It is comforting to know that one can wake up in the morning, ablute, accept a cup of steaming Chikmangalur coffee from amma, grab the newspaper, and saunter terraceward; and find the Indian Navy thoughtfully arranged in the roadstead (as it were), for one's kind perusal.
To smell the rising vapour of the coffee; to feel the crisp crinkliness of newsprint as one peels open the sports page (usually to find that Onnu Onnu Onnu has won again, praise the Lord 1); and to gaze upon the clean, unfussy lines of the Mumbai, as she waits silently on the navy's flagship whose grey bulk lowers a couple of boat lengths from her bows. Is this too much to ask of life?
The 9th Presidential Fleet Review happened last weekend at Vizag - home and headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command. Friday and Saturday were tiresome for the good people who live off Ramakrishna (RK) Beach. A quantity of "dignitaries" was due to land on top of this little city on Sunday. This sent the "authorities" into a tizzy of organization and reorganization, especially the police. One could almost feel the frissons of anticipatory excitement as SI Appa Rao stopped our car as we were about to turn into the street where home lies, "Traffic not allowed, please cooperate sir. Order from superior officer." We were barred from entering our own homes!! Sacre bleu! But then, it will be a long time before anything like this ever happens, so we said, c'est la vie and plodded on.
Some of us carefully studied the anchorage plan, so that later on we could rattle off the classes (if not the names) of the vessels parked outside our windows. Of course, it would take a particularly clueless landlubber who would need the anchorage plan to tell the Centaur, Kashin, Krivak and Leander classes apart. Apparently, such people exist. Tsk tsk.
Sunday morning was bright, warm, and hazy. One could only vaguely discern the shapes of the argosy in the distance. Nevertheless, the Prez boarded his "yacht" (we wants one!!) and went up and down the lines of ships, as the sailors manned the decks and cried
Rashtrapati Ki Jai! (3)
As the Presidential column steamed past the outermost line of ships on the seaward side, a number of other ships, submarines and aircraft propagated past at high speed.
Lunch was taken at 2:00. By now, to our astonishment, all the ships had vanished. Gone without a trace.
In the evening, many peepals converged on RK Beach. This was an enthralling sight. (Normally the peepals in Vizag stay rooted to the ground and twirl their leaves in the sunlight.) Be that as it may, the lucky ones with navy issue passes (us, my precious, us!!) found ourselves sitting on the strand, more or less right next to the Presidential stage thingumabob. The sun beat down on the throng. Busybodies were going about, asking people to sit down and stay calm. A vendor was selling cucumbers, "Fresh cucumbers, cool cucumbers." OK, that really didn't happen, but we could've used a cuc. or two.
Proceedings began with the flying past of two power gliders that made a few low passes over the assemblage; the silhouettes of the pilots waving to us. Public was enraptured, and everyone craned their heads skywards and babbled, like so many pigeon chicks waiting for mama (We hate pigeons!!!!!! But this will take a whole post to explain...) Even as the gliders receded in the distance, the placid waters of the Bay of Bengal were churned into a frenzy, as a brace of Super Dvora Mk. II class fast patrol vessels strutted their stuff for drooling Vizagites. Up and down they went, zipzapzoom, tight turns, firing of flares. Very pretty.
While this went on, unbeknownst to us, a bunch of paratroopy chappies had jumped off a Sea King at 8000 feet and started plumetting earthward. As their chutes opened, a collective gasp went up from the pigeon chicks. The fallschirmjaeger swooped down over public and landed right in front of the Prez's podium. They were guided by some smoke bomb type thingys.
The Prez arrived, the Postmaster General presented him with a commemorative stamp, a pair of Chetaks flew past the podium carrying the Indian flag and naval ensign, Lt. Commander Rashmi Singh also dropped in (literally, mit parachute attached, merupu teega laaga in the words of the Telugu announcer) and presented Prez with a commemorative Eastern Naval Command coffee table book, and so on. Once all this hullaballoo had died down, we were free to turn our attention oceanwards, as more interesting things began to happen. Four Type 25 A Kora class guided missile corvettes steamed past in formation.
Everyone was engrossed in this corvettian display. All eyes were turned towards 2 o'clock. No one saw something emerge rapidly out of left field.
Glory be, she came back!!!! She was sailing right in front of our unbelieving eyes. She was gorgeous. She turned into the wind smartly, and launched 3 Harriers in short order. She landed one more, and slipped away towards the horizon.
Not to be outdone by this ostentatious display of naval aviation, 1 nos. Delhi class, 1 nos. Krivak class, 1 nos. Kashin class and 1 nos. Leander class ships came out of the blue, and even as they passed (in staggered formation), 1 nos. Sea King and 3 nos. Kamov helicopters came flying in and hovered over the helipad on the poop deck.
The boys from "Sagar Pavan", the naval aerial acrobatics fellows, showed up from behind us, and did a number of ridiculously dangerous and dangerously ridiculous things (because it was Valentine's day, 3 of them flew about "painting" a heart in the sky, complete with interesecting arrow) with their planes.
We were all wondering what the two oil rig like structures off the beach were. We found out soon enough. A bunch of marine commandos (MARCOs) shot off from the beach in a dinghy type thing, acted busy at the feet of the oil rigs, and a few moments later, they were blown away to kingdom come. A thoughtful Sea King picked them up mid-sea and flitted around with the MARCOs hanging off the rope.
A Kilo class boat that had been coyly lurking in the background chose this moment to launch its own detachment of MARCOs.
These buggers advanced on the Prez, to the accompaniment of much rat-a-tat-boom, staging some sort of an Operation Overlord redux.
Beating of retreat occurred (they played Bolero), and everyone started trooping home, muchly satiated. Later, when it was dark, there was a splendid firing of guided missile, rockets, tracers and ack-ack.
And then the lighting of the lamps.
1. A most remarkable equine. Shows up in the news practically every day. Its always Onnu Onnu Onnu this, O. (3) that, nowadays. This may warrant a separate post.
2. More pictures here.