elements. So Prem and I decided to dress, as if we were going out for a stroll in Mumbai. I had never been so totally wrong. During the journey the bus driver stopped at a petrol station and asked all of us to get down before filling in fuel. Well, the rules in USSR required that there should be no passengers in the bus when it fuels. The rest is cold history. Two of us being slowly frozen at -5 deg C.

On our sea voyage from Riga to Klaipeda in Lithuania was yet another extraordinary feat. Ahead of us was an ‘Ice breaker’ – breaking through layers of frozen sea and making a passage for our ship. Suddenly you would see the breaker stop and sailors coming out of the ship, to take a walk and a puff. The entire mast and the super structure were totally frozen by the time we reached Klaipeda.

In our short stay of three months in Riga, we were able to visit the city many times. I still remember having excellent decoction coffee near the railway station. We used to visit Hotel Riga often on weekends and have Vodka and Balzam (Refined vodka) Russians truly believe that ‘Vodka is a drink that accompanies humans in sorrow, joy, and simple relaxation’. Stolichnaya chetyre (Four) Star Vodka was most preferred. You drink Vodka neat and say - Prost – Davai and it goes down the hatch. Thereafter you chase the vodka with Sok and then stuff it with – cheese, chicken, gherkins, kielbasa (smoked sausages), bread and layers of butter. One always imbibes vodka to celebrate something or the other. To start with, it’s always ‘Indo- Soviet Druzhba’ (friendship), then a drink for the health of the two great navies, one for the ship, yet another for the good people of the two countries and so on; this entire process is repeated several times before you pass out. I am yet to come across anyone who can match a seasoned Russian in vodka drinking. I still remember getting caught with my friend and shipmate Anatoly Zotov – drinking vodka to celebrate ‘Artillery Day’. In Russia you order your drinks in milliliters and not in pegs. Russians love Indian rum and a bottle of Hercules XXX rum would fetch 3 bottles of vodka in the Stalavaya. I think it’s time; khodays took over the Indian embassy in Moscow – hic hic hooray.

Figure 5 - Self and Prem out in the snow

On a sober note -we also visited Riga Cathedral for a musical concert – watched an Ice Hokey match between Spartak and a local team. However the most poignant visit was to Salaspils concentration camp ‘Stalag-350-S’ established by the Nazis at the end of 1941 at a point 18 km southeast of Riga. We were taken around the camp by one of the survivors. She was a young girl of three, when her parents were executed. As she explains the atrocities which were heaped on them, you stand in shock wondering how; anyone from the same specie could have committed such carnage on a fellow human being.

Figure 6- Salaspils Concentration Camp - Net

Girls in Riga are extremely pretty. The only bachelor in our midst was Prem, who had a whale of time in Riga. I came back with a lovely Latvian doll in a glass case.

Figure 7- Latvian doll image - Net

The people we came across in our day to dealings in kiosk, super markets, restaurants, hospital and so on were very nice, unassuming, simple and friendly. They had a great affinity towards Indians in general. They loved Raj Kapoor and used to throng our weekly movie evenings in the Stalavaya. On 3rd January 1978, I was on my way to the ship in a naval bus, which unfortunately skidded on a heavily iced road and rolled over several times before it came to a stop. By god’s grace and extremely prompt help by the Riga Military Hospital, five of us lived to see another day. The hospital staffs were extremely kind and helpful. Under the Soviet regime the Latvians were not best of friends with the Russians. I still remember my Russian friend asking me to stand in the queue in the local ‘Detsky Mir’ (departmental store) to buy Champagne, the lady at the counter would have certainly said ‘no stock’ if he had stood there instead. Another shortcoming which I found in the Soviet Union was their distribution system. Suddenly onions would disappear and find tomatoes flooding the market. For that matter, one had to stand in a queue to buy anything. The joke those days was that, the people would stand in a queue not knowing what was being sold at the end of the queue. People always carried lot of cash, as they did not know where and when a luxury item would become available.

Children were the most prized possession of Soviet Union. Toys, books, schools, playgrounds, sporting equipment and anything to do with children were subsidized by the state. It was a great pleasure to watch well dressed children playing in the snow.

Figure 8 - Sashi,Tiwari,Prem,self and Hukku

In the Stalavaya I shared a cabin with Huku and Prem. Huku was a great snorer and at times it was impossible to sleep with him playing, a one man nasal band. KB who had been to Russia earlier was of great all round help to us. His Russian was very good and it came very handy to have him around. Unlike in India, the dinner was at 6PM and invariably we used to feel hungry around 10PM. KB had converted the double door window into a refrigerator and would store assorted food items in the gap, for any emergency.

Text Color

Figure 9 - Self and Prem having a snow fight

Russians were crazy for any item which had a ‘made in USA’ tag attached to it. I remember one Russian officer who wanted my Wrangler shirt and insisted, I take something in return. Seeing this golden opportunity I decided to ask for a jerry can full of ‘Potentiometer oil’, (an item in short supply but in great demand) which was nectar to my technical officer. Similarly we bartered Nescafe tins for lot of important spare parts.

Figure 10 - May be after effects of Vodka

In the late seventies shopping was a mania with every Indian. Going abroad meant unlimited shopping. The whole family would sit together and make a long list of items to be purchased. I did my share of purchases - KM 8 mixer (a copy of Braun), Zenith SLR camera, (Incidentally, after WW II all the German optical factories went to the Russians and their cameras had excellent lenses) and a large number of excellent toys. I was able to pick up a number of 78 RPM records of Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky at throw away prices for my wife. Similarly, you could get complete works of Arthur Conan Doyle – Sherlock Holmes for a very paltry amount. I read TOI of 07 Jan 2011 and it said “Indians shed shopper tag, soak in experience”. We have come a long way indeed.

We visited Moscow in December and stayed with a friend in the diplomatic enclave - Leninsky Prospect. Moscow is breathtaking and by any standard, one of the very best cities in the world. Watching their broad roads, majestic buildings, parks, exhibitions – left us amazed and truly impressed. Their metro is simply outstanding. We experienced the much dreaded Russian winter at -12*C, visited the Red Square, saw a Russian ballet ‘Swan Lake’ in the famous Bolshoy theatre and their circus. Travelling in their train from Riga to Moscow and back in soft class was another experience to cherish.

We took nearly 90 days to accept the ship. Each evening we used to hold a ‘sabranie’ (meeting) with the Soviet navy to discuss day’s activities. They would report all the items which were handed over to the Indian navy and end up with ‘I tak dalee’. Prem wanted to be one up and impress our Commanding Officer Cdr BN Kavina and with all seriousness said, sir I regret to report that the Russians have not handed over ‘I tak dalee’. Even the stern looking Russians could not but laugh their guts out. ‘I tak dalee’ meant etc.

The ship was commissioned on 15 Jan 1978. The formal and solemn ceremony commenced with the Inspection of a Guard of Honour by the Soviet admiral.

Figure 11- Self reporting the Guard of Honour to the Soviet admiral

The Commissioning Warrant signed by the Chief of Naval Staff was read out by the Commanding Officer. The Naval Ensign and the National Flag was hoisted onboard the Ship for the first time along with the traditional breaking of the Commissioning Pennant. This ceremony was carried out with the Parading of the Colour Guard to the accompaniment of the National Anthem. The ship was named ‘INS Hosdurg’ (meaning ‘New fort’ in Kannada) after a historic fort in Kerala, built during the Ikkeri Dynasty by Somashekara Nayak. Later on, the wife of the ambassador broke a coconut on the missile container and performed a puja to bless the ship. Earlier on, Moscow had sent feelers that the lady was not used to breaking coconuts even at home; leave alone on a missile container. We had carried the coconuts all the way from India for this occasion and did not want anything to go wrong, so we sawed the outer shell very carefully to prevent any misfire and made it easier to break.

We sailed from Riga to Klaipeda for sea training and stayed there for three weeks. Klaipeda once again is a very pretty place.

Figure 12 - Our ship was berthed very close to the boat restaurant - Net

Thereafter we sailed to Gdansk in Poland and then to La Harve in France – spending 3 days in each port. Whilst in La Harve, I got the news that my dear wife had delivered a baby boy and both were doing fine. I had become a father – a special feeling. I along with my shipmates went along with a Hindi speaking French Naval Intelligence officer, Lt Mark Faber to celebrate the occasion with champagne. We were severely hit by a storm in the dreaded ‘Bay of Biscay’ and had to take shelter in Dourarnenez – South of France – an extraordinarily beautiful fishing port. The whole town came to see our warship and some went on record to say “Nothing as exciting as our ships unannounced visit had happened since WW II”. Cook Chennakalai became an instant celebrity dishing out ‘Kheema with onions rolled in Parathas (Minced meat rolled in Indian flat-bread)’.
Figure 13- Port of Dourarnenez - Net

After short stops in Algiers in Algeria,Benghazi in Libya, Bizerte in Tunisia we reached Port Said in Egypt. The Indian ambassador in Algiers, Mr Rana made our stay extremely pleasant. Prem, Huku and NL went and played bridge with the ambassador during our stay there. The Captain of the ship was little chary of the bridge game, as Huku was an excellent player with a very sharp tongue. If you made any mistake as his partner, the ensuing verbal volley could be very harsh. I suppose all was well and the ambassador hosted an excellent dinner, thereafter at his residence. We had a great time in Algiers eating mediterranean oranges and French chocolates.

During my off watch I was busy reading ‘Oh Jerusalem’ by Larry Collins and Dominique La Pierre, when I was called to the bridge by my captain to tell me that my father had, had a heart attack and was serious. He decided to repatriate me to Bangalore ASAP. After a day and night wait in Cairo (usefully spent in updating the Military Attachés records and watching Son et Lummaire show of Giza Pyramids), I arrived in Mumbai – very briefly saw my son and wife and went to Bangalore to be with my father.

That was the end of a fabulous voyage, in which I covered more than 10,000 nautical miles by sea, saw nine cities and met scores of people and more importantly was exposed to different cultures, traditions and way of life.

Epilogue: The ship we lovingly commissioned as ‘Hosdurg’, after serving the navy for 21 years, was finally decommissioned on 05 June 1999. In June 2000, Indian Navy used the decommissioned ship as a target and fired a long-range Sea Eagle Anti Ship Missile from an aircraft and sank it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I joined the Navy to see the world

“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.” – Vincent van Gogh
I joined the navy to see the world. In pursuit of that dream I set foot on board the Indian Naval Ship Krishna on 01 July 1968 (earlier known as Kistna), the cadet training ship of the Indian navy. Krishna was a modified Black Swan class launched in Yarrow on 22 April, 1943. The Black Swan class and Modified Black Swan class were two classes of sloop of the Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy. Like Corvettes, sloops of that period were specialized convoy-defense vessels. In World War II, Black Swan-class sloops sank 29 U - Boats. After the war, sloops continued in service with the Royal Navy, Egyptian Navy, Indian Navy, Pakistani Navy and the West German Navy. Krishna continued to serve the Indian navy for many more years.

Commander VS Mathur, Commanding Officer INS Krishna wrote a demi-official letter on 10th June, 1968 in which he said, ‘Dear Cadet Prabhakar, My heartiest congratulations …. I am looking forward to your joining this ship for further training as a Naval cadet for a period of 6 months. You are therefore required to report at the undersigned address by 0900 on 1st July 1968 …….You will then be taken to the tailors to be outfitted in Naval uniform ….During your stay on board for a period of 6 months you will, apart from learning the ways of the navy, also visit a few ports in India and abroad…….You are also required to bring along a cheque for Rs 240/= made out to “The Commanding Office, INS Krishna,” from which you will be paid pocket money of Rs 40/= per month.
The same letter went to all my course mates. We were 27 cadets from the 34th NDA course who reported on board for training. Except for a very short and vomity experience at sea for 6 days during our initiation camp, ‘Water Baby’, none of us had been on board a war ship before. All of us assembled on the Quarter Deck to be addressed by our Cadet Divisional Officer (CDO) Lt VA Shivdasani who would be our God, mentor, tormentor and ‘maibap’ all rolled into one for the next six months.
On the very first day we were officially informed by our CDO, that we were the lowest form of marine life, even lower than planktons* and barnacles** (a mass of tiny organisms floating in the sea *) (a small invertebrate animal with a shell that clings to rocks and ships’ bottoms**).

I heard the term ‘khalifa’ for the first time on board. The khalifa ensured that we were all given a clean head shave. Even to this day I am unable to understand why such a close haircut should be necessary for modern military discipline and efficiency. I later discovered that in the early days of warfare, soldiers invariably ended up in hand-to-hand combat. Having long hair and a beard was a disadvantage, as it gave the opponent a chance to gain a good grip. Another reason, I was told, was that long hair affected the aiming of an arrow fired from a long bow. I now realize that a short haircut is low on maintenance and less time is spent on grooming. Also, lice cannot breed in such spartan surroundings.
Warships are generally packed with weapons, ammunition magazines, sensors, communication equipment, engines, fuel, water tanks, provisions and things which are required to keep the ship afloat, moving and fighting. Crew accommodation is a luxury and cadets’ quarters - the last priority. All of us were housed in a cabin called the ‘Chest Flat’ which was 10ft x 20ft and was full of lockers and bunks. In the Royal navy – the ‘lobby-like place’ in a warship - is known as a ‘Flat’ and the black box in which the cadets and midshipmen kept their personal belongings is called a ‘sea–chest’. We ate in the class room and in harbour we slept on the ‘Poop Deck’ at the stern of the ship. At sea, we slept wherever we could find a safe place.
Six months on board a warship, as a cadet, is probably the toughest training one can undergo in life. Those six months are spent in learning all aspects of the navy – starting at the lowest rung of the naval ladder. Apart from professional subjects such as navigation, weapons, propulsion, power generation, we are trained as cooks in the galley, we do guard and sentry duties and ‘clean ship’. (an all inclusive terminology invented by the navy to include - cleaning and painting the ship, sweeping, swapping, washing utensils etc.) We are also trained to make and mend clothes – when decoded it means stitching and repairing clothes. No wonder we make such wonderful husbands.
We set sail on 10th of August, 1968 from Mumbai to Mombasa in Kenya, a distance of 2384 nautical miles. This was our maiden voyage. INS Krishna was no Payyoli Express and it would take 10 to 12 days to reach our destination. As we learnt subsequently, sailing in the Indian Ocean during monsoon, can be extremely difficult with rough seas, high winds and torrential rains. The order to ‘prepare the ship for sea’, was given much in advance and our CDO told us to secure all our belongings and lash all loose items. Forty miles into the sea, the ship started to roll and pitch like a small boat and we were tossed about mercilessly. As the ship entered the high seas, the pounding became even more severe and agonizing.
Continuous rolling and pitching leads to sea sickness, which in turn causes vomiting. The body becomes very lethargic and executing even a simple task becomes difficult. Wiki says, “The most common hypothesis for the cause of motion sickness is that it functions as a defense mechanism against neurotokins. The area postrema in the brain is responsible for inducing vomiting when poisons are detected, and for resolving conflicts between vision and balance. When feeling motion but not seeing it (for example, in a ship with no windows), the inner ear transmits to the brain that it senses motion, but the eyes tell the brain that everything is still. As a result of the discordance, the brain comes to the conclusion that one of them is hullucinating and further concludes that the hallucination is due to poison ingestion. The brain responds by inducing vomiting, to clear the supposed ‘toxin’. Whatever the cause, sea sickness is extremely unbearable. Over a period of time, all of us developed sea legs except poor Stephen Mathew, who remained seasick, the entire voyage.
The next casualty of the rough sea was the cadet’s crockery. In an instant the cadet’s pantry resembled a battle zone – flying saucers, shattered plates and broken dishes were strewn all over the deck. The cook of the mess had not secured them properly. The next six months were spent eating from discarded lamp shades. Those responsible for this lapse were punished for not taking seaman like precautions. We had learnt a valuable lesson in seamanship.
On 16th August we crossed the equator and the ship celebrated the traditional ‘Crossing the Line Ceremony’ . Without any more incidents we reached the Port of Mombasa, the second-largest city in Kenya. It gained independence in 1962. Mombasa had a large Indian population. After a three day halt we proceeded to Madagascar, the world's fourth-largest island, located in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Mozambique. Tamatave is the nation's chief port. Madagascar was a French colony and their influence was still visible in the late sixties. It became independent in 1960. Our next port of call was Seychelles, an island nation located to the Northeast of Madagascar. The republic consists of 155 islands and is an excellent tourist destination. Once a British colony, it became independent in 1976.
In every port we were allowed to go ashore and see the city. The ship’s quarter master would pipe (announce) – ‘Liberty men fall in!’ To proceed ashore in the navy is called ‘Liberty’, which requires a lot of effort – it’s now called ‘Jawan Wardi Badlo’ (sailor change uniform). Firstly, one should not be on any punishment which included ‘Excused Liberty’, one should have a record of unbroken good order and naval discipline, proper turnout and finally – an inspection by the CDO. Not many cadets made it past the CDO and as a rule we never went ashore more than once in each port. However our CDO derived sadistic pleasure in showing us the city on the run during the day, fully dressed in battle fatigues. He always reminded us that we were ambassadors of India and it mattered a lot how we marched and doubled (generally making a fool of ourselves) while he rode majestically on a horse or in a jeep. However, as a gesture of his magnanimity and goodwill, we were allowed to attend extremely boring and lackluster official receptions of the host navy and local NRIs.

Figure 1 - In battle fatigues with two pretty French girls - Madagascar - Aug 1968

Cadets were allowed to smoke and I picked up the habit. We were not allowed to imbibe any alcohol, but this did not stop courageous Rajiv Ratan from bringing a few cans of ‘Tennants’ beer on board in Seychelles. Further, he had the audacity to have it stored in the Captain’s fridge. One quiet afternoon at sea, the Captain was rudely woken up by the noise of a beer can being opened in his lobby by Steward Chakravarthy – ‘Pop!’ The atomic explosion in Hiroshima pales in comparison to what we experienced thereafter.

On our last leg we were kept busy in ‘survival at sea exercises’. In one such exercise called ‘Samudra Kanya’, we are required to build a raft from all the discards in the ship, lower it into sea and go around the ship once.

Figure 2- The Castaways In another exercise named ‘Cats Paw’, groups of eight would be lowered into the ship’s whalers and we were required to sail in them and reach the nearest harbour, which could as far as eighty miles. While getting into the boat, one cadet from my group accidently dropped the communication set on the deck (unknown to the rest of us). I still remember the ship’s call sign was ‘Tom Cat’ and the boat was ‘Rat Cat’. Rat Cat remained incommunicado during our entire 32 hours of survival training at sea. A very scary experience.

Figure 3 - The silent Rat Cat – CDO in a hat at the back
Our training included use of small arms and weapons. In one such session, I was required to throw a hand grenade over the ship side. Unfortunately it fell very close to the ship, upsetting the CDO – later on I had to run around the ship on the upper deck with two hand grenades with pins removed and my heart in my mouth! Another very interesting task was climbing the ship’s mast when the ship was underway. As the ship rolled, the mast would sway from one end to another and looking down at the ship from a height of 40ft is something I will never forget.

Figure 4 - Off Goa with other cadets - Snitch, Kats, Nair, Roy and Aulakh - I am sitting on the boat
After a month of sea voyage we reached Kochi as fully qualified ‘sea dogs’. We had a wonderful and relaxing midterm break at Dunmore Cottage in Coonor. We spent some more days at sea on the West coast and returned to good old Mumbai for our passing out.

Our CDO was related to the film actresses Sadhana and Babita. He hosted a cocktail on board with a lot of Bollywood celebrities and wanted cadets ‘who had the go and charm’ to come forward to attend the party. Four party animals volunteered. Our pure unadulterated envy and deep disappointment was very short lived – one cadet was detailed at the Lion gate to direct the traffic, the next to open the car doors, another to collect caps at the gangway and the last one to help the ladies negotiate steep ships ladder. Stupid barnacles, what did they expect?

Unable to remain cooped up in the ship, a few of us stealthily smuggled ourselves out of the ship to attend a dance party organised by a local Mumbai cadet. After an excellent evening we returned, to be caught at the gangway. 12 of us were punished with 7 days No 11(which involved ‘excused liberty’ and extra work). Even the passing out cake had ‘Dirty Dozen’ boldly written on it.

The close quarters in which 27 of us lived and worked for six months under severe hardship, stress and challenges of sea, brought us together for life. The camaraderie continued during the service and is still present in abundance even after retirement. Those six months gave us stuff, that memories are made up of- stuff you can relate to your grandkids as they sit on your lap.
Unfortunately Bhandari, Makin, Bedi and Chats left us early. May their soul rest in peace.

George Bernard Shaw once said:

Men go into the Navy . . . thinking they will enjoy it. They do enjoy it for about a year, at least the stupid ones do, riding back and forth dully on ships. The bright ones find that they don’t like it in half a year, but there’s always the thought of that pension if only they stay in. . . . Gradually, they become crazy, crazier and crazier. Only the Navy has no way of distinguishing between the sane and the insane. Only about five percent of the Royal Navy have the sea intheir veins. They are the ones who become captains. Thereafter, they are segregated on their bridges. If they are not mad before this, they go mad then. And the maddest of them become admirals.

I left the navy as a captain - rest is left to your fertile imagination.

Monday, January 3, 2011

WISHING ALL READERS OF MY BLOG - A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR.Partying in Coonor,Kodagu,Turtle Bay and Munnar


Austria, Australia, Albania, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, United States, United Kingdom and Vietnam


December is an excellent month. Weather is great all over India and I am sure everyone looks forward to winter. Good weather brings cheer to everyone; people are friendlier, less aggressive, more tolerant and generally well behaved. Anyone who has been through a Delhi summer at 43*C, I lived there for ten years, will agree, that Delhites are better people in winter. Bangalore is blessed with lovely weather throughout the year, but December is lovely – especially this year, due to depression in the Bay of Bengal and cold North Easterly winds, there is an extra nip in the air. Bangalore has remained overcast with occasional light rain. It’s a pleasure to go for a walk in the morning with lot of mist in the air. The afternoon temperature has been around 16*C to 18*C.

There are a lot of things, one can do in winter. It gives you an opportunity to dress well – as we say ‘suited and booted’. Suits and combinations are very much visible in the clubs and military messes, while catching a bit of sun and sipping a horse’s neck. I can well imagine a Shillong winter. My daughter describes her husband’s 92 year old ‘Boramma’ (grandmother) every now and then sitting in a different place in their garden “like a sunflower, following the sun for warmth” she further adds “Night descends on inky blanket with a million twinkling stars. The silence that accompanies the crisp air and cold chill….” Very romantic indeed. But in Bengaluru, moment the temperature drops slightly, Bangaloreians are the first to wear their colorful monkey caps and sweaters of various hues and colours. Tibetan shops spring up all over town selling winter clothing. Surprisingly they all speak good Kannada, having been brought up in Tibetan colony in Bylakuppe near Mysore. A lesson for others who have chosen to settle down in karnataka – learn a new language – it enriches your lives. We have spent our best winters in Delhi – under a Jaipuri Razai (quilt), soaking up the sun and having piping hot chai, picnics to the Zoo, Rail Bhavan, Buddha Jayanti National Park, lazy afternoon in Kotah House having beer and biryani and much more.

Eating habits changes all over India in the winter and some of the dishes which take precedence over others are – Bhutta or Corn on the Cob - Muskin Jola for Bangaloreians, Gajar ka halwa (Carrot Pudding), Masala Dosa (Pancake made from rice and black gram), Hot Tandoori Chicken, Makke Di Roti and Sarson Ka Saag (mustard leaves curry and maize flatbread),Channa Bhatura,Alu Tikki, Onion Pakodas (fritters), Hot Idly and Vada Sambhar (savory cake made from rice and black gram with spicy vegetable stew) and decoction coffee. Unlike polar bears, which hibernate in winters, we end up eating more.

Figure 1 - Cat basking in the sun on top of a water tank in our colony

Picnics to ‘Cubbon Park and Lalbagh’ are a common pastime for the city dwellers. The landscape also changes a lot. Beginning November to March, the bright flowers of Tabebuia, Sampige, African Tulip and Jacaranda add a new and colorful dimension to Bangalore’s skyline.

Figure 2 - Tabebuia in full bloom – Cubbon Park – we have four Tabebuia trees in our colony

Come 22nd of December, all schools close for Christmas holidays, office goers and government staff proceed on long leave till the end of the year. News papers are full of adverts for Christmas and New Year parties, discount sales, out of town holidays and the whole city gets into party mood. There is lot of bonhomie and goodwill all around. During this season, nothing to beat the atmosphere of Goa, it’s simply fantastic. In our family it’s time for reunions. My wife who is a principal of a school gets a long break from her hectic schedule, daughter dear with hubby and their children arrive on the 24th, son and DIL take leave and the merriment starts in right earnest.

Christmas has long ceased to be a purely religious function – today it is celebrated by many non Christians as a week of fun and frolic. One look at the advert, which I received the other day in my mail box, will tell you, what Christmas is all about in Kamannahalli – Bangalore, where I stay.

Figure 3 - Santa better watch out. You have competition from someone named Cruz. He can even place a necklace, where there is no neck!!!!

Every year without fail, we light up a Christmas tree and have a barbeque party. My wife, who loves singing and music, joins the local choir for singing Christmas carols. With my huge stomach and loud voice – I am an ideal choice for Santa. I have been Santa several times for my children and now for my grand children. Believe me, its lot of fun.

Figure 4 - 1988 Bangalore with children, brother and MIL

Figure 5 - 2008 with grandson - Bangalore

Figure 6 - Barbeque on Christmas night - 2010

Come 29th the whole extended family – meaning us, son, DIL, daughter, SIL, grand children and at times the ‘Sambhandis’ (children’s in laws)go out of town for the new year. The very act of planning, coordination, disagreements, battles, bookings, cancellations and the actual travel makes these trips extremely enjoyable and memorable.

Both our children got married in a span of two days in August 2005. Our trip to Coonor in Dec 2006 was great and nine of us stayed at the Dunmore House which was established during the British rule as the Naval Hydrographic Drawing Office (NHDO). Subsequently, after independence, NHDO shifted to Dehradun and Dunmore House was converted into a holiday home for serving and retired Naval Officers. The weather, old world charm of the cottage, excellent food prepared by khansama (master chef) Mr Philip, dumb charade after dinner and a spot of Remy Martin followed by a lovely Cuban cigar, was the routine.

Figure 7 - Daughter with a friend - Dunmore House

Figure 8 - Pykara lake - Naval sailing club – Coonor

Figure 9 - Tea estate Coonor - DIL, D and hubby

2007 New Year belonged to Kodagu (Anglicized by the British as Coorg). We went and stayed in ‘The Nest’ – Home Stay. We had a rollicking time and our entire stay was one long party- cocktails by the camp fire, lovely Kodagu food such as Pandi curry (Pork) which my Sambhandis from Shillong loved it, Kadambuttu (steamed rice dumplings). The Nest is a warm and friendly home stay and the credit goes to its owners Sagar and Asha. We visited the Tibetan colony in Bylakuppe and Dubare elephant camp to show my grandson Pachyderm at close quarters. These holidays are great opportunities for bonding.

Figure 10 - The Nest

Figure 11 – Bylakuppe Golden temple and Monastery -2007

Figure 12 - New Year revelry. Daughter with her SIL

Figure 13 - Jai with grandson – The Nest 2007

The New Year of 2008 at the Turtle Bay resort was one of our most enjoyable trips. The resort is located at Tarsi, close to Kundapur on the Western sea board on Mangalore – Karwar highway. The resort has a lovely private beach, excellent Manglorean style sea food and lots of swimming. The manager, Suresh, looked after us very well. The weather in December is mild and one can enjoy the sea to maximum. Be it swimming, underwater diving, boat rides, lovely massage, catching a tan, dusk and dawn walks on the beach, shell collection or making sand castles, there is always something to do for everyone – reasons galore to be there for the New Year.

Figure 14 - Shacks on the beach front

Figure 15 - Beach off Turtle Bay

Figure 16 - Beach Front off Turtle Bay

The following year in 2009 we went to the Munnar, a beautiful hill town, with tea plantations, lakes, forests and winding walks. Located at an altitude of 1,829 m, it is home to South India's highest peak called Anamudi, standing 2,695 m tall. We stayed at the High Range club started by British planters in 1905. Their website describes the stay vey aptly “The distinguished Gentleman’s Lounge transports the visitor back in time to re-live an era long since past of swirling cigar smoke, dimly lit corners, period furniture surrounded by the hats of the pioneering planters who painstakingly fashioned Munnar and its Plantations into what they are today”. An unforgettable trip.

Figure 17 - High Range Club 2009

Figure 18- Walk in the club 2009

Figure 19 - Mattupeety Lake Munnar - 2009

Figure 20 – Son, DIL and GD at High Range - 2009

Figure 21 - Bonding with GD

When the entire clan is in Bangalore, we conduct ‘Satyanarayana Pooja’ (Thanks giving) every year. A beautiful way to end the year. I perceive it as showing gratitude to the almighty God for looking after us and acknowledging his divine presence in all facets of our life. This year it’s even more important. Here, I will deviate from the script a little bit.

One morning when going to the office in November 2009, I received a call from my daughter – she was talking, crying, laughing, happy, scared and expressing a host of other emotions all at once, “ baba I went to the doctor this morning and he told me I am carrying twins”. I assured her that “it was an act of god and he has specially chosen you because you are a very good mother”. My wife’s grandmother was one of twin- if that’s any reason. Under doctor’s advice, she decided to stay put in Mumbai and deliver the twins at the Lilavati hospital. As the pregnancy progressed she became huge and on 06 July 2010 around 1130 AM, she delivered two lovely boys. She has now three boys and husband dear, making her a true ‘Queen Bee’. This year also, we were planning to go somewhere nearby for the New Year, but decided against it, as the twins – ‘Port and Starboard’ are too small.

Namakarna (Baptism, Christening). The naming ceremony of the new born. Nama means – name and Karana – meaning ‘to make’ or ‘to effect’. All the near and dear ones are invited to the function and amidst all the gaiety and goodwill, the children are placed in a cradle which is appropriately decorated for the function. The priest narrates suitable shlokas relevant to the occasion and the parents, followed by the grandparents, whisper the selected name into the ear of the child. So on 27th December 2010 at about 1230 h the twins were named ‘Agastya’ - after the famous sage who spread Vedic religion South of the Vindhayas and ‘Aarin’ meaning a mountain of strength, also means ‘a person without enemies’. In addition all children are also named Gundappa (strong and round like a stone) and Jeevappa (one who lives long). The twins joined a long line of A – Anirban, Akhila and Ayaan the first born.

Names are very important. My daughter’s MIL – Rita once narrated a very interesting episode which happened in their SBI Shillong Branch (State Bank of India). She along with another officer, who happened to be from Karnataka, was responsible for disbursing loan to local Khasi people. At the end of the day, her colleague noted that a lot of people from ‘Imtip’ family had taken loan. Rita burst out laughing, as ‘Imtip’ in Khasi means ‘I don’t know’. That was their standard reply to the question – What is your name?

This year has been very eventful, with Agastya and Aarin joining the family. Akhila has managed the twins very well. My GS- Ayaan and GD- Samara joined school this year. My son Vivek and DIL Shubhra opened their new firm- ‘Chumbak’ at this year and have dug in their heel well in the market. My Son in Law, Anirban’s new firm- ‘Kwan’ at /- is already a year old and well established. Freedom International School - at where my wife is the principal, is well into their fifth year.

As for me, this was my first year of retirement and when I look back, I think, I have managed fairly well. The blog is already seven months old. Blogging has become my hobby and obsession – I really take pleasure in writing. The fact that the blog has a very wide readership, gives me a high and a sense of satisfaction which is totally new. I wish to thank all the readers for visiting my blog and hope you enjoyed reading it, as much as I have enjoyed writing it.
Happy New Year, once again from all of us.

Figure 22 - All the GC - Ayaan, Samara, Agastya and Aarin