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Sticking together after the prank

It was an impromptu decision to go to Poona, and we, as NDA cadets, did so without taking the out-pass. We decided not to admit our mistake, cooking up alibis. Our action may have been wrong, not our peer loyalty

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Lt Gen (Retd.) Raj Kadyan

Every NDA cadet carries a treasure trove of memories. In the spring of 1960, we were in our fourth of the total six terms, and migrating to the upper half of the cadetship ladder.

It was Holi. At breakfast, six of us suddenly decided to go to Poona and watch the new film ‘Love in Simla’ that was creating waves. As per orders, we should have obtained the out-pass (Liberty) in advance, but our decision was impromptu.

I did not have the felt hat that was part of the mandatory Liberty attire; British traditions were still in vogue. I went to the anteroom where a number of cadets were enjoying music or reading magazines. I asked if anyone could lend me his felt hat. I didn’t realise the Squadron Cadet Captain (SCC) was also present. Unwittingly, I had stepped into an unmarked minefield.

The outing was enjoyable and well worth the 25 km of up-and-down cycling. Returning at supper time, we headed for the cadets’ mess. We learnt that there had been three ‘fall-ins’ during the day and our absence was noticed.

The offence was not serious and, at best, we could have been ‘gated’ for three-four weeks, which meant denial of Liberty. But we decided to play a prank and deny that we had gone to Poona. Dividing ourselves into three groups, we conjured up alibis for our absence. Two claimed they had spent the entire day with Vinod Bedi — a peer in another squadron — learning chemistry. Vinod was a known prodigy in academics. They even walked to where Bedi was supping and took him in. Another two carrying their groundsheets had gone to the polo ground for bird-watching. There they dozed off and overslept. And the like.

By now, we had learnt the basic tactic of offence being the best defence. We went to our respective Divisional Cadet Captains (DCCs) and demanded our share of the Holi sweets provided by the mess at tea time. We knew, and the DCCs knew we knew, that such goodies were not kept for the absentees. But we wanted to create confusion. We thought our ploy had succeeded as no one questioned us for the rest of the evening.

There was a midnight knock summoning us individually to the anteroom.

“Cadet Kadyan, did you go to Poona today?” the SCC asked.

“No sir,” I said, feigning surprise.

“But I heard you borrow a felt hat?”

“That I did sir, but later changed my mind.”

“Where were you during the day?”

“Senior Bhatti and I had gone to the Peacock Bay on a picnic, sir.” (We had two Bhattis in our batch and they were identified as senior and junior based on their beard growth). The Bay is a Naval training facility created on the scenic Khadakwasla lake.

“Where did you have your lunch?”

“We had carried some fruit, sir”

“From where did you buy the fruit?”

We had anticipated this and did not name a shop in the Academy Gole Market from where a check-back was possible.

“From a roadside vendor, sir.”

“Vendor?” he exclaimed, “I have never seen any around.” He was right.

“We were ourselves surprised to see one, sir; maybe because of Holi.”

“What dress did you wear for the picnic?”

“PT dress, sir.”

He asked the DCC to accompany me to my cabin to check the dress I had supposedly worn. The latter examined the white shirt, shorts and shoes.

He squinted his eyes to look for the non-existent dirt or smudges.

“I must say you are a very clean chap.”

“I am proud of it, sir,” I said, trying to match the inherent sarcasm inoffensively.

Despite the best interrogative efforts, we were not ‘broken’ and lived with our secret for the 10-odd remaining weeks of the term.

One evening in the last week, I was summoned by the SCC.

“I am very happy to see your results.” (Fourth-term exams were equated with Intermediate level).

“Thank you, sir.” I could sense this was diversionary.

“If you keep up, I am sure you will get a good appointment in the final term.”

“I will try, sir.”

The conversation was relaxed, meandering on inanity.

As I made to leave, he said, “Oh yes, by the way, now that we would be going our own way (he joined the Navy), perhaps never to meet again, tell me frankly, did you go to Poona on that Holi day?” Not having forgotten our dalliance, like a sincere SCC he now wanted the truth, just for the record. I respected his conscience and even felt sympathy.

“No sir,” I said, peer loyalty overriding all else.

He smiled and we shook hands.

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