Training in the Army
National Defence Academy
I still remember that day like yesterday, when, on a rainy evening in the autumn of 1991 (28th of June), I entered the majestic Academy in a valley surrounded by greenish blue Sahyadri hill ranges, just as it was getting dark. Despite my physical fitness I had butterflies in my stomach. Training, at this Academy, was believed to be the toughest anywhere in the world. I had heard tales about the torturously rigorous training at the Academy.
On my very first day there, a few seniors asked me which corps of the army I would like to join, and I said, ‘I want to join the Special Forces, the commandoes.’ They all laughed. They said, ‘After you see how tough it is, you will change your mind within a few days of training’. They seemed pretty sure. On my part, I was not much concerned about their opinion. I was thinking more about the immediate tasks at hand.
This would happen to me time and again during my four years of training. People would ask me the same question and then laugh when I gave them the same answer. They seemed very sure that I would change my mind soon. Would I?
The first six months of the training, through the incessant showers of the rainy season till the early winters, went fine. This term, the junior-most term, at the Academy is believed to be the toughest period of the training, yet I remember enjoying it. I remember enjoying running in the rain; I remember enjoying playing football in the rain; I remember all the physical training and rolling and crawling in the slush.
There was hardly a minute of rest. In fact the only times we rested were the times when we were doing something less rigorous. We could sleep with rainwater flowing over us; we could sleep in the slush; we could sleep in the bushes; and of course we could sleep walking, standing or sitting. I still enjoyed the period because, firstly, this was what I wanted to do, this was my choice; and secondly, because being a sportsman I never minded the hard work and the sweat.
In fact I could comfortably go through all the hard work the training demanded. The fitness regimen that I had followed during my growing up years made the training at the Academy look routine to me. I had impressed my batch mates and seniors with my capability of hard work and high spirits. I was often referred to as the ‘Josh Box’ of my squadron, the Lion Squadron. ‘Josh Box’ is a term used to refer to a person who would enthuse and motivate everyone with his display of high spirits.
However, I had one drawback. I lacked focus. Rather, I didn’t know what to focus on. I just went with the schedule. It was not a major issue as I was never much concerned about ranking. Most of my friends took the career in defence as their final destiny. Whereas for me, career in defence was only one of the so many things I wanted to do with my life. Much more than ranking, I was happy if I had the respect of my friends, seniors and juniors.
The training was so rigorous that all cadets, including me, used to count months, weeks, days, hours and minutes left for the semester to get over and the vacation break of 28 days to start. The people you train with become your best friends for life. With them you learn to laugh over everything. As young cadets at the Academy, it is the torturously tough times that we spend together that make us bond together as friends.
The Love Story
I would like to add here that I was in love with a girl from my class at school, for some years now. We had been in regular touch through letters. (Those were not the days of internet or mobile phones). We had never met except at school, as friendship between young boys and girls was not a very acceptable thing in the society then. Besides, I was very shy and could not talk with girls easily. So, we had not been able to talk much even at school.
I had told her that she would have to wait for me for four years as that was the time it would take for my training to get over. I was very sure that the day my training got over I would go and meet her and from there we would plan our lives further. But during my days at the Academy, my father got a transfer to another city and I did not get a chance to visit the city where my girlfriend lived. The Academy gave us tickets to travel only to the destination where our family lived.
The next six months of training (Jan. 1992–June 1992) saw the season of dry grass and pollen and I started facing serious breathing problems while running (because of allergy). But because of my physical toughness I managed to run well despite the problem. I also enrolled for two hours of extra swimming practice. Swimming is one of the best of breathing exercises. By doing thirty to forty lengths of the swimming pool (roughly two kilometers) everyday I could ensure that my breathing problems remained under control.
In my spare time and on Sundays, when most of my fellow trainees would take the first available bus to the city for a day’s outing, I would go for long runs through the hills. I did this not only to improve and sustain my running stamina but also because I enjoyed it. I had always been a nature lover. I loved nature and I loved the tall grass, the jungles and the fresh air. Running always made me feel so alive and happy.
I might have become fitter during my school days but this was a place where the fittest and the toughest, both mentally and physically, had been picked. There were enough boys who had participated in and even excelled at various sports at the national and, on some occasions, at the international level too. There were many boys who had trained since their childhood in military schools and sports schools. Saying that competing with them was a real tough job would be an understatement.
In the boxing match I remember I had reached the semi-finals quite comfortably but lost the crucial semi-final boxing match by the closest of margins, when everyone expected me to win it. And this happened for three years consecutively. The close results could go either way and in my case, unluckily, they went the other way quite a few times. I think with time I became a little apprehensive of the semi-finals. There were two losses in semi-finals in handball when my team was expected to win the gold. These were team sports but the loss just before the finals would always hurt. I could not manage to make it till the end. Victory was evading me when I could nearly feel it. I remember losing a couple of close encounters in other sports and events too including one at debating.
I carried a part of these close losses with me always. I had met a lot of boys who would say that they gave up a sport after losing a particular competition. I did not want that to happen to me. I wanted to continue trying. I wanted to win. I knew I could. How many times would luck be able to stop me from winning? Not every time, or so I thought.
A Fortunate Encounter with Possible Death
This was sometime in the January of 1993. One day I woke up to find myself in the hospital bed. A few of my friends surrounded me and Anupam Gaur, a close buddy, had a heap of bandages pressed on my right eye and the right side of my face, trying to stop the blood which was oozing from my eye and escaping from the sides of the heap of bandages despite his pressing hard.
I did not know what was going on.
I asked Anupam Gaur ‘Gaur, what happened?’
He said ‘You got kicked by a horse’.
Horse! What horse? I did not remember any horse. ‘Which year is this?’ I asked him.
He just said, ‘Relax’.
The doctor came in and my bandages were removed to profuse bleeding. The doctor stretched my battered eyelids to check if I could still see with that eye. Yes, I could. He was amazed. ‘I cannot figure out how your eye got saved with such an injury,’ he said. Over the next few months he would repeat this statement every time he saw me.
For the next couple of hours I was held down by five or six people, who kept my hands and legs pressed down while the doctor stitched my eyelids back in place with twenty-nine sutures around my eyelids and right cheek. It was such a painful experience that I was pushing away the people holding me. Two to three more medics had to be called in to pin me down. Physically, it has been the most painful experience of my life. The pain was maximized because the doctor could not give me the local anesthetic injection as the injury was in proximity with the eye. The sutures were put on my eyelids without the use of any pain killers or anesthetic.
Over the next few days I recollected the incidents a little at a time. It was a morning, sometime in the beginning of my 4th semester. I, along with other batch mates, was going on my bicycle to the equitation lines for horse riding classes.
I used to love riding. We used to get to ride bareback horses for three hours in the surrounding hills and jungles. I particularly remember the one time when our horses waded into a good four to five feet deep water and then galloped out of the watery stretch. I remember once when I, along with six other riders, galloped through a jungle stretch and at the end of it I was the only one still atop my horse. The riders on the rest of the five horses had fallen off somewhere along the way.
On the day I had suffered the injury, I remember I had got a huge horse called ‘Hercules’. This horse was from the type of horses that were used to pull massive carriages of the Victorian era. It was one of a pair that pulled carriages. Its partner had died. The horse was being tested to see if this horse could be used for riding. I did not like the idea. However, refusing to ride a horse was considered a matter of ultimate shame and disgrace (even by me). ‘Refusing’ was not even under consideration.
The moment I brought the horse out, it started grazing. Standing next to it, I tried to pull its head up with the reigns but the horse was so strong that I could not pull it, despite being physically strong. If I could not pull up the head of the horse with the reigns, it meant that the horse was very strong. I attempted to pull his head up a few more times. The horse then got irritated and kicked around wildly, broke loose from my grasp and ran away. I ran after it to fetch it.
That is the last thing that I can remember from that day. I have never been able to recollect anything after that. In retrospect, I realize that taking the horse to an area of ‘no grass’ before mounting would have been a better idea. Being a good and enthusiastic rider I don’t think I could have committed the blunder of approaching the horse from behind and getting kicked. My guess is that attempt when I would have attempted to mount the horse, the horse would have thrown me down and subsequently the horse might have kicked me or stepped upon me. It was, in all probability, a ‘kick’ rather than a ‘stepping upon’ as could be gauged from the grievous nature of the injury I suffered and the fact that I had lost my memory.
However, thinking of the huge, muscular horse, I should consider myself fortunate to be alive. A full-blooded kick of that horse, with the huge iron horse shoe nailed under its hoof, could have easily chopped a human skull into two. I am more than fortunate to have got away. Now that I am on the luckier side of the incident, I can afford to joke about it and take it lightly. But I never take the lessons that I learn from incidents lightly. That would be foolishness.
Two weeks after the initial suturing of the wound I had to undergo a surgery to rectify my jaw bones. I recovered within four weeks of time to join back my training at the Academy. A big scar around my right eye and eyelids has remained as reminiscent of that injury.
I recently got in touch with Anupam Gaur, who is posted in one of the remote cantonments. He recounted the tale for me. He said that when I was trying to mount the horse, it started turning. Anupam asked me to turn with it but I did not and moved a little away. I had come in line of its backward kick which came sideways at an angle. (You don’t have to be exactly behind the horse to get kicked.)
I lost consciousness immediately. Fortunately there was an army jeep nearby and I could be immediately rushed to the hospital.
The training camp ‘Rovers’ at the National Defence Academy would often be referred to as the toughest training camp anywhere in the world for the under-nineteen age group. The camp saw us run through the scorching heat of summers and walk through the nights with loads of heavy equipment on our backs. We drank liters and liters of water whenever we got an opportunity to drink. Our bodies had literally become like machines. I remember noticing how hard the muscles had become. When I touched my arm, it was like touching a hard metal object. It did not feel like skin.
Yes, we were enjoying the camp. We used to have loads of fun and laughter whenever and wherever we got an opportunity; we even pulled pranks on each other. Once we had to dig snake trenches around our tents before night and because the ground had stones and rocks, what we were able to dig was a very shallow trench. The officer, on seeing the trench, said, ‘What a shallow trench! Any self-respecting snake wouldn’t even try to cross it.’
Those were not the days of the digital cameras and I was not a very camera savvy person either. Most of the photographs I have of my training days were clicked by some of my friends and given to me much later.
One day when it was drizzling, I went out to fetch the Light Machine Gun into the tent to keep it from getting wet in the drizzle. My friend Ravinder Chauhan was in the tent at that point of time and had a camera in his hand. He said ‘Gulia, a photo,’ I pulled down my overalls over my shoulders to pose for him. The photograph turned out to be a perfect capture of the times of adventure and fun during the training.
Yes, I might have had some weak points too during those three years of training but I think overall I did well even in the toughest of situations and well enough to be very proud of myself. I also feel that I started developing my concept of infinite ability during these three years of training.
There were times when we had to walk and run for miles and keep going much after what we thought would be our last step. In any kind of task, we could always just go on and on. It made me realize that there are no limits to our ability. This concept of infinite ability that I learnt during my days of military training would in coming times enable me to overcome seemingly unsurpassable hurdles.
The three years of training at the National Defence Academy helped me realize certain other facts about life that have been crucial lessons of a lifetime for me. Every stage in life is only a learning process and my training at the Academy was definitely an important one. I am sharing some of those lessons here.
- We all have infinite ability stored in us. I learnt and discovered that mentally and physically we have near unlimited energy. This, a decade of trials later, would lead to my favourite statement of infinite ability.
Our body and our mind have infinite ability. Our ability never restricts us, our thoughts do. If we think we can, we can. If we think we cannot, we cannot.
We learnt this lesson by working through pain, exhaustion and fatigue. Carrying an injured or fainted friend on your shoulders for miles, in the scorching sun, through the jungles and hills, where your own knees could buckle under you out of extreme exhaustion at any moment, was a revelation of endurance. There is an inexhaustible list of such extremely testing situations.
- Learn to be proud of yourself. We learn to be proud of so many things in our life but it is most important to learn to be proud of yourself despite any shortcomings that you may have. To be proud of yourself is the biggest asset that you can have. This makes you proud of everything else that you are associated with, it makes you set high standards of behaviour and conduct for yourself and it ensures that you will never give up.
- Discipline is the key to success. Discipline does not mean wearing a uniform and marching in formation. It relates to how organized and focused you are towards your work and towards the goal of your life.
Discipline will decide where you will reach in your life and what you will do with it.
- Life does not accept excuses. There is no reason good enough to give up whatever endeavour you choose to embark on. In this world you will always find two types of people—one, who will provide very valid reasons for having failed and, two, those who succeed. It is for you to decide which of the given two types you want to be.
People may accept your excuses but life will not. It is either you succeed or you don’t.You cannot be defeated unless you accept defeat.
- Trust yourself. We were required to hang a framed copy of the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling in our rooms and one phrase from that poem got stuck in my mind—‘If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you’.
This thought has become engraved in my mind and is among the most important thoughts in my life. Undoubtedly and invariably, there will be times when people will have doubts about your dreams and decisions. Learn to trust yourself.You are your best judge. Always trust yourself.
Effort Is More Important Than the Outcome
I continued to write my diary and poems even during my days at the Defence Academy. I was an admirer of nature. I spent a lot of my spare time trekking and jogging through the hills. I had a desire to do lots of different things with my life. I was an admirer of life too. I had always wanted to do things for the welfare of the society. And I was sure that I would fulfil these wishes of mine one day. It was only a matter of time or so I thought.
I had been an animal lover since my childhood. At the Academy, one day as I was coming out of my room I saw a small squirrel running in the corridor. It was a baby squirrel and looked scared. The other cadets were running around in the corridor wearing big boots and I thought someone may happen to step on this tiny squirrel. I picked up the squirrel in my hands and took it to my room.
My room was on the third floor of the building and right outside the window of my room, connected to the window sill, was a flat surface a few inches wide, which ran around the building at that height. Squirrels from the trees used to run around on this platform as the branches of most of the trees touched the building. I thought I would place the squirrel on that platform and from there it could run away into the trees and safety.
The squirrel was definitely scared in my hands. As I gently placed it on the platform, in a very unlikely and unexpected manner, it ran off the platform and into the air. I knew that the fall would not kill the squirrel because the squirrels are designed to survive such a fall. The squirrel would spread its limbs to slow the fall but the fall from three stories would definitely daze it for a few seconds.
As the squirrel hit the ground with a slight thud, a cat which used to usually rest in front of the next building woke up by the sound. The cat immediately saw the fallen squirrel and ran towards it. As the cat closed in on the squirrel, I saw the squirrel come out of its daze and run to the nearest tree. The few seconds of daze after the fall proved fatal for the squirrel. By the time the squirrel had just started climbing the closest tree the cat caught it.
Military Academy, Dehradun
After the three years of training at the Defence Academy, I was required to go to the Indian Military Academy for the final year of my specialized military training. This Academy was located in the valley town of Dehradun at the foothills of the Himalayas. I had visited this place a few times before, during my school days and had taken a liking for this place as it was surrounded on all sides by jungles, hills and mountain streams.
Added to that was the fact that here at the Academy, I was a step closer to the career I had always wanted to pursue. The freedom to live my life my way—that was what I was looking forward to! I would also be able to go and meet the girl I loved.
I joined the Academy on 11 of July 1994. The colour of my uniform changed from Khaki to Olive Green. I preferred this colour more. The schedule at this Academy was not as busy as the Defence Academy at Pune but the training camps here were much tougher.
As for me, the semi-final losses still continued. Two or three times I missed the first enclosure in cross country by a whisker. In debating, twice I was given an honorary third position instead of the decisive second which could see me through in the team. On one occasion, in a swimming competition I failed by one-hundredth of a second to qualify for the finals. Now I could be glad that I was doing well in so many activities, but then I wanted to win too. I had not participated and reached that far in those competitions only to lose.
Losing every time caused pain and frustration, especially because it happened at a stage when I would be close to victory. However, being a sportsman, I tried to take it with a positive spirit, notwithstanding the kind of efforts I had put in to win. At the end of the day it was sports after all.
I might not have excelled at a particular sport because I participated in a very wide range of sports. Frankly, the experience of participating in so many activities and sports gave a better feeling than excelling at one would have given me, and given an opportunity again, I would still choose to participate in a variety of sports and activities rather than strive to excel in one.
That applies to most of my life. Even if I were given another chance at life, I would most probably make the same choices again. I might not have excelled at competitive sports but I was always physically very fit. My fitness used to amaze even me at times. It was a revelation to be that fit. Most people perceive a fit body as something superficial like ‘a show of muscles’ or something but it is not so. It is more like meditation.
To have a muscular, strong and healthy body needs tremendous efforts and also has a spiritual dimension to it. It is like self-realization. Your own strength humbles you. I don’t remember a single instance when I might have imposed myself on somebody weaker than me because I was physically stronger. Yes, I did pick some differences over principles, that too on very rare occasions, but I never tried to take advantage on account of my physical strength. Also because ever since I was a child I was a sensitive person who could not cause pain to others.
I think achieving the level of fitness that I had was an important factor in the realization of my inner strength. Thankfully, I never let go any opportunity of extra-curricular activities or adventure. This fact made me happy about myself then and it makes me happy even today. It keeps you away from regret. I never said, ‘I wish I could do this’ or ‘I wish I could do that’. If there was something I wished to do, I would rather do it than regret not doing it. I always loved life. Life has always inspired me.
In the middle of the term at the Academy, I got an opportunity to go to the hill town of Nainital for a rock-climbing course for 21 days. Nainital is a lake high up in the mountains surrounded by tree-covered mountain peaks on all sides. On one side there is a slight opening between the hills; from there the clouds would float over the lake and then float away from it from the other side. The rain, clouds and the breeze were an excellent combination. I was awed by the sight and feel of the place. For me, it was love at first sight. My love affair with this place would last a whole lifetime.
During the course of the training for rock climbing, we used to run up the hills to a point called Barah Pathar (12 rocks). Under the supervision of expert rock-climbing instructors, we would run, exercise and rock climb over huge rock surfaces and cliffs. Walking face down from a very steep, high cliff, with the rope tied around your waist, which you gradually released with your hands, was the most thrilling experience of rock climbing. This rock-climbing trip to Nainital was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life till then.
At the end of the first semester we had a one-month break before the final semester would begin. Instead of choosing to go home, I chose to go for a course in para-trooping (jumping from a flying plane with parachutes). It was not a choice many would consider even otherwise, let alone during holidays. But when I had the opportunity, I would not want to let it go. I was planning to join the Special Forces. In coming times, I would need to do these jumps as a routine during my profession. But, as a thumb rule, I always took the first opportunity I got.
I was not the only one. There were 21 other cadets from my course, who chose to go for this course. Barring a few disciplined ones, everyone in this group was most mischievous and would come up with some or the other prank, all the time, making the course memorable in more ways than one.
We would go to watch movies and if ever a film turned out to be pathetically boring, we would go back and praise the film so much with imaginary scenes and descriptions that the others in the group would go to watch the movie the very next day.
We would get eatables from the market and the whole group of boys would attack the packet in a way very similar to the way the players attack the ball in a game of rugby. There would be a pile up of 22 guys on the top of the packet of food trying to reach for it and after devouring everything, they would say ‘I think it was something made of potatoes’. Sometimes, just for fun, we would bring in an empty cardboard box and pretend it was a box of eatables. Everyone would pounce on it with the same spirit only to discover that it was actually empty.
Only a person who has jumped from a plane can know what thrill para-jumping is. Standing at the open door of a flying plane and looking down at the vast fields below which looked like small rectangles from that height was no less than staring at certain death. Even with the parachute behind your back, one knew for sure that if the parachute failed to open, even God could not save him. In cases where parachutes have not opened up, the remains of the parachutist have had to be collected from the fields into a sack with the help of shovels and brooms. It is like I say, ‘if you want to really experience what fear of dying is without actually dying, do skydiving’.
To be safe in this activity, one has to give his 200 per cent in the preparation for the jump. There is absolutely no scope for error. There is a period of extensive training which has to be taken very seriously and then it is an acid test of your ability to stay calm and focused even under a state of extreme fear. It is not a tandem jump where you jump with an expert who handles everything from opening your parachute to your landing safely. Here you have to be the expert yourself. There are no second chances.
I had always been an adventure lover and would always be. Adventure gave me an opportunity to experience life at its extremes. There is an extreme of fear, extreme of efforts and extreme of pain, followed by an extreme of jubilation on completing it successfully.
The Final Term of the Training
In the January of 1995 we reached the final phase of our training. The last six months of my training were to go now. Although the final term already meant a lot of freedom as we were now the senior-most trainees, it also meant moving close to our dream. The end of the term meant the moment of the fulfillment of our dream. After spending four years of the prime time of our youth in extensive training with little or no freedom, we were now going to be commissioned as officers into the Indian Army.
I had always loved freedom and space. The job would give me these, and now that finally I would be earning a salary, I would have the freedom to do so much more besides pursuing my chosen career. I would be able to make up for lost time and finally live my life the way I wanted.
Through our days of schooling and training we were told to work hard and focus on our goals because once our career was in place, we could have all the time to enjoy life and pursue other interests that we had. This is what I had worked towards for the past many years of my life.
I wanted to ride motorbikes and travel the world on a bike. I wanted to go and meet the girl I loved. I wanted to pursue my hobbies and interests and I wanted to enjoy my life with more freedom. With all the years of hard work behind me, I thought I deserved every bit of it. Nothing could now possibly stop me from doing all these and fulfilling my desire to do many more meaningful things with my life.
Sometime in the middle of the term I received a letter from my girlfriend telling me that it would be very difficult for her to wait for me as her family was pressurizing her for marriage. I was heartbroken but I did not have a choice. I still had a few more months of training to go. If she could wait these few more months I would be able to go to her, and from there on I could manage things. I was very close to the most important goal of my life (which included her). Would I lose her? I did not want to. I hoped she would still be there at the end of five months. I had promised that the first thing I would do at the end of my training would be to go and meet her. I hoped all would be well. I hoped I would not lose her at the very time I was so near to the position where I could ask for her hand in marriage.
During the middle of the term, a group of us were sent to an army regimental centre down south on a training visit. It was to be a routine visit but something different was in store for me. On my travel by train to the place, I developed some rashes which caused so much pain that I couldn’t sleep the whole night. I wasn’t sure what it was.
When we reached the place, I thought of reporting it to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed it as ‘Herpes Zooster’. It was a version of chickenpox which infects adults. It being a contagious disease I was put in an isolated ward which was located in a big compound with a few rooms. There was no one in that ward besides me. I had carried this disease with me from the Academy where many trainees had been infected with it. No one in this new location was affected by it.
Had there been other patients with this disease, I would have at least had some company here. Here I was in an enclosed compound with no one and no activity to do. No newspapers, no TV and nothing to do. It would take me a few weeks to recover fully. I was alone the whole day, doing nothing. I did not get to see any human throughout the day. I was not allowed to go out. I exercised, read one book that I had purchased on the train while coming here and slept quite a bit.
I had always been a very active person and found this state of idleness miserable. This phase made me collect an excess amount of mental and physical energy. I wanted to get back and run faster than before. I wanted to recover at the earliest and get back to my training otherwise I would have to repeat the last six months of training and that would be such an unnecessary pain. It was also very important for me to complete my training on time so that I had the chance of meeting her too.
Finally, on my persistent persuasion, the doctor discharged me a couple of days earlier than what he would have preferred. There was hardly any time left and I had to catch up with the training and studies for the final exams which were just around the corner.
Back at the Military Academy, I got engaged with the preparations for the final academic exams which were now just two days away. I had to clear all the papers to be able to complete my training. I worked very hard and even studied overnight.
The results came out. I had cleared all the papers in my first attempt, whereas a lot of my batch mates had not cleared all subjects. They would be taking another attempt in a few days’ time.
I had already cleared all the physical tests at the mandatory level and even at the higher level. The last mandatory exercise was a grueling seven days of a training camp, marching through the jungles, loaded like mules with equipment, weapons and ammunition. Marching through the night, step after step, would be a memory I would carry with me all my life. This exercise had been named after and in memory of the war fought by the ‘forgotten army’ of the Second World War, when they fought the Japanese armies on the north-eastern frontiers of India, in the jungles of the Northeast and Burma. It is said that in this war the jungle and the terrain conditions were so tough that for each soldier killed by an enemy bullet, twenty used to die of diseases and other terrain or climate related reasons.
Since this exercise had been named after such a war, it had to live up to the expectations, as far as the ‘tough conditions’ part of it was concerned. On the first night of the camp, we marched the whole night through a dry mountain stream in the jungle. I had heard that two cadets would be chosen to be sent on a helicopter reconnaissance the next day. I wanted to be one of them. It was as grueling a march as could be, especially because our bodies were not used to carrying such heavy loads. We hoped it would be easier once our bodies got used to it. By the time we reached our destination for that night, it was 4 a.m. already and everyone was completely exhausted.
While everyone was near to collapsing from exhaustion and waiting for the first opportunity to fall down into a sleep, I approached my officer and enquired about the helicopter reconnaissance. The next day I got the opportunity as the officer had recommended my name for it. I have mentioned this incident here to reinforce the fact that whatever be the conditions I would never give up an opportunity to experience new things in life.
The next day, one of my batch mates and I were sent for the helicopter reconnaissance and fortunately we had to wait the whole day in the jungle. This gave us an opportunity to give rest to our tired limbs; we slept to our heart’s content. At the end of it we got to fly in a helicopter too. An extra effort at the right time often gives wonderful opportunities later.
The camp continued through the week. We even had to do our own cooking in the jungle and it is not at all romantic, as one would be inclined to think, to cook in a jungle, especially under such a grueling schedule. I had read that the soldier fighters in earlier days could survive and fight for days with only a fistful of roasted gram with jaggery taken down with water. I thought of trying the same and was carrying the same in my pouch. It worked wonders. I never felt exhausted or hungry in the entire week, while other friends of mine, who preferred to carry chips and biscuits, had a tough time.
At the end of the camp we were given 24 hours to reach the Academy back on foot, carrying all our equipment on our backs. It is a near non-stop march. And if we do not complete it in 24 hours, we would be required to do it again. That is the motivation which keeps every one walking through the night and day.
The camp was so exhausting that at the end of it every one slept for two full days without waking up. The cadets would be sleeping in the lawns and verandahs and wherever they fell when they reached back. While everyone slept on their return, I bathed, changed and went to the café for some good food. I was that confident about the state of my fitness. Once back in my room I called a junior and told him to wake me up after two hours, in time for the evening tea. However, I woke up the next day. When I called the junior and scolded him for not waking me up, he said that he had knocked hard on my door for a long time but I did not wake up.
The training camp was over and only a little time and a ceremonial ‘march past’ was all that separated me from my dream career in the Indian Army, something that I had worked so hard to achieve. The beginning of the career was a dream everyone was looking forward to. Only a person who has been through the four years of rigorous military training would know what it means to complete it. The day the training gets over is a day every trainee is desperately waiting for. Nothing could now stop me from reaching there. All the goals of my life were just around the corner now with no hurdles on the way. Nothing could possibly stop me now.
Completing the training was never a challenge for me. I knew I would do it come what may. I was among the fittest. During my four years of training at the Academy, I had earned the nickname ‘The Terminator’, from my seniors, juniors and my batch mates, for my resilience and the ability to beat the odds. I had done well. I was happy and I was proud.
In two days time we were to make a choice about which force we would want to join. I went to my Battalion Adjutant, who was a paratrooper himself, and told him that I wanted to be a paratrooper and join a ‘special forces’ regiment. Specifically trained for undertaking the most dangerous and challenging operations, this regiment was considered the toughest, the bravest and the proudest of all forces. I hoped I would get to join it.
I remembered the day my seniors had laughed at me and predicted that I would change my mind in four days of tough training. Four years of tough training and I had not changed my mind. I was glad and I was proud. If we succumb and compromise our decisions and choices when faced with tough and trying conditions, we make a serious compromise with our pride as well. It makes us weak, as we are not prepared to face difficulties thereafter.