CHANDIGARH: The stimulus for writing this piece is a report in the Chandigarh edition of a national newspaper dated June 10, 2017 where the reporter covering the Passing Out Parade (POP) at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun has let his/her imagination fly and has mentioned some strange beliefs (or make-believes!) that are alien to the ethos of the Indian Army. Since the subject is the POP, let me enthrall you with what happened at our POP 56 years back, on June 11, 1961.

The month of June in Northern India is well known for its heat and dust. The enervating climate tends to sap one’s energy. However, Dehradun, nestled in the foothills of the Shivalik Ranges was not so bad back in the early Sixties. Global warming had not been heard of in that era and the hill effect did wonders in keeping the temperatures down.

Not that it would have affected the enthusiasm of the Gentlemen Cadets (GC’s) of the 27th Course that was scheduled to pass out of the portals of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) on 11 June 1961. Rehearsals for the POP, the biggest and most important event in the busy calendar of every term of six months duration, had started in late April and their frequency and intensity was increasing as the big day approached.

Much was happening off the drill square too. Anticipation and despondency jostled for space in everyone’s mind and could be palpably felt. Everyone was ruminating about how he had fared; where one stood in the merit; and was one getting the regiment of his choice. There was great speculation about who will receive the sword of honour from the reviewing officer and the instructors were not telling! Above all, there was the nagging doubt about the post-POP life when the shoulders would bend slightly with the weight (!) of the lone star of a second lieutenant or a ‘one pip wonder’ as was the colloquial expression. Yet there was pride at one’s achievement of having reached so far despite the tough training and many ups and downs.

The reader may well ask what was so special about this particular course, as many earlier courses had passed out before us and many more would do so in subsequent years. There were many reasons, but mention of just two would suffice. The first was the worsening security situation on the northern borders. The earlier Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai phase had ended and we could sense that we would inevitably get involved in active operations sooner than later. This was in fact welcome as we had been trained for war fighting and here was an opportunity to prove ourselves. We were far too naïve to understand the adverse repercussions of a war, but in our hearts of hearts there was that nagging suspicion of what we call the ‘fear of the unknown’ in the army.

We had no inkling about the second reason, as it was still in the future. It emerged later, on the day of the actual POP and thereafter we were known throughout the army as the course which never entered the hallowed precincts of the Chetwode Hall during their passing out parade! I am perhaps running ahead of my story as this was an event neither anticipated nor planned for. The reality sometimes surprises even the army, which is well known for covering all contingencies. To the best of my knowledge, this has not been repeated.

Many of our course mates did fight in the Conflict with China in 1962 and many sacrificed their lives and limbs up in the formidable Himalayas. The Conflict was undoubtedly a debacle for the nation and the Indian Army but individual soldiers and officers fought bravely and our course mates lead from the front in many areas. Prior to this, some of us were blooded in OperationVijay, when the military was tasked to get rid of the Portuguese by force of arms in their three enclaves of Goa, Daman and Diu.

Ours was also the first course that had been split in two parts in our living accommodation, as some of us were located at Clement Town, while the bulk were at Prem Nagar, the traditional abode of IMA since its inception. I was one of those whose company (Naushehra), along with two others, Kohima and Meiktila, which comprised our battalion, was located at Clement Town, in temporary accommodation, while the rest of our course mates were ensconced at Prem Nagar.

One drawback for us was that for all POP rehearsals, we had to get up earlier than usual and travel in open trucks to Prem Nagar while our colleagues enjoyed the luxury of an extra 30 minutes of sleep, as they did not have to commute. You may well ask – why open trucks? The reason was that we had to travel standing up so as not to spoil the creases of our starched trousers, lest we present a slovenly appearance and face the ire of the formidable drill instructors!

Eventually the big day came and we were turned out in our best uniforms. We formed up for the parade in our respective company formations, turned out in our best uniforms, with all brass items shining to perfection and boots and belts polished as never before. The parade commander, V P Singh, a great horseman, took his position and we waited for the Reviewing Officer to arrive. The parade was being reviewed by Lt Gen LP (Bogey) Sen, GOC-in-C Eastern Command, a highly decorated and a very well regarded military leader till then.

The spectator stands in front of us were full with senior military officers, parents of those passing out, other relatives and friends and even intimate friends of some GC’s. Although we were standing unmoving, we did savour the colour and oomph before us, at least for a few minutes, knowing well that we would be fully engrossed with the parade as soon as the reviewing officer arrived.

The reviewing officer, with the stick orderlies preceding his entry, and the buglers sounding the fanfare took his position on the dais, along with the commandant Major General Nanavati. While the parade commander was reporting the parade to the reviewing officer, we heard the first ominous sound of thunder. Everyone muttered under his breath that even the Gods had taken cognisance of the big day. However, such euphoria was short-lived as it started pouring as soon as the reviewing officer commenced his inspection. The gabardine service dress of General Sen was soon soaked as were our uniforms, but not a soul moved or wiped the raindrops; our drill instructors must have been delighted!

The parade was then called off and we were marched out of the drill square in our sloshing drill boots, without taking that final step (called Antim Pag now) through the central door of the Chetwode Hall. We did become officers of the Indian Army, but felt we had missed out on something special!

Coming back to the report in the TOI that had triggered these reminiscences of 56 years back, I must add that our not taking the ‘Antim Kadam’ or getting soaked in the rain had no adverse repercussions on our collective and individual fortunes!

In reality, ours was the best course to pass out for many years! As an example, when the Promotion Board from Major General to Lt General for the General Cadre was held, all ten contenders were selected and became lt gens in due course. This was in addition to those who were promoted in the non general cadre list, as well as in the Technical Graduates list.

I doubt if our present GC’s have now become as superstitious as the reporter who had filed the story on Page 8 of TOI Chandigarh of June 10, 2017 had written, but then the media too has changed!

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)