Recent initiatives by some world leaders reminded me of the closing scenes from Mrs Doubtfire. Daniel Hillard (Robin Williams) does the Heimlich Maneuver on his separated wife’s lover Stuart Dunmeyer (Pierce Brosnan) as he chokes on a dish seasoned with cayenne peppers planted by, well, his girlfriend’s ex-husband.
Complicated as it may sound, sometimes well-meaning actions, words, or pranks can land you, or those whom you love, in big trouble.
Two examples come to mind from my old stable – the Naval Academy (Navac).
Case 1: Go Get a Life(boy)!
It was watermanship day at Navac. Whalers (a small, open boat propelled by oars or sail) were being prepared for a day at sea. The quiet, rustic ambience of Watermanship Training Centre (WTC), Navac was broken only by two things: the pre-dawn buzz of sleepy cadets from Ocean’s Best launching boats into water, and, Lieutenant Mastan’s raspy voice as he barked orders.
Lt Mastan, WTC in-charge, was the quintessential sea dog – a hard-core seaman officer & boatswain’s mate whose extensive seaman knowledge was backed-up by a foul temper that brooked no nonsense. He had come up the hard way – from the ranks – to earn the President’s commission. His POC (power of command) could stop a tropical cyclone. He couldn’t stand any sloppiness, on land or water.
As each boat launched into water, coxswains (helmsman) took over with the command “oars forward”. Boat after boat glided smoothly away from the jetty.
Our boat brought up the rear, still to get underway. Small whalers bob around quite unsteady as they’re loaded & manned. Mandovi river has strong tidal streams. The boat’s headrope was already straining against an ebb tide as my coursemate & dear friend ‘Vicky’ lost his balance & tipped over the side into the swirling waters.
Pandemonium broke out. In the dim, pre-dawn light, all I could see was a bobbing head and flailing arms as Vicky was swiftly carried away by the ebb tide.
Some circuit breakers tripped in my brain. I leapt off the boat to rescue my friend.
There was a small problem.
I had absolutely no idea how to keep myself afloat in that strong tide, even lesser about rescuing a potentially drowning victim (much later, I would read about how the odds are stacked against those trying to save drowning victims).
Vicky by this time had taken a few lungfulls of the brackish water & was choking, without the bright lights of Broadway or swimming talent of Stuart Dunmeyer.
I was thrashing about, drifting towards Vicky. Soon as I reached within two arms distance, he grabbed me in a death grip like I was a lifebuoy. My amateur, ineffective paddling was soon overwhelmed by a drowning victim’s superhuman strength. Within seconds, he was riding me like a rodeo & I was bucking like a horse; both underwater.
It was my turn to choke and drown. Victim & rescuer drifted downriver fighting for their lives in a deadly ballet that could soon leave one, or both, dead.
Academy lifeguards & divers leapt blithely into action. These are apex predators, highly trained in swimming & rescue (unlike me). Rescue boats gunned to life. After what seemed like ages (it had been only a few minutes), they pulled us to safety. The lifeguards reminded me of a cat mother rescuing lost kittens, holding us up by the scruff of our neck & hauling us away. Both of us had taken in a couple of litres of Mandovi by then.
Mastan’s choicest invectives & the medical attendant’s first aid soon burped us back to life. For naval cadets, there ain’t no such thing as an excuse from watermanship training, come hell or high water. Life goes on. Soon, we were back in water, this time on the whaler.
A relatively uneventful day followed.
Case 2: A Deadly Prop-up!
Cut to the parade ground. Passing Out Parade (POP) rehearsals were on. Goa in May is hot & humid. Gunnery instructors (GI) aren’t known for mercy. Hours of marching with 7.62mm SLRs, standing at rapt attention, endless orders and drubbing was the norm every term as DLTGH tended to zero (DLTGH = days left to go home). The soaring temperature at close of Spring Term, Navac, was enough to melt tar.
It was not unusual for the odd cadet to faint on parade; all the more likely if you skip a meal or haven’t slept well. Breaking out of the platoon or complaining of sickness was taboo. “If you must fall, fall on your nose” was the guiding principle.
So, every parade, we would hear that sickening thud as a cadet or two struck the tarmac unconscious.
Presently, parade was at ‘vishram’. This means ‘stand at ease’, left hand stretched along the left seam, right hand stretched forward holding the 7.62mm SLR (Self Loading Rifle), bayonet canted 45º towards the line in front.
As the sun beat down mercilessly, cadet ‘Gangs’ slowly started to rock fore & aft.
“Hey Gangs, stop this, you fu**er! You want to get us all into trouble?!”, hissed one of us through pursed lips.
It wasn’t allowed to even bat an eyelid, let alone move a finger on parade. Neither were we allowed to whisper or help a fellow cadet in distress.
Gangs wasn’t rocking to Aerosmith or Guns n Roses. He was slowly losing consciousness.
As he started to arc backwards, Cadet Gupta from the rear line did what he thought was most appropriate. He propped up the falling cadet with his rifle bayonet.
Gangs’ crisp white uniform bore a slowly expanding crimson blot as the bayonet tore through his ceremonial Dress No. 2s. He had passed out & was now at risk of getting impaled.
Watchful eyes of the GIs and quick action by paramedics soon prevented a ‘blue on blue’. Gangs escaped with a few stitches. His ‘lifesaver’ got away with 5 EDs (Extra Drill) & a strong admonition not to ‘extend’ such help in future.
What to Learn From This?
It may seem pedestrian but analogy can be drawn from both examples about how sometimes we could get into trouble with well-meaning actions that backfire on us.
Think demonetization. Think Brexit. Think economy. Think parenting. Think daily life.
As we move into higher orbits, such simple lessons must guide us.
Do we understand what is happening? Have we thought through the whole thing? Do we have the skills to fix the problem? What collateral damage are we prepared to absorb? Are we in it for a medallion, band-aid fix or qualitative change? Do we understand all dimensions of the problem? What did we mean to do and what did we end up doing?
These are questions that could impale us on the tip of history. Think about it before you make the next big decision.
By the way, Mrs Doubtfire mutters “Oh no! I killed the b***ard” before rushing to rescue Stuart Dumeyer in the movie! Watch it here.
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.