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.

3 comments:

  1. Hello Pubs Sir....what a breath of fresh air, reading your article.....took me down the memory lane
    Best

    Amitabh Joshi
    formerly of IN

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  2. Dear Amitabh,
    So nice to hear from u after such a long time.Good u liked the blog.Where are u now and what are u doing.
    Pubs

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  3. Very happy to read the article on INS Mysore.Dear sir vessel took voyage to Bay of Bengal in the month of June 1974 under the command of Captain M.P.Awaty.How ever in the same year end we sailed for Male,in both the voyage N.P.Dutta as FOC West. In Male we were in Jan 1975 where Capt S.L.sethi was in command, I was also on board in both the voyage and again we had madam Gandhi on board in the month of March in same year were again CNS Admiral SN Kohli was also on board.

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