Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A lifetime of 50 days!! - My Stay at NDA

How it happened?

Frankly I don't know that myself.. After boards I had this NDA written exam. My father pushed me to go. I went, gave the exam and forgot about it thereafter. Then one fine day I get a Service Selection Board call. Not worrying too much about the result I go there. And 5 days later I find that " I have it in me". Selected as an Air Force Cadet to a place i'v seen my friends longing to go.

The Rest of the story.....
On 27 Dec' 2002 started what is to be the biggest learning experience of my life.

I had two friends from my SSB and we stuck together during the induction process thinking that we'll get the same squadron( NDA has 15 squadrons from A to O) but as the fate had it, all three of us were put in separate squads. I got the LIMA squadron.

Now i'm as much a civilian as anyone can be, with no link whatsoever with armed forces in any way. So the shock of a defence life started on day one itself. We were taken to the Cylce depot at once and given a "bike" each (yeah thats what they call a cycle there) and finally when we were dropped at our respective squadrons, each of us had a 20 kg kit bag on our shoulders. Once in my room alone, I realized the fact that i was not gonna see my family for 6 months, I was in tears before I knew and on first day in academy I ran to the phone booth called my parents and begged them to take me back!!

Next few days didn't go too well either. Its a cultural shock when every senior around u calls u as 'Hey u ikki" and in a group you're addressed with all sorts of foul words. We were taken for "Academy Darshan" which turned out to be a torture as NDA is spread over 8000 hectares. And we had to go everywhere on foot, doubling all the time. We used to think if this is before any training has started, what will it be when its in full flow!! I cried a lot and called home whenever I found a way, often making excuses to seniors that its my sister's birthday or parents anniversary or anything that came to my mind. I felt like a prisoner stuck in a prison which looked like heaven from outside but turned out to be an entirely different place from inside.

In initial few days ikkis are not given any punishments. Each first term cadet is assigned an overstudy which is the nearest third term cadet. Its now his responsibility to teach us everything bout rules and regulations of academy. If an ikki does anything wrong then senior punish his overstudy and then the overstudy punishes the ikki.

There are so many unwritten rules of the place like..
  • A senior with whom you have anything in common (hometown, school etc) can become your Pal. A pal can't punish us. 
  • You can't look at a senior getting punishment except for your Pal. You avoid the way if its happening in corridors and stay inside. If you can't avoid running away then just become a murga on the spot till the senior passes from there. 
  • You have to learn the names of all seniors especially 6 termers( or in other words Chhakkas) 
  • All seniors outside squadron are pals i.e. they cant punish you. This rule is specially put to test during the first movie we are shown in academy. Chhakkas will call an ikki each and tell him to do something. They will use all their anger and wits to scare an ikki but the ikki has to stay put and refuse flatly. In the end I was the only ikki in my squadron who remained standing, rest all succumbed to the stares of seniors.
By 5th of January my parents had booked their tickets to come back to meet me. Most seniors were now aware that I was one of the ikkis not taking the academy too well and even thinking of leaving. So whoever met me said something to encourage me. My DCC (Divisional Cadet Captain) called me to his cabin and had a friendly chat with me, all this while he was taking 'Patti Parade' of 4th term cadets, and most of them were grinning. I saw people getting severely punished but still coming back smiling in the end. I was forced to think that maybe I'm panicking, and this isn't such bad place afterall. With this thought in mind I stopped thinking about going back and when my parents came to meet me on 12th Jan i didn't even ask once to be taken back!

I realized that this was the life I had chosen and now there was no turning back. I was nicely learning to survive the academy when one day I was hurt on my knee while running. The pain continued for a week and I was reffered to Kirki Military Hospital, Pune. The doc prescribed various blood tests and as the fate has it..i was found to be RH Positive which means that I had tested positive for Arthiritis. I was sent to Command Hospital, Pune. Where after a lot of X-Rays and opinions i was pronounced fit but with a rider that finally I may not become a pilot as with RH positive I had no chance of clearing the Medical Test which Air Force cadets must go through after 4th Term. There was a strong chance of me being boarded out of academy on medical grounds in next 2 years if the problem deteriorated.

That was a hard time for me and my family.  We had to decide whether to stay and gamble upon luck or withdraw from the academy on my own expenses, as a formal medical board out takes atleast 2 months and that would have meant loosing another year. So i decided to finally leave the academy. 

On my way back to Delhi, in train I was carrying my NDA trunk with me which had my name and academy number written on it. Carrying it through the coach was disturbing quite a few people, but as soon as they saw NDA written on the trunk, their irritation turned into respect. It was more heart breaking for me as I knew I no longer deserved this respect. And it was a truth i had to come to terms with sooner or later.

Today after more than 4 years of leaving the Academy, I can't say I've done justice to my potential. I can just say that its been a long journey since the day I joined the academy and  life has put me through various ups and downs, though  its nothing to boast about, but I have survived and plan to start living soon..... 

Thanks for your time..

Note (29/5/2013): I wrote this 7 years back about a part of my life that happened over a decade ago from now.