Humor in Uniform : “PR” can boomerang

Vikram Karve
12 min readFeb 24, 2024



Story from my Navy Days by Vikram Karve



Humor in Uniform


Story from My Navy Days by Vikram Karve






Nowadays — Image matters more than Performance.

Hence — Public Relations (PR) has become very important.

We see the PR Hype created at the macro level (by political leaders and organisations) — on media and social media — to cover up mistakes and performance inadequacies — and divert attention from implementation failures.

Smart people are adept at using PR at the micro level too — for building up their “image” and furthering their careers.

In most cases — “Public Relations” (PR) works well.

But sometimes — “PR” can boomerang…!!!

Here is a story of “Public Relations” (PR) in Uniform…



A Case of “Effective” Communication

Hilarious Memories of My Glorious Navy Days

Spoof By Vikram Karve




If you have read the inimitable war novel CATCH-22 — you will surely remember the episode of “generic condolence letters” in Chapter 31 of the book.

In his desperation to get promoted to General — the ambitious Group Commander Colonel Cathcart devises a stratagem of personally sending letters of condolence to the “next of kin” of all those killed in action.

Colonel Cathcart he feels that this initiative may help him get positive publicity — though — in actual fact — Colonel Cathcart is least concerned about the lives of the men under his command.

As is customary in impersonal formal military correspondence — a prescribed “standard format” is prepared for these “generic condolence letters”.

And — copies of the standardized “condolence letter” are cyclostyled and kept ready as a form.

So — whenever a casualty occurs — only the name of the casualty has to be inserted in the “condolence letter” — and the letter can be speedily dispatched to the next-of-kin.

The moment there is a fatal casualty — and someone is “Killed in Action” (KIA) — or is — “Missing in Action” — the dead or missing man’s name is promptly inserted in the form — and the “condolence letter” is immediately put up to the Air Group Commander — Colonel Cathcart — for his signature — and once he signs the “condolence letter” — the letter is dispatched.


The standardized “condolence letter” reads:

Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs.

Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action.


One day Doc Daneeka — a squadron medical officer is declared dead by mistake.

Doc Daneeka is actually alive.

But — Doc Daneeka is officially “declared dead” — since his name was falsely entered in the flight manifest (to enable him to claim fight pay without actually flying) — and the aircraft crashes into the sea.

The moment the “alive and kicking” Doc Daneeka is officially “declared dead” — a standardized “condolence letter” from Colonel Cathcart is promptly dispatched to Doc Daneeka’s wife:

Dear Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. Daneeka:

Words cannot express the deep personal grief I experienced when your husband, son, father, or brother was killed, wounded, or reported missing in action.


What follows is hilarious.

When Mrs. Daneeka receives the “condolence letter” — at first — on hearing the news of her husband’s “death” — Mrs. Daneeka is distraught.

But soon — money starts flowing in — huge insurance amounts, widow’s pensions, various gratuities, ex-gratia payments, allowances and various types of monetary benefits — a substantial fortune — and — Mrs. Daneeka realizes that — strictly from the financial point of view — she is much better-off with her husband dead — rather than alive.

While — financially — she is cheered by her new measure of wealth — socially — not only does she gain sympathy — but she also experiences a new feeling of freedom.


So — Mrs. Daneeka quickly overcomes the “grief” of her husband’s death — and — she moves on in life.

In fact — sometime later — comfortably well-settled with her newfound wealth and social status — she appears to be pleased that her husband is dead.


Hey — Dear Reader — as usual — I got carried away — and — I have digressed.

I suggest you read Catch-22 — so you can enjoy this hilarious episode of Doc Daneeka — and — numerous such episodes involving inimitable characters in this classic novel.

Now — let me get on with my story…




Many years ago — during my unforgettable Navy days — I once came across a similar episode.

But — here — it was a case of “generic congratulatory letters” — instead of the “generic condolence letters” of Catch-22.

We had a tough-talking no-nonsense hard-taskmaster Boss (a “Sea Dog”)

He was replaced by a slick smooth-talking shrewd “Sea Doll”.

If you have read my story “SEA DOGS” and “SEA DOLLS” — you will understand what the term “Sea Doll” means.

Well — if you haven’t read my spoof on “Sea Dogs” and “Sea Dolls” — just click the title above — and the article will open in a new window.

Dear Reader — I suggest that you read that article on Sea Dogs and Sea Dolls later after reading this article — I have given the link to “Sea Dogs and Sea Dolls” again at the end of this blog post for your convenience.

Now — please read this story.


Our new “Sea Doll” Boss had spent most of his career as a “wheeler-dealer” pushing files in the “Northern Naval Command”


(Dear Reader — many years ago — when I was a young Naval Officer — the three Naval Commands were jokingly called :-

“Working Naval Command” (Western Naval Command)

“Entertainment Naval Command” (Eastern Naval Command)

“Sleeping Naval Command” (Southern Naval Command)

And — the Navy “Babudom” in New Delhi was jokingly called the “Northern Naval Command” — though there was no sea around landlocked New Delhi…)


Our new “Sea Doll” Boss had spent most of his career as a “wheeler-dealer” pushing files in the “Northern Naval Command” — the Navy “Babudom” in New Delhi.

And — like all such “smooth” careerist officers — our new ambitious “Sea Doll” Boss believed in cordial “Public Relations” (PR) and polished “Social Graces”.


Our old “Sea Dog” Boss had no taste for sham, pretension or tact.

He was a crude and tough tyrant — a hard taskmaster.

But — like most “Sea Dogs” — he was a genuine straight-talking autocrat — an original officer of the “old mould”.


In contrast — our new “Sea Doll” Boss was a “refined” fake.


His 3 point “mantra” for career success was simple:

1. Boot-lick your seniors.

2. Boot your juniors.

3. “Cut the Throats” of your course-mates and peers.


But — he did this with finesse — especially — the “throat-cutting” part.

He cut his competitor’s throat so smoothly — that even his victim did not realize that his throat had been cut.

Having made it to senior rank using these dishonorable methods — maybe due to his guilty conscience — our Boss was overcome by a desire to “liked” by all.

So — he developed a rather “patronizing attitude” towards his juniors — especially his course-mates and erstwhile seniors who had become junior to our Boss — since they had been “passed over” for promotion — and had fallen by the wayside — as “superseded” officers.

Of course — our Boss continued his sycophancy towards his seniors — and — he continued “boot-licking” his senior officers with full gusto.

As I said — maybe this “compassion” towards his juniors was due to his guilty conscience.

Or — maybe — he felt that good “Public Relations” (PR) would help him get further promotions.

As a part of his “PR” drive — he started sending “congratulatory letters” to one and all.


Taking a cue from Catch-22 — in the same manner as Colonel Cathcart — our Boss asked his Secretary to prepare a standardised “generic congratulatory letter” to be sent to all “select list” officers the moment a “promotion signal” arrived.

When the letter format was put up to our boss for approval — he added a last line:

“I believe that behind every successful man there is a woman — so my wife joins me in congratulating your wife for your success…”


(Well — this maxim about a woman being behind every successful man was certainly true in our Boss’s case.

Almost everyone knew the immense “contribution” that our Boss’s wife had made towards her husband’s career success — but I would not like to digress and delve into specific details over here.

So — Dear Reader — let me continue telling you the story…)


One day — after the AVS Cadre Review Bonanza — a large number of officers were suddenly promoted Captains, Commanders and Lieutenant Commanders.

In true Navy Style — Promotion Signals were released immediately.

The moment our Boss saw the promotion signals in the morning — he endorsed on the promotion signals:

“Put up congratulation letters to all promoted officers before lunchtime today…”


On seeing his Boss’s remarks — his Secretary — a young ‘Logistics’ Lieutenant — he came in — and — he said to the Boss:

“Sir — this is a huge list of names…”


“I know it is a big list — but I want all the congratulatory letters to be dispatched today itself — I desire that my letter should be the first congratulations letter to reach all the newly promoted officers…” our Boss said.

“Sir — actually it is a “Time Scale” promotion — due to the AVS Cadre Review…” the Secretary said.

“I don’t care whether it is a “Time Scale” Promotion or not — for me — “a promotion is a promotion” — so — you don’t argue with me. You just get the letters ready immediately. Stop all other work — put everyone on the job — marshal all resources — I want to sign these all congratulatory letters before I go for lunch — and you will ensure that all letters are dispatched today. Do you understand…?” the Boss shouted at the hapless Secretary.


Everyone got onto the job “pronto” — with top speed and despatch.

Since the format of the “generic congratulations letter”was readily available — it was just a question of churning out copies of the letter on the personal letterhead of the Boss — entering the officer’s name on each letter — and putting up the letters in bunches for the Boss’s signature.

Meanwhile — tapping his contacts in Naval Headquarters (NHQ) — the canny Secretary had already found out the ships and unit addresses of all the officers in the promotion lists — while — another group of sailors was busy making envelopes ready for dispatch.

The stupendous task was completed — and by afternoon — all the congratulatory letters were successfully dispatched marked “urgent”.

And — once the letter writing spree was over — normal duties were resumed.




By next morning — all the newly-promoted officers in the same station had the congratulatory letters from our Boss on their tables — and the outstation officers would get them in a day or two by Priority Mail and Speed-Post.


(By the way — this story happened many years ago — when “snail-mail” was still the prevalent method of correspondence.

And — since these were personal congratulations from our Boss — sending them by FAX would be crude and “un-officer-like”.

So — all letters were sent in tastefully designed sealed envelopes…)


So — all the newly-promoted officers in the same station had the congratulatory letters from our Boss on their tables by the next morning — and the outstation officers would get them in a day or two by Priority Mail and Speed-Post.


Next morning — our Boss got a few “Thank You” calls from some newly-promoted officers who had received his congratulations letter.

Our Boss seemed pleased that his “PR” effort had borne fruit.

So — he was in a good mood during our forenoon meeting.


It was past noon — and after a long meeting — we were about to break for lunch — when an Officer barged into our Boss’s office.

The Naval Officer was wearing four brand new gold stripes of a Captain.

He was our Boss’s course-mate.

Sadly — he had been “passed over” for promotion to a few years ago.

And — like most “superseded” officers — he was appointed as a nondescript staff officer in the adjoining Headquarters.

He was in his 30th year of service — and he was reconciled to retiring as a Commander — since he had missed all 3 chances for promotion to Captain.

But suddenly — AVS 2006 Cadre Review happened — and he found himself wearing his fourth stripe — and now — at least — he would retire as a Captain.


The newly promoted Captain was furious.

He was waving the “congratulatory letter” in his hand — as he shouted at our Boss — who was his course-mate.

The Officer seemed very angry at my Boss.


Our boss was puzzled as to why his newly promoted course-mate was so angry.


“What is the matter…? Why are you so angry…?” our Boss asked his course-mate.

“What is the meaning of this letter…?” the furious Captain asked our Boss.

“Well — at long last — you have been promoted to Captain — so I sent you a congratulatory letter…” our Boss said.

The angry Captain placed the “congratulatory letter” in front of our Boss.

Then — he angrily said to our Boss:

“Read the last line of your letter…”


Our Boss put on his reading glasses — and he read the last line in the letter — the coup de grâce sentence — which our Boss himself had personally inserted in the letter:

“I believe that behind every successful man there is a woman — so my wife joins me in congratulating your wife for your success…”


The Captain looked at our Boss — a look of indignation.


Then — he said angrily to our Boss:

“You are my course-mate.

You know that I am going through a bitter divorce.

You know the circumstances due to which I am fighting for a divorce.

You know how much harm my wife has caused me.

You know how much I hate my wife.

And — you are shamelessly “congratulating” my wife for my so-called “success”…?

My wife has ruined my life — and you are “congratulating” her…?

How can you be so cruel…?

You are my course-mate.

I never expected such disgraceful conduct from you…”


The newly promoted Captain seemed extremely upset and annoyed with our boss as he said these words in an angry voice.

After expressing his displeasure in no uncertain terms — the furious Captain walked out in a huff — while our stunned Boss kept staring at the “congratulatory letter” in his hand.




Most of the time:

“PR” may work.


But sometimes:

“PR” can boomerang…!!!


Link to my Article on SEA DOGS AND SEA DOLLS



Copyright © Vikram Karve
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  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

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Link to my original post in my Blog Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve:

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This is a re-post of my story PR BOOMERANG earlier posted online by me in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal on September 24, 2015 at url: and and and and etc

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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