Indian tennis star Leander Paes recently put an end to speculations by turning up at the 2016 Rio Olympics Village, only to find his room had been allotted to someone else. He had been accused of trying to evade his doubles, and potential room partner, Rohan Bopanna in the run up to the Olympics. Indian hockey contingent was seen lounging on bean bags four to a room. Today’s Times of India quotes Indian Chef-de-Mission complaining that “everyone wants single occupancy in double rooms”.
What’s wrong with that? Having reached the pinnacle of their sport, it is bewildering why these sportsmen have to share rooms. I thought such things are the bane of lesser mortals like me.
It’s a Saturday and a good time to, well, share my thoughts on a subject which has been bothering me off late. Sharing – that gracious act which has become a compulsion these days. My Facebook feed is full of people sharing trivia from their daily lives. My LinkedIn newsfeed is almost headed that way. Almost everything you do online today has a share button. We just love to share, don’t we?
As a former navy guy who spent three years training with the Ocean’s Best (1987-90), sharing was thrust on us early in life. Starting out our careers in the makeshift Naval Academy at Goa, we were fourteen to one barrack. Each barrack had a fulsome mix of colourful characters from all corners of the country. Privacy? What’s that?? We had our bath towels pulled by mischief-mongering barrack-mates and the showers were a debauchery of sweaty grimy cadets bathing in the buff. Afternoon siestas were often broken by some freak tuning-in to All India Radio’s ‘Jayamala karekrum’. Some blokes insisted on watching ‘Krishi Darshan’ – a tedious, black & white documentary for farmers, while others struggled to catch forty winks. Mass punishments were meted out by our sadistic instructors for individual transgressions. We didn’t have internet and all, but share we did – all the agony & ecstasy.
When we graduated to training ships, the only upgradation in our quality of life was a rearrangement of beds from a horizontal array to vertical bunks. We also shared our mess decks with rats and other vermin who had scant regard for anything human. Moving up as Midshipmen and Sub Lieutenants to stuffy ol’ Russian ships introduced us to a new term called ‘hot bunking’ – a clever term for multiple time-sharing of a single bunk by different users in turn, as per the watch roster. This had some obvious advantages. If you were lucky, you would find a copy of ‘Playboy’ or ‘Debonair’ tucked in under the mattress, left behind by the earlier occupant. However, it also came with the risk of losing precious underwear that you carefully hung out to dry along the bunk’s guardrail.
As you rise up in the naval hierarchy, there comes a time when you finally get your independent cabin on the ship. This rare and short-lived boost in lifestyle comes after many years of hot bunking when you are elevated to the higher management of a ship – the CO, EXO or Heads of Department. Why short lived? Because when the Fleet Commander embarks your ship with his team, off you go hot bunking again with your fellow HoDs!
For helicopter pilots like me, it was not unusual to sleep in different cabins or even different ships, night after night as we kept embarking different ships. Before the benevolent perk of staying in hotels was bestowed upon us by the VIth Central Pay Commission, Officers’ Mess used to always run on ‘twin-sharing’ basis. I used to dread that midnight knock (no, not the CBI, KGB or CIA) as the Duty Quartermaster directed a new arrival to my cabin in the Officers’ Mess. I used many an ingenious ruse to ward off potential roommates, including “this room has bedbugs”, “I have a terrible viral infection” and even “I hope you don’t mind, I snore loudly” etc. Soon, I was at the receiving end of such chicanery from others. Good ideas spread fast in the navy.
My troubles did not stop at India. During a study tour abroad, we were at the receiving end of the Indian Government’s ‘austerity measures’ and assigned two to a room in Washington DC’s Fairmont Hotel. Thwarting my roommate’s attempts at splitting the hotel goodies two-way was another sublime lesson in sharing learnt along the way.
In 1997, I met Madhuri and we took our woes to share all our joys and sorrows in equal measure. Twenty years down the line, she wears sweaters and socks in summer while I need 18 degrees set on the AC with fan on speed 4. She wants all electronics switched off at pipe down while I love 24/7 Wi-Fi (every often, I get the ‘wife or Wi-Fi’ ultimatum). Thank God, we have a 3BHK apartment. At least some days I can sleep in peace!
After 23 years in the Indian Navy, I assumed my sharing woes were all but over. But alas, my joy was short lived. Embarking on a second career as an offshore pilot, ‘sharing’ and all its excitements are back in full bounty, ‘Jayamala Karekrum’ and ‘Krishi Darshan’ now replaced by ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ or ‘CNBC18’. As you spend nights on the offshore oil & gas platforms, hot bunking is back to haunt you. Only difference is now you are on the wrong side of the ‘roaring forties’. It’s amazing how much music a human body can make, both while asleep and awake. Abdominal gases, snoring sounds, bunks creaking under the load of heavyweights, all lull you into fitful slumber while you pray for a less ‘noisy’ partner on the next halt. Or a rig with a ‘double room with single occupancy’ deal.
So Leander Paes, Tintu Luka and all you members of the Indian Olympic squad, I fully empathise with you. Our dream to overcome the bane of sharing rooms remains as elusive as the Olympic medals in our kitty. But someday we will get there. Till then, enjoy your partners!
Now go ahead and share this with your friends. To share is to care, after all!