The Navy Day is celebrated in India on December 4 every year to commemorate the start of “Operation Trident” during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan. As we remember and honour the contribution of the Indian Navy in winning the war, various events are held by the Indian Navy on this day and the days preceding it. These include marathons, inter-school quiz competitions, air shows, and tattoo ceremonies, among others.
As you might have seen, I work in a government setting in a middle-level managerial post. An assistant accounts officer, to be precise. In my office, I frequently interact with military personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It is natural that a connection be established with a few of them while working on the issues. Some become friends for life.
I was invited to the Navy Day “At Home” Function by one such great officer and good friend, Cmde Neeraj Malhotra. He and I met at a conference to discuss the issues and challenges of working in the Indian Navy on a daily basis, as well as the contributions (or roadblocks!) of our office. By God’s grace and my officers’ guidance, the issues were resolved, and during the time we met, we clicked as friends.
I was pleasantly surprised to receive the invitation, honestly speaking. I didn’t really expect to be invited, much less by him. Since the invitation mentioned both I and my husband, and since my husband was free that day, we accepted it gratefully and decided to leave for the venue well in time to reach there.
Whatever I expected was far below, than what I received. The venue is located in a beautiful place that houses the offices and residences of the training institute, INS Hamla. We were checked at the gate and let in after identifying ourselves. The place was well decorated, and we were guided towards the venue by very helpful sailors. When we reached the parking lot, I was awed, to say the least. The mesmerising sea and the gentle breeze that met me when I got out of the car took my breath away. I wasn’t sure what I should have expected after arriving, but this was clearly not the case.
I reached the venue and was greeted by the officers present. We were late because of traffic (as usual). Don’t judge me, people! And by the time we reached there, the programme had already started. Sir and his gorgeous wife were welcoming everyone individually. The Naval Band was playing. The evening was wonderful.
The programme continued with the songs and the orchestra (by the Naval Band). Those amongst us who have been lucky enough to have attended any military function would agree that the tunes played by the bands there are motivating and filled with energy. The ambiance was no different. We were standing and listening to them, and we forgot the time as the evening progressed. And then it was time for the sunset ceremony. Beating the retreat was an unforgettable experience. As the flag was lowered, it filled the hearts of everyone around with inexplicable emotions. As explained on the Indian Navy website, the Beating Retreat ceremony has its origins in the practise of early warfare, when drums were sounded to order soldiers to disengage from combat and retreat as the daylight faded and return to the camp. After sunset, the troops were ordered to proceed to their individual encampments by Tattoo Ceremony.
After the Beating the Retreat, the high tea was announced by the master of ceremonies. Since I was feeling hungry (and since I knew the experience was going to be great, lol! ), we didn’t hesitate to go toward the area where tea was to be served. Surprise of surprises, there were so many items to eat that I stood there wondering where I should start (the foodie in me was quarrelling with the “want to lose weight” me all the while—well, you know, the foodie wins almost always).
I started with the delicious paani puri and sev puri before devouring both chicken and vegetarian croissants. The delicacies they had put together were: tomato muffins, mini idli tikkas, momos, watermelon juice, cold coffee… I’m sure there are some I’ve forgotten. I ate one piece of everything and then another of some…
Sorry, I forgot… I met some colleagues there too. Again, don’t judge me, but who wants to look at people when you have mouth-watering desserts in front of you? But I did try to look at people while eating and drinking too.
Jokes aside, there was such good food on the table that it was impossible to eat just one. After we were done, we met the officers of INS Hamla. We talked about some official matters too. I took some pictures with the host and hostess of the day. Mrs. Malhotra shared some insights about the life of the family of a Naval Officer, which I think fit with all of the families in the military, whether Army, Navy, or Air Force. The officers of the forces protect us, and they and their families sometimes stay alone for extended periods of time. The fear of losing a loved one is greater in the Navy, even during peacetime. But kudos to the family members for encouraging them to do their duty and always standing beside them in all the conditions and situations they face.
The evening ended with the tattoo ceremony. Here, very talented sailors and officers played the drums, and the beats were accompanied by rhythmic dance steps performed by the drummers. Since it was dark all around, the glowing neon drumsticks gave a surreal effect to the whole experience. And sooner than we wanted it to, the evening came to an end. This experience was one that I would not have had were it not for my being in the department, which is very close to the services, especially the Navy. I am very grateful to Cmde Malhotra and his beautiful wife for inviting us to this function. We will remember this experience fondly for a long time.