I reported for duty in the new unit. I was accommodated in the Unit Guest House temporarily. The guest house was built in the year 1900. The double roofed building had magnificent glass windows and wooden floorings. I found an old bath tub made in England, in the bathroom. The ventilators were fifteen feet above the windows. The circular shaped ventilator at the centre of the hall was more than twenty feet high. It could be opened and closed with the help of cotton rope that was tied to it. The Guest House was used by the British officers as their club in those days. Even after the British officers left, the guest house was kept in apple pie order to accommodate inspecting officers and VIPs visiting the unit.
The outgoing officer handed over the mess and explained the duties that would be performed by me. I invited my predecessor for dinner at the guest house. After a couple of drinks he briefed me about the civilian employees of the mess. He mentioned a table waiter. He described him as a pain in the neck. He advised me to deal with him carefully. It was late in the night we bid each other goodnight.
The next day, I went to the mess office. I sent for the waiter. He entered my office with a tea tray. The milk, sugar and tea decoction kept separately. The way he served tea was impressive. I asked him about his roots casually. He told me that he hailed from Madras and his family stayed with his aged parents. I asked him whether he would like to ask for a transfer to one of the units in Madras, so that he could stay with his family. He did not answer my question.
He made a remark about the milk when mixed it into the cup. He told me that the milk had been burnt due to over boiling and that that was not the first time the cook was careless. 0nce before he was marked absent for duty and his pay was deducted from his salary. I did not take notice of his remark.
All the same, I asked the cook whether everything was ok. He told me that the milk was slightly over boiled and he added some cardamom to the tea and then mixed batham powder and served. I asked the cadets whether the breakfast was alright. They were happy to get batham milk.
The readers may wonder how a table waiter could have an upper hand. Since he was one of the senior most waiters, he was detailed to serve tea to the visiting dignitaries at the commandant's office. He came in contact with the commandant more often than I. The commandant used to call him by his name. He could tell tales about the mess to him.
Monthly inspection of the unit doctor had passed without remarks. Even the medical officer advised me to be careful with the waiter. He had told him that the surroundings were always dirty and we had cleaned it for his inspection. I remembered my predecessor's remark that he was a pain in the neck.
After a few days the messenger brought a slip from the commandant. He had asked me to see him in his office when I was free. I was sure of facing the guns. I went immediately .Before entering his office; I looked at the large mirror kept on the verandah to make sure my uniform was in order. On the mirror it was written, "Am I looking smart". He switched on the red-light above the entrance door to indicate that no one should enter the room He offered me a seat. Usually he wouldn't offer a seat unless he had something important to discuss.
He asked me whether I had enough ladles in the kitchen. I did not answer. He told me that what he meant was whether I had enough spoons with long handles. He told me that he had come to know from reliable sources that the cooks used the same ladle to stir the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. I tried to answer. He raised his voice and told me that he was going to deal with iron hand if that was proved. I thought that I was caught on wrong foot. I felt an earth quake under my chair.
He called the adjutant over the intercom. He came in. The commandant asked him to carry out the inspection of the mess and report to him whether there were enough ladles and why the same ladle was used to stir the vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. I was asked to wait in the visitors' room till he came back.
Sitting in the visitors' room I started imagining so many things. I was sure that higher caste cadets who were vegetarians would take it as an insult if they had known what had happened in the kitchen. The Commandant himself a vegetarian would not tolerate either. I thought of the Sepoy mutiny that resulted due to the Introduction of Enfield Rifles whose cartridges were greased with cow and pork fat. Vegetarian soldiers refused to handle the weapon. It caused a lot of problems for the British Indian Army.
The adjutant came back after half an hour.
I was called in but I was not given a seat. The adjutant and I were standing in front of the commandant. The adjutant reported that there were enough ladles in the kitchen and he could not confirm whether the same ladle was used to stir vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The report was the saving grace. I heaved a sigh of relief. The commandant asked me to be more vigilant. I left his office more confused.
I called the head cook and told him what had happened in the office of the commandant. He said," Sir, this is the handiwork of the waiter. You must take some action against him". I knew that I could not take any action since he was close to the commandant. I was waiting for the right opportunity.
The Annual Inspection of the unit was carried out. The inspecting officer from Head quarters asked me to meet him in the guest house. I met him. He was highly appreciative of the mess working. He asked whether anything I wanted him to do for the mess. I mustered enough courage and told him about the problematic waiter and requested him for his transfer.
He stood up and starred at me. He said," What type of officer are you? You want to pass on the problem to some one else. My dear young man, you have a long way to go. You must learn to help your subordinates and not to paint an ugly picture of them. I have never written an adverse report to my under officers. I never hesitated to recommend them for accecelarated promotion when they really deserved. Remember "What you sow, that you reap". You must know that no one is perfect in the world. Do you catch my point?"
After his sermon, I felt that no one would help me to get out of my crisis.
Another year passed with many complaints fabricated against my mess staff and me. That year's Annual Inspection was over. The inspecting officer asked me to meet him in the guest house. I met him. I sought his permission to talk about one of my employees. He nodded his head in approval.
I said," Sir, one of the waiters has a problem. His family is staying with his aged parents. He has grown up daughters to be married. If you could transfer him to any one of the units in Madras". I stopped to study his reaction.
He told me that no problem was new to him. He said that he was very happy to see that I had changed my attitude towards my subordinates. He asked me to forward the waiter's dossier.
The waiter was transferred. The mess staff and I had good night sleep till another waiter sprang up in that place.
In service it was all common. I had learnt to grin and bear it.