Sunday, October 23, 2011


Life at the National Defence Academy; stretching towards the highest

It was a pleasant NDA morning. The nip in the air had just gone. The sun, in all its glory was warming up all and sundry. The lush green tree tops, which the monsoons had left behind, were basking in the glory of the late morning sunlight.

I was at my desk in the little office on the first floor of the Manoj Pande Block. There were books and papers spread out on my table, with the open cupboard asif saying “Need any help? Try these books.”

In front of me, ten feet from where I sat, was the only door to the room. The morning sunbeams that had come in through the door and window were long gone. But the bright morning light left nothing to want, the room was as filled with light and it warmed the spirit to as full as full could be.

As I poured over my work I suddenly sensed a presence at the door. Looking up i saw an old man at the doorway between me and the light that was coming through. He was dressed in white and was also wearing a white turban. He was looking around the office space and seemed to be measuring the insides of the room. When our eyes met, he gestured as if to say… "so then, is it all OK?"

I had never seen him before; slightly stooped with age, he could have passed off as an elderly Sarpanch of a nearby village.

My first reaction was to look on puzzled. Is he looking for some favour? Did he want something from me?
And playing the role of a ‘Chota mota’ officer (I was an officer and lecturer appointed on an ad-hoc basis and was already working at the NDA for at least eight years when this happened) I asked him “Yes what is it?”

I probably sounded that wee bit harsh—I wouldn’t be able to say—but I was sure I had a question mark of suspicion on my face.

If he felt any discomfort it did not show on his face and he said, “No, I just came here to take a look.”

Guess he saw a puzzled expression on my face; he clarified “I had a very long service here and I retired some years back. I used to sweep the floors of these rooms… I just came around to see how it all is now and how you are all doing.”

Even as he was saying this I noticed that his clothes had paled with age but he had made every attempt to come neatly dressed. He had a quiet sense of dignity around him. Somehow in his manner and purpose and in his expressed concern I could unmistakably see a man who had done is job with a lot of love and affection. He definitely had a deep sense of belonging to the place and had this sense of pride in what he had done.

Having perceived all this my disposition changed; the ‘Chota-mota’ officer got to his feet to pay his respects. And before the conversation could go any further he took leave and all I could do was to greet him with folded hands. As soon as he left I walked up to the door and saw his back fade away into the next room.

As I went back to my seat and tried to get back at my work, I could not take my thoughts off him, and it remained so for some time. Somehow I could feel the love and intensity he felt for the place he had worked in. And my heart warmed at the thought of his sense of pride in the work he had done there for years.

These are the gems that one gets to pick along the way. Then there was this bearer who used to stand wait over us; he had rendered fifty years of service to the Academy; dedicated, responsive, faultless… Col Joshi would call him an ‘institution’. "They come but rarely and they are old-timers, a dying breed" he used to say…

A dying breed... I did hold on to that thought for some time; indeed there is too much skepticism around and it does not seem that a certain idealism was not there any more… It is all about power, pelf and prestige, is it not? But i then I guess I was wrong… Admitted that my respected senior colleague must definitely have seen much better days, and standards have indeed fallen, but I have grown to realize that the underbelly of inspired living still lives on…

I know of this cadet; he was feverish and he had an important role in his squadron’s cross country team… he ran so hard that he breathed his last on the cross country route! (There are proper medical checks now) That might have still been a few years back, but in my association with cades, as a counselor, I have watched closely many who have worked themselves to the edge while making some point or the other, doing their job, doing for their squadrons, standing up for the others… a medically unfit cadet, low in hemoglobin count, putting in everything he had in him to keep pace with the others; another almost ruining his knee in doing for his squadron what his body was not willing to concede.
Yes, I admit that the border line between courage and foolishness is very narrow, but the cadets’ sincerity could not be faulted. I have seen countless amongst them work at their games, their duties, their training, their teams—withholding nothing for themselves… in fact in almost every cadet I met I saw, in some deep corner, in some obscure field of activity, that fire to do well—that love for an ideal, that earnestness to deliver…

And I saw leaders amongst them, reaching out to those depths in their team mates, so as to make their teams deliver…

I still remember the address of then President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam at the passing out parade which he had reviewed. He addressed that inner fire in the cadets… no wonder then that he is this inspirational figure who still seems to be enjoying the status of another President of India.

I had seen it in my colleagues too, they do hold on, somewhere deep inside, to this love for what they are meant for. In some cases it is expressed, in others it even comes as a cribbing against the lack of freedom to play their part. But I guess it is this that pulls the academy on.

Skepticism will always be there, like fashion it will come and go; but this love for the highest, that one can achieve within himself, the thirst for excellence, will for ever remain. And it flows as a strong undercurrent in the environs where I spend ten fruitful years of my life. And I am thankful for it.

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