Friday, May 08, 2009

Faux pas at Trivandrum

Our unit was located in the Cantonment area at Trivandrum, popularly known as Pangode Camp. Though, normally, the cantonments are located away from the main city and most of the times the civilians are not allowed to enter that area, unless for a specific purpose, but in this case a very busy city road passed through Pangode. Our Battalion Headquarters and the Unit Quarter Guard were located bang on that road opposite each other. There is a tradition in the Army that whenever an officer passes in front of the quarter guard on foot, on a two wheeler or in a vehicle, the guard commander brings the guard to attention by shouting the word of command in a loud voice (as heard during the Republic Day Parade). This is to pay respect to the officer, regardless of the unit that he may belong to.

During our initial days at Trivandrum while the unit was still in the process of settling down, we realized that our guard commander was shouting the word of command and was bringing the guard to attention a little too frequently during the day. One of our officers went out to check the reason and came back laughing from ear to ear. When he explained to us the reason for the same, we all were in splits. The reason was actually amusing. The officers are identified by the guard commander by the pips that they wear on the shoulders when they are in uniform. But when they are in their games rig which is half sleeves white shirt/tea shirt and white shorts with PT shoes and white socks, they are recognized from the same dress. In the southern India the men generally wear half sleeves shirt and a dhoti and whenever they are seated on a two wheeler their dhoti remains folded above thigh level. In case the shirt and the dhoti are white, the same look like white shirt and shorts from a distance. Well for our Dogra soldiers, who had come to the southern part of the country for the first time, it was natural to mistake the white shirt and the dhoti of a civilian riding a two wheeler for an officer's games rig. Hence they came to attention every time that someone passed in front of our quarter guard wearing that attire. It was only after all the jawans were familiarized with the dress of the locals that the frequent saluting stopped in our quarter guard.

Another very interesting incident that I wish to share here is when I once accompanied Major Dongre, our battalion Second –In - Command to visit a patient in a local hospital. After entering the hospital we enquired about the direction to the special ward that the patient was admitted to. To our utter disappointment everyone that we met, spoke such chaste Malyalam that we could not make any head and tail of the directions that he or she gave to us for reaching the ward and we kept moving in circles in that big multi storied hospital before we could locate the correct ward.

Major Dongre had also to visit the collector’s office for some work. After entering the collectorate building we went to the concerned section. Having been bitten once by the lingua franca of Trivandrum, we asked an official sitting on a desk that if we could converse with someone who could speak English. Hearing this, the whole section stood up in protest. One of them probably a union leader, took us around the section and introduced us to each and every employee spelling out his or her educational qualifications. Most of them were holding masters degrees. It was only after we explained to the gentleman about our experience in the hospital that we had visited in the morning, that he let us go but not before we apologized for the faux pas.

This post also forms part of series on my life journey. To read all the posts in this series, please click here.


Indyeah said...

Welcome back Sir!:)
A post after ages!:)
LOL!!@that frequent saluting!!:D:D

the collective showing of master's degree must have been embarrassing :D ...

your army tales always provide a laugh and a peep into the army world :)
thank you

Farishta said...

Great to see another post here sir, thank you! =)
The frequent saluting is indeed hilarious!!

Keep posting Sir.. Your posts provide an entirely fresh perspective into the army life..

BK Chowla said...

Excellent writng.I had heard so much about Trivandrum but have never been there.Now it is part of "visit" list

Anonymous said...

GOOD to see you Back. Hope all set at Nagpur.

Shail said...

That road you speak of is now even busier!!
The white dhoti and shirt resembling the PT dress was hilarious!!

Balvinder Singh said...

Indyeah, yes posting after a long gap. In fact i have been transfered to Nagpur so was busy in the process of moving. But i think you have missed my previous post , that is why you are feeling the gap little longer. Yes asking that stupid question to all those highly educated people was indeed embarassing. No wonder the state has achieved 100% literacy.

Farishta, thanks for the compliments. Yes you would keep getting the first hand accounts of the Army life as i experienced it.

Mr. Chowla, yes you must visit Trivandrum as and when you get a chance. It is a wonderful place. I visited the same last year and took my folks to show them my favourites haunts of twenty five years. Thanks for the compliments.

Balvinder Singh said...

Anonymus, thanks for the visit but not for remaining anonymus. Yes i am in the process of settling down here.

Shail, yes the road is busier now and the Quarter Guard and the Battalion Headquarters of the present incumbants are at the same place as i saw during my visit to the city last year.

Harpreet said...

Sorry bhaji it is me, but looks like i pressed by mistake Anonymous. when u r publishing ur next post. it is loooooooonggg time.

Balvinder Singh said...

ha,ha,ha Happy, and i thought that it was some silent reader.

I am on familiarisation mode. So not sitting on PC that often.

Yes will be putting up next post shortly.

PARRY said...

i wonder how those dogra chaps felt when they came to know of the real thing. :)
nice post. so how are u faring in ur new place sir?

Indian Homemaker said...

I really look forward to this series of yours! The frequent saluting was really funny - also shows how diverse we are!!

But the incident in the Local Hospital must have been irritating at the time! And having to apologise at the Collector's office was unfair!

How do we know said...

oops.. looks like my last comment did not make it.. am writing now to hope u do the next post soon..

Balvinder Singh said...

Parry, the first reaction was lots of laughter, but they also felt embarassed that they had not exhibited good observation.
Yes, doing well at new place. Less crowd, less pollution. Nice office.

IHM, please bear with me as i am taking long gaps between the posts. Will try to post more frequently as i get settled here.

Yes the beauty of our country lies in its diversity only.

It was really irritating at the hospital as we were moving right, left, up and down repeatedly being guided by the hospital staff in one of the most difficult languages of the world.

Apologising at the collector's office was certainly unfair, but that was the only way out for us two Army officers in uniform who had dared to question the english speaking ability of the most literate people in the country.

HDWK , your earlier comment must have got stuck in the cyber traffic jam. But good that this one reached. Thanks. Yes next post soon.

Mampi said...

I love these trips down your memory lane. Sound more like a travelogue.

Balvinder Singh said...

Thanks Mampi, just trying to put my memories in a chronological order and sharing them with you all as well.

Anonymous said...

That was hilarious! Especially the dhoti story. Well, you would be glad to know that you wont find ut much of a language problem, if you visit Kerala. :-)