Thursday, February 2, 2017

Adieu Jessie John ma'am!

It's a sad day as yet another important link to those fantastic days at school has snapped. Ms. Jessie John, all of 89 yrs, epitomised the feminine class and grace of those times - the '60s!

I wasn't lucky to have been directly mentored by her because she was never a matron in the houses that I was in - the Prasad House, the 7th dorm, the 2nd dorm and the 5th dorm. Did I feel bad that I was missing a good mentor? I should be frank that it was both a 'yes' and a 'no' because both the matrons under whose tutelage that I'd grown up viz. Ms. Sarojini Sreedharn and Ms. Williams(The story about how Mr. Williams had spotted her from above, got bewitched by her beauty and jumped out of the aeroplane, that he was in, without a parachute causing his physical being to be what we're familiar with, was part of cadets' folklore of those days!) were equally caring.

Ms. Jessie John was the quintessential beauty who carried herself with class and elan. Her English was impeccable and she used to be active behind the stage during the Annual Day. She was also the co-ordinator and mentor of the GVSOs , Mr. Robert Hurran and for a lesser duration, Mr. Whitfield.

A particular incident comes to my mind. It was soon after we'd joined school in Jan '67. All the House Masters and the Matrons were present at dinner time because the Head Master, Maj Deshpande had dropped by. Sometime through the course of the dinner, both Ms. John and Ms. Sreedharan, who're standing behind us, were wondering aloud as to where the HM was and my classmate, Josekutty Thomas, with all his innocence, pointed out in the general direction where he stood, using the fork in his hand to good use.

Ms. Sreedharan immediately rapped on his head and I heard Ms. John telling her, "See, you must grill into your boys that they shouldn't eavesdrop when the elders are speaking and that the cutlery was only meant to have food".

Thanks ma'am for all that you'd taught us and we're proud of the fact that we'd the privilege of having been mentored by you and passed through the school's portals with you, as you took on a fresh appointment as the Principal of a renowned public school!They don't make 'em mentors like you anymore!

RIP ma'am. My tears and prayers!

    *                             *                                *

My Sagardhwani days(2)     Contd.....

On the day of taking over command, there was a requirement to shift the ship's berth from the north jetty to the spanking new south jetty. Since the engines were erratic, I was offered two tugs for carrying out the maneuver. My predecessor, who was on board to see me carry out the evolution recommended the use of the thrusters! I followed his advice and brought the ship on to its new berth without hiccups!! It was only when I called on the Flag Officer Sea Training, the next day, that I realised that I'd done a grave blunder though I'd pulled it off with no problems. He was angry with me for the following:-
       (a) Using the thrusters for the alongside maneuver when they're yet to be cleared for operations.
       (b) For not relying on the tugs completely and thereby opt for a cold move.

I still remember his parting words, as he held my shoulder, "Son, you're not going to get another gallantry medal for such acts!"

What saddened me was that I'd believed explicitly in my predecessor's words but he'd broken the two sacred covenants:-
        (a) One's senior in the Academy always looked after the junior and ensured that no harm befell
        (b) One's predecessor always handed over every aspect of the command to the successor.

I saw him off the gangway, soon after, as per the traditions and customs. I've never tried to get in touch with him subsequently and I might ignore him even today, if we were to come face to face again! He'd let down my faith in him!!

Then there was this decommissioning ceremony that was taking place at the south jetty and the three heads of operations, training and logistics of the command were sitting in the front row, ahead of me, and one of them had commented, pointing out at Sagardhwani and asked as to when a similar ceremony will take place for the 'problematic junk' and all of them laughed. At the end of the ceremony, I'd confronted the three of them to tell them, in no uncertain words, that I'd be handing over an operational ship by the end of the tour of my command. I was so upset and wondered as to whether I could pull it off with so many external factors that needed to be brought on line!

Soon after taking over command in the second week of Dec '95, the CinC, VAdm Inderjit Bedi had paid a return visit to the ship, as per traditions. In the presentation that I'd given, I put across my 'wish list' a phraseology that I'd borrowed from his acceptance speech while taking over the command. He understood my anguish, promised to do the needful and always looked after me as if to say that he was aware of my discomfort at my ship's operational status. There were a few stumbling blocks that had to be overcome viz.:-
        (a) The ship was just one year into its commission and had not carried out any operational
              task because of its defects.
        (b) To render it operational, the shafts had to be realigned which would necessitate dry docking
              at the Cochin shipyard @ Rs.1.5 crores.
        (c) Such an expense would have come to the notice of the CAG and a rap to the navy, in the
             form of a 'draft audit para' was inevitable.

VAdm AR Tandon, took over as the CinC soon after and between him and Commodore Bawa, the CMD of the Cochin Shipyard Ltd, gave the green signal for carrying out the realignment of the shafts. The ship was made to sit on the chocks of the building dock of the yard and went through 86 days' of corrective work which I'd followed very closely. I'd by then made myself familiar with the underwater contours of the ship and the ship had to be refloated and made to sit on the chocks again to facilitate the undocking of an OSV that was dry docked along with Sagardhwani.

It was a major breakthrough and as the ship came out of the dry dock, there were a series of sailings off Kochi for getting used to the characteristics of the ship as well as to carry out acceptance trials of important on board equipment along with their OEMs, who were predominantly foreign vendors! As I'd said earlier, the DPS was one among those that were cleared for operations during one of these outings!


Apologies for the lengthy piece but the story had to be told without any dilution!

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