NDA Memories worth Relishing

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"Life is not what one lived,but what one remembers and how one remembers in order to recount it."

Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

"Do you remember that time when the drill sahab,Subedar Gurmel Singh chased you and Baidwan to the social science block?" Jaydee asked me on the phone.We are from the same class of National Defence Academy,the non technicals of eighty eight two.

Social science block was a huge,later addition classroom building to accomodate the wood carving and graffiti making non techies,the arts and commerce students,simply stated the lower orders of NDA,the "Untermenschen."Most of the boys like me were conscientious objectors to any further education.We had joined NDA to escape the torture and indecency of spending our youth enslaved to studies.We chose history and geography to sleep through graduation,the subjects that required no mental gymnastics.Now only the breed of ex NDAs knows how pleasant can be the sleep when your cheek rests on the hard plank of your graffiti smeared desk.On my first term break I had asked my mother to make me a tiny pillow.She wanted to know why I wanted a six inch by six inch pillow.I said I wanted to gift it to an orphanage in Pune.She was supportive,she thought NDA was really making me a pious,piety seeking boy.She said,

"Beta,I will make you two why only one."

I said,

"Mother just one will be sufficient."

When the term break ended,We boarded the NDA Special Military Train from New Delhi.When the train reached Itarsi Junction,a senior who had been making us do front rolls and push ups most of the journey,singled me out and said,

"You Fkar,here is ten rupees.Go fly to the station.As you exit ,there will be a Wine Shop called "Dey Daroo."Get me a pauwwa of old monk.Vanish."

Obedient to unwritten laws of academy,I jumped across railway lines heading straight for platform no one.I shot out of the station and found the liquor shop named Dey Daroo.The vendor wrapped the pauwwa in newspaper and I stuffed it in my pocket and raced back.When I had vaulted across railway tracks,I found a white hackelled drill ustaad waiting for me.He saw the bulge in my pocket and took out the pauwwa.

"Accha,second term me hi daroo peena shuru-O so a second termers wants to drink daroo."

Second term started with a bang and fourteen restrictions.Charge read,

"Found in possesion of unauthorised drinking material and without permission leaving NDA Special."

The pleasure of running five kilometres in hobnailed boots with full packs, under the two o clock sun was all mine.The sun baked road with curves ,bends and slopes through forest and scrub.The clatter and thunk of boot nails,the rattle of water bottle caps and mess tin going clink,clink,clink.The satisfaction of completing the restrictions till more came tumbling in your lap.

Doctor Dey was a kind professor.He taught us history and he possessed a world war two Sherman tank ,khakhi coloured helmet that he wore as he drove his Lambretta scooter.The helmet had circular ventilation holes all over it.Its was his life's mission to teach us the Panchsheel Agreement threadbare.He took out an ancient diary,probably his own college notes from the 1950's in which he had many large sheets folded.The sheets were all brown due to age and torn at the fold lines.He used to wear thick soda bottle glasses and as soon as he put on his glasses and opened his Nehru era notes,I used to take out my small pillow from my satchel,put it on my desk,rest my cheek on it and doze off.Jaydee used to sit with me on the adjacent chair.Sometimes Doctor Dey would enquire,

"Is that Ahlawat sleeping?"

Jaydee would say,

"No sir he is studying."

Doctor Dey was a kind soul.Some days we all used to say,

"Sir we are in no mood to study."

"Okay,okay,heads down." And the dear old man would go and stand at the class room door to watch,if he saw any other high official coming down the corridor.He would cough discreetly and start teaching us.When the danger had passed he would fling the chalk down and again go and stand at the door.

It's impossible to cultivate hobby in NDA,with the perpetual boot of authority ready to smack your bum at all hours.However I had found ,like many others before me that one got some perverse joy in adding one's own graffiti to the desks.The fifty Naya Paisa ball pen refills that we carried in our pocket contents were our tool along with the compass and divider of the geometry box.Nobody owned a pen all through those three years in Elysium.Micheal Angelo would have derived lesser divine satisfaction painting the Sistine Chapel than I did,painting my NDA classroom desks with profiles of the short the devastatingly seductive Lisa Ray and the petite ,narrow waisted,dazzling Manisha Koirala.I would often carry a page torn out of the library filmy magazines and open it on my desk and get going with the blue refill.At least I was doing something better than just writing,"Screw sergeant so and so." or "SCC so and so is a bastard."

Jaydee was huffing a bit as he spoke,I could hear it on my mobile.

The first time I saw him ,he was standing in front of the cadet's mess foyer at NDA.If I close my eyes,I still recall that picture of his in white shirt and black trousers,his turban much tilted to one side.

"You on the treadmill bro?"

"Yes,I was reading Maddy's articles about his time in the army.He has named the Operation Vijay period as Musharaff Is Dead.I asked him why not write about our class of eighty eight two."

That time was about thirty summers ago and quite a few of us have already done our service in the army and picked up different jobs in the civvy street.

Jaydee had also left the army and picked up a job.It was the impersonal nature of postings all over the wilderness of our vast country that got everybody's goat.Every second year you are are on the move,uprooted and expected to take root in an alien place ,with new people.Your kids,old parents,family and your kids future,their education,admissions.Everyt-hing balanced on the sharp kneedle point of uncertainty of two year postings spent out of boxes,guest rooms,fields,temporary accomodation etc etc.It ended up exhausting most people and many of the friends of my NDA graduation class were now working outside.

The last time Jaydee had called me,he had been flying currency note crates into Chattisgarh in his helicopter for the govt.Jaydee is two metres tall and maybe that's the reason he was able to see the Gurmel Chase all the way from the first battalion,across the Ashoka circle,past the Sudan Block and into the Mona Block so many summers ago.

One day after breakfast I was late.

One  is always tottering on the verge of the boiling oil cauldron of restrictions,Singhgarhs and extra drills in NDA.Well some chaps had mastered the ghostly art of conformity and inconspicuous passage,they never had to part with an I slip.They went through NDA like untainted virgins who wear salwar ,kameez,dupatta and walk the straight road looking down and never looking anybody in the eye.Some get the mauled and ravished,more than is good for them.

That day the wolf pack of the sergeants had left the posts after breakfast break and marched with swinging canes to their classes.The sergeants got the right to carry a cane in 5 th term and like a new pandit who has learnt his mantras,or like a new  mulla who has newly learnt his verses of the holy book or like a new pastor who has discovered the immense power of Christ's words,they were all keen to catch some hapless worm  on the wrong side of the rule book.

I was waiting in cabin no 10 ,ground floor of Bravo Squadron looking at the white dial of my hmt Pratap watch.I looked at the lace knots of my Oxford pattern shoes and leaned down to tighten them.The maroon garter flashes knot was also checked.The damned hassles of military dresses,tassels and badges and name plates,lanyards all pinned into your shirt ,and if any damned trinket falls off,off you go into the clinker and earn a punishment.

A final look at my school days hmt wristwatch and I was off like a hare.One hand pressing the yellow satchel slung across.I was out of the battalion quadrangle gate when I saw another khakhi clad figure leap out  like a shadow from Alpha squadron.Apparently in this world under similar circumstances,two people can decide to do the same thing.He was my class mate,Baidwan.He was also late.We both decided to make a run to the class.The stretch from first battalion to social science block after breakfast break is like crossing the Atlantic Ocean lurking with U boats.We decided to make a run through Operation Paukenschlag.Chances of running into a prowling  U boat in the form of an officer,drill sahab,sergeant,appointments etc,tobe torpedoed and sunk were very high.We set our course towards Ashoka and ran steadily at a canter.As far as our eyes could see there were no sergeants lurking on the Trishul Marg and thought we were lucky to have a clear run.In the far distance,last of the squads was marching up the Sudan Slope.We were two squadless interlopers ,ordinary cadets running independetly,a crime of the first water in laws of NDA.An unimpeachable sacrilege in the scheme of things of NDA.

Both of us were almost congratulating ourself at making the Great Escape look like child's play.We had not bothered cover our tail,content with straight nosed sprinting only.A loud roar broke the stillness and sound of our padding feet,

"O Rook jaa cadetecch."

Baidwan was a Sikh.I told him to not turn back.I was a berret clad ordinary cadet of medium height.Hundreds of them about of my make and model.I turned my neck and saw the bicycle mounted Gurmel Singh pedalling as fast as he could towards us like the battleship  Bismarck cutting through the Scapa Flow.

"Who is it?" asked Baidy.

"Gurmel Singh Saab of Sikh Light Infantry."

Gurmel Singh Saab was one of my favourite Drill Saabs.He looked very funny and I had always wanted to sketch him with blue refills on the class room desks.He was a man with an enormous belly and in the scheme of things,not the most agile of men.And here he was trying to catch up with two very athletic eighteen year olds and holleri ng,

"O Rukk jaa cadetchh."

Had we stopped ,he would take our I slips,the squadron flash board would carry your name to come to adjutants durbar on the steps of the Sudan Block.A very painful affair because of the dress requirement.Your dress had tobe perfect,new and freshly startched.The startched kd's were a pain in the ass kind of clothes.Depending on the adjutants mood ,you could come from durbar with a harvest of punishments for things like,boots not shining,insignias not brassoed,shabby dress,shave not proper,haircut not taken,improper salute,not standing at proper attention,giving meaningful looks etc etc.All in addition to the orignal offence for which your I slip had been taken.You had to avoid getting caught at all costs for the sake of sheer survival.

Gurmel was chugging with the boilers at full horse power,and gaining on us.We saw a foot track through the grass ,leading towards the NDA telephone exchange.Leaving the beaten track ie leaving  the roads was another goddamned offence in that land of petty offences.Capable of destroying your military career before it had even sprouted.Both of us left the road and dived into the grass and started climbing up hill towards Mona Block.The social science block had earned the moniker due to the presence of a very  pretty teacher there.

We saw the turbanned Gurmel Singh turn his bicycle to climb up the Sudan slope.He was straining all his strength on the pedals and for the poor chap it was so much of an effort,for he was a portly senior Subedar on the verge of retirement.He let out yet another breathless and plaintive cry,

"O Rook jaa cadetchh."

I have wondered why most of them had their own ways of pronouncing cadet.The last squad marching up the Sudan had our class mate jaydee,the tall one in it.He had been seeing the whole thing from his majestic seven foot lighthouse height."I had thought you guys would slip away into the Mona block unmolested." he shared with us later on.

When we were on the verge of victory,we had decided to do something inexplicable.We had stood on the road and waited for Gurmel Singh sahab to catch up with us.

He had to get off his bicycle and walk or run it up the Sudan slope.Now he pedalled towards us,his face and beard all soaked in perspiration.Baidwan being a sardar spoke to him in Punjabi,

"Sahab you know we could have escaped,there is no chance you could have caught us."

Gurmel Singh looked at us steadily,his pen poised on his notepad ready to register our offence and particulars.He was still breathing very hard.His round torso rising and falling.

"We stopped because we thought you might have a heart attack if we made you exert more.Now you decide whether you want to put us up or not for punishment."

That was pretty audacious of Baidwan and in the end he won.Gurmel shut his notebook and told us not to get late for classes in future and turned away his bicycle.

Jaydee was saying that we must write about our NDA days and our NDA class.Baidy is now a US citizen and Jaydee flies civil choppers.He just off handedly said,

"You two chaps,running away from the drill sahab,went on to earn gallantry awards later on in your careers.Baidy got a Shaurya Chakra and you got a Sena Medal Gallantry.And I laugh heartily whenever I think of that moment,two of you decorated soldiers running away like hounds and Gurmel sahab pedalling nineteen to the dozen on your tail shouting."

"O rook jaa cadetchh,O rook ka cadetchh."

I wanted to tell Jaydee that it's easier to face the enemy in battle than the wrath of an angry NDA drill sahab.Or atleast that's how it looks now after so many years.

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