JOHN L. PAUL
Reliving memories of life in the Navy, these veterans had very interesting tales to tell.
Had it not been for esprit de corps (a feeling of fellowship and mutual loyalty shared by members of a particular group), they would not have come to Kochi, at their age. A group of eight Indian Navy officers, all aged 70, converged here a fortnight back to relive memories of their life in the Navy. Their mission was to participate in the Golden Jubilee celebrations of India taking over the Minicoy Light House in Lakswadeep, from the British. They visited Minicoy in two Naval ships - NS Tir and INS Krishna. They had taken over the lighthouse in April 1956 while serving in the first-generation INS Tir, which is no match to the modern air-conditioned vessel that the Navy possesses now.
"We belonged to the eighth batch of the National Defence Academy, where we joined at the age of fifteen, in 1952," rewinds Commodore (retd) M. Kondath. "During that period, those joining the armed forces were held in high esteem. It was a honourable career and satisfying profession. It was then a transitional, elementary Navy. What we have now is a highly-motivated, professional Navy." He recollected how the Union Jack was lowered and the National Tricolour unfurled when the personnel took over the lighthouse from the British. "Though we were young boys from different parts of the country, we lived like brothers at the NDA and afterwards," says Cmde. Kondath. Vice Admiral (retd) A C Bhatia had not seen the sea, till he joined the Navy. "My family came from Pakistan. I was looking for excitement and thrill and so decided to join the services. We had a very good time of being together." He is now settled in NOIDA. Commander (retd) H K Nag, also of the same NDA batch, regrets that he left the Navy in between, to join the Merchant Navy and later a commercial organisation. "You may get better pay in the Merchant Navy, but working conditions are not as good as in the Navy. A person who joins the defence service is protected for life. In the Navy, you have better life, camaderie and are looked after well. The Navy is one of the best careers available for youth. Life in the Navy is not much visible on the surface. But the Merchant Navy is often affected by cyclic recession. I would like to advise parents of bright youth to send them to the NDA."He says that the defence services have been keeping India together. It is one place where parochial regionalism has no place. Cdr. Nag, who too is settled in NOIDA, vividly remembers the take over of the Minicoy lighthouse.
"Back in 1956, there was no proper jetty to berth the ship. We used a motorboat to reach the shore. With time, the island housing the light house has developed into a place where things are managed well."He was all praise for the reverse-osmosis plant, which was being used for treating saline water. The islanders plan to carry out rainwater harvesting in the monsoon, an excellent idea to increase the groundwater level. Their garbage-disposal system too is modern - degradable and biodegradable wastes are separated before being disposed off. These are yet to catch up even in the mainland. "But well-off people there want to send their children to the Gulf or to join the Merchant Navy. I told the recruiting personnel of the Navy to convince the mothers that the services take care of their personnel unlike many other commercial organisations," says Cdr Nag.