6 Jun 2013

Life Of ‘Pi’

This is an Enid Blyton type of story, follies of my youth in a boarding school RIMC (erstwhile Prince Of Wales Military College, now Rashtriya Indian Military College) in Dehra Dun (1962-66), after which I joined the National Defence Academy (NDA).

Here it goes……….

 The ‘Hole In The Wall’ gang (1962 batch in RIMC) from Ranjit Section moved into senior dorm around 65, I think. It was an exciting and momentous event, moving from middle to senior dorm, like attainment of Nirvana. We had come of age.

 End of the boarding school life was almost in sight. I was at last beginning to get public hair, just a single curly black strand, an event that I had been aspiring for, and hence looking down at, on daily basis, right through junior and middle dorm days. There was also news of a war and great excitement in RIMC. PT, Parade and Classes, our nemeses,  were excused for couple of days and we were asked to go and dig ‘5 men trenches’ (FMTs) all over RIMC, everywhere that we were likely to be day and night. Each FMT had to be dug by the same 5 people who were to occupy it if a Paki aircraft came to bomb RIMC cadets, the future of the Indian armed forces. Those days we really believed that Ayub Khan (old boy from RIMC, generally called a Rimcollian) would have assigned PAF to include RIMC as a priority target for Paki Air Force to bomb. We believed that Ayub may have said, ‘Nip the ruddy Rimcollian buggers in the bud, so that Indian Army will have no future’. We were the ruddy future of the Indian Army. That was our perception and endeavour back in 1965.

So we went and dug FMTs all over RIMC with zest, meticulously supervised by Subedar Limbu, whom we unjustly referred to as ‘Subedar Nimbu’ behind his back. Sub Limbu was a very smart and absolutely soldierly gentleman who walked around wielding a ‘Pace Stick’. A pace stick, is a wooden device like a school boy’s geometry box ‘Divider’, the one that you use to measure distances of lines that you draw. The pace stick whose jaws, when opened fully, point to point, was 30”across, the length of each step that we were expected to take while marching (it was the bane of our subsequent life in NDA). However, it was a treat to watch a ‘Drill Ustad’ in RIMC, walk along with you, twirling the extended pace stick, each point placed against his heels precisely as he marched alongside.

‘Lamba Kadam, Cadet’, Sub Limbu used to command.

NDA mein ja kar, Drill Ish-Quare pass karna hoga’, he would say.

Now at 64, Limbu still whispers in my ears and I still walk 30” a pace, digging my heels like a Prussian soldier and swinging my arms to and fro, full 1800 swing. A lifetime habit taught by Sub Nimbu. Makes me a laughing stock when I go around for my morning walk !

The pace stick had other uses too, nasty ones. To smack us in the ass if we were slack on parade, to poke us with if we blinked or moved while standing at attention on parade (‘making loose motions’ as Nimbu used to say).  But the ultimate imaginative use of the pace stick was to measure the FMTs. Nimbu insisted that the width of the trench had to be precisely 30”, (5 x 30 x 2) 300” long and 60” in depth, all of which Nimbu would measure with the pace stick with one micron accuracy. We were told that the measurement of the trench was calculated by old Ramanujam the mathematician to prevent a Paki bomb from skipping and falling into the bloody trench, like the bomb from ‘Bomb Buster’ 16 mm black and white WW-II movie that we had seen in the auditorium (now Bhagat hall)  while we were in middle dorm. But the ruddy pace stick was the ultimate weapon of soldiering, at least those days.

So that is how we dug a FMT adjacent to the Ranjit Section Senior Dorm  ‘Box Room’. When facing Ranjit Section, the room on the extreme right was the box room (a place where we did terrible things). On it’s right was a narrow gravel path (those days) leading from the Mess to the ‘Academic Building’ (there was no covered passage those days, just a gravel path). My FMT was across the gravel path, in line with the dorm, say a distance of around 25 feet away, right next to the path on a grassy patch of garden with hibiscus bushes around it.

 We had many air raid drills all through Apr – Sep 65. The brass bell (the original 150 years old one, now stolen) used to be rung very vigorously, continuously and rapidly at odd times, day and night. We would then run and jump into the closest FMT with great expectations and glee of imminent bombing by the old blighter Ayub Khan, and his ruddy Air Force. Sometimes at night, we jumped into the trench half naked, sometimes one on top of each other, mostly on our backs looking out for the Paki aircraft and hoping to see the bomb fall on our heads. Such an act, contrary to the air raid drill, (instruction to lie on our stomach and keep the head down), it was meant to augment our courage and valour for future soldiering. If an alien (not part of the original 5 owners of the FMT)  jumped into the FMT with us, we used to box him and kick him out. On one of those drills, Jas and I discovered that there was a terrible P smell emanating from the trench. After some IB like ‘Jasusi’ and persuasion, ‘Fatty’ confessed that he is scared of ghosts and that at night, all alone, he was scared of going to the toilet all the way to the opposite side of the building. Hence, Fatty said that he stood on the veranda next to the box room and did it into the trench, 25 feet away.

 Ja Ja Bekoof, Sala Jhoot Bolta Hai, you can’t pee that far’, we said to him with incredulity.

We challenge you to do it again and show us how you do it’, said Jas, our undisputed leader of the ‘Hole In The Wall’ gang.

Fatty was a man of high integrity, honour and self-esteem.

If he said it, he would do it, whether it was five goals in hockey, eating 25 toasts with 2 cutlets, or jumping up to hit 6’ 4” HS Vaid on the nose.

 So Fatty went to the end of the veranda, pulled down his ‘jamees’ and shot a squirt without any warm up whatsoever. He did not even clench his teeth or compress his six-abs. He simply fired a short burst from his MMG. In the moonlight, his tracer fire arced high in the air in a parabolic flight path, till gravity began to get hold of it, bent it downward. The squirt fell precisely into the 30” mouth of our FMT, 25 feet away,  right through the opening, without even touching the walls. It was an Olympic performance that left us speechless. There was the silence of the lambs, absolute incredulity and disbelief, for 10 sec.

I now challenge any of you to do it’, Fatty said with a smug smile and no guile.

All of us tried. The best field of fire that I personally could manage was 5 feet. I think Jas managed 12 feet. The best that anyone could do was 18 feet by HS Vaid, who as a 6’4” tall Sardar, had a proportionate organ. He had a 105 mm field gun in his pants. But none could do a sterling performance of 25 feet, right on target like Fatty. And to rub it in, Fatty did it again and again, giving us lessons for improving field of fire and accuracy.

 That is how the highly secretive ‘Inter Section P’ing competition’ and ‘Life Of Pi’ began in Oct 1965, at the close of that war.

 After Tashkent Indo-Pak pact, in Oct 65, we were told by Nimbu to close and seal all trenches and obliterate all signs of the FMT. Our ‘Life of Pi’ and the  ‘Inter Section  P’ing competition’ seemed destined to die a natural death. But Jas was a very imaginative person. He went and put a whitewashed brick on top of the closed FMT, as a marker, precisely at 25’ distance. It became the new target for the P’ing competition. Jas then tuned a bookie. ‘Double your money if you can ‘P’ 25 feet’ – that became an irritable challenge to all at RIMC. Many from Pratap and Chandra Gupta sections came, but lost their bet. Fatty could hit bull’s eye every time and they could not even manage 10 feet. Pratap were decaled the ‘worst pissers’. The ‘Hole In The Wall’ gang became richer because of the betting. We amassed a great wealth of around Rs 4 or 5 which was spent immediately ‘cutting bounds’ to Paltan Bazar to drink milk shake or to see Asha Parekh’s incredibly large ass magnified on a 70 mm screen in Odeon Cinema.

 Our serious challenge in the P’ing competition came from Shivaji section.  They meticulously researched the art of long distance artillery firing, the angle of the dangle, length of the barrel, explosive propulsion as a result of the contraction of the six-abs and the muscles of the rectum, both simultaneously, blowing and bulging one’s cheeks (just like Pranayam and Yoga). They practiced day and night and shortlisted their champ, a most unlikely chikoo, a thin, scrawny Sardar – CSL. They also insisted that the umpire will be a man of high integrity and had an eye for the fine sport, from Shivaji – venerable Mamu.

 So it was that Mamu was placed near target area in a rain coat and everyone else gathered on the veranda on a moon lit night in Dec 1965 for the ‘Inter Section P’ing Competition - Finals’ with double or quits, 10 Rs bet on CSL hitting the target like Fatty. Shivaji section, being cheaters, believed that ‘means justifies the end’ and had force fed CSL with 10 ltrs of water half an hour earlier, to arm his piddly 303 DP rifle that was expected to shoot 25 feet, right on target. With great aplomb, CSL undid his ‘jamees’, took out his rifle and was ready to shoot. Everyone including Mamu wearing a rain coat was completely focussed on the target area, the white brick.

That is when venerable KK Kumar, house master Chandra Gupta section, a short jolly person, decided to come around the corner from behind Ranjit Section Box Room.  After 1800 hrs, he was usually drunk.

Every one froze.

But CSL could not hold fire and so he fired, with utter abandon.

The tracer arced high in the sky in a parabolic arc. CSL’s six abs and rectum squeezed with a 10 ton force. The Yoga and Pranayam was at it’s best.

Mamu dived behind a hibiscus bush.

We hid behind the pillars on the dormitory vernada.

 Mr KK Kumar, oblivious to the great inter section competition – ‘Finals’, walked right past, under the field of fire, the tracer going high above his head. I think a few drops fell on his head because I saw him looking up at the cloudless moon lit sky, and shaking his head in disbelief.

None one saw where CSL’s fire fell. Unfortunately we did not have Air OP spotters those days (though afterwards, Tota who became an Air OP Pilot, got an award as a bird who flew too much -more than 20,000 hrs).

 KK Kumar disappeared behind the kitchen and all of us came out of hiding.

Mamu went to inspect and declared that ‘it was no fire’ (like no ball in cricket).

CSL was really pissed off. He said he would do it again (I think he still had 9 ltrs ammo left in his bladder magazine). So despite our remonstrations Mamu gave him another chance. Mamu overruled all our objections like a Supreme Court judge. A 10 bucks ‘double or quits’ was a very serious issue. Shivaji had their honour to upkeep.

 So it was that CSL shot again with his puny 303, a long burst which didn’t seem to end. All 9 ltrs was punched out with an incredible force of 11 Tons squeeze, 6 abs and the rectum muscles, using Pranayam and Yoga, his cheeks bulging out making his face look like a monkey. The tracer was a long yellow streak, bright and discernible against the moon lit sky. It went high in a parabolic arc, right over the trees and disappeared behind the Principal’s (present Cmdt’s) office, beyond 2000 feet. There was much cheering by Shivaji and a pall of gloom over Ranjit. CSL was crowned undisputed firing champ and given the title, ‘Top Gun’.

Mamu came around to collect the winning, double or quits, Rs 20. Despite our going around begging in all dorms in Ranjit, we could only collect 20 Annas. So we settled with an IOU. I am sorry to say that we never did pay the IOU.

 CSL went on to become the Cadet Captain in our final term in RIMC in 66, for sterling accomplishments and leadership qualities, one of which was his unbeaten record as ‘Top Gun’. He was a just and sagacious Cadet Captain, popular as well as effective. He helped control the Homos as well as Sapiens, by giving the former an inferiority complex and the latter a reason to be proud. With his prowess at the firing range, the Homos could not rise up to the occasion and the Sapiens like us just followed him about like a puppy !

During our visit to RIMC in May this year, Jas and I went to take a look at the FMT site. Sadly there was no sign of it, or the target brick, not even the hibiscus bush. Mamu was there, but not wearing the rain coat. He now wears a hat to hide two feet long hair. After he retired, he retired his barber too.  CSL does not visit RIMC and is hiding in Dubai, lest someone asks him to show his 303 DP rifle or repeat his Top Gun prowess. Fatty went missing in our 2nd term in NDA. HS Vaid never joined NDA. Tota is still flying in Dubai, as all Totas are meant to do.  There was just Jas, Mamu & I. We no longer live the Life Of Pi simply because none of us can now target the Pi for more than six inches, even after Yogic practice of squeezing the rectum and bulging out our cheeks, we now restrict ourselves to close quarter battles. All that is left from our days, Life Of Pi, now is the platform, at the end of the Ranjit section veranda, awaiting another ‘Hole In The Wall Gang’ like the 62 batch, the Rascals.