From over the Waves and Far Away…..
1330 hrs, Byculla, Near Mazagaon Docks – From the hulking and hallowed silhouette of the famous educational institute known as St. Mary’s ICSE, and affectionately as Mary’s, emanated a thunderous sound with the kind of synchronicity oft associated with the famous rock bands from historic locales such as England.
To the unassuming vendor hawking his wares of golas and sweets, the stomp-stomp-clap didn’t mean anything but just that. In fact, it seemed that the edifice of the school, cast in grey stone, and to the tune of Gothic architecture by the British some 150 years ago was finally falling apart. For the more discerning pedestrian and the many parents waiting for their wards in the school premises, the stomp-stomp-clap sounded eerily similar to one of the chart busters of 1977.
To the students (Marians henceforth), however, carrying out the tradition of rendering a famous song sung by the Mercurial alum on the last day of final exams with nothing but their hands and feet (as originally intended by the band), the rhythm meant something else – Freedom. It seemed as if the Marians were telling the World that We Will Rock You and they would all be big men someday. Moreover, it was time for summer vacations!
Go Goa Gone…..Commissioning Pennant’s tryst with 1TS
10 years later, 340 Nautical Miles South of Byculla, Near Marmugao Docks – From the hulking silhouettes of what looked like a small flotilla of warships, a bunch of rowdy and scraggly looking youngsters seemed to be celebrating a victory. Not the kind of victories you’d find on the battlefields of Waterloo, but rather the kinds when you’ve managed to uphold traditions which were about to taste the cold steel of the sword wielded by father antiquity.
Standing on the helicopter deck of Indian Naval Ship Mumbai (D62), the scraggly and scrawny youngsters looked with wanton glee as the Executive Officer (XO) and the Medium Range Gunnery Officer (MRGO) of D62 unloaded packet after packet of foreign made chocolates, candies, and beer. The sea cadets of the First Training Squadron had, in finest Naval tradition, pinched the commissioning pennant of the indomitable destroyer from under the noses of her crew – in broad daylight.
Traditions…..Err, what are they?
Fast forward to 2019. Herb Kelleher – co-founder, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, and LCC (Low cost carrier) pioneer bid adieu to the world at 87 years of age. A lawyer by trade, he revolutionized Airline Biz with South West and ensured that it was a profitable entity for 24 consecutive years.
Known to love his juniors and peers as much as he loved his cigars and whiskey, this man would have been out of place in today’s world. His propensity to attend and conduct AGMs with a single-malt and a cigar in mouth would, in today’s world, have done nothing but hastened his departure from the company he founded.
The loss of brash but top quality gentlemen and women is significant in more ways than one. Not only are we letting go of the old world charm, but our intolerance for tolerance in today’s world has caused the various traditions to cease leading to a decline in what is called as the charm.
Commissioning pennants and Admiral’s flags have stopped being pinched. Building Societies have ceased their annual building meets during major festivals, and Byculla has stopped rocking (and kids have started studying?). Which brings us to the moot question – How important are Traditions ?
Belongingness and Nostalgia…
A quick glance at all the hallowed institutions across the globe (from the Etons and Oxfords to Sanawar and beyond), and spanning all industries (famous sport clubs such as Real Madrid, or military communities such as the SAS) reveals an interesting characteristic which is uniquely common to all. Every well known and world class institute is defined by peculiar traits and behavioral characteristics of it’s employees and alumnus.
These traits and behavioral characteristics are what make up the institute’s identity and subsequently lend an identity to the people who serve(d) that institution. Manchester United, known for it’s free flowing and attacking football was compelled to sack Jose Mourinho, a manager with a penchant for a tactical and no-nonsense approach to the game. Mourinho, a football pragmatist, while much maligned in Manchester is still much loved in (Inter) Milan, where defensive football is feted.
Personally, I feel that traditions are and will always be important. As mentioned above, they lay the foundation for the vision and the future of an organization. A simple example (or two) will help to expound my position.
During my days in the Naval Academy, I spent three years in Squadron A – known as a gentleman squadron, where we happened to enjoy the basic luxury of (what I felt were basic) generous shower timings. In spite of the choc-a-bloc schedule, a senior officer cadet would wait his turn for a shower rather than unceremoniously booting out a junior (a common practice elsewhere?).
I recall a funny incident when during my third year, we had seniors from Squadron C stay over for the last two weeks. While I was waiting for a shower to free up (occupied by juniors) after the morning parade practice, a senior from Squadron C, walked in and politely remarked to me as to how he was being bearing the indignity of insubordination ever since moving in. After some uncomfortable shuffling of feet, I finally asked him what the issue was ? He walked out in a huff, and within no time could be heard an argument between him and his course-mate – also my squadron senior. I remember hearing something on the following lines “Your firsties (junior most cadets) have locked the door and are bathing since the past ten minutes. In spite of being a fifth termer, F <insert highly imaginative expletive> ing Karve has the audacity to ask me – ‘sir, what happened’ instead of taking charge!?”
My squadron senior casually told him our squadron’s shower traditions and it was the first time in three years that I realized that this particular trait was unique to my squadron. Just as such small gestures lent us a tag of gentleman squadron, others were traditionally known for their winning attitude, passion for running and/or sports, or for bringing home the Banner (championship) every term – auras which stemmed from traditions and practices intrinsic to themselves, and which are minor by practice by humongous by way of effect.
This just goes to show that even a small practice such as this goes a long way in shaping a persons psyche and moulding him/her in a particular way. To that end, such traditions form a common thread which bonds generations of officers and cadets together for the rest of their life. These shared experiences and rituals, develop a sense of belongingness and positive feelings in an individual.
It is also because of these traditions that I can walk into the Naval Academy with a sense of proprietorship – having gone through the whole gamut of training for four years, and instantly re-connect to the present incumbents. Such re-connections allow the next generation to dream towards the future and also helps to imbibe a sense of purpose. Imagine yourself indulging in the High Table dinner (a formal five/three course meal) at Oxford – a tradition previously graced by the likes of Stephen Hawking to JRR Tolkien to Margaret Thatcher. The sense of shock and awe, of partaking in a activity which has seen luminaries also tends to inspire the present incumbents to seek glory. It is a touch of class after all.
The Way Ahead
As I see it, we humans are already racing towards a future where individual expression and thoughts are diluted to the extent that we will end up as mere robots with hearts. Apart from the signboard with their respective names etched, Stanford Business School will be as good or as bad as the next door IIPM.
We must harness the availability of information and try to weed out traditions which stunt an individual’s mental or physical development. However, modern day’s easy answer to scrap every and any tradition is very much the wrong solution to non-existent problems.
To not be able to recognize that it is only traditions which are the bonds which link the old to the new and which allow past glories to be remembered and celebrated, and new summits to be conquered will be foolish. Alas if these trends continue and such days finally do come to pass, I shall have to re-title this post to Another
One Tradition Bites the dust because then, We are aren’t the Champions but mere robots in human clothing.