Saturday, December 28, 2013

THE TIME OF MY LIFE XII...SHIP AHOY – LIFE IN THE NAVY

I joined the Navy to see the world. What a world! Of camaraderie, wholesome fun, team work and above all, concern for the other. It was the best training ground in life management. The environment is cosmopolitan and the exposure to cultures is enlightening. You are never alone. There is genuine bonding in the Navy.The only water I had seen in Mysore was the river Cauvery which looks so magnificent when the Krishnarajasagar lake is full. When the gates of the dam are open, it looks like baby Niagara. I love water. That is because I am a Piscean- fish in water sign. As a new bride, when Srivatsa took me to Mumbai, I was thrilled to see the sea. I can sit for hours watching the gentle waves lapping the shores or the turbulent waters hitting the sands. There is beauty in both. What luck I married a man whose work was to ‘ride the waves’.

A few months after we were married, Srivatsa joined Vikrant which had to berth in  Chennai for three months, during monsoon in Mumbai. I went too and stayed with aunt Nagarathna whose husband had retired from the coffee station and had an assignment in Chennai. I was expecting our first baby. As a junior Lt in the electrical engineering department, Srivatsa had to do night duties once in two days and I would bribe his bachelor colleague to do his shift, by promising him a dinner at home. Bachelors helped out their married colleagues who in turn called them over for a ‘bite’.

Sharing is the essence of life in the Navy. Since accommodation is always short of demand, it is common for officers and sailors to have their colleagues sharing their house. This calls for adjustment and tolerance which comes easily to naval personnel as they share cramped living space on board ships. But the wives too have to learn to live in harmony. When Vikrant sailed for three weeks to Middle East, Srivatsa’s colleague did not have a house so his wife stayed with me. We had a lot fun together, learning each other’s cuisine and comparing our respective husband’s quirks! We have also had friends staying in our apartment while we went on leave and some stored their baggage in our study till they moved to their house.

The Naval Officer’s Wives Association (NOWA) is a welfare body and I was an active member. During the 1971 War, the naval ship INS Kukhri, went down and 150 sailors and about twelve (I’m not too sure of the numbers) officers drowned. The President of NOWA, the senior most admiral’s wife, called a meeting and requested for volunteers to ‘adopt’ a sailor’s family each and find out what help they needed. I volunteered and remember how I ended up crying more than the unfortunate widow. We were to give a report about the financial and family condition of the widow. It was my first experience in welfare activities as practiced by an organisation. It was a fantastic gesture to involve the wives and sensitise them to the occupational hazards of their husbands and empower them  to cope with it. The defence Ministry subsequently came up with very innovative welfare measures for the bereaved women. In fact, every year, the Naval headquarters keeps adding to the facilities to its personnel, to make their life better and boost their morale. In the armed forces, it is how you take care of people during peace time that shapes performance during war time. Those who oppose increase in defense budgets do not realize what it takes for a person to gives his life for his country.