Saturday, August 29, 2015

Should Women Be Posted on Navy Ships

“Should Women be posted on Navy Ships? 

Well – I will not directly answer this rather contentious question.

Instead – I will delve deep into my blog  and pull out one of my favourite Naval Yarns.

This story happened almost 30 years ago – in the mid 1980s.

Dear Reader – please read this hilarious “memoir” – and you decide for yourself whether the time is ripe for posting women on navy ships.

LIFE AT SEA  
(A Naval Yarn)
Hilarious Memories of My Unforgettable Navy Days
A Spoof
By
VIKRAM KARVE  


WHO IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MAN ON A NAVY WARSHIP ?

Dear Reader  tell me  who do you think is the most important person on a warship?

“The Captain,” you would say, in all probability.

If you were a “technical fanatic”  you may say that the Chief Engineer is the key man on a ship  because it is the engines that move the ship.

Some die-hard branch loyalists would plum for specialist officers of their own branches – the gunnery officer, torpedo officer, navigating officer  or even the most redundant of them all  the communications officer.

“The Ship’s Medical Officer  the Doctor is the most important man on the ship,” the hypochondriacs would probably say.

Some would root for the Quartermaster (or helmsman) who steers the ship.

A Foodie may say that the ship’s cook is the most important individual on the ship  since good food is the sine qua non of high morale.

Aviators think they are prima donnas  especially on aircraft carriers.

Everyone has their own views  and you can debate till the cows come home.

But on this ship  on which I was serving  indisputably  without a doubt  the most important man was the “Fresh Water Tanky.

Of course  if you are fond of American spellings  you may spell “Tanky” as “Tankey”  like they spell “Whisky” as “Whiskey” – but that is a matter of minor detail.

And since the Indian Navy mostly follows Royal Navy traditions  I will use the British spelling – “Tanky”.


FRESH WATER TANKY

The “fresh-water tanky” is a junior sailor from the engine-room branch responsible for the fresh-water supply in a ship.

In my earlier ships  all steamships  there was an abundance of fresh water  and the “fresh water tanky” was an insignificant cog in the wheel  and most of us did not even know who the “fresh water tanky” was.

But on this ship  which invariably suffered a terrible scarcity of fresh water when we were at sea  the “fresh water tanky” was a VIP  the most sought after individual on the ship  so much so that even the Fleet Commander  a Rear Admiral  personally called the “Fresh Water Tanky” to his cabin at 0010 Hours – yes – at 0010 Hours – which – in civilian parlance means Ten Minutes past Midnight.


WHY DID THE ADMIRAL CALL THE FRESH WATER TANKY AT MIDNIGHT?

The “fresh-water-tanky” was fast asleep on his bunk in the engine-room junior sailors’ mess when he was rudely woken up by the Duty Petty Officer and was told to report to the Admiral immediately in person.

The “fresh-water-tanky” wore his overalls  put on his cap  and rushed up to the Captain’s Cabin  which had been commandeered by the Fleet Commander  as this ship was not designed to be a “Flag Ship” – and did not have separate quarters for the Admiral and his staff.

Also – in this ship – as is the case with most warships – only the Captain’s Cabin had an attached bathroom and toilet.

For all other officers  there was a common bathroom.

Similarly  sailors too had huge common bathrooms  one for senior sailors  and another for junior sailors.

Since the Admiral had moved into the Captain’s Cabin  the Captain had evicted the XO  who had moved into the spare bunk in Cdr (E)’s cabin  and the fleet staff had moved into various spare bunks  and a few junior officers slept in the wardroom.

It was terribly crowded on board  and the water shortage made it worse.

This ship was not designed for the prevailing hot, sultry, humid, sweaty tropical climate  where you needed to bathe at least once or twice a day to keep yourself clean.

The ship was designed for much colder arctic climates where you hardly sweated  and you could go without a bath for many days.

There were cultural aspects, as well, as far as personal hygiene is concerned.

Those people needed much less fresh water than us for daily use – they were not in the habit of bathing every day.

Even for their ablutions they used toilet paper.

On the other hand  for us  “Cleanliness was next to Godliness” – and we needed plenty of water for our daily baths and ablutions.

Also  our style of cooking required lots of fresh water.

Thus  this ship catered for far less fresh water than the amount required for our needs  with the result that there was a perpetual water scarcity  though ironically  there was plenty of sea water around us  but we could not use seawater for our daily needs.

Metaphorically  it was a case of “water water everywhere  but not a drop to drink”.

This shortage of fresh water necessitated strict rationing of water  which in turn entailed observance of a strict water routine  and water was opened for bathing only for a few minutes in a day.

But during this long sailing  even this bathing water routine could not be followed  due to some breakdowns  and water was opened only for a few minutes early at dawn for brushing and shaving.

All of us were without a bath for days  which made us feel miserable.

We were all “dry cleaning” ourselves.

And  so was the Admiral.

But now  the Admiral had decided to have the luxury of a bath.

That is why he had summoned the “Fresh-Water-Tanky” at this unearthly hour  well past midnight.


SPECIAL WATER ROUTINE FOR THE ADMIRAL 

The “fresh-water-tanky” reached the Captain’s cabin flat on the double.

He knocked  and a loud voice said  “come in”.

The “fresh-water-tanky” entered the cabin  and he saw that the Admiral was standing naked  but for a towel round his waist.

“I want to have a bath – open the fresh water,” the Admiral bellowed.

“Sir – You want to have a bath now...? It is the middle of the night...” the perplexed fresh-water-tanky stammered.

“Yes – I want to have a bath now,” the Admiral said.

“Sir  water routine is from 6 in the morning…” the fresh-water-tanky mumbled.

“I know that. During your water routine timings the water is pressure is so bloody low  that hardly any water climbs up to this deck  as everyone opens up all taps and showers on the lower decks…”

“Sir, there is a problem…”

“Don’t tell me your problems – you just do as you are told  and open the fresh water for 10 minutes – come on – get moving – chop chop…!!!” the Admiral barked at the nonplussed sailor.

The “fresh water tanky” decided to play safe.

He tiptoed down to the Senior Engineer’s cabin.

The Senior Engineer Officer had hit the sack an hour ago  after a hard day’s work slogging away in the bowels of the ship  and he was fast asleep  after imbibing his customary nightcap – a generous swig of rum from the hip flask he always carried in the pocket in his overalls.

The Senior Engineer was in deep sleep  snoring away  on the top bunk  above me.

There was a knock on the cabin door.

I cursed at being woken up from my sleep  and opened the cabin door.

The moment I saw the fresh-water-tanky  I got angry  and told him to get lost.

But  when the fresh-water-tanky told me the reason why he had come  I quickly got up from my bunk  stripped off my lungi and vest  put a towel around my waist  picked up my soap case  and rushed down to the officers’ bathroom.

Meanwhile  the fresh-water-tanky gave the Senior Engineer a “hard shakeup” to wake him up from his deep sleep  and asked for his permission to open the fresh water.


WATER IS A GREAT LEVELLER

Jolted out of his deep sleep  for a few moments  the Senior Engineer Officer appeared to be in a daze.

Then  as he recovered his senses  the Senior Engineer squinted his eyes  and he looked at the clock – it was 12:15 (0015 Hrs in Naval Parlance) – 15 minutes past midnight.

“The Admiral wants to have a bath now?” the puzzled Senior Engineer asked the fresh-water-tanky.

“Yes, Sir. He called me personally to his cabin and ordered me to open the fresh water.”

“What’s the fresh water level?” Senior Engineer asked the fresh-water-tanky.

“Very Low, Sir,” the fresh-water-tanky answered.

“Okay. We will conserve water tomorrow. Now –you just open the water for 5 minutes – strictly 5 minutes – and make sure you don’t tell anyone – let them sleep peacefully,” Senior Engineer said – while he stripped off his overalls, grabbed his towel and made a beeline for the bathroom.

“Aye, Aye, Sir,” the fresh-water-tanky said.

But  before he went to open the fresh water valve  the fresh-water-tanky surreptitiously went down to his mess-deck  quietly stripped off his overalls  picked up his soap  and put on a towel round his waist.

This furtive activity by the fresh-water-tanky was observed by a few engine-room sailors  who had come off watch  and were lying in their bunks trying to sleep.

Seeing the fresh-water-tanky stripping off his clothes, picking up his soap and wearing a towel round his waist – these sailors were roused into a flurry of action  and soon  all of them were seen rushing towards the sailors’ bathroom  clad in their towels.

I don’t know how it happened  but the “secret” news  of fresh water being opened at the midnight hour  spread like wildfire throughout the messdecks.

Soon  everyone was seen rushing in various states of undress to the bathrooms  standing naked under the showers  waiting for water to sprinkle on their bodies.

Yes  on this ship  everyone bathed in his “birthday suit”  even the officers.

On my earlier ships  where there was the luxury of abundant fresh water  it was possible for OLQ oriented officers to bathe in an “officer-like manner”  bathrobe, privacy of shower-curtain, et al...

But on this ship  water was a great leveler  and things like modesty, etiquette and protocol had no place in the bathroom.

The scene epitomized the famous Hindi proverb  “Is hamam mein sab nange hain”  meaning  “everyone is naked in this bathroom”.

So  whatever your rank  if you happened to be on this ship  you were “nanga” in the “hamam”.


IS HAMAM MEIN SAB NANGE HAIN  

By the time water gushed out of the showers  there were 20 officers standing stark naked under the 4 showers in the officers’ bathroom.

It was a tight squeeze  bodies rubbing against each other  hands with soap moving wildly.

It was a free-for-all  and in the frenzy  you could not even make out who was lathering whose body.

The TASO  an aficionado of sandalwood soap  would emerge from the melee  smelling of the strong heady scent of the aromatic herbal soap used by the Mallu Senior Engineer.

The Gunnery Officer  on middle watch  had handed over the deck to the cute watch-keeping Sub Lieutenant  and rushed down from the bridge without towel or soap – he would “bum” both from someone  as was his habit of bumming everything.

The cute watch-keeping Sub Lieutenant would go for his bath later  if he was allowed to leave the bridge  and if there was time enough after the return of the Gunnery Officer  and the water routine was long enough.

Or  the cute watch-keeping Sub Lieutenant would rather skip the collective nude bathing session – he suspected the proclivities of some of the rather bawdy officers who seemed to have a glad-eye on him  and he did not want to risk a repeat of what had happened in the previous free-for-all bathing fracas.

While the officers were enjoying their midnight bath  so were almost all the sailors  with all showers open full blast  and all the ship’s bathrooms filled with bodies chock-a-block.

The result of all of this frenzied full-scale bathing on the lower decks was that not a drop of water climbed up to the Captain’s Cabin  where the Admiral was standing patiently in his birthday suit under the shower.

Now  the Admiral was an old sea-dog  who had commanded this very ship  and he realized what was going on.

So  the Admiral wrapped his towel around his waist  and he marched bare-chested down to the officers’ bathroom.

“Bloody, Guns! What the hell are you doing here?” he shouted at the nude Gunnery Officer who should have been on the bridge during middle-watch.

Before the shamefaced Gunnery Officer could reply, the Admiral shouted at him: “Go and sound ‘Action Stations’ – come on, get moving...”

Then – the Admiral looked at the Senior Engineer and commanded: “You make sure the fresh water is pumped in full force till I finish my bath – I want the fresh-water-tanky standing by outside.”

As “Action Stations” were sounded  and everyone began rushing to his action post  the Admiral stripped off his towel and stood under the shower to enjoy a leisurely bath.

As the Admiral was enjoying his bath  his newly appointed cute and coy Flag Lieutenant peeped in.

Like most Flag Lieutenants  he was a pretty boy – a “Sea Doll.

The charming Flag Lieutenant was lucky to have served on comfortable ships.

The coy “Sea Doll” Flag Lieutenant seemed a bit shy and timorous to walk around semi-nude in front of sailors who were rushing up and down in the ships alleyways to their action stations in various states of undress.

That is why the demure Flag Lieutenant was dressed up for a bath in an “officer-like” manner – in a full bathrobe covering almost his entire body.

The Flag Lieutenant saw the totally nude brawny “Sea Dog” Admiral standing in his birthday suit”  stark naked under the shower.

Horrified by the outrageous sight before him  the Flag Lieutenant hesitated and began to retreat.

On seeing his Flag Lieutenant’s coyness  the Admiral shouted at him: “Come on Pretty Boy – hurry up  take off your clothes quickly – take off everything and come here under the shower – Is Hamam Mein Sab Nange Hain...”


EPILOGUE

I will never forget my wonderful time on this glorious frontline warship.

During my long naval career  I have served on many ships and shore establishments.

But  it was on this ship  where we had the best camaraderie among officers  and even our relationships with sailors were most happy.

Despite the tough time we had  and the hardships we faced  this was a Happy Ship”.

Maybe  it has got something to do with being “Nanga” in the “Hamam” ... !!!

Can there be any better bonding than being Nanga” together in the “Hamam”?

As I told you in the beginning – this incident happened long back – 30 years ago – in the mid-1980s.

Those were the days of the “all male Navy” – before the Navy started inducting women as officers.

But even now  the Navy does not post women on ships.

Now  after reading this story – what do you feel:

“Should Women be posted on Navy Ships...?” 

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
1. This yarn is a spoof, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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