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Life & Times of an INDUSTANI: Six Degrees of Separation

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By SHIV KUNAL VERMA

In the annals of Indian writing, this book will find a place for itself as a ‘pathfinder’, as it fearlessly and bluntly recounts the incredible sequence of events that shaped the author’s life. At one level, the book comes at you like machine gun fire, the pace and scope of which is unrelenting. In this completely apolitical approach to life where he charts out his own path, Kunal’s experiences hold up a mirror that should not and cannot be ignored by all walks of society. It’s simply brilliant!

General (Dr) Vijay Kumar Singh
Former Chief of Army Staff
Minister of State, Government of India

Chapter – IV

The Doon School: North to South

Back in Dehradun, after hectic last-minute preparations, I arrived at the Doon School wearing a pair of green trousers. Since my cousin Vinoo Hoon had been in Hyderabad House, the ‘Sorting Hat’ or its equivalent did not have to tax itself and I was assigned to Hyderabad B. Dr S. D. Singh, who had been my father’s tutor in Birla Vidya Niketan, Nainital was my housemaster and Amitav Ghosh my house captain. My grandfather, Narendra Singh, also knew a forest officer who lived in the Forest Research Institute, and his son, Ramchandra Guha was told to ‘look after me’. Coincidentally, as I reached school, he was perhaps the first person I met and he said to me, in no uncertain terms, that he didn’t want to ‘see me my f#@%ing face for the rest of the year!’ The second person I met was a Sikh who had hair sprouting from his face and I would learn later he was known as ‘Uppal Surd’. I tried to get past him, but he caught me and asked why was I wearing olive green pants. I honestly told him my mother had cut up my father’s old pants and made mine.

Uppal Surd’s collective wisdom and deduction powers (he had been in Doon at that point for four years at least) came to the fore. ‘Your pop is in the army?’

‘Yes,’ I said, drawing myself up to my full height, which was four feet something at the time.

‘Oh, I see …’ Then he decreed, ‘Your name from today is going to be “Rifleman Fauji”.’ Luckily for me, the ‘Rifleman’ bit got dropped, but I was ‘Fauji’ from that day onwards.

Quite a few of my batchmates were sons of old boys and had then been groomed for the Doon School by spending four years at Welham Boys’, which was then a preparatory school. This lot were miles ahead of us D Formers (grade VII) for they knew the ins and outs of what was expected of us, plus they had been in Doon for a year as well, having joined in E Form (grade VI). Nevertheless, one settled down quickly, and I was just beginning to get used to the daily routine when things started to go wrong drastically wrong.

On a weekday I was surprised to see my mother struggling across the Main Field. From a distance, she resembled an orangutan, as both arms were holding two bags that were clearly extremely heavy. I sprinted across and asked her what on earth was she doing in school. She shooed me off and disappeared into my housemaster’s bungalow, where I dared not follow. So, I waited, and three minutes later she was back minus her load. Again, I asked her what was she up to. I was obviously irritating her with my persistence, so she sat me down in the car, and told me that I had actually failed the Doon School entrance examination and it was Dr Singh’s extreme kindness and the fact that he had been my father’s tutor, that he had inflated my marks so I could get in. Since he had done this huge favour, he had politely enquired after that if my father’s liquor card could be used, of course scrupulously on payment, for he as a housemaster had a huge social requirement for whisky and rum. Hence the orangutan act!

I was blown sky-high by this revelation and suddenly hated being in Doon School. I wanted to run away but had no clue where to go. I was 11 years old, and quite honestly, my world had fallen apart.

INDUSTANI is being released on 13 November at the Valley of Words International Literature & Arts Festival in Dehradun. The Dehradun born and bred Shiv Kunal Verma is the author of 1962: The War That Wasn’t and 1965: A Western Sunrise, both considered to be the most definitive accounts of the two conflicts.

 

Born into an army family – more precisely 2 Rajput which was his father’s battalion – the author’s early childhood was tempered by the fact that most soldiers were then mostly away from home posted in field areas. Brought up under the watchful eye of a remarkable mother, after his initial schooling at St Joseph’s Academy and a year at Fort Benning in the United States, he was sent to the Doon School, an institution that would shape his entire outlook towards life. Having then graduated from Madras Christian College in Tambaram, his initial years were spent working with Tiger Tops Mountain Travel in Ladakh and Nepal.

 

Subsequently a journalist, a film maker and a writer, he has worked briefly with India Today, the Associated Press and with Sanctuary Films before he formed KaleidoIndia, under which banner some classic films like Salt of the Earth and the Standard Bearers were shot and produced. In 1999 he filmed the Kargil War and in the last decade and a half, has authored some exceptional books that also include the Northeast TrilogyThe Long Road to Siachen and quite a few others. He is now working on the seminal Value Education Program for schools that aims at bringing India to Indians especially at the school and college levels.

The Garhwal Post serializes six extracts from the book INDUSTANI as a prelude to the books release on Sunday.