Saturday, February 19, 2011

Agony and Ecstasy of Transfers.

Many people have a great affinity for the city of their birth. They refuse to cut the umbilical cord. They study, work, live, retire and finally die in the same city. I really do not know if this is good or a bad experience, but it’s very unique. My father was unique – all phases of life happened to him in Bangalore. In that sense, I am not unique. I was more like a Salmon fish – whose life starts in a fresh water stream; they stay for 6 months to three years in their natal stream and proceed to sea. The salmon spend about one to five years in the open ocean and the adult salmon then return primarily to their natal stream to spawn. Unlike the fish, between Bengaluru, which I left in 1967 and returned to Bangalore in 1995, I took refuge in many cities and houses.

As a bachelor I stayed on a ship most of the time or in naval messes whilst posted ashore. Either way we didn’t have to worry about any of the mundane activities related to housekeeping, packing, unpacking etc. The system looked after us. In the seventies both the government and the navy had no money to build either ships or houses. There was acute shortage of naval accommodation, especially in big metros such as Mumbai. Hiring houses in metros, with the meager allowance given by the government, was an exercise in futility. Getting married was easy, but finding accommodation was extremely difficult. Lot of officers waited till they were transferred to smaller places such as Vizag or Kochi to tie the knot. I decided to become a householder in 1977. Even though my in laws had a house in Krishna Mahal on D Road Marine Drive, both Jai and I were keen to start off on our own. Naval accommodation was not yet on the horizon and chances of moving into own house looked remote. That’s when Jai’s close friend Azmina, who was getting married to Ibrahim Patanwala, suggested that we move into Ibbu’s bachelors pad on the eight floor in ’Sonarika’ overlooking the sea on Carmichael Road. This was a true manna of biblical proportions. They were proceeding to USA for his further studies in Cosmetology. The house of Patanwalas was the forerunners in cosmetics; brand ‘Afghan Snow’, India's first beauty cream and various other cosmetic products belonged to them. They also regularly sponsored the prestigious Navy Ball in Mumbai in the seventies. The surrounding area was very up market and snooty - I went shopping once and asked the vegetable vendor the price of capsicum, to which he said ”Sahib, people who ask the rates of vegetables do not shop here”

I started my married life in June 1977, with just one suitcase and shifting to Sonarika posed no logistic problem. Ibbu’s pad was run like a five star hotel. The caretaker come home to clean the house, change the linen, replenish the fridge with beer and generally tidy up the place. It was great fun living in such a pad. The honeymoon lasted till October when I had to proceed to Riga.
On my return in May 1978, I was allotted a ground floor house in ‘Colaba Chambers’ on Wodehouse Road in South Mumbai. My first naval house. The house was extremely dilapidated and rundown, requiring urgent repairs. Ruins of Hampi appeared modern. It was centrally located and lot of my friends made it their watering hole on their way back from work. One day a thick slab of cement fell from the roof, on a chair breaking its arm. My son who was by then a year and two months was blissfully sleeping two feet away. Then on he slept wearing a helmet. I used to sail a lot and keep frequent watches ashore, which meant that wife and sonny boy spent the night, all by themselves. Being a ground floor house in Colaba meant waging a constant battle against huge rats running helter - skelter throughout the house. Jai used to sleep with a bag full of plastic building blocks and throw at the rats. What a change from Sonarika. Every time a BEST bus went past the house, the entire house, window panes and our bones rattled in unison. Vivek took his first step in this house. In spite of many disadvantages, we had a nice time – it was our home.

Colaba Chambers - Son learning to walk

Lucky crib - Colaba chambers

Dad with GS - Colaba Chambers

Come January 1979, we shifted to a brand new house ‘Swati’ on the 8th floor in Navy Nagar Colaba as its first occupants. It was navy’s first high rise and a lot of planning had gone on to construct these houses. We had an excellent view of the sea and the golf course from our flat. Jai went to great lengths to do up the interiors and made the house look lovely. Savitri – a Kannada speaking lady with her young daughter Elizabeth moved in as domestic help into the attached quarters. Two decades later we caught up with Elsie, who by now was a smart girl and an owner of a bakery in the Navy Nagar. Vivek had his own room to run around. He also learnt to throw the feeding bottle after every meal, out of the window - a costly and tiring game for us. Long walks in the golf course, frequent dips in the pool, visits to the children’s park kept the entire family busy. Jai took time off from the daily house chores and decided to complete her BA (Eng Hon) from St Xavier’s. I took leave to look after Vivek. Every morning I used to drop my son with my in laws in Marine Drive and proceeded to the ship to chit chat with friends and have a glass of beer. That was some looking after.

Son with maternal GF in Swathi

Stay in Swati was very short lived (6 months) and we were transferred to my Alma Mater ‘INS Dronacharya’ (Naval school for guns and missiles) in fort Kochi. This was our first out of station transfer, which meant packing all our belongings in wooden boxes and steel trunks. I shared a truck with Deshpande and sent the luggage in advance to Kochi. Transfers are painful – leaving behind the comfort of settled house, known environment, good friends, above all the familiar surroundings. Jai was leaving behind her parents, Mumbai, friends, collage, Marine Drive and a bagful of childhood and adolescent experience, for the first time. We reached Kochi on 10 Jul 1979 and Jai’s father passed away on the 11th of Jul and the Sky Lab crashed on the 12th on earth. All flights were cancelled and we had a tough time reaching Bangalore.

After we returned to Kochi we took up residence in a colony outside the naval establishment. Our 4th house was a duplex with assortment of small, dingy and purposeless rooms. The only thing I remember is – a parrot in the house opposite – which would endlessly repeat ‘Cat came and ate the Parrot’ in Malayalam - Vivek was fascinated by its talk - boy named Manoj whom my son used to call ’Buttonnne’- Vivek wearing my drill boots and falling down – throwing a boot polish tin into the toilet. Within a few months I was allotted a first floor house, inside the naval establishment – what a relief – we spent our entire life in that huge house sitting in the balcony and watching the sea, boats sailing, ships leaving and entering harbor, sea gulls flying in gay abandon, waves breaking regularly, fascinating sunsets, hearing the constant rustle of the sea and taking in lungs full of fresh sea breeze - we couldn’t have asked for more. Our second child was conceived in this house. The beach was just hundred yards from our house and the families loved taking their children to play and frolic in the sand. Beach parties with barbeques and camp fire were common. Our happiness was abruptly terminated and was transferred back to Mumbai – they said it was “Good for my career”. Like a bad coin I was back to Mumbai in June 1980.

We shifted into Krishna Mahal. My new job involved lengthy sea voyages and long absence from home. Vivek joined a very interesting school ‘Balvikas’ near the Brabourne Stadium. Jai, by now was three months pregnant, a huge house to look after, manage Vivek and my absence - a lot to ask for, from a twenty four year old. Akhila joined us in December 1980. Both our children were born in the naval hospital ‘INHS Ashvini’. An interesting aside. I had to pay an astronomical sum of Rs 16 and later on Rs 22 as hospital charges for delivery of our son and daughter in Ashvini. The family was complete. We used to have a constant flow of relatives and friends visiting us and Mumbai. 18 months in this house, it was once again time for packing. In the ensuing time we had added a few more packing boxes and one more person to look after. Travelling by train was great fun and all of us used to look forward to it. We generally got a coupe or a four berther to ourselves.

The problem with transfers is having to live in different houses – the curtains never fit exactly, glasses and crockery break without informing you and the eternal fear of losing your entire luggage in one go is always there to haunt you. I still remember the case of Commander Sabarwal.He was transferred to Port Blair – Andamans. He requested his air force friend to ferry his household effects in a Dakota aircraft. On route, over the vast expanse of Bay of Bengal, one engine of the aircraft failed and the pilot had to lose weight to remain flying on one engine. Sabarwal’s entire household effects were the first to be jettisoned in preference to goats he was carrying. Just when the LOH has taught the domestic help all the tricks of the trade, it’s time for transfer. The tea never tastes the same; chapattis come in different sizes and shapes and we have no quality control over our neighbors.

We reached Wellington – Connor in December 1981to commence my Staff College. We moved into a beautiful house on the Gorkha Hill, overlooking a valley. New school for my son, pony rides every evening, fresh vegetables, array of flowers everywhere in the house, picnics, endless parties, treasure and scavenger hunts were the new addition to our way of life. The children had to battle constantly with fleas, till we learnt to rinse all their clothes in eucalyptus oil. One learns a lot on transfers. I suddenly realized that my whisky was losing potency by the day and was unable to pin point the reason. One cold morning I caught my domestic help old Velamma having a swig directly from the whisky bottle. Later on I came to know that she would add equal amount of water to fool me. I struck a deal with her - she would bring fresh flowers every morning and barter it for a shot of rum – her husband was a gardener. The deal worked exceedingly well – the house wore a new look and Velamma appeared more spirited. Our domestic help ‘Rukmini’ looked after the house so well, Jai had all the time to enjoy Connor. It was time to move again.

Pony rides for the children - Coonor

Receiving my Post Graduation Certificate from Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw

We reached New Delhi in December 1982, when the whole city was preparing for the Asian games. The grandeur of the city and its ancient history showcased in various monuments, buildings, roads and parks can unsettle a first time visitor. This is exactly what happened to me. I was awe struck. There was a new sense of pride and belongingness in its citizenry due to the games. The city looked resplendent in the winter. We shifted into a hired house in the quiet environs of Sarvodaya Enclave. Architecturally the house was disjointed and inconvenient. The owner seems to have added one portion after another as his resourses permitted. Fortunately we were coming from Connor and were able to adjust to Delhi winter. Vivek joined Mother’s International School and Akhila joined her first preschool – a Play Home very close.

Delhi has its own character. A city of extremes – a very harsh summer followed by a biting winter. The entire attitude, lifestyle, dress, eating habits changes so drastically from winter to summer. Life revolves around coolers and air conditioners to heaters and sigdi. Weather plays a very important role. The weather is very healthy and the children rarely fall sick in the dry climate. Being the capital of India, Delhi never sleeps; there is something always happening. In fact Delhi is not a costly city to live; a lot of things like petrol, milk, electricity are far cheaper than the rest of the country. Food is another preoccupation with Delhites. There is variety of food to suit every palate and purse. LOH kept herself busy teaching English to students of Mother’s school. The extra money that came in was extremely handy. Jai’s sister- Girija, hubby Shankar and children Shreya and Karin moved to Delhi at the same time. We had a rollicking time together. My parents came and visited us twice and I was able to take them to Kashmir on a wonderful trip. After spending two and a half years in Sarvodaya Enclave we shifted to our official residence in Dhaula Kuan. The house came with domestic help ‘Jaganath’ and his entire family consisting of wife, daughters - Guddi, Muniya, Bittu and son Rajesh. The whole family looked after us extremely well – I had never experienced anything like this earlier. The entire family kept in touch for many years thereafter. When we retired nine years later in 1995 and returned to Bangalore, Jaganath came to collect a cycle from me and wish me good bye. Within six months of this royal existence came our transfer to Port Harcourt Nigeria. Like all Indians going abroad, we gave away a lot of household items to Jaganath and the rest we sold. Courtesy transfers, we were once again reduced to just 4 suitcases.

My parents with GC - Dal Lake Srinagar

We reached Port Harcourt Nigeria in Jan 1986.I have said a lot about Nigeria in Setting up a new house in Nigeria was an interesting task. The house was huge and had to be appropriately done up to receive dignitaries on behalf of the Indian Navy. As the Senior Officer Indian Naval Training Team we used to host all official receptions in our house.

With Shri Deb Mukharji Indian Ambassador to Nigeria

Giving haircut to son. Nigerian barbers are chary of cutting straight hair.

Jai sparking - Deepavali in Port Harcourt Nigeria

After 18 months in Nigeria, we were back in Mumbai in August 1987.Fortunately I got an out of turn allotment of accommodation, as I was taking up a critical job. So we moved into our 11th house in 10 years of married life - ‘Ahilya’ located next to naval hospital ’Ashvini’. We had a beautiful view of the sea from our bed room. Our luggage came by air. All my crystal had been shattered during the transportation – a great loss. Lot of time, effort and money was spent in doing up the house all over again. Finding a school for the children in August, in Mumbai was a herculean task. Finally we got seats in Dunnes Institute Colaba run by a navy wife Mrs. Roy Milan. In spite of all its short comings, Dunnes was an oasis for naval children who landed up in midterm looking for admission. You could find children who had returned from Russia, Germany, Nigeria and England – an international congregation of sorts. Vivek took up sailing and crewed for Nitin Mongia the World and Asian O K Dinghy champion in the ‘International Cadet Class World Sailing Championships 1988’ held in the naval sailing club and won a medal. Jai completed her BEd from Bombay University with distinction and life moved on. Jai’s cousin Shyam met Shree in our house and selected each other as life partners. It was a very happy and lucky house. I was transferred to Vizag in November 1988 to take command of a warship ‘INS Dunagiri’

Son at the Naval Sailing Club

Vivek with "World Cup" in hand at Ahilya

Once again we got an out of turn allotment of accommodation and moved into the 9th floor of ‘Meghna’ overlooking the Eastern Ghats and Dolphin Hill. I was constantly at sea. Jai took up a teaching job and the children got busy with their new school and catching up old friends. It was here the four legged sweet heart ‘Button’ joined the family. More about him at - experienced our first robbery, when a chap broke into the house in broad daylight and took away a VCR and some silver jewellery. Very often we had power failures and had to climb up nine floors – not a very pleasant task after a good dinner. I believe, a gentleman had more drinks than usual one night and was slightly disoriented. He climbed ten floors with great difficulty, only to realize in the end that he had come to a wrong building. He was high alright. Come December 1990, I was transferred to New Delhi once again.

View of Rishi Konda beach - Off Vizag

On the Fore Castle of INS Dunagiri

Initially we spent six months in the Kotah House on Shahjahan Marg. The accommodation was a makeshift arrangement, consisting of one room, enclosed balcony and a bath. We led a totally carefree and happy existence – Munna Lal brought the morning tea, breakfast and the food from the mess and kept the cabin clean. Dhobi did all the clothes and we did not have to lift a finger. In one big deluge, water got into the luggage room and we lost some precious paintings done by Jai’s sister Bharati. Our dog button had a whale of a time hopping around in the grass and pretending to be a rabbit. Rest of the time he was busy chasing ‘Baldy’ the mole. We finally got our authorized accommodation in SP Marg, where we stayed till June 1995, after which we moved to our present location in Jal Vayu Vihar.

Farewell party to a friend in SP Marg

Sons room - SP Marg
In a span of 18 years, we had pitched our tent in 15 houses, children studied in as many as 12 different schools and we lived in 8 cities. The first thing I did, when we reached Bangalore, was to get rid of all the wooden boxes and iron trunks. It was a pleasure to finally move into our own house which we could call ‘Home’ for the first time. When I look back at all the frequent transfers, upheavals and constant uprooting of the family, it appears frightening and I sometimes wonder how we did it and was it really worth all the trouble. Family was exposed to different people, cultures, traditions and languages – in fact each place was a new way of life. The exposure made us confident and wise. We learnt to deal with the vagaries of life – head on. We made lot of friends where ever we went and they were always there to hold our hand and guide us. The navy often steps in as family and provides the much needed ‘support system’. Transfers added more spice to our lives and in the end made us better people, more tolerant, less rigid and accommodative.


  1. Cdr (Retd.) S GhoshMay 9, 2016 at 2:24 PM

    Although I encountered just 3 transfers after marriage, the tenure of 12 years plus in the Navy during married life involved 7 house shiftings . And it taught us a lot - the check lists , packing , transportation , and of course son's school changes. All in all - a truly memorable experience .

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