Beginning of my days in uniform
I was always keen to join the armed forces and during my higher secondary class (10 + 1) of present days, I planned to appear for the NDA exams. But as all mothers are possessive of their children
(Special love for the eldest one), she did not allow me to appear for that exam. I was quite demoralized but in those days children used to listen to their parents and make sure that their feelings are not hurt. It was in May 1970 that I cleared my higher secondary with a first division (A rare act those days). I was convinced by my parents and some colleagues that engineering is the best option so I took admission in BITS Pilani.
My studies for the first year started in July 1970 but in Aug I saw and advertisement in the papers for increase in the age limit for NDA exam. It came as a God sent gift for me as I thought that I should not miss this opportunity. I went to Kota just two days before the last date of submission of the form. I collected the same from the Zonal recruiting office and after filling it up I convinced my dad to sign it. Much against the wishes of my mother he relented signing it. The next day was the last date and I was sure that a registered post will never reach the UPSC office in time. That evening I went to the railway station and gave my form to RMS (Railway Mail Service). They accepted my form and as the train reaches Delhi in the morning I was praying to God almighty to help me so that my form reaches them. After a couple of days I got their confirmation and I was very elated.
The written exam was to be in Dec 70 and I had chosen the centre of the exam as Jaipur. Meanwhile at BITS Pilani I became a member of YHA (Youth Hostel Association) which had hostels in most of the cities. As no one was there to stay with in Jaipur for those two days of the exam, I chose to put up in this hostel. Only communication was through letters and I was lucky to get a room with them. In December it’s cold in north India, specially in Rajasthan and no bedding was available in trains or guest houses so I had to carry a heavy holdall to ensure that I do not freeze in that cold.
The rest house in Jaipur was in a wilderness and very few knew about it. I got a cycle rickshaw person to take me to it. After much search we could locate the so called rest house. It had a weird look as it was an old depilated building with a big banyan tree next to it. Even the house keeper was staying there. We searched him out and when he opened the room I was aghast to see cobwebs and dust everywhere. It seemed that it was not used for ages. A rickety bed was there in the center of the room. As I put my bedding on it a creaking sound was heard and it seemed to me that it would break. The washroom had half a bucket of dirty water. On asking he told me that water can be filled from the tap outside. For food I had to visit the nearest eating place. It was evening time so I filled a bucket of water and after leaving it in the washroom I went out to eat something. I had my dinner and felt comfortable. Went back to the room and was surprised as there no electricity supply. The bazaar had closed down so I could not get candles. Fortunately I had a torch and I started revising my subject of exam of next day. Within two hours the cells gave up and I was left in the darkness. I tried to sleep but in that ‘Bhoot bangla’ it was scary. Atypical horror movie scene was being enacted. No light, light breeze blowing outside which made the banyan tree leaves russle. A few pigeons had made a nest on the window sil and their ‘Gutar goo’ sound was scary. At that moment I thought that this was a funny way to begin. (I could not afford to stay in a hotel). After sometime I went off to sleep and woke up fresh in the morning. After a quick change and a breakfast, I went to the exam center for my exams. There were two papers and they got over by 5 PM. Came back but on the way bought two big candles to help me study at night. The next day I appeared for two more papers and left for Kota, my home town that evening.
The UPSC results for the written exam of NDA were declared in first week of February. To the surprise of everyone (my peers and elders), I cleared the written exam and was put in the merit for the SSB interview. My call came in end March and as I had opted for Air Force, so I had to go to Dehradun to the No. 1 AFSB (Air Force Selection board). It was a six days stay there and as we were about 30 we all were required to be there for all six days. (Present days nearly 80% candidates are sent back after the first day aptitude test). I cleared my PABT (Pilot Aptitude Battery Tests) followed by the obstacle course and group discussion. A psychology test was also conducted. Now the merit of the group was a closely guarded secret and none of us was aware of what was in store for us the next day. On the penultimate day we had one to one interview with the Vice President of the board. I was interviewed for about 20 minutes but the most surprising answer that I gave shook me as well. He asked me to tell about my weaknesses and I replied that ‘I lack self confidence’. At this he smiled and remarked as not to worry because it was for the services to build my confidence. Next day when the results were announced, I was one amongst the eight selected. I am still wondering how was I selected after that stupid answer but I was later told that one has to be truthful and that did make a difference.
We packed our bags and the selected candidates were sent to Air Force hospital at Delhi. We had to stay there for five days and a very comprehensive medical was done. A few tests were repeated as well. On the last day I was told that I was unfit for the Air Force and Navy because of my substandard vision. I left the place very dejected but medical problem was beyond my doing. My college people were extremely co-operative and gave me enough marks in sessionals and I cleared my First Year with 7.0 CGPA.
The summer vacations had started and I went home to spend them there with my family and relatives. The final merit list was announced in second week of June and to the surprise of everyone I was one of the selected candidates but as an Army candidate. It was celebration time and we all had a good jam session. By 25th of June the selected candidates started receiving the call letters.
The term/ semester commenced in first week of July but I had still not received my call letter. One morning I was very disgusted but then reconciled to the fact that I will have to be back to BITS. I opened up my Maths book to revise the subject. I don’t remember when I felt asleep on the study table itself but was woken up by the ringing of the door bell. I opened the door and a postman was there. He asked me if anyone had applied for the Army. I replied in confirmation and he handed over to me a letter. I opened it up and it was my call letter to NDA. I could not believe it and did not know what to do as I was to join NDA by 15 July with so many of the items to be purchased and reservation done.
My dad went to leave me to the Academy as I had never travelled alone that far. We were to report at Kirkee railway station. There was a reception table where a few faujis sat (I did not know their ranks as I had no clue about them). They took my joining letter and after filling a couple of forms I was asked to wait as the vehicle going back to NDA was to leave after about an hour. They told my dad to leave saying that now onwards they shall take care of me. My dad bid me good bye, went to the other platform. A train for Bombay came within half an hour which he boarded and left. Suddenly I felt lonely and in a strange group.
The vehicle left the station with all of us. It went through a couple of hills (which I later came to know as Pashan Road). Just then we saw a board which read “First view of NDA 50 meters ahead”. All candidates got excited. As we crossed the top point we saw a huge valley full of forest and some buildings nicely laid out. The most impressive building was the Sudan Block (I came to know later). Sudan block was a magnificent block with a huge dome something similar to the dome of Rashtrapati Bhawan. I was assigned “I“ Squadron (Called India Squadron). We were taken to the block with our typical black box and our belongings. All cadets were given a single room each with common washrooms at the end of the corridor. This is how I started my innings at NDA. This was just the beginning and lot many surprises waited for us in the coming days…. (To be continued)…
“Maker of Men” is the slogan of NDA and it is very true. Young boys come here from various walks of life. Boys from sainik/military schools, from convent schools, rural areas, urban areas, lower class, middle class, well to do families, etc. but all are treated in a similar manner. Training and facilities for all are the same. Everyone is a Cadet first and then his name. NDA transformed me from a lower middle class boy with a pure civilian background into a young responsible man.
Our three years of training in Kharakvasla was a rigorous one with just enough time for our activities to be done. At the start of every term (semester) a calendar for the complete semester was given to each cadet. It had all the major activities preplanned and the authorities used to follow this calendar in letter and spirit. The first thing a cadet used to do in this calendar was to write the DLTGH (Days Left To Go Home). The count used to start from the last day of the term backwards to the first day. The cadet may forget anything but this count used to work like an automatic watch in his brain. It indicated that when could one go back home after the term.
Every cadet was getting trained both officially by the instructors and Officers of the academy and unofficially by the senior cadets. The spirit of all types developed tremendously. The old boys of a particular school looked after their juniors well and that was termed as “School type spirit”. Next came the “Course spirit” and it developed in the sense that all cadets of the same course shall go through any amount of punishment but will not divulge the secrets of their course mates. It then grew up to the “Squadron spirit” where all cadets of the same squadron used to fight tooth and nail for the prestige of the squadron. All competitions whether team games or individual games or activities were getting points for the squadron and it helped in every squadron to do their best and compete for the Commandants banner. As the terms passed by the spirit of your service was inadvertently developed as each service cadet (Army, Navy or Air Force) thought themselves from the best service. But the co-ordination developed amongst various services used to prove a big boon at a later stage in the service career. At present the Army Chief, General DS Suhag and Air Force Chief, Air Marshal Saha were together at the same time in NDA. The inter services understanding was unique and the basic aim of NDA was to develop this understanding in the young cadets.
I can keep on writing about NDA endlessly but here I shall pen down some of the interesting facts relating to my training. Our NDA prayer “O God help us to keep ourselves physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight ……….” has each word so framed that it is a summary of what a cadet should be. This prayer was recited by all cadets of a squadron together at the reveille (morning fall-in) time. Our uniforms were checked by various senior cadet appointments such as corporals, sergeants, company sergeant major (CSM), and many more. The day began with outdoor training, generally both physical training and drill training. But an odd day had only one outdoor and we used to feel a sense of relief. Breakfast was between 0900hrs to 1000hrs and all 1500 cadets were catered for it as per their choice. Each had a proper sitting and was served with porridge, eggs per choice, bread, butter, jam. Tea/ coffee as the cadet wanted. Milk was served in milk jugs for all. Best part was that within a short span, practically half an hour, all cadets were served breakfast. All were supposed to reach their respective classrooms by 1000hrs as the classes began at that time. All cadets were given a cycle each and were supposed to move in a squad of 10 to 12 cadets. Those not having their bikes for one reason or the other were required to run to the next place of training as walking was prohibited for all cadets. Classes were held for all subjects as per time table. 46 course was the first batch to get B. Sc. / B.A. degree from JNU. The faculty was par excellence and had seen the cadets over the ages. A few were right from the time the Academy started in 1949. The lunch was from 1330 hrs to 1430 hrs. The uniform of all cadets was checked by senior appointments or the drill ustads (instructors). All defaulters had to hand over their I-cards and would get them back only after the punishment was done. From the metal tips of your shoe laces to your handkerchief and to your haircut was checked. After lunch, the cadets, weak in a particular event e.g. PT or drill were given extra training. The games activity started at 4PM and got over at 5.30PM. Cadets used to move to the squadrons, have a cup of tea with snacks, have a bath, dress up in their khakis. All used to assemble in the ante room where the orders were passed to all cadets and seniors used to motivate the juniors for upcoming competitions. From 6.30PM to 8.30PM was study time where all cadets were required to sit on their study tables keeping the doors of their cabins open. This was followed by dinner and lights out time was 10.30 PM and reveille was at 05.30 AM.
Games and sports were given lot of importance and most of the time the inter squadron competitions were held. All cadets of the team were to go for the games along with the extras whereas the other cadets were there to cheer their squadron teams. Loud chorus cheers like “Up Up India (your squadron name)… that’s the way India… keep it up India…. Score a goal India… etc” were heard on all grounds. There were about 12 football fields, same number of hockey fields and you name a game and it was played there. People knowing a game used to get more training in that particular game. Cadets interested in picking up a new game were given all the support. I loved the game of hockey and became a member of the academy team from the first term itself. I captained the Academy Hockey team in my final term and was awarded “Blue” in that game. The academy teams used to play many matches in local tournaments and participate in the triangular series played between NDA, IMA and ACC. I picked the games of squash, badminton, basketball and athletics. I was lucky to be a member of the riding club and got a chance to go for sailing as well.
The three years of stay at NDA was full of events for me. Being a non-swimmer I had to learn swimming which took some time. I had the opportunity to sit for the first time on a horseback and it was a great experience to go through the riding training for two years. I was the right marker of the academy drill from my 3rd term onwards. Became a corporal in my 4th term and a sergeant in the 5th term. In the final term I got the appointment of Academy Cadet Adjutant (ACA) responsible for the discipline of all 1500 cadets. Finally passed out of NDA in June 1974. After a short break of two weeks I reported to the next training centre, The Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehradun.
Training at IMA was of one year duration and it was an absolute professional one. The trainees are called “Gentleman Cadet (GC)”. For the next one year along with the classroom training we were taught field craft, weapon training, tactics, etc. There were two camps held, one in each term where we got a chance to practice the field craft and tactical skills on the ground. In my final term I became Senior Under Officer (SUO) and in rotation the Academy Under Officer (AUO). Somewhere in the mid of the term we were asked to give our choice of arms which we were keen to join but the final allotment decision was of the Army Headquarters. My Battalion Commander wanted me to join the Corp of Engineers and that to its Para regiment. My mother took a promise out of me that I would opt for EME (Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineering). The former is a fighting arm and the latter is a service. I opted for EME. The final appointments when announced did not have my name in the senior appointments as I had opted for a service. But my overall marks were so high that I was one of the top 20. These 20 cadets are given their choice arm/ service. I passed out of IMA as 7th in the order of merit and was commissioned into EME on 15 June 1975. My parents attended my pipping ceremony for a 2nd Lieutenant and were very proud of me.
(To be continued….)