Down the Memory Lane: Life in the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla
Updated: Oct 06, 2020 9:16 AM
I joined the National Defence Academy in July 1968. After clearing the Services Selection Board in May that year, I eagerly awaited the results which would come out in the national dailies. And sure enough, when they did, I was thrilled beyond words to see my name in print!
At the NDA, I was assigned to Juliet Squadron. I found that three of my class-mates from Sainik School Rewa – Dushyant Chauhan, Suresh (Specky) Nair and Azad Singh were also in the same squadron. (Photo source: IE)
By Colonel Mir Ahmed Shah (Retd)
I joined the National Defence Academy in July 1968. After clearing the Services Selection Board in May that year, I eagerly awaited the results which would come out in the national dailies. And sure enough, when they did, I was thrilled beyond words to see my name in print! A thick brown envelope followed by post soon enough, giving instructions regarding clothes, money, shoes and everything else as well as how to get there! My first impression of the Army was a good one- everything is cut and dried, just follow instructions!
In 1968, I was studying in Class XI in Sainik School Rewa. On getting through NDA, my first thought was—thank God! I won‘t have to slog for the ISC exam slated to be held in November that year! But in retrospect, I wish that I had been able to complete my ISC and even study further before becoming a fauji! For now, technically speaking, my educational qualifications remain – ― 10th class pass and Intermediate ex- NDA! For the world at large, I am uneducated!
At the NDA, I was assigned to Juliet Squadron. I found that three of my class-mates from Sainik School Rewa – Dushyant Chauhan, Suresh (Specky) Nair and Azad Singh were also in the same squadron. Life as a first-termer was tough. You were either front-rolling in the corridor or doing push-ups in the Drill Square in front of the Squadron! And of course, there was a culture shock awaiting us when we went in for our first bath— everyone has a bath in the nude in NDA!
My Roll Number which remains glued to my memory even today was 8081. ( If I remember correctly, Dushyant was 8076 and Anil Kaul was 8082). The Squadron Cadet Captain was Tejinder Singh, a tall, impressive Sikh and the Cadet Sergeant Major was VBS Negi, a short, pugnacious boxer! The DCCs (Division Cadet Captains) were Rakesh Sharma (the one and only Indian Cosmonaut), SS Gill (God bless his soul, he died due to shrapnel wounds in the 1971 war, he was in the Royal Deccan Horse) and the happy-go-lucky Barbora. Smiley Sukhdev was the CQMS. There were 24 of us first-termers in Juliet Squadron to include Haldar and Gypsy Chowdhury who were relegated types. The other poor, scared, blighters in 40th Juliet beside me were Banjo, Jugu Sethi, NKS Yadav, Anil Kaul, Anil Mago, Sreekumar, Shanks, Bikki, Randy, Gandyok, Mallu, Bhavnani, Ashok Kumar (Dhuri), Satish Sethi, Buzwar, Swapan Mukherjee, Dushyant, Azad (from Rotack!), Spectropo Suresh, Randhir Chadha and Raghubir.
Seventh Heaven:- The guys in Juliet Squadron NDA in Autumn Term 1968 could well teach a thing or two to some in police! Let me elaborate. We first termers were told to climb to the ―Seventh Heaven as punishment, a real killer! This was the seventh wire of the grill above the door and we were supposed to hang on it using our fingers!
Especially for me, this was pure torture as I happen to be rather heavy! And if you think that it is not possible to do a backroll up the stairs, think again, because I have done it at the behest of some joker of a second or third termer! But look at the brighter side- during the next PT period I did a demo back-roll on the mat as it seemed like child‘s play!
Academy Toast:- The first few dinner nights were plain torture for us for that is when we first termers learnt what an ―Academy Toas is. A cup of soup with portions of everything else that is there on the table (veggies, meat, curd, bread, water, plenty of salt and many other things) comprises the famous Academy Toast! And you were expected to say-―To the National Defence Academy! And down the entire contents of that concoction at one gulp!
ARGHHHHHHHHHH! If I ever came close to puking, this was the time.
Haircut:- I don‘t know if they still insist on it, but in our time we were given a ―topi-cut. By this, I mean that when you put on your beret, there should be no hair visible! And a haircut was to be taken every week without fail. If a Monday arrived without a cadet having taken one then woe betide him! The raw meat-eating Drill Ustaads would eat us for lunch! The erring cadet would be marched up to his Divo in the breakfast break that very morning and the least ―Prasa he could expect was 5 x Extra Drills. I still vividly remember that rather than go through the agony mentioned above I would go through the once-in-a-lifetime experience of shaving the hair on the back of my head with my shaving razor on a Monday morning when I had slipped up. If there was one instance when I envied my Khalsa course-mates, this was it!
The Periphery: – This is a beautiful metalled road that runs to the north of the Academy through hills and dale. Before long, we youngsters knew every yard of this road! And if we were destined to do a longer run, well then, the famous 2475 was just a little further ahead of the Periphery. I love hills but if there is one hill for which I don‘t have the slightest affection it is 2475!
Double-Outdoors: – We had three periods before breakfast and five after, till lunch-time. More often than not, two of the three morning periods were PT and Drill and if they were one after the other, we had a job on our hands! PT – Drill was something “different” than Drill – PT because changing from a dirty sweaty PT rig to starched KDs (our khaki shirt and shorts) and putting on stockings, boots, and anklets and racing to the Drill Square on our bikes all within 15 minutes was quite a task. Also, after a double-outdoor, one definitely needed a thorough bath with hot, steaming water. No, please don‘t think I don‘t like to bathe. It‘s just that a good bath takes fifteen minutes and every minute of the Breakfast-break was precious!
Flat: – But God is just! Like He gave us Sabbath after six working days, so also He decided that after a couple of double-outdoors, every Course deserved a flat! On a flat, we started our mornings in our KDs, had about 45 minutes to eat our breakfast and by George, did we gorge? I‘ll say yes. So much so that it was difficult to stay awake in the post-breakfast periods. Though some will bet that shut-eye came easier after double-outdoors! Talking of sleeping in the post-breakfast periods, how can I forget to mention Rooms No 99 and 100! These are huge, deep classrooms in Sudan Block on the top floor, away from prying eyes and absolutely ideal for a snooze during Library periods! Many were the lovely 40 minutes of forenoon that I spent in those rooms in well-deserved rest and recuperation! Of course, I must confess, that when I was an appointment in my sixth term and in a surly mood, I knew exactly where to catch erring youngsters. How dare they sleep in class hours!
Swimming: – Luckily for me, I had learnt how to swim way back in the days when I was in Class V at La Martiniere College, Lucknow. So, swimming a length of the pool and jumping from the 7-metre board was no big deal for me when crunch-time came. But the poor blighters who were non-swimmers had a rough time, and when I say rough I mean ROUGH. Right from warnings to no mid-term break to extra swimming classes, the poor chaps had it all. And the 7-metre board was a spectacle of mirth and merriment for us swimmers, watching the fun from afar! At times, our PTO, Major Darshan Singh (later Brigadier) would personally climb the 7-metre board and box the poor blighters who refused to jump! I have personally seen the most acrobatic feat by a cadet who after being pushed off a 7-metre board did some sort of somersault mid-air and managed to hang onto the board! The guy will easily get a job in a circus! Sorry folks, he is a Major- General in the Army today, so no names!
Fort Singarh:- This is a beautiful fort visible on the sky-line from NDA. A nice place for a picnic, you would think, imagining a lazy afternoon and lots of fun. Nothing could be further from the truth! An act of indiscipline in the Academy could prompt a Divo to bark at the erring individual—―5 x Singarh Hikes! Besides the tremendous physical exertion in climbing up to Singarh, collecting a token and immediately heading back to the Academy—all within a stipulated time frame, what was most devastating was that these hikes were planned on Sundays!
Boxing: – Whether you liked it or not, you have to box in NDA—or get boxed! In something called ―novices boxin. Two poor blighted first-termers were put into a boxing ring and let loose on each other—with a stern warning that in case they did not do justice to this infernal sport, then the PT ustaads would come into the ring to show them how! So it was a devil‘s choice for the poor buggers who rightly decided that they might as well swing their arms at each other and get done with it! I still remember how those three minutes in the ring seemed like three hours! But in all fairness, I must admit, that there is no better way of getting to know if a guy is a sissy or otherwise. Then there were few guys who just kept their gloved hands in front of their faces waiting to see what would happen!
But one thing was common to all bouts—each contestant embraced the other warmly after the result was announced, in all probability due to relief that the agony was finally over.
Gole Market: – Coming to the Gole Market was like a breath of fresh air as if we had been transported back to civilization. Apart from shoe-polish and brasso, one could get delicious chikki and other eats in this market. In the junior terms, it was possible to visit Gole Market only on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and that too in our ―walking-outs, whereas the fifth and sixth termers went whenever they felt like in whatever dress code they felt comfortable! Thus by unwritten law or tradition or whatever else you may call it, we learnt that perks and privileges come with seniority and a senior is a senior and a junior is a junior! To this day, I address an officer of the 39th NDA Course as ―Sir, even though he may have been superseded or retired and the same is true of every young man who has passed out from the portals of this wonderful institution.
Cross-Country:- One big item on the agenda was the Inter-Squadron Cross-Country. The competition which was held every term and which counted towards the Inter-Squadron Championship Banner. In our time, it was a 13-kilometre run starting from the Glider drome past the Lone Tree Hill and then over hill and dale till we could see the flags fluttering in the distance and the taped enclosures back in the Glider drome! And the hordes of gaily-coloured vests would make a dash for the finish point hoping to make it to the early enclosures! For some reason that I am unable to fathom till today is why they made us run in our riding boots!
Policeman Bajri Order:- I notice that you are looking a bit puzzled. What on earth, you are asking yourself is this animal called ―Policeman Bajri Order! Bajri order is Chindit Order with lots of bajri in the big pack. So if you were unfortunate enough to be called in this rig, you would have to put on KD shorts, White Patrol jacket, Black Web Belt, Blue Patrol cap, riding patties and chappals! And then, of course, the bajri order on top of that! And if the senior who had called you in this rig was in a sour mood or wanted to have his fun you would be standing in the corridor directing traffic like the good policeman you were supposed to be, much to the amusement of fellow Juliets passing through!
Today, when I have retired from the Army after completing over 34 years in Olive Greens, I still look back at those three years with nostalgic affection. The moment you meet an ex-NDA officer and tell him—―I‘m 40th Juliet! an instant bond forms between you and him, whether he is senior or decades junior. May God bless NDA!
(The author is from 40th Course NDA and is available at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal.)