Thursday, March 31, 2011

File pushers of - Naval Headquarters

On passing out of Defence Services Staff College Wellington, Tamil Nadu, in Dec 1982, I was allowed to add the letters ‘psc’ (passed staff course) after my name. (A tradition which started in 1864 at the Royal Military College in Camberley. The tradition continues till this day).The Aim of the Staff Course is to train selected officers of the three Services in command and staff functions in peace and war in their own service, inter-service and joint service environment, and provide related general education to enable them to perform effectively in command and staff appointments.

With a psc attached to my name, I landed in Naval Headquarters – New Delhi in Dec 1982 as an ‘Assistant Director’ (AD). I was told that serving in NHQ, was like being in close proximity of God – all powerful and the ultimate decision maker. It gave me a new sense of pride and commitment and I took my office with renewed vigor and determination to serve the navy better.

All my earlier experience of the navy was limited to serving on ships – the operational end of the navy. Work on board a ship is very simple and direct. A homogeneous body of trained men, work in tandem to keep the ship afloat, moving and fighting. One works in a pyramid, with captain on the top and the junior most sailors at the bottom. Each one takes up a position in the pyramid depending on the seniority in the pecking order. There is no doubt or confusion. The captain says “fire the gun” you just obey and fire – QED

As my family was still in Bangalore, I was given accommodation in the Officers Mess in ‘Kotah House’ located on the majestic Shahjahan road. The erstwhile state house of the ‘Maharajah of Kotah’. I am not sure who was the owner when I moved in – I think it was in the process of being handed over to the navy from the army. Over the years it had deteriorated due to poor maintenance and neglect. During the 1962 war, a state room on the first floor was converted into temporary rooms to accommodate air force pilots from USA. It was more of a caboose taken out of Louisiana swamp prison in the movie ‘Nevada Smith’. You could hear your neighbor snore, talk in sleep, cold and dingy as hell. If one survived the night it was purely due to Gods benevolence and grace. Morning posed a different set of challenges. Shave and bath was a traumatic experience. Water, mirror, commode and a functional geyser were all distributed in various bathrooms. If the room had a mirror, then there was no tap – if it had a commode, there was no geyser and so on. One stood in various queues to complete the morning ablutions. Breakfast was yet another harrowing evolution. Unlike the navy which has trained stewards and cooks in uniform, the army has civilian employees called NO1, NO2 and so on, up to, I suppose infinity. These people were so old – if they remembered their numbers, they forgot what the breakfast order was and in rare cases when they remembered both they forgot who had ordered. In sheer disgust and mounting frustration I came down to sort out the matter once and for all. Along with me was a sea dog with many years of salt, serving at NHQ for the first time like me. When we angrily accosted the mess secretary, he told us calmly, “Please write a note on file and we will see what can be done”. That was the first time I heard the phrase ‘note on file’.

NHQ was a different ball game all together. Unlike a ship, you don’t live there, but come for work in the morning and go back home in the evening. I reported for work in ‘A Block’ hutments, which once housed WW II prisoners. With nobody to welcome me and not knowing where to go and where to sit, I approached the only officer to have come to the directorate at 0830 h – LtCdr Thirath Das. I quickly learnt that nobody comes before 9AM as doors do not open until then. He consulted a huge file and told me to commence work from Room No 53. My desk was juxtaposed behind a steel cupboard and a photo copying machine. Behind me stood a huge steel box, which I later came to understand was a safe for storing secret documents. The desk itself was full of files, many stories high, dusty and morbid. The overall effect was, I could not see anybody nor could they see me. Opposite was another table, slightly better placed than mine, belong to the Deputy Director (DD) CDR SV Gopalachari.

I saw a bell fixed to the right leg of my table which I pressed, hoping somebody will answer and get me a glass of water. After many failed attempts and a good fifteen minutes later an office help by the name of Bhag Singh in a ‘band gala’ appeared in the room only to reprimand me by saying “NHQ me AD log bell nahi bajate hain” (In NHQ Assistant Directors do not ring bells).In one go, Bhag Singh had punctured my ‘psc’ ego. Having been chastised and put in my place squarely, I then proceeded to get water myself.

I soon learnt that all work in NHQ is done on files.NHQ then followed an age old system called ‘Whitehall’. In this system each subject has a file and it’s called the Main File (MF). The official correspondence between NHQ and Ministry of Defence (MOD) is carried out on the MF. However all correspondence between various directorates of NHQ is carried out on a Branch Memorandum file (BM).All discussions internal to the directorate is carried out on Collation Cover file (CC). Sometimes the MF gets stuck somewhere or the other and to tide over matters a Part Case file is opened (PC).With the advent of computers, I am not aware of the system in practice today.

When the morning Dak (post) came to the directorate, all the letters are registered and sent to the Director (D).The D,then goes through each letter and makes his elaborate and comprehensive comment on the letter. The comments varied – Please Speak, Note Action, Discuss, Why, Urgent, Put Up and so on. The concerned clerk then files the letter in the appropriate file and marks it to the AD, DD and finally to the D. The comments by DD and AD would be equally illuminating - spoken,why not,discussed,action taken etc. Sometimes, the notations on the file could lead to hilarious situations. Late Admiral Subimal Mukherjee Once wrote on file ‘Parklam’, unfortunately his staff had tough time deciphering it. Parklam in Tamil means ‘let us see’, which was made famous by Mr Kamaraj the President of the Congress Party. Similarly Admiral Dawson wrote on a file ‘Why not Harry’, the staff had a hard time tracking down the nonexistent Harry. What he meant was ‘Why Tom and Dick and not Harry – what is the basis of this selection?

Work in NHQ is a painfully slow process. It is similar to the mating of elephants. Lot of noise, screaming and trumpeting in the beginning and results only after 22 months. Decisions are arrived at, after careful consideration, detailed examination, in depth analysis and at times by a committee of experts. Ministry of Defence also join this loop adding their own brand of bureaucracy and maximizing further confusion and delays. No wonder decision making is so slow. Once, as a commander, I had to accompany a Russian Naval Officer to Vishakhapatnam. Those days’ commanders were not entitled to travel by air and required special sanction. So a file was made out justifying the case – how my travel was important to national security etc – it had to travel 16 rungs in NHQ and MOD before it was approved by the Defence Secretary.

Writing letter in NHQ is an art. In the earlier days the language was very official, stiff and court room like. It would start ‘I have been directed to refer to… and to state that the presence of brown eared donkeys in Mandodari firing range is a cause for grave concern.NHQ is of the view ….. I am further directed to state… exercise extreme caution while opening fire in the presence of the donkeys … I am to request etc and an undecipherable signature below without any name, designation or office. They were ‘By the Order Of the Chief of Naval Staff’ letters. They were affectionately referred to as ‘BOO’ letters. They were in fashion till Admiral Nadlkarni put a stop to it and introduced normal method of writing.

Sometimes lower formation would call up and ask “I say what happened to the – ‘Sanction of air conditioning for missile storage at Goa’ which we put up one year back – it’s most urgent, please have a look”. You start looking and find that ‘D’ had noted ‘Please discuss’ and below that you find another innocuous noting ‘Discussed’ .With very little to go by, I would send a letter stating that “I am directed to refer to Sanction of air conditioning for missile storage at Goa and to state that the case is under active consideration …. A multi disciplinary committee is being appointed to examine …. Status will be informed in due course” and breathe easy for next one year.

If you wanted to stall an issue, all that one had to do, was to refer the file to someone totally unconnected with the subject “Deputation of sailors to Vladivostok for submarine detection training’ – USSR” – Director Civil Works may kindly examine and note comments. Sure enough the file would resurface only after a year or so.

Once a Brigadier met a young Major in a pentagon lift looking tired and worn out. Young man “why are you looking down and out”, the young major says “lot of work, sir”. The brig says “you must be new around here; the trick is to mark all files to Major Brown for comments”, the hapless major says “Sir, I am Major Brown”

Another syndrome affecting many staff officers in NHQ was use of high sounding words in notes and letters to score brownie points. All of a sudden one would come across words long forgotten and thought to be extinct – mutatis mutandis, ab initio, ibid, raison d’√™tre, ad seriatim, incommunicado, ex post facto, a priori, de novo and so on

Once, the PM, Mrs. Indira Gandhi wrote ‘Of late I have been receiving notes on file, which are very long and repetitive, making the reading very tedious. Please keep them as brief as possible. Brevity is the key to good writing.” This was sent down to all the Service Headquarters with a notation from the PM’s secretariat, saying “Please circulate”. One admiral took upon himself to explain the PM’s note in detail and wrote” The need of the hour is brevity ……. the PM herself has noted that we should not be repetitive as it serves no purpose. Using too many words to explain a point only makes the reading very tiring and does not necessarily convey the meaning. I request all staff officers to make it a point... from now onwards….. all directorates … etc – the noting on brevity went on to fill a complete page.

Cheers until next note.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We visited ‘Indian Naval Academy’ at Ezhimala

Out of station weekend trips are a welcome change to the mundane routine of the city life. Getting out of the city with friends even for two or three days can be very invigorating and provides the much needed change, which is always for the better. So we decided to visit the ‘Indian Naval Academy’ at Ezhimala , Rags and Meera, KM and Sudhi, Pondi and Ragini and the two of us left for Kannur by a night train on 11 Mar 2011.If you are planning to visit that part of Kerala, one needs to book tickets well in advance, as there is a tremendous weekend rush to Kerala and back. We had decided to carry home cooked food and I had indicated in advance who would bring what. In spite of a clear directive, the women in the gang decided to act on their own and brought food, enough to cater for a regiment. There was so much food left over, we had to request the TT to help us dispose. With an obliging and helpful TT, Mr MK Nair (Ex Air Force) we soon settled down to a comfortable night journey. All of us are getting old and require a lower berth. On line booking invariably lands you with one upper and one lower berth. Then comes the next difficult part – who will go up. Initially Jai was not convinced that I should be occupying the lower berth, especially when all the other ladies were comfortably nested in their respective LB. To make matters worse, all the husbands who had gone up were unanimous in urging Jai to sleep down. In the face of extreme opposition and constant enemy fire from different quarters, I had to plead with Jai to permit me to sleep in the LB. ‘Battle of the Berth’ was finally won. A difficult task indeed. I wonder what Mamta didi would have done, if she were to get an UB. All senior citizens should get LB as default option. – may be in the next Railway Budget.


Ezhimala is a beautiful village located in Kannur District of Kerala. It is about 55 km from Kannur. A flourishing seaport and center of trade in ancient Kerala, Ezhimala was one of the major battlefields of the Chola-Chera war of the 11th century. Ezhimala can be reached easily from Payyanur or Kannur. Wiki says “The beauty of the area is such that each side of the mountain drops down as breathtaking greenish valleys and then glides into the sea on one side and river streams on the other. The serene beauty gives profound joy to anybody standing on the top and looking to the west and sighting the white foamy waves gliding on the land as if washing the feet of the divine hill or looking to the east and setting sight on the most stunning heavenly greenish landscapes spread below the hill and climbing up to the Sahya mountains... Such virgin beauty is rarely to be found elsewhere”. Ezhimala means Seven Hills...it is believed that during the Rama Ravana war, Hanuman was carrying a huge hill with the death defeating medicine (Mrita Sanjeevani) to Lanka, to revive Lakshmana. On the way, a piece of that hill fell, and is known as the Ezhimala hills....containing several herbal plants”.

"When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused".- Rainer Maria Rilke

National Defence Academy (NDA) located in Khadakwasla near Pune was established in 1954 as a tri service institution to train officer cadets from the Army, Navy and Air Force. To augment the training capacity of the navy, Indian Naval Academy was commissioned by the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh in January 2008. Nestled between the imposing Mount Dilli, serene Kavvayi backwaters and majestic Arabian Sea, INA provides an idyllic setting for training with its picturesque and tranquil environment. It covers an area of 2452 acres along the North Malabar coastline. The Academy is presently training approximately 650 trainees and would progressively increase to about 1100 trainees by 2013. This would include officer-trainees from the Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and friendly foreign countries. The role of INA is to impart B Tech and Orientation Training.




Figure 1 - Location of INA pointed by an arrow
We joined Prem and Beena who had already arrived from Kochi. All of us settled down in our respective cabins located opposite the Ezhimala Beach – the accommodation cluster is aptly named “Samundar Kinaree” (By the sea). The remarkable beauty of the Ezhimala sea front is in its clear water constantly washing the pristine beaches, in the back drop of coconut grove and sloping hills ever so gently reaching into the sea. The steady wavy motion and drone of the waves, combined with shade and rustle of the coconut leaves is simply mystifying. Lying down in a hammock is the ultimate relaxation experience, until you are shaken up from the slumber by someone shouting “Dolphin there – where – there can you see and so on.



Figure 2 - View from our cabin

Figure 3 - Rags relaxing after a game of golf

Figure 4 - Prem with Ragini and Jai

Figure 5 - Another view of the beach

After a few beers, tender coconut water, G and T, we proceeded to have a sitting in lunch by the sea. Once in a lifetime experience made possible by the exotic location, sumptuous meal and great company. I decided to place on record the menu card for posterity.

Figure 6 - Lunch by the sea

Figure 7 - Truly outstanding preparation by the naval cooks and stewards

After relaxing for a while we set out into the backwaters for a bit of high speed boating. It was extremely exhilarating to reach 34MPH on the boat.

Figure 8 - Great feeling on the high speed boat. Notice the sea, beach, coconut trees and the inter mingling mangrove.

Figure 9 - Slower barge ride

Figure 10 - Mount Dilli in the background

All of us then went for a ride on the water scooter.

Figure 11 - A different experience

Figure 12 - Jai on a joy ride

Figure 13 - Cadets ready to set sail

Figure 14 - One of the many islands painting the sea line

Figure 15 - Jai catching the sun

In the evening we were invited to dinner by the commandant of INA Vice Admiral Anurag Thapliyal (Taps) and his dear wife Rachna to ‘Ezhimala House’. They are a wonderful couple, very warm and friendly. Together they made our stay extremely comfortable and interesting. Gracious hosts indeed. Their house is located on top of a hillock, overlooking the sea. Words fail me, when it comes to describing the grandeur of the house. Taps has taken great pains to add a nautical touch to the house.

Figure 16 - Ezhimala House

Figure 17 - Taps - Extreme Left discussing India – SA cricket match

Figure 18 – Rachna – Left nearest - with the ladies and KM

Figure 19 - View of a typical house

The next morning the Commandant took us around the entire academy. Academic, sports and other facilities which are available to the cadets is truly incredible, making it one of the finest in the world.

Figure 19 - Far view of the Academy


Figure 20 - Taps, Rags, Self, KM, Prem, Jai, Bina, Sudhi, Ragini, Meera and Pondi at the entrance of the naval college - ‘Nalanda’

Figure 21 - Olympic standard cadet’s pool


Figure 22 - Parade Ground
Taps and Rachna were there to see us off and I was presented an INA cap, which I have been proudly wearing ever since then. We returned to Bangalore,refreshed and cleansed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seasons First - Rains in February

Into each life some rain must fall”. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

All of a sudden the light started to fade and in a matter of few minutes the entire sky was covered with clouds. The atmosphere reminded me of my courting days when I was posted in Kochi and Jai was in Mumbai pursuing her BA English. She had taken to writing poetry in a big way. Not to be out done, I once wrote a poem which started “The clouds pregnant with rain” etc and sent it to her. As I sat down , to read ‘India after Gandhi’ by Ramachandra Guha , I noticed the clouds overhead Jal Vayu Vihar were once again pregnant with rain. In no time the clouds burst and gave way to a deluge. A very unusual phenomenon in end February in Bangalore. It rained incessantly for almost one hour. The first rains of the season.



Figure 1 - Water gushing down



Figure 2 - No let up

Rains are always welcome and they generate a lot of happiness all around. It somehow takes me back to my childhood days, when, we as children, used to wade our way through the flooded National High School field. Getting completely drenched, dirtying our clothes and returning home to a warm scolding was a delightful experience. Hail storm or ‘Annekal Malle’ (Elephant stone rain) was pretty common those days and we used to go berserk collecting the hailstones in buckets. Those were fun filled days.

You would have noticed a distinctive smell in the air after it rains. One of the more pleasant rain smells, the one we often notice in the woods, is actually caused by bacteria! Actinomycetes, a type of filamentous bacteria, grow in soil when conditions are damp and warm. When the soil dries out, the bacteria produces spores in the soil. The wetness and force of rainfall kick these tiny spores up into the air where the moisture after a rain acts as an aerosol (just like an aerosol air freshener). The moist air easily carries the spores to us so we breathe them in. These spores have a distinctive, earthy smell we often associate with rainfall. which accounts for the universality of this sweet "after-the-rain" smell - Net

The next morning paper reported that we had received 22 mm of rain – a record of sorts and upsetting the mango farmers in the state. It’s going to be one less mango this summer. The rain cleanses the atmosphere and takes away all the dirt from building and roads. The colony looked radiant once again.

The rains are a pretty thing to watch. The trees welcome them and commence their slow dance, shedding their old leaves, dead branches and most importantly the muck of the modern city. Scores of birds, insects and other animals, willingly join this watery ritual and revel in it. Whereas we human beings, sit inside our shell and are content to watch from a safe distance.

The rains at sea are totally different; it is more severe and punishing. There are no obstructions in its path and it literally whips you as it passes. Just prior to the 1971 war, I was posted on board INS Kavaratti and was part of a task force blockading Chittagong. Few days into the patrol, we ran out of fresh water and it had to be severely rationed. Bathing was out of question, till one day when it started to rain. The ships broadcast announced “hands to bathing station” – the rain dance that followed was something to remember and cherish. Rain is elemental and takes you closer to mother earth.US club in Mumbai without fail holds “Monsoon Dance” every year and lots of people attend and shake their wet legs – very popular with the children and teenagers.

Shankars, Dores and us with all the children had gone to INS Tunir located on the main land Karanja off Mumbai for a weekend. Whilst there, the dreaded “Elephenta Storm” hit us (A strong southerly or southeasterly wind which blows on the Malabar coast of India during the months of September and October and marks the end of the southwest monsoon). The rain and the accompanying wind was so severe, it was not possible to walk straight in the balcony.
In end April 2008, I came face to face with ‘Mother of all rains’ in Cherrapunji. Having learnt about Cherrapunji from day one in school, it was really gratifying to be there and get wet.


Figure 3 - Highway welcome sign


Figure 4 - Distant view of Cherrapunji

Figure 5 - Nohkalikai Falls Cherrapunji (‘Jump of Ka Likai’ in Khasi language - Likai, name of a local woman )


Figure 6 View from Cherrapunji Holiday Resort


Figure 7 - Yet another view from the resort

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Indira Gandhi stayed with us on board INS Mysore in Male

It was June 1974 and the sea was already rough and the monsoon was fast approaching. INS Mysore resembled a beehive, scores of people criss crossing the gangway bringing provisions, vegetables, poultry, meat and various other stores for our long voyage to Maldives. The good old ship was painted in side out and made to look like a young and shy bride. Trust the navy – we are probably the oldest in the game of ‘Make Up’. The voyage to Male generated a lot of interest in the ship and the Captain addressed all the crew informing that “The ship on arrival at Male will remain at anchor and act as the ‘Host Ship’ for Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s state visit to Maldives. All official receptions will be held on board the ship – etc etc”,

I as ‘Flag Lieutenant’ to Rear Admiral Narpati Dutta ‘Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet’ went along to receive Mrs. Gandhi. She arrived at Hulhul√© Island International Airport in an IAF aircraft along with a number of officials – Mr Kewal Singh the Foreign Secretary, Dr KP Mathur her personal physician, Ms Usha her personal assistant, Mr S Haider from the MEA, Mr J Lobo from the IB and many others.



Figure 1 - The entire Island is the airport - Net

Before I proceed any further - On 26 July 1965, Maldives gained independence under an agreement signed with United Kingdom. The Republic of the Maldives is a chain of around 1200 islands stretching 750 km across the Indian Ocean. The exact number of islands varies according to the season and method of classification - islands come and go with the wind, waves and currents! The tiny islands are geographically grouped into ring shaped reefs called "atolls" and there are 26 of these atoll formations. The Maldives has been a crossroads for sea traders for many centuries and the origin of the people of the country is mixed. Now, of course, the Maldives population of 240,000 is entirely Muslim. It is about 750 miles South West off Kochi as the crow flies. The archipelago of Maldives has been a constant source of attraction to many tourists all over the globe. Its golden beaches, washed by the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, are enticing to one who loves to venture into the sea.



Figure 2 - Location

It is really hard to recollect all the details of her visit to Male after a span of 37 long years. In spite of a very long gap, I still remember a few incidents which have permanently etched in my memory. She came across as someone full of energy, very inquisitive and confident. She knew exactly what she wanted. I was appointed as her naval liaison officer for the duration she was on board INS Mysore. Captain of INS Deepak - Capt Rajan Vir was explaining the beauty of the islands with such eloquence, she immediately decided to fly in the helicopter to take an aerial view of the exotic islands. Flying the PM in a single engine helicopter is a daunting task. Such was her excitement, nobody dared to say ‘No’.

That afternoon she was to have lunch in the Admirals Cabin as per schedule. All of a sudden she called me and said ‘Please tell the captain that I will have lunch with the sailors”. Due to her visit the ship was out of routine and all the sailors had already finished their lunch by 1200 h. With great gusto, climbing two sets of vertical ladders she reached the ships recreation room for the event. Seated next to her was a Sardar sailor with a plate full of food making polite conversation but not eating any food. She asked him “App khana kyon nahi kar rahe hai” (why are you not eating your food) to which he unwittingly replied “Madam mai khana kha chuki hoon” (I have already eaten). The ship caught unawares, had collected all the sailors on duty who were in uniform to have lunch once again. In her farewell address to the ship she noted “The navy can do anything, nothing is impossible – including making people eat lunch for the second time”.



Figure 3- With Captain Sethi CO of INS Mysore




Figure 4- Addressing the ships company on the Quarter Deck. Admiral Narpati Datta is next to her. Behind him, my right hand is visible. Ships 6 inch guns in the backdrop.


Figure 5 - Another photograph.I am standing between Mr Cohello the Indian Ambasador and Usha

We hosted a state reception in the Quarter Deck and was attended by President of Maldives, the entire cabinet and other dignitaries of Male. Prominent Indians in Male were also invited for the function. A gentleman suddenly came up to me and said “Hello Pabbi”- I was shocked to find a classmate of mine from the school days whom I had not met since 1963.Suresh was the son of our Hindi teacher ’DSR’ known for his story telling abilities. Suresh had come to Male to teach Mathematics. I also learnt that he had fallen – hook, line and sinker and surrendered his heart to a ‘Maldives Damsel’. The same evening we hosted a state sitting in dinner on the Quarter Deck. It was an extraordinary and amazing dinner with the naval band in attendance, candelabras, polished silver, sparkling glasses, white and red wine, nut crackers and many other items which go to make a perfect dinner arrangement. A gentle sea breeze and the soft lapping of the waves added the required ambiance.

The ‘piece de resistance’ was in the form of two naval cooks the ‘Baruva Brothers’ who had prepared the most outstanding meal for the PM. I learnt from my seniors that Government of India started ‘Ashok’ in New Delhi and the navy loaned the Baruva Brothers to help develop the kitchen. They prepared a dinner to be remembered. The dessert was ‘Rabbit in the Bush’, which is ‘Diplomatic Pudding’


Figure 6 - Diplomatic Pudding

Covered with a bush made out of caramel strings and red cherries strategically hidden in it. It’s really very very impressive. The PM was so impressed with the food; she insisted a photograph with the cooks after the reception. I served this dessert to my ‘To be in laws’ few days prior to proposing – it worked. Take a large glass bowl and pour the thin stringy caramel slowly into the bowl to create a bush. Wait till it solidifies and slowly release the bush from the bowl. Place the bush on top of the pudding and hide the cherries. This, Ladies and Gentleman, is the recipe for sure success in matters related to the heart. A Remy Martin later on, will go a long way, in further improving ones chances.

Maldives is a part of a massive underwater mountain range with stunning coral reefs on its edge. With around 2000 coral reefs, sandbars and coral outcrops, Maldives coral islands are a delight for scuba divers, snorkeling enthusiasts and people who love marine life. The coral supports a large variety of marine life and its sheer delight to watch fish of different size, shape and color occupying the underwater space. I have done scuba diving in many places and Maldives certainly stands out. Our entire spare time was spent underwater.

On the day of her departure, a sailor developed acute appendicitis and had to be treated immediately. The admiral and all his senior staff gathered around on the quarter deck, discussing various options. Treatment on board or in Maldives was ruled out and the option of taking him to Thiruvananthapuram was being considered. That was when I added my two bit and said “why not send him in the PM’s aircraft”. There was a sudden silence and the admiral said”hey that was a stroke of genius”. The others did not take it kindly. Cdr SP Govil the Fleet Operations Officer said” now that you have opened your mouth – go and organize the airlift”. It was not an easy task at all – Dr KP Mathur said “it’s ok with me but inform the Foreign Secretary” – who in turn said – obtain security clearance and so on till I asked the captain of the aircraft, who said “It’s pointless asking anybody – nobody will say yes and I suggest you bring the sailor to the runway and let the admiral ask her directly”. All the dignitaries were lined up at the airport to see off the PM. She shook hands with each one and came up to the admiral and thanked him for all the excellent arrangements. Admiral nervously informed her of the patient. The very next moment the whole atmosphere was electrified, the departure formalities came to an abrupt halt. She sent for the pilot and doctor and told them to embark the patient first, inform Thiruvananthapuram, have an ambulance and doctor standby and went on to personally assure the sailor.
The speed and alacrity with which she handled the situation spoke a lot about her as an individual and as a person in authority. A truly remarkable woman.