Tribute to National Defence Academy ,Pune

By -
National Defence Academy ,Pune 
The NDA was built in a valley in Khadakwasla, Pune in the '50s One of the first joint service academies in the world, the NDA is truly world class. Spread over 7,500 acres with the best of facilities and imposing buildings and structures.

28 years older , not too much wiser and almost as juvenile I realise that the old guys were right. As Bryan Adams would aptly put it 'these were the best days of my life' ...

Reminds me of the T shirt i saw that read 'I was born cold, wet and hungry .... then things got worse !'

Something like the verse 'all i ever needed to know in life i learnt in kindergarten' .... the Academy taught us everything. Everything that seemed stupid then , made a lot of sense and governed the way we acted - reacted and behaved throughout our lives. The reciting of the Academy prayer by rote every morning at 6a.m -

..... The seemingly ridiculous orders ;-

- No shortcuts even if it meant going a 100m around a 1 ft high hedge.

- Pushing your cycle around even if it were unservicable - to ensure you kept it roadworthy in future.

- Drill instructors who sprang out of the bushes to catch you walking / cycling in a disorderly manner.

- Cycling to class /the drill square / PT fields in squads of four.

- All for one and one for all - the entire class being punished for the fault of one ... 'thou shalt not rat on your course (batch)mate.'

- Learning how to run , swim , sail , ride a horse , climb a rope , do 200 push ups , cross obstacle courses, gymnastics , negotiate a 5 course meal with some 20,000 forks - spoons and other weapons of mass embarrassment, study physics , maths , chemistry .... military history , geography .... Navy / Army / Air Force subjects ... weapon training .... endless hours on the drill square.

- Grueling camps where you run some 40 km with your squadron mates from your course -around 25 guys in each of the 12 squadrons competing against each other. ALL 25 need to complete the course. If someone falls - you carry him on a stretcher if need be ..... but you DON"T leave anybody behind.

- Two movies a week - one English and one Hindi - as also performances by classical dancers - rock bands etc . NO laughing or crying though. Very disheartening for Rockstars who go into the 'put your hands in the air' or 'sing along' mode and they are met by the stony gaze of 1,500 guys with severe haircuts that would grow into crew cuts.

- An involuntary gasp as Madhuri Dixit did a 1,2,3 or Bo Derek emerged from the sea resulted in an hour of calisthenics of the worst kind for the entire lot of cadets.

- Learning a Foreign Language was compulsory . Everyone desperately tried to get into the Russian - French and German classes as these languages were taught by these knockout Goddesses. I had to contend with learning Burmese from an irritable, pot bellied , balding guy who was probably expelled by the military junta for being too rude ... (; We dreamt of Aung Sang Suu Kyi being granted asylum in the Academy , to teach us Burmese.

-' Give me Liberty or give me death' ! Going out to the city was called 'being granted liberty.' One had to pass the Drill Square Test to be granted this highly coveted privilege.This ensured everyone went all out to qualify at the earliest - the DST comprised a series of drill movements - marching - saluting etc.

- Each cadet was given a cycle to cover the long distances between classes - the pool - PT field - drill square. My cycle was H22 as in Sqn Cycle no. 22. very much like a license plate. One dreaded the booming voice of a senior / drill instructor screaming 'hunter 22 dismount'. Zipping away would result in yr 'license plate' being tracked sown !

The Drill 'Sergeant' - made famous in all Hollywood movies from officer & a Gentleman to Platoon ....

Subedar Major Darbara Singh was our Academy Drill Subedar Major - responsible for the Academy Passing out Parades that happened every 6 months and for the overall standard of discipline and drill in the NDA. He was some 6'2" tall with a turban as big as a Satcom Antenna and a huge chest , with a booming voice that would make Atilla the Hun scamper for cover. When I look back I realise that this barely literate large hearted guy taught us a great deal about military ethos and values. With a combination of tact , humour and sheer terror he made us march tall and proud ... as if we ruled the world. As we stood long hours on the parade ground during the rehearsals for the Passing Out Parade he would tell us about his experiences in operations and of the young officers who commanded him - of their valour and sacrifices. As an 18 year old pip squeak (pun unintended) I dreamt of instilling the respect of a 6'6" giant some day.

The parade ground is named after (late) 2nd Lt Arun Khetarpal of the 17 POONA HORSE Armoured Regiment who was posthumously awarded the Param Vir Chakra in Dec 1971 - seven months after he was commissioned - .... at the age of 21.An alumnus of Lawrence School, Sanawar and the NDA, he died in the 'battle of Basantar' whilst in command of a tank. When he was told to abandon his tank as it had been immobilised due to enemy fire he refused and continued to fire its gun which was still operational saying that 'Poona Horse never retreats.' I remember this as I got goose pimples each of the 200 times i heard Darbara Singh repeat this story. If anyone was particularly sloppy he would scream 'Khetarpal parade ground ko apmaan kiya' - you have insulted the Khetarpal parade ground. Ever since drill to all of us was synonymous with honour - integrity and everything Arun Khetarpal stood for.... One saluted really smart EACH time - secretly loved to command honour guards / parades .......... Thanks to a barely educated giant , with a booming voice.

One has moved on - times change - hopefully values don't - read the NDA prayer after many years and understood the deep significance of each word .... tough ideals to live by .... however , the ideal lines to refer to 'when in doubt ' .... cynics would laugh at it's almost naive simplicity .I am not a cynic...

Praveen Gangwani

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