Many years ago, two young naval officers were marched up to a Commanding Officer because they did not follow service courtesies while boarding a leisure boat in the company of senior officers. Dressed in our ceremonial No. 2s and prepared for a proper dressing down, I had mixed feelings when the CO from down south told us grimly “I am more hurt because both of you are Malayalees, not known for such aberrations”.
We Keralites discovered the benefits of provincialism ages ago and practice it unfailingly even today. If you land on the moon and run into a fellow Keralite, he’ll still break the ice by popping our favourite question – “Naad evide?” (Where is your native place?)
As an offshore pilot, on a good day I get a spectacular view of South Mumbai’s skyline while returning from Bombay High. Sitting pretty next to Joggers’ Park is one of Mumbai’s most exclusive clubs – Otters Club on Carter Road, Bandra. Membership to this exclusive club could set you back by anything from INR 75 lacs to 1 Cr if you can survive the waiting period of a few decades. To put things in today’s perspective, this is same as the price of a holiday home in the hills, a 2BHK apartment in Bangalore, or the RBI Governor’s revised basic pay for three years. It is easier to marry one of the members.
This is, of course, a physical club membership with heavy entry barriers. There are many other ‘exclusive clubs’ we create for ourselves. String together a group with common identities, background, or interests and then put up invisible entry barriers. Not all of them have an official status but they do exist.
In the Academy, there were squadron-types, name-types, block-types, school-types, place-types etc. Special privileges were granted by seniors to junior ‘pals’ who fell under these descriptions. There were myriad other groups like ‘Sainik School-types’, ‘Rimcolians’, and other exotic breeds like ‘Georgians’, ‘Lawrencians’, ‘Cottonians’ etc. It didn’t take me long to figure that I did not belong to any exclusive club, coming as I did from a modest school in Bombay.
Upon commissioning into the navy, the lucky few got posted to ‘happening’ Western Fleet and became ‘Bombay-types’ while lesser mortals were routed to rustic east coast and got branded as “nautanki-types’ for no fault of theirs. Sometimes during major exercises, the twain used to meet where ‘Bombay-types’ made it a point to look down their long noses at the blustering villagers from east coast. But as luck would have it, before their Page 3 celebrity status could be confirmed, the suave ‘Bombay-types’ found themselves on a train headed to the east coast and parity was restored. Like they say, you can fool all the people all the time but you can’t fool mom & the Personnel Branch.
Then came flying training and our tryst with the Indian Air Force. Now, in air forces world over there are fighter pilots and then there are other pilots. But hey, even the fighter stream had exclusive clubs like the ‘9g Club’. Those days, MiG-29 and Mirage 2000-types wore Ray Bans, strode with a typical swagger and had an ‘air of superiority’ while unsung ground-attack pilots stubbed out ‘Charms’ cigarettes with their flying boots before taking to the skies assisted by afterburners, willpower and the earth’s curvature. When the Su-30 MKi came in, all other genres were pushed into relative obscurity. The ‘9g club’ was quietly ushered out of Lohegaon, Pune to faraway lands by the P Branch (P for Plans, P for Pune, see?).
The chopper-types quietly pulled pitch by day and drank rum after sunset while the ‘transpotias’ flew like ‘dhobies’ and applied ‘home revolutions’, their machines always yielding that wee bit extra airspeed when homeward bound.
By the time we returned to ships after earning our wings, the segmentation in navy was complete. The ‘Thundering Gunners’ with their acquired baritone barked orders even when nobody was listening. ‘Crafty Communicators’ spoke signalese which nobody else understood while the ‘Anti-Submarine-types’ struggled with oceanographic and hydrological challenges, the extra distance between ship’s Bridge and ASW stations adding to their insularity. The Long ND-types (navigators) were usually the Commanding Officer’s blue-eyed boys, though in reality they were red-eyed due to lack of sleep.
Naval helicopter pilots ran sweating from pillar to post serving dual masters on ship & shore while the ‘White Tigers’ – Navy’s celebrated Sea Harrier pilots, wore anti-g suits, dropped anchor in Goa & made the most deafening sounds in Dabolim area. When their advanced jump-jets failed off the sunny beaches of Goa, they ‘pulled the handle’ and ‘Angels’ (Alouette SAR Flight) pulled them out of the sea. Those who survived ejection dusted the salt from their coveralls and gained life membership to the ‘Ejection Tie Club’, an exclusive club of fighter pilots who have successfully ‘pulled the handle’ on a Martin Baker Ejection Seat – a club which Terri Judd from The Independent, UK describes as a club ‘where you have to be thrown out to be allowed in’. Then came the Black Panthers (MiG-29Ks) and White Tigers slowly faded into the Goan sunset.
Helicopters had their exclusive clubs too; most common being the divide between ‘single-engine types’ and ‘multi-engine types’ (a way of overstating the twin-engine helicopter). The single-engine types silently saved lives & did the lion’s share of flying while multi-engine types bore self-inflicted injuries in their briefing rooms and built a hype around themselves (Aw…alright, they did some good stuff too!). The ‘multi-engine types’ had their own clubs. ‘Eagles’ (Kamov-28) hunted, ‘Falcons’ (Kamov-31) soared while ‘Harpoons’ (Seaking Mk 42B) dunked – all ‘Members Only’ groups even now. My good friend Brian Thomas created a new animal called ‘Civil Fling Wingers’, a motley WhatsApp group of ‘ex-navy-helicopter-pilots-now-flying-in-civil-aviation’ (phew!). The Eagles, Falcons, Harpoons and Angels are still trying to get used to each other like in-laws and every now and then we have a ‘Big Boss House’ kind of situation!
So wherever you go, make sure you are plugged into the most exclusive clubs with the highest entry barriers.
What? You don’t belong to any club? Poor you!
Immediately start an exclusive club called ‘lonely hearts club’ and see how you get oversubscribed in minutes. I believe that’s what is ailing most people in exclusive clubs.
Ciao! Please work on your social skills. I am off to attend a club meeting!