Training in snobbery

Humour

Training in snobbery

Summoned to the naval academy at Kochi for training, I arrived in a tonga. One look at my tattered jeans and the trunk with eight lethal edges, the coolies at the New Delhi railway station melted away. A merciful loader did come forward, but he asked me thrice, “Are you sure you have a first-class ticket ?” The bloke then dumped my trunk at the door of the bogey and vamoozed. The passengers list, drooling with glue, stuck near the door, showed I was in the ‘F’ compartment and for company I would have Lt Commander and Mrs X Y Zee.

Shouting “Hato Hato!” I pushed the box all the way to the ‘F’. Alarmed by the screeching, the X Y Zees had put their undercarriage up and looked at me with owl-like gravity. I clapped my hands to get rid of the rust and dust and good-afternooned them. But all I got in response was a gutteral harrumph with their noses in the air. Shortly, I noticed a smirk on his mug — he had spotted what my little sister had paint-brushed on my trunk and misspelt sub-lieutenant as sub-looty. “The Navy is going to the dogs.” I heard the officer mumble, and what followed was a long and silent journey.

The Kochi naval base was abuzz with gossip that Mrs X Y Zee, the daughter of a general, owned a ju-ju obtained by her dad in Congo. It helped her see the future clearly. And she had prophesied that her husband would be a Vice Admiral by the year 19... No wonder he strutted about like a champion cockerel, entered the Commodore’s chamber without knocking, and forgot to salute the seniors. I surmised he was afflicted with a malady the name of which I didn’t know.

Decades later, I was appointed on the staff of Vice Admiral X Y Zee; he pumped my hand enthusiastically and said, “Hello Sub-Looty.” I did not take it to heart because by then our comrade-in-arms, Inamdar, had identified the malady as ‘Senior Officeritis’. And all the symptoms X Y Zee displayed matched Inamdar’s findings: On Thursdays, the Vice Admiral chaired the staff meeting, but before any of us could complete four sentences, he would raise his traffic-cop hand and stop us and then ramble on and on, imagining pearls of wisdom rolling out of his mouth. X Y Zee firmly believed that the wisdom of an officer increased in direct proportion to his rank.

And thanks to his fan club, he thought he had an unmatched sense of humour: Surrounded by juniors at a reception or a party, if someone offered him a cigarette or a cigar, he would show his palm and say, “No minor vices for me,” and then watch the admirers throw their head back and roar with uncontrolled laughter. The more ardent fans excelled themselves by doubling up with mirth and slap their thighs. X Y Zee loved their taste for good humour just as much as he loved his flag flying on the mast and the rows of medals on his chest. But presence of anyone senior to him made him uncomfortable.

I must not forget another interesting ‘-itis’. It is rather exclusive because it is ‘Royalitis’. Princes, princesses, countesses, baronesses still surviving on this planet collect prefixes and suffixes like we did marbles and postage stamps as kids. Now, hold your breath and go through this litany: His royal highness Charles Philip George, Prince of Wales, Knight of the Black Garter, Knight of the Thimble, Grand-Cross Order of the Bath....harrumph.... And guess who gave Charles the Bath and the Thistle ? His mom, gratis.

And you would think we proletariats would lag behind in the ‘-itis’ race! Never. Many female pen-workers, inspired by to-the-manor-born duchesses, countesses, viscountesses have decided they too would join the great family names of their mom with a hyphen to their dad’s. And when you open the newspaper, you may find a Nikki Khanna-Kesri, a Pippa Mehra-Pai or Madamoiselle Baljit Dhanno-Kohli. This virus is called double-barrelitis, aka double-hyphenitis....harrumph.


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