Tuesday, August 25, 2009


By Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant,VSM

General Deepak Kapoor, top most commanding general of the Indian Army went round the defence establishments of the United Kingdom to update his knowledge about what was cooking in India’s former colonial master’s kitchen. The British Army Chief also drops in off and on to take a look at the Indian army that his ancestors had raised, trained and led into battle. After all old colleagues on back slapping terms must visit each other’s country to compare notes. Absolutely fine and traditional.

When the British officers of high and middle ranks visit their old units and regiments they are looked after well. There is wining and dining galore. The officers mess hosting the dinner or lunch takes out its finest silver collected or captured in post victory loot euphemistically called spoils of war. With great pride young officers narrate the regimental history in battles won or lost from Ghazni to Ghaza and from Faizabad to Flanders and associate the silverware to the places and events of historical importance. The menu of the meal to be served for the British officers is scrutinized not only by the president of the mess committee who also doubles up as the second-in-command of the outfit but also by the wife of the commanding officer who had done a course in cookery in her school days. The mess havildar or the steward is briefed and briefed again that chicken legs must be soft but meat and bone must remain intact. When the commanding officer declares that everything is ship shape the British officers are ushered in and treated like Maharajahs. The Indian hospitality puts its best foot forward.

Let us move to the Kensington Palace in London, UK. General Deepak Kapoor, Chief of the Indian Army Staff is on an official visit and is invited by his counterpart General Sir Richard Dannatt to an official get together. Indeed, Kensington Palace is an important place and some of the Royal family members including Prince Charles and his family lived there. Foreign dignitaries are also entertained there in a place earmarked for the purpose. As a matter of protocol the Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Shiv Mukherjee was one of the dignitaries invited. Was there an army band in attendance to play some martial music? Not sure if it was there or was cut out as the first step in British austerity.

It would be a good idea to take a look at the menu for the visiting dignitary, the Indian Army Chief. What would you like to drink, the host enquired of guests. Without waiting for a reply he signalled wine to be served. My goodness! What a cheap wine it was. Tasting is believing. In India nothing short of a single malt Scotch whisky would be served on an important occasion like this. Mind you the incident being narrated took place before boycott of Scotch whisky following premature release of the Lockerbie bomber and his royal reception in Libya. Anyway, good guests do not crib and the Indian Army Chief is well known for his good manners. The main meal followed. Entry and starter need not be mentioned in detail as the column space is limited. It is understood from reliable sources that General Kapoor was served a meal consisting of” pastry, cheese and salmon”. The insiders confide that it was bought off the shelf from a mass retail chain. No further comments, please.

A word on cost of the meal would be in order. It cost GBP(Great Britain Pound) 5.15 per plate. You see the British Army does everything with aplomb, be it making love or fighting a war. Indeed in these days of recession, austerity in hospitality must be observed meticulously. Never mind if the guest goes home hungry and diplomacy goes down in dumps. After all the British themselves recount the saying “penny wise Pound foolish”; whatever that may mean.

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