“Mush Behind the Bush”
A Humorous But True Story about How Ethics Often Plays Out In Real Life
There is a well-known story that actually happened in my time at the NDA. It is now part of the NDA lore, and so, for the sake of posterity it is captured here so that we might all learn from it. I am ex 40th course but I passed out with 42nd course (sigh … what can I say). This story extends in a timeline from 1969 to around 1971 with cadets who were all present at the time in the NDA and who all remember the story as a whole or in various snippets.
Some will of course chuckle at the memory others might be a bit nonplussed that such an incident might enter the annals of the great legends that have made the NDA the glorious institution that it is today. It must be remembered that at the heart of the NDA legend are teenage boys filled with the same sense of devilry that lies in the DNA of all teenagers the world over.
There is only one difference. It is that these same teenagers in their time went on to do a great many things. They fought in India’s wars, they served with honour and commanded her regiments, squadrons, ships and the Army, Navy and Airforce over many years, and still do, to this day. They gave their lives willingly when they had to, and above all they were the epitome of ‘the forlorn hope’ the term used in Napoleonic wars of yore, to describe those incredibly special soldiers who were the first to lead the charge in battle and the last to retreat.
This story is about that primordial mix in that great big cauldron at the NDA that has traditionally made boys into men, even those teenagers ‘who’s halos slipped a bit in their time,’ some of whom went on to do great things and even find their way into the hallowed ground of the hut of remembrance. This episode of high jinx should be read in that spirit, with goodwill to all and malice towards none. So here goes. A true story of an NDA legend called ‘Mush Behind the Bush’ who will remained unnamed until he chooses to out himself.
The cross-country competition in our time at the NDA was dominated by a 40th course Ethiopian cadet named Tedros Mubazian, who undoubtedly carried in him the running genes of the great Olympic marathoner Abebe Bikila (1960 Rome and 1964 Tokyo Gold Medal winner). The NDA cross country race is a gruelling endurance run that stretches across the glider drome, goes around Lone Tree Hill and over the plateau above, followed by a rugged climb up ‘the Glider drome’ Hill, and then along the skyline and down through thick gorse and bush hiding the runners from view, all the way to the bottom, before ending with a flat two km sprint to the finish line.
Not only was Tedros impossible to beat, he also invariably left the first enclosure (winner +1 minute) almost empty with the odd runner who managed to come in well after him. Even the 2nd enclosure (winner + 2 minutes) had but a handful of cadets. Not surprisingly his wins were the cause of much moaning, gnashing of teeth, groaning and hand wringing by the entire officer corps at the NDA, and eventually resulted in them dishing out motivational speeches and exhortations to all of us cadets to beat Tedros (by any means ?? one wonders), as a matter of honour and national pride.
A 40th course cadet (who will remain unnamed) but for his nickname ‘Mush behind the Bush’ or (MUSH) picked up the gauntlet set down by his officers. As a cadet he was short in stature and physically nothing to write home about, with an overall performance that averaged well into the lower deciles, particularly in most physical activities. His one great claim to fame was a magnificent handlebar military moustache that he sported with great pride. In the event, he heard ‘what he wanted to hear’ in this clarion call from his officers and decided that honour compelled him to do something about this Tedros business.
MUSH accordingly cooked up a scheme to fudge his attendance in the confusion of 1500 cadets milling about at the start of the race. He then hid himself early in the morning at the very end of the race at the bottom of the glider drome hill behind a large bush, invisible to any spectators, and waited for the great Tedros to come along. When Tedros was in shouting distance MUSH promptly popped up from the bush, shot out well in front of Tedros, and raced for the finish line like a bat out of hell. Tedros, despite being in the exhausted state at nearly the end of the race, gave chase, and just about managed to beat MUSH and win the race.
As expected, there was absolute pandemonium and a great deal of consternation to firstly see someone who always finished in the lesser enclosures suddenly very nearly beat the great Tedros, especially amongst the officers of his squadron who were speechless and completely gobsmacked to see him there. To make matters worse, it was noticed by all, including Major Darshan (aka Daka) Singh the PTO and a legend in his own right, that MUSH had not even broken into a sweat at all, which is usually the case in long distance races. However, there was no way of finding out whether he had cheated or not, as the NDA did not have observers along the route in those days. The only person who could ‘dob’ him in would have been his course mate the great Tedros himself. Major Daka Singh promptly asked Tedros if MUSH had been with him all along, and Tedros being his course mate generously said, “yes sir, he was.” That closed the inquiry as it were.
Nothing more was said other than some dark mutterings by Major Daka Singh about ‘cheaters getting their just desserts….etc.” MUSH on the other hand, was no shrinking violet himself being made of much sterner stuff (or so he thought). On realising that there would be no inquiry, he decided to push his luck and promptly asked why he had not been awarded a ‘blue’ or a ‘half blue’ in cross -country at the very least for his sterling effort.
That was the last straw for Major Daka Singh who very nearly blew his gasket. Major Daka on the other hand was not the type to thrown in the towel in any fight, much less one that he had serious doubts with. As it happened, there was an annual athletic competition between NDA and PRAA (Pune Regional Athletics Assoc) held each year at the NDA. Tedros was invariably nominated to run the 10,000 meters in the NDA versus PRAA meet. This time Major Daka Singh added MUSH’s name to also run the 10,000 metres race alongside Tedros. The entire academy waited with bated breath day after day to see not if, but when, MUSH was going to report sick and get a medical excuse (Attend Cabin) preferably. But MUSH was as happy as a lark and gave everyone the impression that the race would be a cake walk.. No sweat at all yaar !! (Excuse the pun).
The day came. There was much excitement and anticipation in the air. The entire academy was at the stadium. No one was going to miss this race for all the tea in China. When the runners were called, MUSH could be seen at the starting line-up, warming up, jumping up and down, doing star jumps, all sorts of stretches and what not, like a world champion distance runner. As soon as the starting gun was fired, he took off like a rocket and sprinted well ahead of Tedros and the rest of the field surprising everyone … and then it all turned to custard. He had barely finished the first of the fifteen required laps when he promptly fainted.
By now there was absolute pandemonium in the stadium. Even the great Tedros stopped running and looked on. After a minute of theatrics MUSH finally opened his eyes to see Major Daka Singh leaning over and staring daggers at him. The rest of us were too far away in the stands to hear what was being said but knowing Major Daka Singh I could well imagine the conversation “Sala ‘bleddy’ Idiot bevkoof… ‘bleddy’ Blue chaheeyeh….I’ll give you ‘bleddy’ purple on your backside……” MUSH then claimed that as bad luck would have it he had suffered a stitch (or a catch) and regrettably could not run anymore.
He thereafter retired from cross country competitions which he felt clearly did not deserve his talents and finished his tenure at the NDA sans any punishment for his scam, and sans a ‘blue’ to his regret at the time. I’m sure he like all of us would have learnt from the experience with age.
The story might be humorous. but it is true as it demonstrates how ethics tend to be interpreted in the minds of teenagers. In fact, most cadets and the officer corps to this day thought it rather funny, in that at the very least Mush had done something for the ‘honour of the academy.’ Almost everyone forgot that if it were not for the generosity of the great Tedros Mubazian himself, MUSH would have found himself facing the business end of a major enquiry and possibly a relegation.
Tedros tragically had a heart attack in his sixth term. He was withdrawn from the academy and repatriated back to Ethiopia where rumour has it he unfortunately passed away. MUSH or the “Mush behind the bush” of course entered history and legend as one of the few who ever entered the cross country ‘first enclosure’ with the great Tedros. That he did it so in the way he did is of course lost in the noise.
The article captures the humorous aspect of the story only because it is exactly how it is related anecdotally at course gatherings and on the internet blogs of his course mates and all of us who were present at the time. The underlying humour notwithstanding, the incident illuminates the underbelly of how compromises are often driven by the officers with jingoistic bombast who give the cadets the impression that they need to ‘win at all costs’ in many training and other institutions not just in the NDA, but the world over.
Not surprisingly there is always a young cadet who will choose an extreme solution, because his take-away would be that ‘the means justify the ends.’ Teenagers are often unable to discern the difference between ‘good fun’ and those they might learn over time to regret. We have all been there.
Finally, in this case one could take the charitable view that perhaps the protagonist had his heart in the right place and that ‘teenagers being teenagers’ did not quite get the dividing line between a prank and an action with serious consequences. The lesson for Squadron Commanders and Divisional Officers in the NDA is that they need to be the bulwark between ‘right and wrong’ and provide clear guardrails that protect the dividing line between the one and the other. It is important to remember that in the years to come it is not just the ones on the straight and narrow who will do great things. Many of these pranksters and even indisciplined cadets have it in them to be the senior officers and even the war heroes of tomorrow.
Allan Rodrigues (IN Retired)
Cambridge New Zealand
Commander Allan Rodrigues 42nd course NDA is the ‘Sword of Honour’ of Naval Academy course and ‘Lentaigne’ medal winner at DSSC Wellington. His career includes the command of IN Ships Nipat, Himgiri and Subhadra. He has been the Commander Work of the Western Fleet and the XO and CI of the old Naval Academy. He was cleared promotion to Captain but chose to retire from the Navy in 1994 on completing 20 years of service to join industry, eventually moving overseas to New Zealand. He has held senior management and consulting positions with the Hinduja Group, KPMG (NZ), TVNZ and as the director and head of the largest MBA in New Zealand. He is a professional director and is currently the MD of a management consulting firm in New Zealand. His qualifications include an MSC (Def Studies) and an MBA (Elective Finance) from Henley Business and Management School, Oxford on Thames UK. He has been a guest lecturer at a number of Universities in Australia and New Zealand.