Humor in Uniform : An “Astute” Officer

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This morning we had a Navy Foundation Pune Chapter Get-Together.

At the delightful meet of Navy Veterans — I met a Senior Navy Veteran — a course-mate of the protagonist of this story — an unforgettable character — Commodore “N”.

Here is the story…

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UNFORGETTABLE CHARACTERS I MET IN THE NAVY

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Every moment in the Navy was a learning experience for me.

I met plenty of unforgettable characters in the Navy — like “N” — an Astute Officer.

Here is the story…

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Humor in Uniform

THE ASTUTE OFFICER

Story from My Vizag Navy Days By Vikram Karve

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Let me tell you a hilarious story from my Vizag Navy Days.

This story happened around 34 years ago in the 1980’s.

If you are a Navy Veteran — and if you have served in Vizag in the 1970’s and 1980’s — you may have lived in spacious, salubrious, verdant Naval Park — amidst trees and greenery.

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(Sometime in the 1980’s — Naval Park “Annexe” was built — a “concrete jungle” comprising multi-storey buildings — but — I was lucky to get a house in the original Naval Park)

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The Naval Park comprised lovely old style houses — well laid-out in a rather expansive style with plenty of greenery space in between.

Each building had 3 Storeys — a total of 6 houses — two houses on each floor — with spacious terraces in between.

I was lucky to get a ground floor house — with a lawn in front — garage on the side — and — garden in the rear — a large “kitchen garden” in which some earlier occupant had planted with papaya, coconut, mango, chickoo (sapota), sitaphal (custard apple) and “curry patta” trees.

We were a mix of occupants in the 6 houses in our building — and in the similar block of 6 houses opposite — 12 of us with varying ranks from Lieutenant Commander to Commodore — from diverse ships and shore establishments — and the spacious common area in between the two buildings was called “Nukkad” — and we would have frequent impromptu “pot luck” get-togethers there — especially during “load shedding” (power cuts) — which happened quite frequently in the evenings.

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(Those days — it took 11 years of commissioned service to become a Lieutenant Commander — and — the type of married accommodation was the same from Major to Brigadier (Lieutenant Commander to Commodore) — so all of us lived together in common housing in Naval Park — while there were 4 separate Bungalows for Rear Admirals — and the C-in-C lived in his appointment house in Waltair near Vizag City)

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My neighbour — Commodore “N” was going on transfer to New Delhi.

We had invited him and his wife for dinner (his children were in boarding school).

He and his wife were leaving early next morning by the flight to Calcutta (now called Kolkata) — from where they would catch the connecting flight to New Delhi.

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(Those days — there was a Madras (Chennai) — Vizag (Visakhapatnam) — Calcutta (Kolkata) flight in the morning — which returned in the evening — and — there were hardly any other flights from Vizag — maybe just one to Hyderabad.

In any case — those days — since only Senior Officers were permitted Air Travel — most of us travelled by Train on the Indian Railways)

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As I had told you earlier — we had invited Commodore “N” and his wife for dinner — as they were leaving by flight early next morning to New Delhi via Kolkata.

Commodore “N” and his wife arrived dot on time at 7 PM in the evening.

The Commodore was carrying a large envelope.

Commodore “N” gave me the envelope and said to me:

“Keep this envelope carefully with you. You will personally hand over the envelope to Commander “XXX” in Headquarters tomorrow morning. I have already spoken to him. He will be waiting for you…”

I took the envelope from him.

“Aye Aye, Sir…” I said.

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(The Naval Term “Aye Aye, Sir” means “I understand your command and I will comply with your order” — the first “Aye” means “I understand” — and — the second “Aye” means “I will comply”)

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“You know Commander “XXX” — don’t you…?” Commodore “N” asked me.

“Yes, Sir — we were shipmates — he was Supply Officer on my second ship…” I said.

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(“Supply Officers” were renamed “Logistics Officers” sometime in the 1980’s after the “Supply and Secretariat” Branch (S&S Branch) was abolished and reincarnated in a new “avatar” as the “Logistics” Branch)

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Commodore “N” looked at me and smiled.

“I know you two were shipmates. Commander “XXX” told me about you. By the way — we — Commander “XXX” and Me — we have served together on a ship too. I can trust him — and — I can trust you…” Commodore “N” said, “You give Commander “XXX” the envelope first thing in the morning on your way to office — and I can trust you to be absolutely discreet about it — just keep it to yourself…”

“Of course, Sir…” I said to the Commodore, “You can trust me fully…”

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I went inside my study room — and — I kept the envelope on my study table.

The large size envelope was sealed — and was quite bulky.

The envelope seemed to contain a number of documents.

I wondered what was inside — probably some important documents — something classified.

I did not ask Commodore “N” what was inside the envelope.

It was none of my business.

I was curious — but there was no question of discussing the issue with Commodore “N”.

I would just hand over the envelope to Commander “XXX” in the morning — and forget all about it.

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Dear Reader — you must be wondering why Commodore “N” trusted me so much.

Well — let me tell you a bit about my “friendship” with Commodore “N” who was almost 10 years senior to me.

I first met Commodore “N” when he was a Commander and I was a Lieutenant.

Those days — I was serving on a Leander Class Frigate — and he — then a newly promoted Commander — he was the Captain (Commanding Officer) of a smaller warship — maybe you can call it a Corvette — but not in a strictest sense.

My course-mate was serving on his ship.

My ship had returned to our base port Mumbai (then called Bombay) after a long sailing.

It was evening — and — I saw my course-mate’s ship “parked” ahead of us — and — I decided to visit him for a drink and then maybe we could go out for dinner somewhere.

I walked down to his ship and climbed up the gangway.

I saluted the quarterdeck — the quartermaster saluted me.

“I have come to meet Lieutenant “A”. Please pipe him…” I said to the quartermaster.

“Sir — he is not on board…” the quartermaster said.

I looked at the officers’ state board.

Indeed — my course-mate was not on board.

“Lieutenant “A” has gone on leave. Is it anything urgent…” a gruff voice said behind me.

I turned around and saw that the owner of gruff voice was a short podgy man wearing sports rig — white T-Shirt, white shorts, white socks and white canvas shoes.

“I just wanted to have a drink with him…” I said to the podgy man.

“You can have a drink with me, dammit…” the short podgy man said in a commanding voice, “go and sit in the wardroom and wait for me. I’ll finish my walk — have a shower — and join you…”

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After uttering these words — the man continued his walk on the deck.

I looked at the quartermaster and raised my eyebrow.

“Sir — he is our new Captain…” the quartermaster said.

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That was how I met Commodore “N” for the first time.

He was a newly promoted Commander then — the Captain of a “Corvette”.

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I went down to the wardroom.

There was no one in the wardroom.

I sat down and picked up the newspaper.

In a few moments — the duty steward appeared — and asked me what I would like to drink.

“I’ll wait for the Captain…” I said, “it’s not yet 7 PM…”

“No. No. Sir — the quartermaster said to give you a drink immediately….” the duty steward said.

“Okay — give me a whisky and soda…” I said, “Do you have “Cutty Sark”…?”

“No, Sir — we have Vat 69, Red Label, Teachers, Black Dog, Chivas Regal…”

“Okay — give me a large “Chivas Regal” with Soda…” I said.

The steward placed a tray with glass of whisky and a bottle of soda on the table — and he said to me: “Sir — I’ll make some luncheon meat “small eats” — or something veg if you want…”

“Luncheon Meat is fine…” I said.

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I sipped my drink and read the newspaper.

After a few minutes — the podgy man (Commander “N”) — he entered the wardroom.

Freshly bathed — he was wearing a bush shirt, trousers and sandals — the favourite dress of naval officers in the 1970’s — most suitable for the tropical climate of Mumbai.

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The steward placed a glass of beer before him.

“Ah…” he said, “I always like to start off with beer — Cheers…!!!” he said — holding up his glass.

“Cheers, Sir…” I said — holding up my glass.

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(Sailors don’t clink glasses)

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After having a swig of beer — Commander “N” said looked at me.

“This bloody ship doesn’t even have a proper Captain’s Pantry. So — I prefer to use the wardroom. And — except your friend — all officers are married — can you believe it — I am “holding the deck” for the OOD — the horny bugger has gone home for a “quickie” with his wife…” Commander “N” said with a roguish smile.

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After some time — an Officer entered the wardroom wearing Red Sea Rig — he seemed to be the OOD (Officer of the Day).

I knew the officer by face — as I had seen him once before with my course-mate.

Commander “N” looked at the OOD and said to him:

“So — you “horny” bugger — you had a good “screw”…?”

The OOD remained silent — a slight blush on his cheeks.

Commander “N” said to OOD:

“Take proper rounds — and make sure the sailors are getting proper food…”

“Aye Aye, Sir…” the OOD said — he saluted — and he left.

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After finishing his beer — Commander “N” switched over to Whisky — and we — Commander “N” and Me — we sat — we drank — we talked.

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Alcohol is the original “social lubricant” — alcohol reduces inhibitions — when you drink together — strangers become friends — seniors lose rank-consciousness — and — that is what happened between “N” and Me — as we became “Booze Buddies”.

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Of course — we did not sit and drink every evening — far from it — once in a while — when our ships were in harbour — Commander “N” would send across a message — and I would go across to his ship for a booze session.

My course-mate was not amused.

“How the hell can you drink with our “old man”…?” my course-mate chided me.

“Why…?” I asked my course-mate.

“He is such a “pain in the neck” — bloody sadistic bugger — he has made our life hell…” my course-mate said.

“Well — to me — he seems to be quite an okay chap…” I said to my course-mate.

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When Commander “N” and Me had a drinking session — my course-mate never joined us — but he would tactfully disappear the moment his “old man” and I sat for a drink.

Sometimes — we — Commander “N” and Me — would go out for food — to our favourite foodie joints.

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Sometimes — I wondered why Commander “N” preferred to drink with me.

He was “miles” senior to me — and — the Commanding Officer of a warship.

I wondered why didn’t he drink with his course-mates — or officers of his seniority — but — I never asked him.

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Commander “N” was not a bachelor.

He had left his family behind in Vizag (his previous posting) — till the end of the academic session — to enable his 7 year old son to complete his academic year in the same school.

He told me that he had a 3 year old daughter too.

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Dear Reader — please don’t get the impression that I spent all my evenings in Mumbai drinking with Commander “N”.

Far from it — at the most — we met once a week — but — it was an enjoyable booze session — we would “top up” — and then — we would go out for food to one of those quintessential “late night” street-food joints in Mumbai.

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Then — my ship was off to the “East” for a long deployment — and — a few weeks later — suddenly — my transfer orders arrived — and — I was disembarked at Madras (Chennai) — and I proceeded to my new station — Jamnagar.

I could not meet Commander “N” on my way to Jamnagar — as his ship was at sea — and — I lost all contact with him thereafter.

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10 years later — in Vizag — one morning — as I was about to leave for work — the doorbell rang.

I opened the door.

I was surprised and delighted to see the person standing in front of me.

It was “N” — in uniform — wearing the broad stripe of a Commodore.

So — Commander “N” was now Commodore “N”.

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Earlier — he was “podgy”.

Now — he was “corpulent”.

“Bloody Hell…” he said, “what a wonderful coincidence — I am going to be your neighbour…”

“That’s great, Sir — when did you come to Vizag…?” I asked him.

“I reported last week and took over as the Flotilla Commander…” he said, “I was allotted this house yesterday…”

“My ship was sailing, Sir — we just returned yesterday…” I said, “Please come in and have a cup of tea…”

I introduced him to my wife — and — we had a cup of tea.

“We are old friends…” Commodore “N” told my wife, “and I am so happy that we are neighbours. I will bring my wife in the evening — we are temporarily put up the mess guest rooms…”

“Sir — you must have dinner with us…” I said.

“Of course…” Commodore “N” said, “We will “top up” like the good old days and have some good food…”

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It was a delightful evening with Commodore “N” and his wife who was a simple lady — she was friendly — she had no airs — and she was a good cook — a quintessential housewife.

Their children — son (17) and daughter (13) — they were studying in a prestigious boarding school.

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Mrs. “N” was a genuinely good neighbour — and she really helped my wife — especially when my ship was sailing.

Every alternate evening — Commodore “N” and Me — we went for a long walk to Dolphin’s Nose — followed by a drinking session — and dinner.

On the other alternate days — the officers’ swimming day — I went for a vigorous swim in the beautiful swimming pool nearby.

(Commodore “N” was never seen in the swimming pool)

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I noticed that — just like in his Mumbai days 10 years ago — Commodore “N” wasn’t very socially popular — and hardly anyone visited him.

My course-mates and “peers” — some of whom were COs of the Flotilla Ships under his command — they wondered how I could be so friendly with Commodore “N” — who they all despised.

They unanimously agreed that he was a “*******”

(I shall spare you the expletive)

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As neighbours — we had a very nice time in Vizag — like one big family — especially when his kids came home on vacation.

Officially — I had no interaction with him at all — and — I think — both of us preferred it that way.

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One year passed — and suddenly — Commodore “N” was transferred to New Delhi.

Commodore “N” wasn’t keen on going to the “Northern Naval Command” to push files.

He wanted to remain in Vizag.

But — they told him that he had spent one year in the “criteria” appointment and he had to make way for others to get a chance.

Besides — he had never served in Naval Headquarters as a “Babu in Uniform” — which was a must if he had to achieve higher Flag Rank.

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So — Commodore “N” was off to New Delhi.

All his “Official” Farewell Parties were over.

He did not have very friendly social relations with his course-mates and “peers”.

Some Officers serving under his command — like his flotilla COs — they did invite him for dinner — and they were happy when he declined.

As far as I was concerned — I did not have to invite him for dinner — we had dinner together so often — and it was understood that — after his truck was loaded and all his luggage was gone — Commodore “N” and his wife would spend their last evening in Vizag with us.

It was a wonderful evening — rum flowed freely — and Commodore “N” was enjoying himself thoroughly.

Mrs. N and my wife were engrossed in conversation — they had become good friends — and were quite sad to say “good-bye” to each other.

My children were sleeping inside after having their dinner.

We finished a bottle of Rum — and sat down for dinner.

After dinner — I pulled out my coveted box of cigars — and — Commodore “N” and Me — we sat in the living room — nursing a glass of cognac and smoking our cigars.

Mrs. “N” and my wife were in the kitchen making coffee.

It was almost midnight.

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“My flight is at 7:30 AM — I must leave at 6 AM — so — make sure you give me a “hard shake up” with some hot Tea early in the morning at 5 AM…” Commodore “N” said to me.

“Of course, Sir…” I said, “And I will come to the Airport to see you off…”

“No. No. You relax. We will say “goodbye” here itself…” Commodore “N” said, “I have made sure that there will be enough officers to see me off at the Airport. All COs of Ships of my Flotilla and all my Staff Officers will be there…”

“That’s good, Sir — a rousing send-off…” I said,“but we want to some to see you off. My wife and I will definitely come to the airport to say goodbye to you and your wife…”

Commodore “N” smiled like a “Cheshire Cat” and he said to me: “Do you know what is in that envelope I gave you…?”

“No, Sir…” I said.

“The envelope contains ACRs of all Flotilla COs and my Staff Officers…” Commodore “N” said.

“ACRs…?” I said, surprised.

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(“ACR” stands for “Annual Confidential Report” — the Performance Appraisal Report for Naval Officers)

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Commodore “N” smiled.

“Yes — the envelope contains the ACRs of my officers — they don’t know this — no one else knows — only you know this now — and — of course — Commander “XXX” in Headquarters — who will hand over the envelope to the secretary of the big boss personally…” Commodore “N” said.

I remained silent — waiting for him to continue.

Commodore “N” took a puff on his cigar and said:

“I told my Flotilla COs and Staff Officers to submit their ACR forms to me 10 days ago.

Since then — I have kept them on tenterhooks.

They have been hounding my staff officer asking him whether I had written their ACRs and forwarded them to the Reviewing Officer (RO) in Headquarters.

So — I told my staff officer to tell them that I would be taking their ACR Forms with me to Delhi — I would fill up their ACRs in leisure once I reach Delhi — and send them to the RO from there…”

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“Sir — why the suspense…?” I asked.

“The bastards hate me — once they know that I have filled up their ACRs and sent them to the RO — they won’t even show me their bloody face. Now — they are going out of their way to please me…” Commodore “N” said, “Have you heard of the “Recency Effect”…?”

“Yes, Sir — we give undue importance to recent events and information…”

“That’s right…” Commodore “N” said, “Now — all these bloody officers think that what they do in these last few days will have maximum impact on their ACRs — so I am making them run around doing all my jobs…”

“I have been seeing that, Sir — the way they have been helping you in packing and doing everything. I thought they were doing it out of “Goodwill”…” I said to him.

“Goodwill”…” he laughed, “yes — “ACR Goodwill” — or — rather “ACR Motivation” — that’s the only motivation in the Navy…”

Commodore “N” looked at me and said:

“Mark my words — if I had told those bastards that I had filled up their ACRs — not even a single bugger would have turned up at the airport to see me off — now — all of them will be standing in a line at the airport to see me off — in fact — they may even come here with breakfast early in the morning…”

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“Sir — I don’t think that’s true — I am sure they respect you…” I said to Commodore “N”.

“You are a good-natured genuine simpleton…” Commodore “N” said. “That’s why I like you so much…”

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The ladies came out of the kitchen.

Commodore “N” extinguished his cigar and rose from his seat.

Before he left — Commodore “N” said to me:

“On second thoughts — I think I’ll make the buggers sweat a bit more — some of my Flotilla Officers are from Delhi — so I’ll make them organize a few things for me over there.

You don’t give the envelope to Commander “XXX” tomorrow.

You keep the envelope safely with you.

I will call you from Delhi and tell you when to give the ACRs to Commander “XXX”.

I’ll speak to Commander “XXX” and tell him…”

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“Aye Aye, Sir…” I said.

Next morning — I saw a large number of Officers and their Wives present to say “goodbye” to Commodore “N” and his wife — at his house and at the airport too.

It was amusing to see the sycophancy and fake emotions on display.

A few ladies even broke into fake tears — saying how “sad “ they were that Commodore “N” and his wife were going away.

I think my wife and I were the only persons who were genuinely sad to see them go.

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One week later — Commodore “N” called me on telephone from Delhi — and he told me to hand over the sealed envelope containing the ACRs to Commander “XXX”.

— — — *** — — –

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EPILOGUE

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Sometime ago — I posted a spoof on Performance Appraisal in the Armed Forces — How to Write ACRs — in my Blog.

I was delighted to see that this story evoked a vibrant response and resulted in a very interesting discussion and insightful comments on the social media by fellow Military Veterans of all the 3 Defence Services.

I learnt that the processing of ACRs (Annual Confidential Reports) was different in the 3 Services.

During the discussion on my blog mentioned above — I learnt from Army Veterans — that — in the Army — the IO shows the ACR to the appraisee officer.

However — during my days in the Navy — you filled up Part 1 of the ACR Form (comprising your personal particulars, duties performed, choice of appointment and courses, medical category etc) — and — you handed over the ACR Form to your Boss (Initiating Officer or IO) for further action — and you did not see your ACR Form after that.

Thereafter — you have no clue what happens to your ACR — unless — your Boss (IO) decides to give you an “adverse report” (below 5 points) — in which case — you are required to sign on the adverse remark in your ACR.

I remember a Captain threatening his officers that if they didn’t “shape up” professionally and do their jobs properly — he would make them sign on their ACR (indicating that he would give them an adverse remark).

But normally — you filled up Part 1 of your ACR Form — gave it to your Boss (IO) — and you forgot about it.

This reminded me of the story I have posted above.

I hope you enjoyed the story.

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VIKRAM KARVE

Copyright © Vikram Karve
1. If you share this post, please give due credit to the author Vikram Karve
2. Please DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. Please DO NOT Cut/Copy/Paste this post
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Disclaimer:

  1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, 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.
  3. E&OE

Copyright Notice:

No part of this Blog may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the Blog Author Vikram Karve who holds the copyright.

Copyright © Vikram Karve (all rights reserved)

Link to my original post in my Blog Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: http://karvediat.blogspot.com/2020/04/humor-in-uniform-astute-commodore.html

This story is also posted in my writing blog at urls: https://karve.wordpress.com/2020/08/11/humor-in-uniform-the-astute-commodore-story-from-my-vizag-navy-days/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2020/04/15/the-astute-commodore/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2021/04/27/humor-in-uniform-the-astute-officer/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2021/10/21/the-astute-officer-story-from-my-navy-days/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2022/02/07/humor-in-uniform-an-astute-officer/ and https://karve.wordpress.com/2022/05/08/humor-in-uniform-the-astute-officer-2/ etc.

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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A creative person with a zest for life, alumnus IIT Delhi, Lawrence School Lovedale, Vikram Karve is a retired Navy Officer turned full time Writer and Blogger

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Vikram Karve

Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, alumnus IIT Delhi, Lawrence School Lovedale, Vikram Karve is a retired Navy Officer turned full time Writer and Blogger

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