It’s an awesome feeling to don the sparkling white uniform. On the lines of the advertisement of Bournville chocolate, you can’t buy a pair of stripes on your uniform; you need to EARN it. It takes months / years of self-motivation to earn those golden rings on shoulders of a soldier. We all take immense pride in earning those Nelson’s rings on our stripes after the never ending days of training in Naval Academy. I don’t know about other fellow officers in Indian Navy, but my chest definitely expands little more than 9 inches every time I receive a salute (I am sure it must be more for others!).
Salutation is a customary thing for men and women in uniform. It’s a mark of respect that everyone has to follow till the time you are in uniform without any excuse. However, just to satisfy my innermost desire, I had decided to count every salute that I get during my tenure in Indian Navy. I am sure; it must be quite a silly thought for all of you! Before you infer anything on me, let me clarify my thought. I’m not a maniac to waste my time on counting the salutes that I received almost every other minute when I was in uniform. I know that as long as I’m there in that immaculate attire called “Vardi”, all my subordinates would salute me with or without their choice. Hence I did decide to count only those salutes that I received when I was not in uniform, nor in my office and not in informal rigs for a formal official function. Now that’s what I call earning a salute. To simplify it further I will only count those salutes/wishes that I receive when I am in casual or formal attire either in civic streets or holidaying somewhere. That means someone has to recognize me without uniform and salute or mark his/her respect just out of respect for me but not for my position.
I still believe in PRIDE; the core values of Navy (P-Patriotism R- Resolve and fighting spirit I- Integrity D- Duty and commitment E- lead by Example) that was taught to us in the training days. But more than that I believed in one thing; first be a gentleman then an officer. Every soldier I had come across was always treated with equal empathy; may be that ensures today I have earned 999 salutes in ten long years. In today’s world, forget about a salute getting a simple wish from your subordinate (be it a sailor/ jawan or a junior officer) when you are not in uniform is an achievement! It was a hell of a task for me to keep count of the salutes (with my conditions applied to them) for years, but it gives me insatiable pleasure when I see the number 999. On this day of my retirement, I was at a juncture where I would hang up my uniform forever. Somewhere I was feeling little greedy to achieve the mark 1000. Obviously it’s fabulous to retire with 1000 salutes rather than 999. If not others, I’m sure Mr. Sachin Tendulkar would agree with my feelings on this. Now I can imagine how he must be feeling when he was struggling for his 100th century.
Chances were bleak that I could achieve the 1000 mark, but still I had kept my hopes alive. Though I was getting salutes more than a normal day, sad thing was none of them could add on to my count of salutes as I was in uniform. I was quite apprehensive now about getting that single salute with my conditions applied to it. After the customary formal sending off party, I was supposed to go back home. No ways I can get a salute from someone to make it the golden figure of 1000 for me.
The event took place in the evening with me wearing a formal rig and being the guest of honor. Eventually farewell party was over. It was getting more difficult for me than what I thought it would be. I was getting choked inside with nostalgic feelings of these glorious years as a soldier. I was leaving that my place of duty with a heavy heart and a token of love that was presented by my last unit members in the farewell party. I won’t don that uniform anymore, I had turned into a civilian. My hope prevailed till I reached my quarter. The driver kept driving at a speed which is similar to slow motion shots in Bollywood movies. Still there was no joy !!
Finally I am back at home in my formal attire and a count of 999 salutes. That’s all I could get!! I am not Tendulkar who did reach that magical 100 centuries. The irony was I can only keep a count; the one who can help me score has to be one of my Navy colleagues. Around 11pm at night, I can’t expect anybody to come to me and salute. Anyways I was feeling happy about 999 salutes by then.
With a grin on my face, I glanced through all my group photos taken over the years. Every memento in my living room had their own stories to say. When I was getting lost in the thoughts down the memory lane, I noticed a packed gift kept on the table. Must be the same token of love I had received in the party. I remembered my senior most sailor’s word while handing over it to me. “All we can say or give you is this. Wish u a happy life ahead. We’ll miss u, sir.” I could not stop my tears that time.
I was more thrilled than shocked to see the unwrapped gift. What I could see was unbelievable; the entire team in sparkling white uniform standing together and saluting the naval way. And I was looking for one salute to reach the magic figure 1000!! A gesture like this only made me feel that no matter how many salutes I could earn, each one them had a message – “YOU are worth it”.
Even today, I get goose bumps when I say ‘Jai Hind’. Even today I feel proud to say “I was a Soldier”. Even today my hand comes up when I see a national flag to SALUTE.
A big salutes to all those soldiers who are worth it !!! Jai HIND.
Written by : Amiya Patra