By Shoaib Hashmi
It has long been known that when
Robert McNamara became Defense Secretary to JFK,
he was able to cut down many of the army's requirements
by a goodly percentage. The Khakis are notorious
shrinking violets where their stuff is concerned,
but they did not make a peek and Bob made a name
for himself. I know part of the secret, and here
He looked closely at army manuals and found, for
instance, that an artillery battery consisted of
the canon and ammunition and five men. The first
man cleaned the gun before firing by pulling a wad
of cotton tied to a cord through the barrel. As
the thing was 'Pulled Through' the barrel, naturally
it came to be named 'Pull-Through'. The Punjabi
version of it is called Phulltroo and you must admit
compared to that the original is a wuss!
The second man poured the powder into the muzzle,
the third put in the lead ball, and the fourth pulled
the lanyard and fired the gun -- and for the life
of them they couldn't find out what the Fifth man
was supposed to do! They asked everyone from privates
to five-star generals and no one could hazard even
a guess. Finally they met up with a veteran of the
Civil War. This war was fought in the mid-nineteenth
century, before the advent of motorized transport,
and of course he knew the answer -- the fifth man
used to Hold the Horses!
That is one instance of the pitfalls of following
ancient instructions blindly. Here at home for instance
there is an act of 1866, which pertains to dramatic
performances on stage, and other live presentations
in general. By then the British colonial masters
were getting a bit wary of the sentiments of the
natives, and they decreed that you couldn't tout
your opinions to the public before first having
them whetted by the Deputy Commissioner.
No copy of the act is known to exist, but the authorities
still blindly invoke it for their own purposes.
If you want to perform Shakespeare's Hamlet on stage,
you cannot until a clerk sitting in a back room
at the office of the DC has read it, and made necessary
cuts and changes. In my time I have had plays by
Ibsen and Brecht disallowed, but I got away with
'No Sex Please, We're British' because I sent them
the original without the title page.
In the Act a stage performance is called a 'Dance-Drama'
and one clerk made that an excuse to censor musical
compositions also. His boss, the DC was shamed out
of that quickly because the clerk rejected the first
piece of music that came to him as unsuitable for
impressionable audiences due to 'Too much sax and
violins'! He had trouble with English.
All this was brought to mind because a close friend,
who has grown long in the tooth recently had to
go collect his pension. Before they pay you, they
get you to fill out a form, which is also clearly
a leftover from times long immemorial and is copied
hastily year after year by someone in the press.
The form is called 'Whose left', and underneath
it says, "This certificate is not required
from pensioner of Straits Settlement and Hong Kong
Government"! I wonder what the Chinese will
think if they see one.
Actually it is a reasonable requirement as it asks
the bank officer dishing out the money to certify
that on the date of payment the pensioner is still
alive and well; and in token of that the pensioner
is asked to sign the form in his presence, and also
affix his 'finger and thumb impression'. But then
there is a cryptic proviso which goes on, "The
thumb and finger impression need not be taken in
the case of India Princes, European Ladies ..."!
I guess that means that if you were an Indian Prince,
you'd continue to get your pension even when you
were dead as a dormouse. As Mel Brooks said, "It’s
Good to be King".
In fact there is a further proviso which says: (Editors
please don't change this, I have copied it most
carefully and it is an exact copy):
"If the pensioner is a female not ac- customed
to apper in public or male who is unable to appear
at the trea-sury in consequence of bodily bill ness
osenufirmity, the not should be station in the life"?????