Many Officers at the lunch table were getting impatient. No table knife on a chicken day? How terrible!
The Stewards too were beginning to show some irritation at our insistent demand for knives. They justified their non-compliance on some recently published Navy Order regarding knives. Navy Order? On knives? How strange?
I was a late entrant into the club that transports food into the mouth with the aid of equipment, when perfectly natural means were easily at hand, literally.
It was my right hand that had taught me the numbers and the Malayalam alphabet. But that didn’t require the whole hand. Just the index finger was enough. The finger would gleefully course through soft white sand spread on a cow dung smeared floor in a little pathsala our neighbour operated from a corner of her humble abode.
When a new alphabet or number had to be written, a sweep of the right palm would simply rub the existing bit of knowledge into the sand and create a cheerful fresh page in a jiffy. What great knowledge that sand must have absorbed!
Back home, the same hand, washed willingly and then washed again under duress from some elder or the other, would eagerly direct food to the mouth. Forks and spoons, let alone knives, were unknown.
Later years at Sainik School didn’t change the status quo in any way, as we mostly ate with our hands. And there I was, at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in early 1981, still a stranger to the use of ‘arms’ for food, the way the Academy understood it.
Breakfast on Day 1 was horror. Two boiled eggs easily evaded my tentative attempts to conquer them with a fork and knife. The porcelain plate and the boiled eggs visually appeared to be close relatives and hence their wicked collaboration looked natural.
As time was short, I had to make do with bread and milk that day. Soon ‘necessity’ caused what had long been alleged in an old saying and a simple ‘invention’ was born.
Whenever I would sit in front of boiled eggs, I would launch into animated conversation with plenty of hand movements and at some opportune moment deftly press the eggs hard with a palm. Altered in shape and their resistance broken, they would meekly cooperate in their own dismemberment with my fork and knife.
By the third term (semester) at NDA, cutlery had become old hat. At least I thought so.
That is when one heavily moustachioed Captain Anshu Trivedi, Indian Infantry’s gift to the NDA, landed in my India Squadron. He would join us on the dining table in true soldierly tradition and regale us with action stories. Meanwhile, he would also eat everything in his plate with just one ‘arm’. His fork. The way he would casually strip the most complicated chicken piece of every edible component with it, was mesmerising.
But cadets weren’t allowed such economising in effort. It had to be ‘all arms training’ for them. Thus we laboured on, the old way. The worst was when chicken was served. Now, one had to handle a knife, a fork and a spoon. Two hands and three weapons.
But life has a way of getting everyone get used to just about anything.
Over time, this became a dependency, until the day some Navy Order permanently robbed us of the critical knife.
That particular Navy Order had meant no harm of course. It was only the result of an Indianisation process the Armed Forces were putting their colonial customs through.
That’s when old lessons became useful. Capt Anshu Trivedi was immediately remembered and emulated. It didn’t take long to reach his level of proficiency.
Viva fauji training. There’s something in it for everything!
Read more from Cmde Prakash here: