‘Khushamat & Sewa’, The Art Of Appeasement In Uniform (Part-1)
[An anecdote from IAF]
Wg Cdr Unni Kartha (Retd)
Just after the 71 war, when I was a 21 yr old pilot cum officer, a ‘Co-Jo’ in Daks, still too young to scratch a notch on my front gun, I was made a ‘food member’ in Jorhat officer’s mess, besides officer-in-charge the piggery. A platoon of pigs were the first troops that I commanded, all of them very zestful ‘Sumo Wrestlers’, each about 300 kg.
The war had got over but everyone was still obsessively hungry, including my platoon, because they had little to do all day except to gloat that we had won the ruddy war with Pakis. My fulltime job was to feed around 250 odd hungry living-in officers, who were as hungry as my platoon of pigs. Most of the days the married officers too landed up in the mess with their wives and children, and that meant feeding around 400 people daily including my platoon. The trouble was that there was very little to eat in Jorhat those days and I refused to sacrifice my troops, the pigs. The officers, their wives and children ate Luncheon Meat, Frankfurters and Eggs that I got my GF in Indian Airlines to smuggle from Calcutta in the daily Fokker Flight, after reading the text book ‘Catch 22’, of Minder Binder and his Eggs. All in extra-messing, 5 Naya Paisa cheaper than ‘cost price’. My troops ate the Officer’s ration, inedible for humans, especially when cooked in ‘rape seed oil’. So everyone seemed to be happy and my career seemed to be progressing quite happily. Then tragedy struck.
A very senior officer in Eastern Air Command sent his son to Jorhat hospital for removing his troublesome foreskin. I was detailed as the ‘Foreskin’s’ Liaison Officer and told to look after this chap who was more or less my age, but a bit of a wimp. Well that was my condescending understanding of all gentlemen who would not unsheathe or flash their swords or front gun once in a while.
‘Go out of your way to be very nice to him, OK ?’, Goli Puri, the Mess Sec, ordered me, like ‘Centurion Pontius Buggerusall’ . So after the foreskin was removed, I brought him out of the hospital and installed him in the VIP room and started a convalescence and recuperation programme that included a 4000 calories special diet of everything that I could pilfer from the ‘free ration’, plus sausages, luncheon meat and eggs that my Indian Airlines GFs brought from Calcutta. There was a limit to what he could eat, but I insisted that he eat more, ‘come on you bastard, eat more’, I said to him emulating venerable Maj Bhatia who was our catering officer in NDA who loved the 1500 cadets like his own son, part of the group. Not satisfied with the level of service that I was to provide to the ‘Foreskin’, I value added his convalescence with daily visits to Dropping Zone (DZ) 46 in Mariani on my Jawa motor bike to exercise his bayonet under my tutelage. As a RIMC and NDA bred rascal, it was after all my duty to do one better than what I was told to do, ‘to go out of my way to be extra nice to him’. Show ‘Khushamat & Ati Vishishta Sewa’.
After ten days of all this ‘Sewa’ to Foreskin, the father of ‘Foreskin’, the very senior officer in EAC, came to pick up his son in a VIP Com Flt Dak. The PMC, the Mess Sec, and the entire ‘who is who’ of Jorhat lined up to claim accolades for Sewa to the Foreskin and Khushamat for the father of ‘Foreskin’. Looking back, I was not invited or ordered to be part of the line up. I just went and stood in line because I thought that was the right thing to do. After all, when I played football, the 12th man also lined up to receive a medal or cup (holy grail), that was what I had learnt about camaraderie and spirit de corps. To cut the story short, the Foreskin’s father went around shaking hands and thanking every one. When he reached me, at the end of the line, he barked, ‘Where is my mess bill ?’.
‘Ah, hmmmm, zzzzz’, I mumbled since I was most intimidated by this very senior officer who didn’t shake my hand or say ‘Thank You’..
‘Compliments of Jorhat Sir’, I stammered in my most subservient and sycophant voice.
‘No, I insist’, he turned to my very illustrious Station Commander.
The Station Commander was a very nice man, very erudite and sagacious.
‘Son did you make a mess bill?’, he asked affectionately.
‘Sure’, I said pulling the mess bill from my pocket.
That was my mistake. If I were not the supercilious kind, the one who did everything to perfection, I should have continued stammering and said, ‘Sir I forgot’.
I did nothing of that sort.
I proffered the bill to Foreskin’s father.
‘What shit is this?’, the senior Foreskin exploded. ‘Six hundred and forty two bucks for a few days stay?’, he asked with incredulity. I had only charged the usual VIP room fare, and the normal messing for two weeks. The whisky, sausages, luncheon meat and the bayonet practice in DZ 46 were complimentary, from my own pocket.
‘I say, this young man needs to be taught the right way to do things’, the Foreskin’s father instructed my station commander before he flew away from Jorhat with Foreskin in the service aircraft, without paying the mess bill.
I wish I had been taught the right lessons, the ‘right way to do things’. Instead I was sent on punishment to the squadron detachment at Mohanbari, where I was taught to fly aeroplanes – none took the trouble to teach me ‘Khushamat & Sewa’, or the art of sycophancy. I only feel sorry for my troops. After I handed over their charge, the entire platoon was slaughtered like the soldiers of Rezangla and they were not even given a mention in dispatch in the menu card.
Await Part -2