Wednesday, June 1, 2016
As a 16 year old in January 1969, I felt proud to join the National Defence Academy (NDA); an amazing institution that transforms boys into men, or rather into gentlemen. These gentlemen eventually go on to lead the three defence forces of India, as President’s commissioned officers. The course at NDA is completed in three years, comprising of six 6-monthly terms. The training is rigorous and action packed, wherein the cadets are exposed to every outdoor and indoor activity, in addition to pure academic studies.
In the second term, we were required to clear our swimming test, which comprised of completing 25 metres of breast stroke followed by 25 metres of any style swimming. This had to be followed up by a jump from the 7 metre board. A friend and I had gone to the swimming pool to practice this so as to be able to clear the swimming test in the first attempt itself.
The NDA swimming pool with the 1, 3, 5, 7, and 10 metre boards
Image Courtesy: Sainik Samachar
We both managed the 50 metres of swimming. However, the seven metres board looked challenging. We thus decided that we would go up the diving boards in ascending order, starting with the 1 metre board. The first two, 1 and 3 metres, did not pose much of a problem. The five metre gave me a feeling of increased degree of difficulty. We hesitated for a bit, but both of us managed to jump. We then went up to the 7 metre board. Our hesitation was palpable but we managed to jump, after a few false starts. We thus decided to repeat the jump from the 7 metre board. This jump was better, but we did not consider it to be good enough, keeping our Physical Training Officer (PTO) in mind.
Our PTO was always present at the 7 metre board while the swimming tests were being conducted. The jump sequence had to be clean; climb up to the 7 metre board, walk to the edge, and jump. Any sign of hesitation always prompted our PTO to push the hesitant cadet in to the pool. Our hesitation was thus not acceptable. Also, we did not want to be humiliated by the PTO. To overcome this hesitation, I suggested that we jump from the 10 metre board; this would make the 7 metre jump look less challenging.
We both agreed on this, and trooped up to the 10 metre board. On the way, we also entered in to a private bet that the one who does not jump will have to give a ‘treat’ to the other. The all around view from 10 metres (33 feet) was breathtaking, except when looking down; the Olympic size swimming pool looked like a small match box; it seemed that we would fall on the concrete, and not in the water. We were now very hesitant to jump. My friend was already in the process of descending the stairs when I asked him to wait. I once again moved forward to the edge of the board, looked down, felt the ball in my stomach grow in size, and fear taking hold of my mind, and body.
I was just about to agree with him to go down the stairs, when some teenage girls entered the pool premises. They stood there watching our antics at the 10 metre board. Imagine our plight - we were scared of jumping from the 10 metre board, and these pretty girls were looking up at us (literally). An on the spot decision was taken that we would not go down the stairs, even if we had to ride back in an ambulance, because it was now an ‘izzat ka sawaal’ (matter of prestige), and that too in front of pretty girls. I jumped, followed by my friend; he did not want to lose the bet too. Lo and behold, we both fell right in the middle of the pool. We both passed our swimming test in our first attempt.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
I had just landed after a sortie with one of my pupils, and was sitting at one of the tables debriefing him on his performance. The time was 8:30 am on my watch; time the breakfast was laid out on the counter. The breakfast was collected from our homes every morning by a special transport. We could not carry it with us in the morning, as we left home well before sunrise to enable us to live upto the dictum of ‘sun up, wheels up’. I glanced to see if my breakfast tiffin had arrived; it had. I noticed TP opening my box, giving out an odd expression and quickly shutting it. I was a little baffled. Normally my wife sent delicious stuffed parathas, which I rarely got to eat as someone would partake of them well before I had a chance, thanks to our great tradition of sharing.
In the Air Force Academy, we had an unwritten law that anybody could eat the food of his choice from one of the 30 odd tiffin boxes that were brought in from the 30 different homes. To have a change of taste, we would go through the tiffins and generally eat the one that we did not get a chance to eat in the normal course. Thus to have a wider choice, it was best to make it to the cafeteria before the others and then take your pick of the available lot. I never bothered to hurry up as my parathas were always finished by the time I got to the breakfast counter. I would get an assortment of food, which included dosa, idli, poha, sandwiches, bread pakoras, upma and many other exotic dishes.
I again looked up to see Ramas open and shut my tiffin in a hurry. I was now intrigued and wondered what my dear wife had sent as breakfast for me. It must be something that nobody wanted to eat. I finished the debrief and went up to the breakfast counter. I quickly picked up my breakfast tiffin, and headed for the farthest table so as to avoid questions from my fellow instructors. I took a quick glance to see that all was clear and opened my tiffin box. Inside I found a slip of paper lying face down that had something written on it in my wife’s handwriting. I quickly put the slip of paper in my overall pocket, shut my tiffin box as if I had finished eating and headed out to a secure location to read the message.
This had never happened before and thus it set me thinking. I had in the last week volunteered to do additional flying with the other squadron to help them overcome their shortage of instructors. This had prevented me from accompanying my wife to the movies held at the open air theatre in the evenings. I also conveniently forgot to tell my better half about the volunteering part; instead giving her a story of ‘service exigencies’. She took it in her stride, and would sit through the movies all by herself. It irked her to sit all by herself, but then she had learnt not to question these two words spoken as one, ‘service exigencies’.
I had by now reached a safe location. I pulled out the hand written slip and read the words, “Hog flying”. It transpires that one of the other squadron ladies had sat through with her during the previous evening’s movie, and had blown my cover. “Hog flying” was my wife’s way of putting me in place, and extracting her sweet revenge for my convenient & false use of service exigencies.