Sunday, April 14, 2013

Generally Speaking

Namby was ill at ease and very uncomfortable with his new surroundings. He somehow could not pinpoint the source of his discomfort. It had something to do with his retirement from the army. Lt General Ramanathan Nambeesan SM, AVSM, PVSM and the LOH - Pushpawati had recently arrived in Bangalore and settled down quietly in a colony built for retired defense officers. Namby had shed his uniform and hung up his boots about a week ago. Now sitting in a small patio sipping his morning chai, his mind started to wander. Life in the army was good – fair mix of work, leisure and sports, combined with a caring wife, constant love from the children and grand children; all this had spoilt Namby. As Commander – in – Chief, he had led a charmed life. Each day had unfolded on predictable lines. There was always a posse of people around him to ensure things went right. Life was perfect.

The morning after moving into the colony, Namby got up as usual and went for a long walk. Push had woken him up early and told him to walk the dogs, a chore he had never done before. At first he was very surprised that nobody recognized him and the usual hordes of cheerful and bright ‘Good morning, sirs’ were absent. He muttered - ‘What an extremely uncivilized colony!’ and continued his walk. Even more distressing was the fact that he had to put his two Labradors - ‘Par’ and ‘Birdie’ on a leash. The labs had been spoilt in the Army – running around the ‘Flag House’, chasing squirrels, barking at anything that annoyed them ,being constantly petted by junior officers and their ladies. P and B made it amply clear to the General that these changed circumstances were totally unacceptable – they barked their annoyance, ‘dogs do not retire’. They refused to do their potty. The old man, a veteran of many battles was at a total loss. How does one solve such a vexing problem? He could not go home and announce that P and B had returned without doing their daily ‘Doggie Poo’. Push would certainly not like it. Once inside their fortress, the general for all his 6ft height, weight and handle bar mustache, ranked slightly lower than Push. He knew, ‘When push comes to shove’, LOH could be really pushy. Junior officers sometimes wondered- was Namby, Pamby?

He came home and sat down to enjoy a cup of hot tea. Force of habit of the last 40 years, he started to look for the remote calling ‘Bell’ to ask ‘Bahadur’ to bring some tea. Push reminded him there was no B or B and he had to get up and make himself tea as she was going to Commercial Street with Bunty for shopping. The last time he had attempted to make tea was in his 4th term ‘Rover Camp’ at the NDA  some 40 years ago. All of a sudden, life seemed gloomy and depressing.

Push on the other hand had got acclimatized quickly to retired life. Unknown to the general, she had prepared hard. She had spoken at length to Bunty to get her a good cook and a domestic help. During her last visit to Bangalore she had selected these two life savers. In addition, Bunty had taken the LOH around the colony and introduced her to all the VVIPs - Dhobi, owners of vegetable, meat and grocery shops, plumber, electrician and the Estate manager. LOH with all her tact, diplomacy and remarkable ability for small talk had made a lasting impression.  

Shanti the cook had come and departed in a jiffy putting ‘Shatabdi Express’ to shame. The general had great difficulty in operating the microwave to heat his breakfast. Muttering under his breath, he said to himself, ‘I am a warrior not a ruddy technician’. Normally the ADC would have come by now and briefed the general regarding all the activities of the day. The Staff car would be waiting in the porch and he would have left the house to run the army. Today was different; LOH gave him a list of jobs to do – visit the Estate Office, vegetable shop and the bank. She told him, ‘Darling, select the vegetables properly and at no cost take what he gives’. He muttered, ‘I was running an army - you think I don’t know how to buy some damned veggies?’ Unfortunately for the three starrer, LOH heard it and added sternly, ’Anybody can run an army but selecting the correct vegetables is an art that does not come easily’.

Deeply hurt with the statement, the general gave his mustache a rebellious twirl and departed from the house to face the first day of his retired life. As a general rule, the retired lot, especially the males, find it extremely difficult to find ways to spend time between post breakfast and lunch. They invariably become a nuisance at home and are normally sent out on important domestic errands by their wives. Such direction impaired and time challenged people have a remarkable ability to congregate in public spaces. As the general walked past the Estate Office he noticed a group of elderly people sitting by the library in animated discussion.  With a little trepidation, he introduced himself and joined the gang. The debate was about the nutritional value of jack fruit as compared to drum sticks. A retired doctor from the Air Force was holding fort and expounding on the virtues of JF and reminded his audience that it is rich in dietary fiber, which makes it a good bulk laxative. Not to be out done, the navy Captain said ‘soup made from drumstick flowers, boiled in milk, helps to cure sexual debility and is also useful in functional sterility of both males and females’. The bald colonel sitting at a distance was not at all amused and told the sailor he had no requirement for this soup. The general found all this frivolous talk extremely irritating. He found the entire proceedings bereft of any strategic depth or tactical content. More annoyingly, he was not being consulted at all. In the normal course of events, all discussion would have stopped on his arrival, people would stand up to salute and the field would be left open for him to take control of the discussions with everyone hanging onto his each and every word. He muttered once again, ‘No respect for seniority’.

His visit to the Estate Office was also very uncomfortable. He was very curtly ticked off by an old and grumpy lady, ‘Can’t you see I am talking to the manager? Please wait your turn!’ He muttered ‘Never again will I come here!’ The old lady continued her barrage and pounded the poor manager with her water woes, as the General tottered out unheard and unsung.

His whole life had been turned upside down. The first day out was not at all encouraging – something had to be done, he did not know what. That is when he saw Colonel Prakash waving at him from a distance. He found a great measure of solace in sighting an old ‘Battle Buddy’; it restored his faith in life and brought in a lot of cheer.

They returned home. The General poured some chilled beer with a perfect head and said cheers to old times. The Colonel was aghast to see the General all deflated - like a day old Christmas decoration balloon. Prakash realized that he needed to restore the general quickly to mint condition. He made several calls in quick succession and announced to the General, ‘A four ball has been organized and we tee off tomorrow at seven’.

The general for the first time in the day, lit up. With his confidence restored he returned to his combative self. He suddenly remembered the saying which he had stuck on his office table - “One of the most fascinating things about golf is how it reflects the cycle of life. No matter what you shoot - the next day you have to go back to the first tee and begin all over again and make yourself into something.” Peter Jacobsen      

Well, he found he was ready to begin again.
A fiction based on a collection of different incidents.