I still recall some of my friends
and colleagues with amusement. One such person I can not forget is Capt
Charles. Our Maratha Ganpats innocently called him "Charlas
sahib". Well, those were the days in early fifties when our jawans
were either semi-educated or outright illiterates. Charlas (Charles, if
you like) was a smart officer and knew all the ropes about being a
successful Adjutant of our battalion. Charles could be counted on to find
a way out of a tricky situation. The young officer was not a green horn by
any means. He had roughed it out as a regimental officer for over eight
years of his 10 years service. But wait, somewhere, lurking in almost
everyone is the dreaded Achillesí heel. Inevitably, he had his own share
of that. His fondness for the bottle, compounded by his aversion to the
stiff-necked dinner nights. More chhuri kanta drill than the actual
meal, as he put it.
The first bugle call for dinner (I'm
not sure whether this custom is still in vogue) sounded to him like a
funeral march. His grouse against dinner nights was out of the ordinary.
For one thing it took far too long to finish and for the other, it was a
'starvation meal'. One could not eat it to his heartís content. Besides,
it took too long to finish. What a waste of almost two hours on such a
compulsory 'parade'. Poor Charles! He would leave the table in a
half-starved state. He ultimately hit upon a brilliant idea to get over
his predicament. On the stipulated dinner nights, he would eat the spicy
and tasty food from the jawans langar, washed down with liberal
doses of rum. Just the kind of informal meal and drink he was longing to
One day, the GOC of our Division was
invited for dinner in the mess. Inevitably, our Brigade Commander also. As
mess secretary, Charles saw to it that all arrangements were complete and
in order as per the mess customs including the menu. Time was fast
approaching for the great event. The chief guest was scheduled to arrive
at 8 pm, CO 15 minutes and the Brigade Commander 10 minutes earlier. Of
course, Charles had to be there half an hour early to ensure that all
arrangements were in order. The GOC's car arrived on the dot in the porch.
The bugler duly sounded his arrival in keeping with the laid down drill.
The chief guest was guided to the specially earmarked leather sofa.
After what looked like an agonising
delay, the Mess Havaldar turned up, smartly saluted and on top of his
voice roared Shriman, bhojan tayar hai.
Charlesí trouble had now started.
He could never reconcile himself to such a vast array of knives, forks and
spoons of different shapes and sizes. He would invariably start using
wrong knives or forks for the wrong dish. At the first dish, he saw some
signs of small amounts of sardines. Mercifully, he used the correct knife
and fork for this purpose. The next item was simple looking. It was soup,
looking like heated-up soap water. He used a small spoon to drink this
little fare. The next dish was fried fish followed by the main fare. Roast
chicken and that looked like peas. Now, cutting up roast chicken into
pieces needs a fair amount of expertise. Using his knife and fork like a
shovel and pick, he commenced cutting it up with all his might.
Ultimately, his efforts yielded the desired results; or so he thought. A
large piece slipped from his plate and like a misguided missile struck the
Brigadier on his face. An uneasy silence followed; the Brigadier gave him
a hostile look as though to say," "make no mistake, I shall bury
you alive tomorrow".
Time for pudding. What could poor
Charles do? He had just the large soup spoon to eat it. It was, so to say,
not the done thing.
Now the toast had to be taken. He
tapped the table thrice, got up with his glass in his hand. Just then, his
memory failed him in his inebriated state. So did his trembling legs. He
sat down in his chair and tried to recollect his wits. A young officer
whispered something in his ear. He got up again. This time more
confidently. "Mr Vice, the President. Mr Vice too got up, hesitated
and in the meanwhile CO broke the ice and in a loud voice said, "The
The GOC left just after 11 pm,
followed a little later by the Brigadier. The CO took Charles outside for
a 'little chat' and gave him a piece of his mind for his goof-up. Both
came back to the anteroom with the former seemingly looking satisfied for
the dressing down he had given to Charles. Of course, needless to say that
Charles looked pale and crest fallen.
From next day onwards, rumours had
started floating around that Charles would as Adjutant be sacked any time.
But no such thing happened. Charles survived much to everybody's surprise.
The only people who had felt a bit of heartburn were some Captains and
Majorsí ambitious wives. Their dreams and their aspirations were
shattered. How nice it would have been if Kirpal, Fernandes or Desai
occupied the prestigious chair. If only, if only Charles was awarded
'order of the boot' unceremoniously.
Col (Retd) BS Sahore
names have been changed)