The magic words ‘my course mate’ signify so much depth, bonding and permanence that only those who have gone through the grind and sweat of military training can truly relate to the range of emotions it conveys! In fact, the relationship between course mates is a true example of the ethos and camaraderie, which is the bedrock and spirt of the Forces. This unique and unbreakable relationship is honed and slowly tempered, in the hard and challenging regime at the military training academies of India. It is no secret that the most enduring relationships are only forged in the severest of testing times and in sharing of meagre resources, and the helping hand and encouragement of comrades when the will is weak.
A lot of my non fauji friends often look askance when I nonchalantly and with supreme confidence tell them that I am going to so and so place and will look up or stay with my course mate. They are unable to comprehend the almost open-ended pass to seek any favour at any time that this relationship bestows and ensures. While in service, the first thing an officer looks around for comfort and security are the course mates in a new military station. In this, the rank of the officers involved is of little or no consequence.
This unparalleled and unique flavour came to the fore when more than a hundred of my course mates and myself recently made a journey to our alma mater, the incomparable crucible of leadership; NDA, to celebrate 50 golden years of our passing out from this hallowed institution (32 NDA). It is by many miles the foremost and leading joint services military academy in the world. Friends came from all corners of India and abroad, some with Parkinson’s, others battling the dreaded C, or assisted by walking sticks, silvered hair and balding pates. Also came the better halves of our departed course mates, and few dear friends now sadly alone. Yet all came with a twinkle in their eyes, a pronounced swagger in their walk, searching for familiar faces of long lost friends. Many met for the first time after 50 years and the bear hug and moist eyes with colourful language melted away the years and all we saw with our failing eyesight’s was the buddy of yore.
Some had changed beyond recognition with years taking their toll, others still dapper and smart. Yet recognition would come instantly when the magic pet name of NDA was shouted out! One was either, Sukka, or Speedy, Kalu, Saby or Chandu! Every one has an NDA pet name which only the course mates know. Once you utter it the years fly away in a flash. Wives of our course mates who we lost along the way came to honour the memory of their husbands, and to relive and see for themselves the places and fables he must have narrated endlessly. We lived in the NDA cabins and sheepishly shared and laughed at the pictures of our cadet days pasted on our cabin doors! We danced, sang old songs and partied and made merry, content and relaxed, yet conscious that this would perhaps be the last reunion of this band of friends.
The solemn ceremony at the hut of remembrance to pay homage to our course mates and all NDA martyrs was deeply moving yet filled us all with a sense of pride. For most of us it was a pilgrimage to the institution which moulded us and gave us so much in return. Fifty years of a life lived with honour and dignity! My salutation to all my course mates, may our kinship and bonding remain steadfast, till the time comes for us to bid life adieu!