Brigadier Nandkumaran, 62 NDA / 72 IMA
The Summer of 83 was seeded in 78/79. At first it was the UPSC Examination – one of the toughest examinations in the country made a little easier by having multiple choice answers with no negative markings. Still, of the hundred thousand that appeared only about one third would clear. Then came the SSB interviews. Other than hearing great stories from the seniors in school who did not clear it (those who had cleared, had already moved to the NDA) no one had any idea about this great obstacle. There were not many coaching academies those days. We knew only three destinations, Bangalore, where one could hope to get selected, Bhopal, where the chances went down a bit and Allahabad where chances were that you only got rejected. As the written results were out, those passed got into prayer mode to get the SSB of one’s choice.
As it happened with me always, I landed up with what no one wanted. So, Allahabad it was, for my interview. My father had no clue as to where this place was,but he bought a ticket and wished me well. It was only when we reached Itarsi that we were told that we needed to get down and catch another train which would come after 5-6 hours. To kill time, couple of us went to see a movie, taking our luggage along. Sreekumar KT, who even then was as sincere as he is now, admonished us and without wasting time, went to a barber shop and had a hair cut. In the evening, we paid a bribe of 20 rupees each to just get into the train. It was as if the Kumbh Mela was on from Itarsi to Allahabad, including inside the train. The smell from the toilet worked like anaesthesia and with just half of our bottoms resting on our suit cases somehow we reached Allahabad and SSB in the morning.
SSB was a different kettle of fish. There were some who had cleared and were getting their medicals done. They had lot of gyan to give. There were kids from all over. DVS Chaudhary and Navneet Mishra (didn’t know their names then) went around bullying timid fellows like me. One face I remember is CM Tiwary who went on to win the Swords of Honour at NDA and IMA.
Out of those who cleared the written exam, probably another one third or even less cleared SSB and the medical tests and in the summer of 79, a bunch of ‘bright’ kids trooped into a group of ramshackle barracks in Ghorpadi, over 4 or 5 days beginning the 21 of July. Depending on our position in the queue, each one was allotted a number which would be our identity for next three years. The even numbers went to Mike, the odds to November, the names of two baby Squadrons. Now we became the 62nd Course of National Defence Academy, becoming a select few of our Nation’s teeming masses.
Squadron, Haircut, Kit Issue, Drill Square, Prakash Chand, Palandey………….. these were some words/terms/names that we picked up, never to forget in life. And of course there was Capt SS Nijjar. Double outdoor was a nightmare. In fact, every moment was a nightmare –even without seniors. Run, run, roll, jump, fly, knees to the chest, dayen se jayega, bayen se aayega, gooooo,,,, life suddenly was an unlimited excitement.
Once after a double outdoor, while going to classes totally burnt out, we got the news that Lord Mountbatten had kicked the bucket and it would be a holiday. With an about turn wherever one was, and with a scream of happiness we ran back to our barracks to catch upon lost sleep. The scream was enough to disturb Capt Nijjar in his moment of tranquillity in the Squadron Office. Everyone was called back, and rest of the day was something most of us would like to forget even now. Only then did we mourn Mountbatten’s passing away. Classes would have been certainly better.
DST, Cross country, Dinner Night, Brigadier, our vocabulary increased. Some of us learned to walk with left leg forward first and to eat chicken with fork and knife. Amrit Singh Randhawa, unknown till then, became a celebrity when he cleared DST in his first attempt. We had two Brigadiers in the course – Kevin and Banerjee. They exhibited authority and power over us having adorned a star on their satchel in first term itself. They also gave as a lot of gyan about NDA which they got from their original course mates. As the term was coming to an end, the discussion was on to which Squadron one would go, in NDA-Khadakvasla. Stories were aplenty. A-yes, K- no. F-yes, H-no. J-yes, L-NOOO……… and so it went. Another round of prayers for a Sqn of choice, but then we all had come with our fate written on our knees. So, the lucky ones landed up in the ‘Yes’ sqns and the luckier still, in the ‘No’ sqns.
The NDA was beyond anyone’s imagination. Like a kid in the zoo gaping at a giraffe, we stood, lost in the opulence and magnificence of the surroundings. “Wake up, you dope”, a senior’s scream would wake us up. Thereafter, we remain in a state of awakening. Life is a whirlwind. NDA Darshan, another Kit Issue, Cycle, Rain cape, Academy Check-up, Kit Muster, Breakfast Break, Equitation Lines, Periphery, Babita’s Hillocks, Helen’s Cat, Charlie Well, Academy Balls (there was no NDA Ball during our courses), 2475 which on the map was 2461……. New terminologies got added to our vocabulary. We as a course got together during Camp Greenhorn. Two more camps, carrying LMG, sharing one poorie amongst six, ‘managing’ someone else’s something, sutta, our bonding became stronger. ATT, NTT, AFTT, D-7, Poona Crossing, 10 metre jump, Merit Card, Half Blue, Blue, 7 meter jump, ATKT, RWL, DWL, DIL……. We were getting wiser by the day. Some faujis – Bhandari, Kalyan Chand, Darbara Singh, Fauja Singh, Surjit Dhillon, Splitter, Kutty, Karumbayya, Shekhawat, Dotiwalla, and some civilians – Jatwa, Indira Pathak, Ms SK Singh, Kapoor & Co, would remain etched in our memories forever.
As life went on, Spring term to Autumn term and the cycle repeated, 62 NDA grew into a wild bunch. Our brilliance in getting into trouble was par excellence. The last straw was apparently someone from the course who loved to sail with the storm decided to plant some graffiti on the Ashoka Pillar, the grand totem of the NDA, that too on the day of a VIP visit. An enraged Depcom shot off a letter to all SSBs asking as to how this whole bunch of ‘brilliance’ came together in 62nd Course. I have no idea as to what the SSBs replied, it was probably, “Sir, wait and see”.
While we were pushing life in NDA, there was another bunch being drilled and grilled in the Tons Valley in the Doon. Their travails, agonies and ecstasies were the same. Only their vocabulary was different. They were in the ACC wing of the IMA. While in our last year in NDA and ACC, another bunch joined IMA taking their baby steps as First Termers.
All these three bunches would join together in IMA as 72 Regular Course. The unruly bunch would become bigger and better. IMA….. ha…… a step closer towards the singular star. Golden Ring, Bhadraj, Cloud’s End, Paltan Bazar, Rangadwala, Barkatram, Golden Jubilee, Chinditz, Mossourie Nights, Pig’s Bottom in moonlight, all added on to the vocabulary. Meanwhile in Madras two courses would fight the unfriendly weather and ustads and would get their stars in 83 too.
The Airforce Academy and the Naval Academy were working hard too to add to this bunch. All put together, about 600 of us would become a pulsating mass driven by one flaming desire of donning the elusive stars and stripes.
We fulfil that desire in the Summer of 1983. Choice of Arms was another occasion for another round of prayers. Choices were difficult. Easiest was to opt for one’s instructor’s Regiment.
That enhanced one’s OLQ, or so one thought. There were heartbreaks, happiness, some got what they wanted, some didn’t. But God damn, who cared! A drink in the evening acquired through one’s ‘sources’ in Ghari Cantt drowned all sorrows and elevated happiness. Stars on the shoulder was indeed a dream come true.
And the euphoria of a drill ustaad who till the previous day, was bent on squeezing the last drop of life blood out of you, saluting you with a tear in his eye was most humbling.
Suddenly we had arrived, Class I Gazetted Officers, whom the President was pleased to grant a Commission, at an age when our moustaches were still not fully grown.
Walking out into the vast, unpardoning world beyond the protective walls of our academies, chest high, we felt the weight of responsibility on our shoulders.
The bunch scattered. We were suddenly all over, all by ourselves. We were in battlefields, peace stations, in Regiments, Battalions, Paltans, Depots, in deserts, snows, jungles, everywhere. We straddled the land, air and sea. We had run hard to reach this start point.
Here we started another run. YOs, JC, DSSC, Part B, Part D, Troop Leader, CT Commander, Battery Commander, CO……… Role reversals happened too, Pundir taught me NBC, Acharya how to fire a mortar.
We fought, fought wars, got shot up. Joe Sengupta got split wide open hunting Tigers, he got a Vir Chakra. It should have been a Maha Vir Chakra. CB got a Vir Chakra abroad and a Sena Medal at home.
Ashok Sharawat came back home draped in Tricolours and was awarded a Kirti Chakra, posthumously. There were many more awards and even more who worked brutally hard but were not awarded.
Their hard work was their award. Adhiraj was awarded the Arjuna and he decided to look for better pastures outside of uniform.
Shashi fell down from a vertical rope in NDA which took him out of the Academy shattering his father’s dreams but he rose to become VP in an enviable firm. Abhay Aima was a Brigadier in NDA, but now is a bigshot in a financial institution.
Many changed tracks like this. Today we have someone shining in every conceivable field. SP Singh is busy writing books, Govila left a blossoming career to look after the financial health of faujis, who have no clue about it.
Businessmen, hoteliers, finance managers, airline pilots, academicians, lifestyle coaches and those just enjoying life. We excelled in anything we did. And now there were real Brigadiers and Generals. Our strength increased too. Marriage, wives, children, grandchildren, Summer of 83 is now a huge, undivided family. As responsibilities increased and loneliness set in, our bonding grew stronger. Get togethers started happening. Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmednagar, Kochi, Jaipur………. Jahan char yaar mile……..
Akhilesh started Summer of 83, initially as a e mail group which became our identity, our family. We fought in the group. Aravind Thapliyal tried to moderate. WhatsApp groups came later, political forwards, repeated forwards, incessant fights, and friends at the end of it all.
Those who ran steady are still running and soon we may have someone at the pole positions. An Army/Navy/Airforce Chief from this unruly group. That’s the day Chandra Singhjee would be at peace with himself.
All along, we have had those who left the race permanently. 43 of them. Such lovely people, that Almighty decided to recall them sooner. Some of our extended family too. Ladies, children ……. difficult to talk about them. Today as we celebrate the completion of three decades and half of our commissioned service, let us stop for a moment, remember them, and pray for their noble souls. Alagaraja Perumal, one of the healthiest and springiest of the course, who flew Canberras in a war and came back alive, didn’t last a peacetime. Xavier Israel who tried in vain to seek medical help, BS Kumar who survived a MIG crash but couldn’t survive one on a motorcycle, many more like them whom we can only remember with heavy hearts.
As we move onto our twilight years, let’s live life well and look after each other. From the day we walked into NDA wing as dreamy eyed boys to this day, when most of our dreams are fulfilled, it has been a memorable run. Let’s cherish each of these moments and continue to bond and share our happiness and sorrows as we have been doing all this while.
Those up there, keep painting those rainbows. We are watching, till we join you……………..
PS: I have taken some names. These could have been anyone from this charming group, Apologies for missing out others, it would have been impossible to take every name, but each one of us is as great as the other.