Tired of being turned away by several CSD outlets in my vicinity and almost turning teetotaller, I finally capitulated, exercised ‘Officer’s Choice’ and got myself ‘attached’ to one of the local canteens for drawing my ten ‘units’.
It felt strangely euphoric; as if I had successfully executed an engine-off landing, or won the sweepstakes. A similar element of risk and uncertainty loomed large through most of the process.
One of the long-standing perks of defence service is use of the Canteen Stores Department (CSD). These canteens were in existence long before the Big Bazaars and Hypercitys made their way into our towns. For defence personnel, a visit to the CSD was therapeutic for many reasons. Subsidized merchandise, meeting and greeting your fraternity, wheeling away a month’s load of groceries in one go – and all this at a stone’s throw away from your official quarters.
Then there is the monthly ‘quota’ of wine – yours for a song because you served in the military. Enjoy some if you do, and spread the good cheer in weekend parties and social gatherings. It’s a unique perquisite of the armed forces, money or muscle power can’t touch. CSD-issue tipple had a hallmark of purity civilians would swear by. There was a time not long ago when workers in our Kerala estate would climb tall coconut trees in their mundu just for a capful of brandy. We are a land of ‘Beefeaters’ who rejoice with Bejois after sundown 😉
Times changed. Old timers may recall days when wine flowed freely like water. Slowly, came booklets with coupons and a ‘quota’ that slowly crept south. Then came ‘smart cards’ and technology meant to improve the shopping experience and tighten ‘leaking taps’. Now we have come full circle.
What if your MasterCard that provides access to your own money could be used only in one ATM in the country? Or your ECHS card worked only in one hospital? What if you turn up with the card at any other location and get browbeaten by cashiers and store managers who make you feel like an unwelcome guest?
Well, that’s the experience that awaits ‘Johnny (Walker)-come-latelys’ like me who are late adopters of technology-confounded-by-frivolous-human-intervention.
Thankfully, I found a few good men who eased the pain. Our ‘BLR Boyz’ WhatsApp group provided signposts on how to end the ‘suffering’. My Ocean’s Best coursemate from Delhi helped obtain the ‘retired’ CSD smartcard through forms dispatched by Blue Dart (forms reached him in a day and subsequent process time was six weeks!).
I drove 15 kms to the nearest naval detachment where a kind sailor kept his office work aside to fill a bulky register, stuck my mugshot with liquid glue and typed out a ‘station order’.
It was my lucky day. The Officer-in-Charge turned out to be a ‘Navac-type’ who paused between his busy itinerary to sign off on my plea to be ‘attached’ when he would’ve been better off working on ‘Op Orders’ or war plans.
Guided by ‘Google Maps’ I drove another 10 Km through busy streets to reach the local Army Sub-Area HQ where another set of forms, registers, mug-shots and glue consumed the better part of a working day. I remember filling the 19-digit alphanumeric card number into forms and thinking of early-stage dyslexia.
Small, cramped offices inside decrepit heritage buildings housed the veterans’ welfare centre. Though the place was steeped in ‘Antiquity’, my ears could pick up the sound of ‘100 Pipers’ from RSI Army Officers’ Institute across the road 😛
Courteous civilian staffers tossed another googly at me. Please produce your original Pension Payment Order or Service Book to attest that you have been attached to ‘such and such’ canteen, she said.
Of all the documents, forms, cards, canteen shopping lists and bank papers that cried for attention during my short break on a weekday, the one document she asked for sent my middle stump cartwheeling across the mosaic floor. What could’ve been ‘Blenders Pride’ was turning out to be a ‘Royal Challenge’!
“Zerox copy chalega?”, I pleaded weakly, as if I was asking for a Contessa’s hand in marriage.
“ohh…ummm…no saar. Talk to OIC saar”, she replied furtively as I shuffled around looking for my spectacles which had fallen through the bulky sheaf of papers and files.
Kaypius – former test pilot, fitness freak, 23-years category A1G1, now DGCA Class 1 medical certificate holder – was coming to the end of his tether. In queue behind me was an elderly veteran from the ranks who couldn’t even hold a pen steady. He had the glazed look of total surrender. I silently let out a prayer.
Fortunately, nothing is ever ‘Black & White’ in such matters. If you stride into the OI/C’s office with ‘scrambled egg’ on your peak cap, work can get done. It’s not all that hard when you are an officer living in the city, moving around in an air-conditioned car. Think of our men, the widows, the disabled, the old and infirm.
What have we done to ourselves?
This time there are no babus to blame. We screwed ourselves through our own foibles, greed and turpitude. And who pays the price? As is customary – those who walked the straight & narrow path. While the ‘Sea Pirates’ got away (Peter) Scot free.
In some canteens, access has become fingerprint-based. So while fighting the enemy at the borders, remember to keep those digits safe if you want to enjoy your ‘8 PM’ after retirement.
Gautama Siddhartha ‘Buddha’ said ‘attachment brings suffering’. After 2500 years, we proved the ‘Old Monk’ right.
Statutory Warning: This post by no means purports to encourage the sale or consumption of liquor or endorse the brands mentioned. Consumption of liquor is injurious to health. Please exercise your discretion and drink, if you must, responsibly.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2018. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.