Sometime back – while I was having a drink in RSI Pune – I met an Army Officer who was posted to New Delhi.
He told me that he lived in the “Battle Honours” Mess.
“Oh – the Mess on SP Marg…?” I asked.
“Yes…” he said.
“I have lived there in 1981-1982…” I said.
“How is that possible…? You were in the Navy. The Army Battle Honours Mess is for Army Officers only…” he said.
“Those days it was a Combined Inter-service Officers’ Mess for Army and Navy Officers…” I told him.
Then – I told him the story of the famous “War of the Messes” – which was fought on the “Battlefields” of New Delhi around 37 years ago in the early 1980’s – where “Battle Honours” were won – to commemorate which – the Inter-Service “SP Marg Officers Mess” was renamed as the “Army Battle Honours Mess”.
So – Dear Reader – let me delve into my “Humor in Uniform” archives – and tell you the story of the “War of the Messes”…
Humor in Uniform
A Lesson in “Jointmanship” – War of the Messes
WAR OF THE MESSES – A Fictional Spoof By Vikram Karve
Various Wars have been documented, studied, discussed and analyzed – and relevant literature is readily available online and offline for all those interested in the subject.
But have you heard of the “War of the Messes”…?
Do you know that this “War of the Messes” took place in 1982 on the “battlefield” of New Delhi…?
This was a unique “war”.
In conventional wars – junior officers and men do the fighting – while Generals and Admirals watch on.
However – the “War of the Messes” was “fought” by Generals and Admirals – while Junior Officers watched on.
This is what happened.
Till 1981 – Army and Navy had two common Officers’ Messes in New Delhi – a brand new Mess at SP Marg – and a rather antediluvian Mess at Kota House.
Young Army and Navy Bachelor Officers lived together in these Officers’ Messes in great harmony with a spirit of camaraderie.
So – the Air Force had its iconic Central Vista (CV) Air Force Officers’ Mess on Janpath.
The ageing dilapidated Kota House Mess was conveniently located in the heart of New Delhi – so – the Kota House Mess was preferred by the slightly Older “Bachelor” Officers.
The younger Officers preferred the modern SP Marg Mess located at faraway Dhaula Kuan.
(38 years ago– in 1981 – Dhaula Kuan was considered a “distant” place on the “outskirts” of New Delhi).
SP Marg Officers’ Mess was a lively place with a laissez faire atmosphere.
I spent some of the best days of my life in SP Marg Officers’ Mess – and even today – as I hark back to my Navy Days – I fondly cherish my glorious days at SP Marg Officers’ Mess.
Relations between us Naval Officers and our Army Messmates were excellent.
We made a lot of Army friends.
In fact – it was at SP Marg Officers Mess that I first made close friendships with fellow Army Officers – lasting friendships which endure even till today.
We young bachelor officers lived happily together in SP Marg Officers Mess – and – there was an atmosphere of bonhomie in the evenings – when we all sat together on the lawns – or in the bar – enjoying our drinks.
If you wanted to see an example of authentic “jointmanship” and genuine “inter-service camaraderie” – SP Marg Officers” Mess was a shining example.
I am sure it was the same happy spirit of camaraderie and bonhomie between Army and Navy Officers at Kota House too.
Everyone was living happily – but – sadly – it was not going to be a case of “happily ever after” – because suddenly – the “War of the Messes” erupted.
Most of us junior officers did not even know that a “war” had broken out.
As I said earlier – this was a unique “war”.
This “War of the Messes” was not fought on the “battlefields” of SP Marg and Kota House Messes.
Conventional military tactics and weapons were not used in this unique “War”.
This “war” was “fought” in air-conditioned offices in Sena Bhawan and South Block – by Generals and Admirals – using the far more potent bureaucratic weapon – “PAPER”
Yes – PAPER is the most powerful “weapon” in peacetime soldiering.
The “war of the messes” was not a physical war – it was a “paper war”.
By the time “cease-fire” was declared – the Generals seemed to be on the brink of victory – and – the Admirals appeared to be on the verge of defeat.
The “spoils of war” were divided.
The “victorious” Army won the coveted modern SP Marg Officers’ Mess.
The “vanquished” Navy was banished to the ancient decrepit Kota House Officers’ Mess.
To commemorate their “victory” over the Admirals in the “war of the messes” – the Generals renamed SP Marg Officers Mess – as – Army “Battle Honours Mess”.
In order to further “celebrate” their “victory” in the “war of the messes” – the Generals evicted Naval Officers from the SP Marg Officers’ Mess.
In a retaliatory gesture of “jointmanship” – the Admirals evicted Army Officers from the Kota House Officers’ Mess.
It was quite sad to see friendly messmates who were living together as buddies – being wrenched apart and separated – as per the colour of their uniform – just to suit the “whims and fancies” of a few Generals and Admirals.
The scene was reminiscent of partition days – when friends who were living amicably together as friends for many years – had to leave their homes – and go to another land – just because of the decisions of a few politicians.
Metaphorically – Junior Officers of the Army and Navy were like happy children who had to separate due to the “divorce” of their parents (Generals/Admirals) – one parent getting “custody” of one child – and – the other parent getting the custody of the other child.
While the senior officers fought the “war of the messes” with each other – it was the junior officers who suffered as a result of these internecine turf wars, ego battles and personality clashes.
The biggest irony was that not even a single General or Admiral who initiated and “fought” the “war of the messes” actually lived in these two Officers’ Messes at SP Marg and Kota House – which were primarily a home for young bachelor officers.
Another amusing paradox was that – many of the officers involved in “fighting” this “war of the messes” with each other – they were products of the famous “joint training institution” – the National Defence Academy (NDA) – some of them were NDA course-mates – but – they fought with each other most viciously.
We have seen in the Navy too – that NDA coursemates fight most viciously with each other when they reach higher rank – especially in “succession battles”.
It seems that – the so-called “NDA camaraderie” is a myth – especially as Officers reach High Rank.
But one thing is sure – whereas ex-NDA Officers fight ferocious “peacetime paper wars” with each other – but – they get “outwitted” easily by the Civilian Bureaucrats – who are experts in “paper war” strategy.
There is no scope for a “war of the messes” in future.
This is because – now – each Defence Service has its own separate Officers’ Mess in New Delhi – so that the Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals can have their own separate “fiefdoms”.
On many occasions – I have heard Senior Officers lecturing and pontificating about the need for “jointmanship” in the Indian Armed Forces.
But – Dear Reader – please tell me one thing.
What so-called “jointmanship” are you talking about – when you can’t even have a “Joint Officers’ Mess” – where Officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force can live together, drink together and eat together with bonhomie and camaraderie – and build lifelong friendships…?
(Earlier – in Pune – the Rajendra Sinhji Institute (RSI) was truly an Inter-Service Institution.
Established in 1950 – the initial name of RSI was “The Rajendra Sinhji Institute for Defence Services Officers” – indicating that RSI was equally for Officers/Veterans of all the 3 Defence Services.
But – it seems – in recent times – the virus of “jointmanship” is showing a tendency to affect RSI too.
Someone told me that in an act of “jointmanship” by the Army – RSI has been renamed RSAMI (Rajendra Sinhji Army Mess and Institute).
As Military Veterans – we sincerely hope that this pernicious virus of “jointmanship” is not allowed to proliferate and destroy the spirit of inter-service comradeship and camaraderie…)
I think the first step towards achieving genuine jointmanship is to convert all Officers’ Messes in New Delhi into Tri-Service Combined Officers’ Messes for Officers of all the three Defence Services (Army, Navy and Air-Force).
Then – this “Tri-Service Officers’ Mess” concept can be implemented in other military stations – where the 3 Defence Services co-exist in the same city/town.
On the one hand – we talk of “integrating” our three Defence Services.
On the other hand – each Defence Service wants to build its own separate “empire”.
Future Wars will have to be fought together by the 3 Defence Services in an integrated manner.
I feel that:
The first step in “fighting together” is learning to “live together”
Do you agree…?
Copyright © Vikram Karve
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- This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
- All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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Link to my original post in my Blog Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/05/army-vs-navy-war-of-messes.html
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
This story was written by me Vikram Karve more than 5 years ago in 2013 and posted online earlier in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Blog at url: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2013/12/humor-in-uniform-jointmanship.html and later revised in the year 2014 and posted online by me Vikram Karve in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve Blog on 23 Jan 2015 at url: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/01/humor-in-uniform-war-of-messes.html and later at url: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/05/humor-in-uniform-battle-honours-war-of.html and url: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2015/10/humor-in-uniform-jointmanship-in-action.html and https://karve.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/jointmanship-in-action-humor-in-uniform/and https://karve.wordpress.com/2018/08/26/humor-in-uniform-war-of-the-messes/ and http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2016/01/humor-in-uniform-lesson-in-jointmanship.html