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Those were the days, never to come again



I spent almost 38 years in the prestigious Indian Army from January 1960 to August 2000. During this exceptionally long period, I encountered hundreds of problems, met innumerable persons and have ever lasting memories. I make an honest attempt to share some of the interesting anecdotes with readers. As I was from a Hindi medium School (generally referred to as Kanya Putri Pathshala in NDA) the shift to spoken English was a herculean task and we were all allowed to speak only in English at NDA. One of my friends asked the waiter, “Get me tandoori cock fast”, much to the amusement of all from good public schools. We had a few among us who were on the obese side. So, their diet was restricted to boiled food. It was surprising to find that most of them did not lose weight even with the very special diets. Investigation revealed that in addition to special food they were eating normal food, also, on the quiet. In NDA, one is always hungry. So, back in 1963, four of us cadets used to pool 25 paisa, each, and one of my friends, SP Goyal, used to buy ingredients from the market to make superb Halwa. It was only in the 6th term that we were allowed to wear private lounge suits while going out to Pune town on liberty. What great pleasure it gave us all to roam around on the main street in Pune in this suave manner. One of our instructors teaching us chemistry was Keshwani. He often used to say with a smile that when he went alone on his motorcycle nobody saluted him, but when he did so with his young daughter, everybody did so with enthusiasm! We used to see 3 movies a week in pin drop silence. Whenever the famous dancing star of those days Helen came on screen and danced sensually, somebody would whistle. This 10 second whistle meant calamity for us, as, after the movie was over, we all would be made to fall in outside the theatre. On being asked who whistled, always no one would own up, and that meant mass punishment. All of us, dressed in suits, would be made to front roll from the theatre to the mess, a distance of 400 metres. What a sight it used to be, seeing approximately 1000-1500 cadets front- rolling without a whisper. NDA had a tradition that, during the last week of the 6th term, cadets who were passing out from NDA could be ragged by juniors. It used to be great fun seeing a 1st term cadet ragging a 6th term senior. It used to be all in good humour and bonhomie. Generally, pillows were used for senior bashing. For all those who were undisciplined, there were always official punishments like restrictions. These cadets had to report to the drill square around 3 times a day in battledress and undertake some physical punishment. Three years at NDA meant real tough training from January 1962 to December 1964. Those days there was no television, no mobile phones, and no STD booths. So, there was no scope to vent one’s pent up feelings. However, one underwent the training with the best of facilities, fruit, camaraderie and bonhomie. One of the amusingly awkward situations one had to face, immediately after arrival at NDA, was in the bath rooms. Each of the 3 floors of a squadron had two most modern and huge bathrooms. As per the tradition, each cadet is supposed to bathe naked. There were 6 compartments for taking baths but there was no curtain or walls anywhere. For the new arrivals, it took a lot of courage to follow this tradition. I remember one of my colleagues did not take a bath for 6-7 days before he was found out and made to bathe in front of 100 and 150 cadets of the squadron. It was quite common to see a large number of cadets doing push- ups and sit-ups in the birthday dress. In our time, there was a lot of ragging, both mental and physical. At that time, one really abhorred it. Some of it involved doing front and back rolls in the corridors naked; putty parade – this meant changing into various dresses, one after another, like PT, drill, riding, working and mess dress; ordering obe not to go for a movie and, instead, polish the shoes of a senior. I remember one of my colleagues asking a junior to stand in the corner and to keep repeating, “I am the son of a gun” for 15 minutes. We had wire mesh in each cabin. Go to seventh heaven meant jumping as high as possible and holding on to the mesh wire – quite painful. Most interesting was a senior asking one to give his full name as John Archibald Robbins Deans, Tanjore Naarainswamy Jairam Rangaraj Kaddam Bakkam Venkataraman Rajan and so on. Can you believe it, even after leaving NDA 55 years ago, I remember these tongue twisting long names. Later on in life, one realises that these punishments, though despised during the training in NDA, actually make one mentally and physically tough. Later in life, you are able to take tough decisions in troubled times. Once, I went to the Academy with my wife to meet my son on a Sunday and was flabbergasted to see him in battle dress filled with bajri, with his bicycle raised on his head, in pouring rain. My wife was dumb struck and started crying, although my son was smiling. This punishment was being given to him by a senior cadet, half his size. Who can ever forget the scrumptious food, 3500 calories per day, served in the vast and most beautiful NDA cadets’ mess, where 1500 cadets could have meals, simultaneously, within 20 minutes. All of us who relished Tipsy pudding served in the mess remember it fondly till date and the same was served in 2014 during our Golden Jubilee celebrations. I have recounted some of the anecdotes and memories of this bygone era. I will certainly do the same for my stay in IMA as well as my life as an Army Officer. We had a Golden Jubilee of our batch in December 2014 at NDA and many of us make a point to meet as often as possible. As part of this, officers of 27 NDA EME met in Dehradun from 15-18 November, this year, along with their wives. All these officers are now approximately 75 years old. NDA friendships last forever.