Monday, March 31, 2014

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”

Last one year has been very bad for the Indian navy. The good image of the navy took a beating due to a series of accidents involving ships at sea and in harbour – some minor and some major. It culminated in the resignation of the Chief of Naval Staff. The media went to town tom-tomming the incidents. TV anchors saw a pattern where none existed. Facts were sidelined and replaced by innuendoes and bizarre theories. Some anchors become more vocal then necessary. Some appeared to be indulging in audit. Momentarily, TV reporting lacked credence. Not to be left behind, defense experts of all hues and colours added their bit to explain to the nation what was going on.

Now that the din has subsided, let us take a closer, professional look at these accidents.

Naval warships and submarines are exceedingly complex military platforms. To talk about a warship with any degree of authority, one needs to understand its mission. The fundamental mission of any warship is to float, move and fight.

The ship has numerous air and water-tight compartments spread over many decks. Scores of alleyways, ladders and hatches interconnect this labyrinth. As a midshipman on board INS Vikrant, I took nearly a fortnight to get to know my ship. Even after a year, I had not visited all the compartments. Below the water line, there are no ‘Port Holes’ or Scuttles’ – the sun never reaches there. The entire ship is provided with fresh air through a ‘forced ventilation system’ 24x7. A ship may have up to 600 km of wiring, taking electricity to every nook and corner. Side by side there are pipes carrying CO2, hydrogen, oxygen, air, fresh water and steam. Salt water for flooding and fire fighting and the list goes on. Sea water is extremely corrosive.

The ship requires enormous propulsion and power generation machinery to keep the ship afloat and move. Nuclear reactors and high performance batteries for submarines provide the propulsion. Ships require hundreds of tons of furnace fuel oil, diesel, petrol and aviation fuel for aircraft and helicopters. The platforms carries enormous amount of paint on its body. Three months of provisions is stored to feed the men.

Finally what makes warships and submarines unique as compared to any other military platform, is the fact that men live and fight on board. Equipment required to fight is another story. Missiles, gun ammunition, torpedoes, depth charges, rockets and numerous types of small arms ammunition is carried on board. On our missile boat, the detonators and flares were stored below my bed. During the war we all lived on board with live missiles for months on end. Strange and explosive bed mates! Fire and flooding are the greatest enemies of any sea warrior.

Ships and submarines operate in water. A small secret I wish to share with the general public. There are no breaks to stop the ship. In narrow horbours with ever increasing ship traffic, navigation is a nightmare. Sometimes things do go wrong when we go to sea. The famous quote by American Theologian William G T Shedd, A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for, is unquestionably relevant here. Sailing in rough seas is an extremely daunting task. Man and machine take a severe beating when the sea becomes uncontrollable. To be caught in a storm is a frightening and hellish experience. The sea can be cruel and merciless.

The reason these platforms stand apart from the rest is the fact that it is alive day and night. A ship does not shut down after 5 p.m. The element of risk is omnipresent throughout its life cycle of 20 to 30 years. ‘A ship never sleeps’. The galley is open throughout the day and night feeding hundreds of sailors.

To operate in this demanding environment we require a trained body of men. The Indian Navy’s most important activity in peace time is training. These complex platforms are manned by professionals with zeal and dedication. There are checks and balances at every stage of any naval operation. Standard operating procedures, check off lists, do’s and don’ts are the order of the day. A thread of accountability runs through the entire lot of activities. Responsibility and ownership are our watchwords.

A Board of Enquiry and Court Martial sets the house in order. Lessons learnt become doctrines.

Collisions, running aground, man overboard, fire and flooding are occupational hazards. An aircraft cannot crash on ground.

The Navy will continue to go ‘in harm’s way’ and has all our understanding and good wishes as it does so.

I will end with a quote:

“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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Holiday in Goa – La Casseta, Candolim and Calamari – 21 Mar 14

Some schools complete their term in March and give their children a 10 day break prior to starting the next academic year. This break in Ayaan’s school prompted the family to take a dip in the exotic beaches of Goa. When we got the invite, I readily jumped on to the band wagon; Jai was hesitant initially, but the attraction of being with the grand children was overwhelming.

We moved into the villa ‘La Casseta’ in Candolim - a very comfortable and well appointed 3 bed room villa with all the modern trappings and an attached swimming pool. Children enjoyed playing in the pool. Ayaan has learnt swimming and can swim a length. The twins are slowly getting used to the idea of water.

Figure 1- Villa 'La Casseta'

Candolim beach is fifteen kilometers from Panjim, beginning at Fort Aguada and merging with Calangute beach towards the end; it is one of the longest beaches in the state. I went to Goa as a tourist in December 2000. It has changed a lot since then. The tourists are omnipresent. The infrastructure has increased manifold. The approach roads are full of hotels, villa, resorts and umpteen restaurants to satisfy every type of culinary craving. During the day time it’s all about the sea, sun and sand but as the sun sets, the market place comes alive with colorful lights, music and dance. A festive atmosphere engulfs the entire town, like nowhere else.

The number of Indian tourists visiting Goa with large disposable incomes is on the increase. North Goa is no longer an exclusive hideout of the foreigners. Migrant labour from Karnataka, Bihar and the North East has found a livelihood in the ever increasing tourism industry of Goa.  

Figure 2 - With Ayaan

Figure 3 - Twins giving a serious thought

Figure 4 - Three generations stepping out

Each morning, after a good swim and breakfast at the villa, prepared by Reshma from Hubli, we would proceed to the beach. The beach is full of shacks providing shade and shelter from the elements. We decided to anchor in ‘Calamari’ – a clean shack with good toilets, shower and the rest. The weather was friendly and very comfortable in the shade with a fan. There is live music and chilled beer to uplift the soul. The sea was very calm and practically free of any white horses. Swimming in the sea is great fun and I was indulging in it after 6 years. Ayaan and I spent all our mornings in the sea, while the twins were content making sand castles in the shade.

Figure 5 - Akki and Neer in Calamari

Figure 6 - Twins enjoying the sand on the beach

Figure 7 - Jai,Neer and Ayaan tried their hand at para sailing - great adventure

Figure 8 - Rita and Ayaan bonding

Figure 9- Enigmatic sunset

Figure 10 - Calamari at night - all romance

Overcrowding of the beaches has its own flip side. Stray plastic bottles, vegetable waste from the shacks, plastic wrappers and similar objects do appear on the beach. The government needs to come down with a heavy hand and enforce ‘Zero Tolerance’ in this regard.

One of the evenings we went and had dinner in an exclusive gourmet restaurant ‘Bomras’. The food was exotic and worth every penny. The Jumbo Prawns in mustard sauce was the “pièce de ré·sis·tance”.

Figure 11 - The owner Mr Chris welcoming Mix.

Figure 12- Mix and Disha appear extremely contented.

Figure 13 - Neer, Akki and the twins, all pleased with the dinner.

Figure 14 - Jai and Rita all smiles

Staying in a villa and spending the day on the beach makes a lot of sense.The villa provides all the creature comfort and space for the children to run around.For a family outing 'villa shack combo' works out very fine. After three days of hectic fun we returned to Bangalore - completely refreshed and rejuvenated. The impromptu holiday gave us an opportunity to bond with the children. The sea is a great catalyst. 

Goa now has a new airport with a lot of teething problems (all of 32). They have to seriously look into overcrowding at the check in and security counters, cleanliness in the bathrooms, air conditioning in the top floor, parking etc.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Nuances of hosting a successful dinner party

We were planning to invite our close friends to dinner for a very long time. Due to a variety of reasons the event kept getting postponed. Who to invite is a very important factor. The right mix and match is essential to ensure the party ends up as a success. Putting the wrong set of people together is as bad as messing up the ingredients of a great dish. Individually the ingredients may be fantastic but together they are a total disaster. Well thought out variety is the spice of partying.

People fall into recognized groups such as immediate family, office crowd, school types, relatives, golf buddies, shipmates and so on. Inviting this homogeneous crowd poses no challenge. All the guests are acquainted with each other and have a similar background. The conversation progresses effortlessly and the alcohol helps it along just fine! But when it comes to inviting a motley crowd one has to do a little bit of thinking. Who will fit the bill?

I still remember a party hosted by Admiral Narpati Datta in the Fleet House in Mumbai – the guest list had Lance Gibbs the cricketer, Nutan the film star with her husband Commander Rajnish Bahl, atom bomb Raja Ramanna and architect Charles Correa amongst others. It was a great combo – the conversation was eclectic and the guests enjoyed each other’s company immensely.

Once I got caught with a group of hot Indian Air Force fighter pilots. With my flying experience limited to a few jaunts in Air India, I was totally out of place. Within minutes they were all air borne – gesticulating dog fights with their palms and making wild growling sounds.By the third drink they were firing missiles all over. In another instance, I was in the august company of singers. With nothing better to do, I started playing with the TV remote while serious ‘alapane’ was in progress and I accidentally switched on ‘Times Now’ with Arnab Goswami shrieking away in total ‘apaswara’!

Try and avoid the ‘know it all’ who will invariably occupy centre stage and pontificate on every subject – from mating of ‘Indian Bull Frogs’ to the ‘Theory of War’ by  Clausewitz. Also avoid the argumentative types – who will leave no stone unturned in their effort to prove they are correct - the Neanderthals were last seen 28,500 years back and not 28,250. Equally disastrous is a combo of silent Sharma and noiseless Narayana. They have nothing to say and can spend the entire evening in solitude.

Be wary of ‘Anecdote Aunty’. She has a bag full of stories to narrate and has come prepared to explode at the slightest opportunity. She will recall the train journey after their wedding night in 1963 from Bhatinda to Nanjangud or the great robbery when they were posted in Chinchpokli. With advancing age, the facts and figures invariably get mixed up; increasing the length of narration and help is sought from the ever-eager beaver, hubby dear.

Please specify the date and time correctly. One does not want the guests ringing the bell when you are still in the bathroom lathering soap. The other day, I answered the door bell only to find a nattily dressed couple with a gift in hand, looking rather aghast at my turnout in multicolored Chumbak boxer shorts. The party was on the 15th and they rang the bell on the 1st.Cataract I suppose.

Once the who, where and when part of the event is decided, the all important aspect of any dinner –the ‘menu’ occupies centre stage.

Ensure the dietary preferences of your guests. On many occasions, my dear wife who is a strict vegetarian has been served meat including ‘Bush Meat’ in Nigeria. Some are allergic to certain types of vegetables and sea food. Do not experiment on the day of the party – bring forth a menu which is tried and tested and eminently doable. I still remember, serving rich tomato soup to a cousin, who promptly acknowledged it with a ‘Good rasam, Pubby!’ A very conservative crowd may not like to stray off the beaten path.

So on 22 Jan 2014 after careful deliberation we served

The party was a great had all the right ingredients. Right mix of guests who appreciated the Mediterranean fare and good wine