Going back to Vizag, I recall the visit of Mrs Indira Gandhi to the Naval base. As part of the Naval tradition, she took the salute at the parade grounds where officers and sailors cheered her by taking their caps off thrice. I was so impressed that I told Admiral Kulkarni at a party that I would love to be Prime Minister only to take a salute like that from the platform, standing under the national flag. Some time later, Mr. Mohanlal Sukhadia, Governor of Andhra Pradesh, visited the naval base, accompanied by his daughter-in-law. She was to be escorted to the welfare centre while the Governor went to the ships and we met up with him at the parade grounds later. Sarala Kulkarni sent word for me and nominated me the official hostess to the Governor’s daughter –in-law (thanks grandmother for getting me to learn Hindi !). after I took her around, we joined the Admiral and Governor on the platform as he took the salute. Hundreds of caps went up and down thrice as the Men cheered the VIP. The Admiral turned tuned and winked at me and I realized he had told his wife to nominate me so that I could have my dream come true!
With Admiral Kulkarni in Vizag
The Navy Ball is an eagerly awaited annual event during the Navy Week in December. In Mumbai, it is held at the spacious grounds behind the Naval Mess. Admission is by tickets and open to the public. Over 6000 people attend this all night event which has live band for dancing and special performances be celebrities like Sharon Prabhakar, Jagjit Singh and others. The year Bobby was released, Dimple and Rishi Kapoor were on the dance floor, judging the dance contest and many of us entered the competition, only to get a closer look at them. When Mumtaz was a hot favourite, she came for the Navy Ball and we had a tough time keeping our hubbies from ogling at her.
A Navy Queen contest and a Fashion Show by leading textile giants like Vimal and Bombay Dyeing are the highlights. I feel there has been a fall in the standards of fashion shows over the years. I remember the tall and stunning Zarine Katrak (now wife of Sanjay Khan) Meharanvaz Patel, Dilbar Debara and Salone Aron who were so good on the catwalk.
In ‘86’, I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to be MC for the Ball. I was a professional compere (more about it later) but had not faced such a large audience nor handled such a prestigious event. Never one to let go of an opportunity. I agreed. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I was invited to MC the next year too! It was a challenge to keep the ball rolling, without a prepared script and playing it by ear. When the judges were computing the results of the Navy Queen contest, there were many voices from the crowd nominating me! No, not for my beauty but for my wit.
I am no beauty but leave it to the beholders to judge otherwise. To give them a chance, I entered the Navy Queen Contest in Vizag and was pleasantly surprised to be crowned First Runner-up. The experience with my first contest helped I guess! What I enjoyed was the catwalk with my hand on my husband’s arm. He should have got the prize for looking so dapper in his monkey jacket, part of his formals. Which reminds me of the Marcella front which I gave away to the ‘kabadiwalla’ (guy who exchanges old clothes for new vessels) thinking the rat had chewed off the back and sleeves. Actually, it was a net like material resembling a halter neck, to be worn as part of the uniform. Thank God, it was discarded by the Navy! Srivatsa was very proud of his uniform and would iron it himself to get the crease right. Every night, while I cut vegetables for the next day’s meal, he would press his uniforms and polish his shoes. Now you know what ‘ship shape’ means?
The families’ day out at sea, once every year, is a much looked forward to happening. Though we have parties onboard ships, we don’t get to sail on them except on Families’ Day. I could never enjoy the experience because I have weak sea legs. On board ships docked alongside, I would feel queasy in the tummy. Inspite of it, I went, because there’s the only time we get to see what our husband’s do. The most exciting sight is to see transferring of officers and sailors from one ship to another while it is sailing, by sliding across a rope, called Jackstay. I volunteered to do it but was dissuaded by my friends. I am glad they did though. I tend to be foolhardy sometimes! The ‘bada khana’ on the deck with ‘biryani’ is an unparalleled gourmet’s delight. Oh! How I miss those days.
When I had read Jules Vernes ‘Twenty thousand leagues under the sea’, I had never imagined, I would visit a real submarine. It is a fascinating invention of man to be able to have people living, under the sea. It requires a bit of agility to get into one, as the space is cramped and the ladders through which you climb, are almost vertical. For months, officers and sailors live under the sea, in such close proximity and one admires their capacity to do so without getting claustrophobic. I wonder how it would be to hold BIG BOSS episodes on a submarine!! Only those who pass rather stringent medical tests can become submariners.