There were many things that I had no clue about, could not do, or did not know that I did not know, when I joined the NDA, sometime late Dec 1966. Therefore, NDA was a great learning experience.
About eight and a half seconds after I stepped into Fox Sqn, with a steel trunk on my head, I was called a joker.
‘Joker, come here’, called Cdt AK Passi, who was a term senior, basically to show off his new found status as a non joker, and to try out his new found powers of punishment.
‘Do you know the difference between a Rifle and a Gun ?’, he asked.
‘No Sir, I am an Air Force cadet’, I said with utmost subservience. As a Rimcolian, I had been fully briefed to act as a moron in my first term. Frankly I didn’t know how to act like a moron. I did not have to, I just had to be my normal self to be a moron.
‘This is a Rifle’ said AKP handing me a broom.
‘What is it ?’, he asked.
‘It is a Rifle, Sirrrrr’, I said in clipped military parlance, puffing out my chest, squaring my shoulders, jutting out my chin. I think I forgot to suck in my tummy.
I was learning to do things like a soldier.
‘What is it for ?’, he asked.
‘Don’t know Sirrrrrr’, I repeated my ‘Sgt Pepper Lonely Heart Band’ act, I was learning fast, very fast, only fifty five seconds had elapsed.
‘This is for fighting’, AKP pronounced. ‘And what have you got between your legs ?’.
‘Don’t know Sir, I mean I don’t know whether I have anything there or not Sir’, I was rather curious where all this was leading up to.
‘Ah, he says he doesn’t know whether he has a gun between his legs’, AKP turned to Pushy, his course mate for inspiration. Pushy was joined by several of the other second termers.
‘Come on, feel it, and tell me what do you have between your legs’, suggested Pushy, fingering his incipient moustache.
‘I have a gun between my legs Sirrrrrr’, I agreed readily.
‘What is it for ?’, asked AKP.
I scratched my head.
‘That is for fun my friend’, AKP laughed. Pushy did not laugh. In all the later years that I have known Pushy, he never laughed, even at his own jokes. I learnt that one must not laugh at one’s own jokes.
‘Bloody man, start jumping, bunny hops, you know how to do bunny hops ? Jump up and down like a Kangaro’, Pushy commanded.
So there I was, two minutes ten seconds after entering F Sqn, learning the art of soldiering, jumping up and down the corridor, shouting on top of my voice.
‘Here is my Rifle’, I shouted, shaking the broom in my right hand. ‘And here is my Gun’, I grabbed my crotch. ‘This is for fighting and that is for fun’. I went up and down the corridor saying the same thing over and over, hopping about like a Kangaroo. I learnt that whatever one does, one must do it with great zest. I made so much noise that soon there were many second termers egging and cheering me on. So within three minutes and twenty seconds I also learnt that when one is going about doing things with great zest, one must not write one’s own citations, make noise or call attention to one self.
‘What is happening ?’, suddenly a very gruff voice asked, very loudly, from the first floor central staircase. All second termers suddenly disappeared like rats scurrying away into their lair. I learnt the dictum that ‘he who fights and runs away, shall live to fight another day’.
‘Who is there ? Come here’, the gruff voice demanded, oozing with authority. I climbed up the central stairs, still repeating the litany, ’This is my Rifle, and this is my Gun, this one is for Fighting, and that one for Fun’.
‘Who did this to you’, demanded Cdt Sgt Naik.
‘Second termers Sirrrrrrr’, I said with absolute, purposeful, guile. I learnt that as a soldier, one must make use of all opportunity to strike.
‘Passi come here’, demanded Cdt Sgt Naik. ‘Why aren’t you wearing a dressing gown ?’, he asked lashing his red sash like a whip on his own muscular and very hairy legs. ‘On your hands down, 100 push ups’, he ordered AKP with the finality of a magistrate. I learnt that every dog has his bad day, especially if Cdt Sgts are around. Within four minutes of joining NDA, I also learnt that soldiering was great fun, especially being a joker.
So, all told, I felt very smug. I smiled. That was a big mistake, I learnt.
‘What are you smiling at ?, asked Cdt Sgt Koshy, coming up the staircase. ‘You also get on your hands down’. I learnt in the sixth minute that ‘sneaking’ was a sin and smiling a sacrilege.
‘Send him to get tea’, suggested Cdt Sgt Batra after a while. All of them for some strange reason were in ‘Drill Order’, shining boots and black anklets, their starched KD shorts standing out like the out riggers on a sailing ship.
I was handed over three enamel mugs.
When I reported to the tea room, Phunzru the mess waiter gave me six 'dog' biscuits and filled the three mugs. I took four sips of tea from each mug, pocketed three biscuits, and handed over the rest to the three Cdt Sgts. I learnt survival tactics within eight minutes of joining NDA, that ‘when the going gets tough, it is only the tough who gets going’, with spare dog biscuits in one’s pocket.
‘Haawve you hawd you Yuggs ?’, Cdt Sgt Koshi asked Cdt Sgt Batra in a thick Malayali accent that you could cut with a hacksaw. ‘Send this shit bag to boil the Yuggs’, he suggested to Cdt Sgt Naik. Soon I was boiling six eggs in a mess tin with an electric heater made of two old shaving blades with a button in between for insulation. Within ten minutes of joining NDA, I had leant about improvisation and multiple tasking. I also learnt to cook, even if it was my own goose.
I stayed in NDA till Dec 1969, that is fifteen lakh seventy six thousand and eight hundred minutes. So I think I must have done ‘hell of a lot’ of push ups, front rolls, and learnt quite a few other things too. But I confess that there are ‘one hell of a lot’ of things I still don’t have a clue about, cannot do, and don’t know that I don’t know. I think I will have to go back to NDA once again to learn all that.
I am now 62. So I cannot run cross country anymore, around any lone tree hill. I doubt if they will take me back into NDA. So I simply go for a walk with my neighbour Col AK Passi, looking for Air Cmde Pushy Singh. They still make me get on my ‘hands down’ once in a while. ‘Joker, we will make you smart’, they often say. But I think they look around before making me get on my hands down, especially to see that ACM Naik, Lt Gen Koshi and Maj Gen Batra are not anywhere around. Just like old days !!!!!!!!!!!!