Rank confusions in rank

After retiring from various rungs of the bureaucracy, civil servants do not write Secretary or Deputy Secretary before their names, nor is the term CEO or President added before the names of those retiring from lofty positions in the corporate world. It is only in the armed forces that one has the privilege of prefixing one's name with one's rank, albeit with the words 'retired' written alongside.

The faujis bask in the glory of the highest rank achieved during their service career. Being addressed as, say, General or Major So and So sounds like sweet music to the veteran's ears. It keeps his chest puffed up. It reminds him of the long-forgotten world of valour and camaraderie, of courage and sacrifice, of survival in treacherous glaciers and deserts. But the flipside of this business is the confusion it creates in the minds of the uninitiated. Since there is no conscription in our country, the rank structure of armed forces remains an enigma to most citizens. Add to the army's myriad ranks those in the navy and air force and you have the confusion confounded.

The problem begins with the very first rank in the commissioned hierarchy. The Second Lieutenant fights shy of calling himself a First Lieutenant after getting his first promotion. The next promotion brings him the best-understood rank of Captain. But if you are planning to go on a cruise or a flight with your Captain, you are in for a disappointment. Such captains are found only in civil aviation or Merchant Navy. If you have the Indian Navy in mind, your Army Captain gets promoted by three notches there, as a Captain in the Indian Navy is equivalent in rank to a Colonel.

The next rank, Major, used to be ubiquitous as a very large number of officers retired from this rank till a few years back. But nowadays, this distinction goes to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. If you meet a Lieutenant Colonel's boss, you would find him clarifying that he is a "Full Colonel" although no such rank exists.

Brigadiers do not create any incongruity. But to compensate, those in the next two higher ranks add glamour to confusion. One who calls himself a Major General is, in fact, a Minor General and the one who calls himself a Lieutenant General is actually a "Leftout" General. Generally speaking, a General should have been on top of the heap but it is a Field Marshal who has a field day.

In informal chats, Lt Colonels are addressed as 'Colonel' and Major Generals and Lt Generals as 'General.' That reminds me of the lady who kept addressing a Major General as "Major" instead of " General." Later, someone asked him for his reaction to this impropriety. He said, "Thank God, I am not a Rear Admiral."
Things are no less confusing in the navy and the air force. More about them in another piece in these columns. After all, who likes a bulge in the Middle?

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