Story of the stolen OM
Aninda Mukherjee

  • I was explaining integrity to my daughter….and I wasn’t making headway. The ' have I been able…have I not…' kept intruding.

This is a short piece about Lt CDR Bhatti and a course called 60.197. Bhatti was a committed officer in the Indian Navy. He had commissioned a 1241RE missile boat as Engineering officer and doing reasonably well. He was the course officer of a rather multi- faceted, yet homogeneous course of engineers in their early 20s. M was one of them. Prior to taking on their assignments in the Indian Navy, they were doing their specialisation in Marine Engineering.

The Training Captain Biman Bihari Mistry loved parties. And Surinder Pal Singh Bhatti had learnt the game. He needed to impress Mistry. So a party was organised by 60.197 at a picturesque location near the Naval College of Engineering INS Shivaji. Lonavala is beautiful anyway. But the chosen site was the best of the best. Details are sketchy. But food was made available. Drinks were organised. Whiskey was in abundance. M and PT and SJ kept enough rum to last a lifetime. Mozart played softly on M’s red Philips two in one.

Bhatti and Mistry had whiskey. M and his friends had rum. Food was served and consumed. M’s music system quickly changed cassettes to Kishore in the background…. 60.197 was in full bloom. A mellowness prevailed. Like the curated beard of Biman Bihari. Perfection personified.

M, being a ‘half a bottle a day' man, was looking into the horizon.

In the bar, officers were permitted to have a maximum of three drinks. This, being grossly inadequate for growing minds,left M extremely thirsty at the end of the day. He and his friends, Ashwani Bhai and SJ would have to walk to the Institute for satiation after their quota got over at the officer’s bar. GR, a very angry young man, would join them sometime. Other times, he would go to the cabin of a very senior guy called Kennedy, brilliant with gas turbines but with a proven weakness for ethanol. Wrestling happened most of the times, under the influence of the golden brew. GR proved to be pretty good at his game. So, if you get it, rum was of the essence…and a rare commodity.

So, as the evening was coming to its end, M put a couple of bottles of OM under a big sun hat, which he had purchased from Colaba Causeway a few weeks back. The party got over and the individuals involved in the case on file, returned to residence.

M carried back two bottles of OM as booty. He drank some on reaching. Ashwani bhai, co habiting the J block slum, drank some too. When both were reasonably drunk, Bhalani told him that the OM was stolen goods. M said something like 'f#*k,' or 'bal*s’! They drank some more. He doesn’t remember. And we’ll let them be.

But SS Bhatti had noticed, observed, taken note. He pulled up 60.197. It was evident that M was guilty. The rest of the course had little or no clue. So M recalls being marched up to a guy called Bhatia. Chastened by the CO, he went back to work. He was told he lacked integrity…he had no future in the Navy. He sort of knew that…and resigned himself to fate.

That evening, he took a swig from the stolen booty in the J block. Ashwani bhai opened a packet of peanuts.

Years later .. Both M and Bhatti had met. Bhatti had grown in service. M had chugged on, marching aimlessly through time and tide. By this time, maybe 2004, M supervised a pipe shop in a Naval Dockyard. He had been accidentally promoted and made a manager of pipes, valves, WC commodes, fin urinals, air bottles et al. Bhatti, a deputy general manager, then in an air conditioned office with a pathetic oil painting on the wall resembling an elephant or something similar, wanted to renew the plumbing in the local gurudwara.

He said it was critical. M was doubtful whether Naval resources could be committed to a religious place of worship! But by this time he knew...when someone asks “ koi Shaq? Koi Sawaal?’, the correct answer is ‘ No Sir!’ M’s team got it done in no time. If you stop by the gurdwara on the Calcutta Madras highway which routes through Visakhapatnam, you can still see 316Ti stainless steel pipes leading to basins, water closets etc ..

Mission accomplished,Bhatti called M home for a dinner celebration. Bhatti’s boss was a guy called Malhi. Malhi’s boss was Randhawa. Both graced the occassion. Somehow, M was the only male without a turban. To make up for the lack of headgear, M sipped another Old Monk….

Over his umpteenth OM and Randhawa’s third Black Label, M recounted the story of the stolen rum! How two bottles of rum went under a cowboy hat! Much amusement was had by all.

Integrity is a funny thing. M struggles to explain it to his little daughter.

Aninda is a marine maintenance professional specialising in underwater platforms. He lives in Mumbai with wife Nilanjana and daughter Hiya.