Vice Admiral Sarwar Jahan Nizam Ndu Psc
Join the Navy, see the world- is a international slogan of the Navy. But these days you don't have to be a sailor to see the world as travelling has become one of the most popular forms of entertainment. In fact it's more likely that you will get to travel more if you're not in the Navy. When I was young school student, I never even dreamt that one day I would become a sailor.
The first day in classroom when I opened my seamanship book, some of the naval terms baffled me -sickbay meant hospital, a 'bundle man' was a married person, 'holidays' meant the colour difference between ships's bulkheads, officers' Mess was called 'wardroom' and 'head' meant toilet! 'Davy Jones locker' meant the bottom of the sea. There are hundreds of words like this.
Then there were the traditions unique to the navy which I found totally amazing. Like whenever a senior or foreign naval officer boards a ship he/she has to be saluted by blowing the pipe on the gangway. If an officer is promoted, his stripes are to be wetted by hard drinks. Anybody who wears the ranks epaulette improperly has to buy free drinks to others. These peculiar customs have trickled down all the way from the Royal British Navy to the Bangladesh Navy!
Another thing about being in the navy is that you will be changing into a different set of clothes for each different occasion. The morning PT and afternoon games have one type of uniform, office time has normal working rig, (white), at sea we put on combat/navy blue, in the evening we put on “red sea rig” which means- white shirt, black cummerbund with black trousers. On ceremonial occasions such as the passing out parade or state level functions we wear white uniforms - white tunic with white trouser along with medals/ribbons and carry traditional naval sword on one side. During dinner we put on 'mess undress' (not literally) which means-black trousers with white shirt, monkey jacket (to show respect to our forefathers!) and a bow tie. During my time in the navy I have faced many natural calamities, odd situations and had some good times too, which I often cherish. Among them I will never forget the devasatating face of the cyclone of 1991. The metrological department was issuing weather bulletins regularly from April 25 giving danger signals to all concerned. Naval and other maritime agencies were taking all possible precautionary measures to save human lives and property. As the day was passing by, the weather turned for the worse. Gusty wind and drizzling started in early morning of April 29.The sky was gloomy, and full of thick dark clouds.
As the night grew deeper, the cyclone gained furious momentum taking human lives and livestock and destroying the coastal belt of Chittagong. It was about midnight when the wind speed rose up to 215 km/hr. I saw a big merchant ship dragging towards us from the south. I, along with other officers and sailors, were praying loudly to Allah to save us from being hit by the ship. But in no time, the gigantic merchant ship hit our small ships with violent thrusts in the middle of the night between April 29 and 30, 1991. One can imagine the collossal damage a thousand-tonne ship could do to a mere 100 tonne ship. But Allah the Almighty had saved us. The gruesome cyclone finally ended but left untold miseries and immense destruction. This disaster has left a deep scar in my mind, one that will never be erased.
Once I sailed with the ships to South Korea from Chittagong and back, travelling about seven thousand nautical miles through the sea. It was an exhilarating experience crossing the Bays, Straits, seas and oceans. The ship had touched seven seaports of seven Far Eastern countries. The venue, where the fleet review-97 took place was at Chinhe-a naval port of Korea. About 50 ships of 17 countries participated including Bangladesh. Busan, was the lovely and scenic port city of South Korea. The day our ship was entering the harbour a hundred water scooters escorted our ship and welcomed us to the Korean peninsula. All the ships were anchored in one line at outer anchorage. The ships were tastefully decorated with buntings and flags. Our ship was positioned after two Australian frigates facing the sea. Officers and sailors manned the shipside wearing ceremonial attire- ready to welcome the head of the state. The then President of the Korean Republic started reviewing the ships by boarding one of his countries Frigates which was passing by slowly. The blue seawaters and the cool weather of Korea added to the festive atmosphere. Our national anthem was played by our naval band on board while the Korean President was passing by. We saluted the president by blowing the bugle and cheering him by waving our caps in the traditional naval way. In the evening all Captains and Admirals were taken to the nearby naval academy to witness traditional naval parade by the special troupe of the Korean Navy. I was amazed to see the whole parade taking place amidst heavy rain fall. Nobody moved even an inch. It was such an impressive performance by the young naval cadets of Korea and it was hard not to be moved by the obvious patriotism of the Korean people. The young school/college students both male and female were completely soaked with rain water, but they remained totally still and did not break the lines till the end of the parade.
After relishing the sumptuous dinner at the Great Hall, the authority requested us to proceed to the auditorium. I followed the British and Australian Admirals as my name was under the block letter 'B' for Bangladesh. It was a huge hall similar to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. I was sitting inside the cubicles along with Australian and British Admirals and Captains. Just in front of us about one metre away, there was a flat elongated table which was more like a catwalk stage. The national heroes of Korea such as social workers, philanthropists, sports personalities, singers, politicians, national writers or poets, war heroes, famous business magnets etc. were introduced to the world maritime leaders. We have many things to learn from them. In a series of events- a dance troupe of Russian girls appeared on the stage and presented a spell binding performance, followed by another performance by another group of young women. The two hour-long thrilling show ended all too soon.
The writer is former Chief of the Naval Staff.
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