Kids Corner


A Signalman's Son







Yesterday at the Leighton Studio
in Banff someone revived
a long dead poet who grew up listening
to an Olivetti (Father: Journalist)

And I thought I grew
to the sounds of Morse
code, la de da radio sets
ghostly self-typing Telex machines

Some two continents away now
My ears brim over 
do-dah did-did-it
Alpha Bravo Charlie Romeo OVER

Kilo Delta OVER. Not the line of sight flag
signals they were. More like invisible
waves to the child’s imagination. A game
of vanishing distances invented by gods

before I was born. Sufficiently enlarged 
now in my hands my father’s black-and-white
wedding photo. He is on a
two-and-a-half day leave from his regiment

Wide-eyed in civilian dress. A long sash 
of reddened muslin forms a bridge
Knots him to my mother. Together they
circle the First Book, the Adi Granth

Both wear garlands of rose, marigold. In his
hand the bridegroom’s symbolic sword. But
already it has become a word
an orderly combination of dots

and dashes. For him receiving and transmitting
signals through a mountain
terrain was like
tapping into the collective unconscious

of armies and their soldiers. On this side
and that. High, ultra-high
and very-high frequencies
of trust and betrayal

Right after the wedding
he returned to the remote post near the border
One of the two in the platoon who masterfully
deciphered enigmas, plucking meaning out of air

Wonder what palimpsest messages he sent
back home to my mother
in the city of Partition survivors. And how
she managed to un-code them

during dusks and dawn. Today from the Leighton Studio
on ‘Sleeping Buffalo’ I saw the remains of a wild-
fire shaped like an ever widening ring. A tangent line 
of a mountain the natives used to call the ‘Cloud Maker’

Only a few memories survive
of that un-born time. A superposition
of trillion crackling frequencies
Sometimes I don’t hear a damn thing

*   *   *   *   *

Jaspreet Singh is the author of Chef and Helium, both novels published by Bloomsbury.

October 14, 2015

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 14, 2015, 7:58 PM.

Jaspreet - What a pleasant surprise to know of your association with Morse Code. I learnt it in 1962 to qualify for an Amateur Radio License and obtained a coveted call sign of 9M2SS. There was this dentist with a very busy practice who was also learning the Morse Code. He used his drill as a Morse key. One day he had a signalman in his chair and he sent this message: "You should have seen the dentist earlier." Unknown to him, the signalman knew Morse Code. He replied, with a series of blinks ... in Morse Code! "Received message, loud and clear!"

2: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), October 15, 2015, 8:23 PM.

Jaspreet, you have opened a Pandora's Box: there are hundreds of stories where the Morse Code averted disasters. I will quote just a couple of examples. A large number of American soldiers were captured by North Vietnamese and often produced as their propaganda line that they were being treated fairly. Jerimiah Denton, then an enlisted soldier but later Admiral Jerimiah Denton, was intimidated to respond properly and politely while seemingly so, kept blinking his eyes in Morse Code, spelling out a covert message -- “TORTURE”. Then there was the case of USS Wood which lost all communication due to failure of its generators and was stranded in a busy shipping lane. They had a big telescope and noticed a large freighter heading directly for them. There was no way to communicate. As luck would have it, a Russian Destroyer appeared nearby. Luckily there was a battery powered lantern on USS Wood and the amateur radio operator Glen Pladsen managed to talk in Morse to the Russian Destroyer which then managed to have the freighter diverted. The Russian Destroyer then stayed on until USS Wood had their engines going. Morse Code is an international language and we radio amateurs have our trade mark slogan: “One World One Language."

3: Gurbux Singh (Chatsworth, California, USA), October 16, 2015, 12:45 PM.

Morse Code is a universal language of sound consisting of dots and dashes allowing radio operators to communicate with others and get messages across language barriers. Amateur radio operators use this medium and enjoy contacting other amateurs in the world. I learned it and got my license in 1955 and enjoy this great hobby. To add to what S. Sangat Singh has said, John McCain who is now Senator McCain was a POW in North Korea and during the staged interview for foreign consumption was able to tell the world of the torture meted out by blinking his eyes in Morse Code. Using the Code, I end with QSl? 73, Gurbux W6BUX

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