But I soon realised that love can creep in even under the sharpest eyes.
Being the Regulating Officer in charge of discipline of the Indian mission in Kiel, West Germany was no cake walk. Our deputation was very unique in the sense, we operated in the city of Kiel in civilian clothes and we lived in private accommodation strewn all over the small city of Kiel and its suburbs of Heikendorf, Mettenhoff and a few other colonies.
On commissioning we would fly our Indian flag on the submarine. Thereafter, we would wear uniforms and man and operate our boats as normal. Officers were living in independent cottages, whereas, the sailors were all sharing apartments in two entire buildings hired by the Navy. My job was to maintain barrack like discipline amongst the men. This gargantuan task was done by me by taking a daily night round around 8:00 pm of the buildings, wherein, I used to drive down in my personal car from Heikendorf and walk around on each floor of the two buildings talking to all and checking that all sailors were present and that there were no nefarious activities going on. This routine was normally followed on working days as a morning muster was held daily first thing in the morning each day at the yard.
On weekends, this was a bit relaxed and I used to telephonically talk to the head sailor to get an “all well” report and take a single round of the place anytime I was free or was passing by that area in my car. My ear was always to the ground to catch any rumblings in the lower decks in case murmurs floated around as galley rumours. But I soon realised that love can creep in even under the sharpest eyes.
Soon there were a flurry of messages that one man named Kumar had ‘jumped ship’, a nautical term for desertion
Life went on as normal till the first of our boats was commissioned and set sail for India. She was to make a few stops for rest and recreation of the crew on her two month long voyage, the first port of call being Le Havre in France. Having waved her off at the jetty on Kieler fjorde and heaving a sigh of relief that my responsibility was halved, I was feeling a bit more relaxed. After a few days, we got the message that our first boat had entered the port of Le Havre and that the crew was getting rest and recuperation in hotels ashore.
Soon there were a flurry of messages that one man named Kumar had ‘jumped ship’, a nautical term for desertion and who could not be found. Since their schedule of the balance voyage had to be met, they radioed that they were maintaining schedule and sailed off at the designated time requesting our boat crew still in Kiel to investigate the case and search for the missing man. As usual, the Regulating Officer, yours truly, was assigned this task.
Our liaison with the German Polizei was always good as we had taken pains to maintain good relations with them just in case unruly incidents occurred and for the safety of our crew. Immediately, I got in touch with the authorities giving the details of our missing man. Even though the incident occurred in Le Havre, France, the super-efficient Polizei sent out an international lookout notice to the neighbouring countries of Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg (also called Benelux) countries as this would have to be the route to traverse through these countries by any deserter.
We were quite perplexed as to why he would be heading back to Kiel, the place which he should in all probability be avoiding.
Within a few hours, we got the information that Kumar was crossing the Belgian border in a bus apparently headed for Kiel. After a brief internal meeting our head of mission decided that we would wait for the man to enter Germany where our jurisdiction would prevail. As time passed, hats off to the super-efficient German Polizei system, we soon got the message that our man had now crossed over from Netherlands into Luxemburg and would be entering Germany shortly. All this tracking was being done silently without the knowledge of our man on the run. We were quite perplexed as to why he would be heading back to Kiel, the place which he should in all probability be avoiding.
Finally, German intelligence intimated us that he had entered the city of Kiel and had gone to a particular house owned by a German family and they asked permission from our head of mission if they should arrest him. Maritime laws are strange sometimes, the ship or submarine flying another country’s flag follows the law of the land of the flag that flies on it. Meaning, Indian laws would be applicable to Kumar if he was brought back on our platform and precincts as our submarine flying the Indian flag anywhere in the world would be like a part of Indian land where Indian laws would apply.
I asked him as to why he had jumped ship and that it was an offence punishable with death in times of war
Our head of mission now delegated that responsibility to me along with another colleague Babs to go and arrest our man from the house where he was supposedly hiding. A German Polizei car was to accompany us but remain in the background. And so, Babs and I having never performed such a duty in our lives before, set out on the mission. As Babs and I rang the bell a middle aged German man opened the door and I told him that we were Indian Naval Officers come to take custody of our sailor Kumar who was present in his house. Initially he feigned ignorance, but over his shoulder I saw a movement and the shadow of our man standing behind a young girl.
Instinctively, I shouted out loudly in my best sergeant major voice trained at the National Defence Academy, “Kumar, bahar aajao” meaning come out. This did the trick and Kumar came out promptly and stood at attention about two feet away from us in the drawing room where Babs and I were standing. I asked him as to why he had jumped ship and that it was an offence punishable with death in times of war, he meekly replied that he was in love with Inge, the young daughter of this German family.
We did not have handcuffs and so we made a military arrest by reading out his rights to him. Having resigned to the situation, he meekly followed us out. The German man said that his daughter was a major and that he had no objection for their union as they were in love, but Babs and I paid no heed to his pleading and we took Kumar to my car parked outside beside the Polizei car. There was a huge drama going on in the house with the girl and her mother weeping loudly calling out to Kumar and the girl professing her love for him and the father standing silently looking at the German Polizei escorts.
Kumar had to be kept in a cell as per Navy regulations but in the absence of one, we kept him in closed custody in one of the apartments in Kiel for about seven days till his deportation formalities were conducted. We later learnt that after his deportation under police escort, he was sent to Mumbai and kept in the naval jail there and after his trial he was dismissed from Naval service and given three years rigorous imprisonment which he served in a Mumbai jail. Babs and I had got to know this news whilst we were still in Kiel and a bit unhappy for being responsible for spoiling a young man’s life because he was in close contact with foreign nationals which was considered espionage besides taking the foolish step of deserting his ship that too in a foreign port. Anyway, this incident soon faded from our memories.
Our boat having returned from Kiel to India immediately after a couple of months kept us mighty busy as we became the new arrow in the Navy’s quiver and started our deployments forthwith. Nearly two years later, on one rare Sunday morning spent in harbour, being the true Parsi that I am, I was on the jetty adjacent to my submarine cleaning and shining my Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle personally. This was a favourite pastime of mine as I lovingly wiped and cleaned the chrome parts specifically, when I heard a loud and enthusiastic “Good morning sir”. As I looked up, I recognised Kumar standing there in front of me smiling.
My first reaction was, “Kumar, what are you doing here? Have you escaped from jail?”
He replied, “No, no, sir, I have been released from the jail as I have completed my sentence.”
Then I said, “But how come so early, it is just 2 years and 2 months?”
He said, Sir, my sentence got reduced due to good conduct.”
I said, “That is very good but why have you come back to the submarine here?”
Kumar said, “Sir, I have come to meet you particularly.”
I thought to myself that this man must be carrying a grudge in his heart against me as I was the one who had arrested him in Kiel and was responsible in a way, for spoiling his life. But what he said made my eyes moist.
Kumar said, “Sir, I don’t care what the world thinks of me, but I wanted the one person in the world, that is you, to know that I really love Inge with all my heart. She is still waiting for me in Kiel.”
I kept silent for him to speak further and he said, “I love her so much that I am going to Germany shortly as all my paperwork has been done and I will be marrying her soon.”
He further added, “I came to thank you for having done your duty and playing a part in shaping my life.”
I said, “Kumar, go live your life that is destined for you, but don’t forget the good things that the Indian Navy has taught you and done for you by sending you to Kiel and do remember us, good luck.”
I, still a bachelor then, not having experienced love as yet, learnt a life lesson right then and there that ‘True love has no boundaries’.
Read more from Aspi here: