The first time I noticed him was when he was showing his moves off in the basketball court. I never did get to see him much afterward, but a couple of days later he and a bunch of other trainees were assigned to my boss. My boss being busier than usual around then, delegated me to be the mentor for this bunch of very enthusiastic, very difficult to keep busy, fresh out of college folks.
Anyway, I used to run into him on and off, and sometimes used to see him walking around work areas in basketball clothes, sometimes hurrying to change, seconds before being called to attend some ad-hoc meeting, the occasional hellos, and the like. Most of the time, however, he would look so very lost or so disconnected, you would wonder if he really knew what he was doing here. Definitely, one who stood out against the very, very common IT crowd.
So the other day he came along to ask for some professional-career advice. And offhandedly he said six words that got me thinking a lot for the next couple of days.
You see, he said, I got into the Indian Army.
What followed was one of the most stirring conversations that I have had with another human being, about identifying his passion, working towards it for twelve whole years and realizing it. He spoke about his crazy medicals, he spoke about the SSB experience, he spoke about being punished for reporting late- at 8 am- wondering how on earth is it possible for any rational person to do so, after being kept awake till 6 am that morning! He spoke about the punishments that left him with welts on his arms and legs, about running 7 kilometers non-stop, about unimaginable tasks set out by the selection board- but despite all that, he spoke with pride about having bested it all. He had written a few words about it, which I wanted to share- they gave me goosebumps!
“This dream which took 12 years is realized now. I have cleared world’s toughest medicals. Met 18 of my to be brothers in arms and after meeting all of them I can assure you that you will be well protected- and you will be protected by some of the best, most loyal, most patriotic, lean mean and clean youngsters of India who have hearts of gold nerves of steel and fists of iron. Next stop would be The OTA (Officers Training Academy) Chennai or the IMA (Indian Military Academy)- the world’s toughest military academy in terms of rigors of training, Dehradun, where a boy graduates into a man of honour. There may be 10+ IITs. There are 10+ IIMs. BUT. THERE IS ONLY 1 IMA.
As the saying goes “You can’t buy this uniform. You can’t buy the respect that it commands. You have to earn it. Think about it. It’s a decision that will change you forever and that’s a soldier’s word.”
This May, I visited a friend in Delhi. She is with the Indian Airforce’s ground service, and her husband is a Major with the Indian Army. When you speak the couple, their patriotic fervor grips you, and sometimes puts you to shame. He has served along the border, and across other nations as well. He trains forces now, and is sometimes called- to fight. She weeps a little when he leaves, for she is a girl too, beneath all her Airforce demeanor, and waits for his return. Over dinner one evening we got talking serious stuff. He was showing me battle field pictures, a lot of death- I should add, and describing survival tactics inside mangrove forests. along the deserts and in the extremities of the Indo China border. All this, so that we can sleep easy in our beds every night. And most of us don’t even know the National Anthem properly.
It is very easy to sit on the walkway and say, ‘Ah, the army, it’s full of corrupt people’ or ‘Oh come on, army folks? All they do is party all the while!’ I am not saying we all ought to go and enlist- we might not even get past ½ a round of the selections. All I am saying is, we all ought to figure out something purposeful to do with our lives..Something that would get people to remember us by..Something that you can look back on after you are 60 years old, and feel good about. And definitely NOT- oh, where did all the years go?!
Anyway, so I was asking the trainee if he was okay to break the bond and leave the company to join the Army. Most people usually simply abscond. It is a very costly affair. Pat came the reply. ‘I am an Army man. I will pay and leave!’