My First Day at Military

November 24, 2017. Jhumri Tilaiya, Jharkhand.

It was March 7, 2009, when papa woke me up to tell me that he has good news. Well, I do want to write that it was entirely out of the blues, but unfortunately, it won’t right, and it won’t be a correct thing for a personal narrative. The newspaper had the results of All India Sainik School Entrance Exam (AISSEE, 2009) and I was in ahead of other 6000 applicants. I somehow had this feeling that I would be selected – my written, interview tests, as well as medicals, were good enough. So, this was it. I was going to be admitted to an elite Military Academy as a kid. I hadn’t anticipated it to be so tough. Well yes, the military is harsh, but hard time making a nine-year-old understand that.

We all had fascinated joining this institute. There was a time when this was one of the few English medium respectable school with such a reputation that most schools could just aspire. The government’s effort to build this from nothing was remarkable. This school was more than fifty years old acting as a feeder to NDA and was reasonably successful. The alumni were at high positions not only in Defence but also at various other fields – judges, international policing, businesses, you name it and we have it. This school had a reputation which made people say that “If your son is here, then his life is set!”, although I didn’t believe it. For me, the best attraction was their environment; away from the city – all green. Yes, the desire to join Air Force was another reason, but I failed in it due to some unavoidable reasons. This desire was high; I had told during my interview for joining that I wanted to be Air Chief Marshall, not even knowing what was that going to be. But, I thought if I would be something, I should be best in it or choose something else. So, I looked up the internet, and Air Chief Marshall was the highest post, so be it.

So, I started packing my bags up and preparing for a new beginning. Although this wasn’t my first hostel, this was my dream. I had seen the campus, and it was astounding – green, lush, water dam and park, all this filled with students marching in uniform. On April 4, I was called for admission and document verification. After passing through various stages of check and a lite health checkup, I was to be assigned a squadron (or house as usual schools put it). This process is a somewhat realistic version of Hogwarts’ sorting hat with our hostel superintendents asking our interests to assign our houses. It usually starts with what game you would like to play – cricket is a strict no-no. Then, our usual focus on academics in previous standards with them very well knowing that none of us is going to study however hard we are persuaded. But anyways, I told I liked Hockey and was good with Science and Mathematics and not much with languages. I was given Vikram squadron (who were famous for their championed hockey), which also happened to be my brother’s squadron; perhaps they followed sorting hat too religiously.

My friends and classmates had similar stories. Almost all of them didn’t know what it was but liked it a lot. There was enough hype – I am yet to hear about a school which gets over 6000 applications for class sixth and chooses only 120. This idea of exclusivity generates maximum interest amongst people, who all end either aspiring to join that place or motivating their siblings and other family members for it.

Let me introduce you to my mates there. Ankit was a short guy who had lived his entire life in hostels, so much so that his oldest memory dates to his parents dropping him to his dormitory. Arman was a quirky guy who loved samosas and would be ready to do our assignments in exchange for a treat of unlimited samosas, and he had the potential to make you go bankrupt in the cafeteria. Rishu was an angry young man, in constant search of a reason to fight with anyone; I, being a pacifist, never got along him quite well. Then there was Raja, who could manipulate Shahjahan to sell Taj Mahal. He once had locked a deal of over fifty thousand in class sixth when most of us didn’t even have a pocket money of one-hundredth of that. Then there was Deepak, so determined to join forces that his bathroom songs used to be about fables of wars. Devavtar was a porn-enthusiast (I doubt if there is such thing, but anyway) who knew about anything and everything that had ever existed in the world of sex. Manish was sportsman; he won the best player of all games in class seventh, a feat which hasn’t been repeated since. Pushkar was our encyclopedia – ask him anything and he wouldn’t stop lecturing. The last person to join us was Ramanand Sagar who unlike his name seriously hated television melodramas but ironically liked Bollywood. So, in totality, we were a bunch of very different people, and yes we had a fascinating time together.

The dormitory was great! Like better than what would you have expected. This is where I spent my next six years before shifting to private rooms in class twelfth.

This entire admission finished by lunch and I had lunch in Cadet’s Mess which with a capacity of over 1200 claims to be the second largest in India, second only NDA. The food wasn’t as good as home but an improvement over my previous hostel. This is where the process to convert me to man as they put, started. I got a list of idealistic manners to be followed. I can’t recall all, but some were… 1. You have to address your seniors as sirs, 2. You have to eat with the cutlery without using hands (which we will teach), 3. When in PT dress, you have to run, 4. Keep a clean, stiff white handkerchief always in your left pocket, and some forty-six more like them. They are much like the constitution for first-timers. The next thing was the games at three. Sharp. We reached the ground at three five’ and completed two rounds of a basketball court on our haunches like frogs slogging. Welcome to the new world. Tired and sweating, we were given basketballs and told not to be caught standing. Unfortunately enough, I was caught like many others and had to complete two rounds of the football ground. All this was going on the first day; and as a nine-year-old, I was not only tired but exasperated. Questions like “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”, “What is the purpose of it all?” and by the time I could arrive at answers for any of these, whistle blown, and we were back in formation. After a brief lecture by School Captain, Games Captain and Adjutant, we were told to leave for our dorms. We reached our dorms by five-thirty and were said to reach academic block by six-fifteen after taking a bath. So, sixty people taking showers in eight bathrooms within forty-five minutes! Come to our school to see this in action. This time, we were seemingly on time till a senior stopped us to check our handkerchief and take an introductory session with us. And we lost. Devavtar didn’t have it, and as per the collective punishment rule goes, we were all asked to frog-jump till our prep rooms, and the sad part was that when we reached there, seniors there too asked us the reasons why we were being punished and then the punishment escalated.

So anyway, all finished by six-forty-five. Our prep was just self-study time. Ironically, we had just arrived at about two and of course hadn’t attended classes. So, we just wasted our time, and that’s difficult considering we didn’t have smartphones back then. For the most part, we were lectured on the ‘manners’ we had received in the afternoon and our immediate seniors elaborated on them. Half of us were almost sleeping – too tired from day’s work. And of course, there was a punishment associated with it – you will stand for the rest of prep, but some of us slept even while standing. Then at eight-thirty, the siren for dinner was blown. We left our places and hurried out for chicken.

Unlike lunch which we had joined after ‘Grace’ or the prayer, this time we were with everyone else. It started with the School Captain Vikas sir reciting the grace, “Oh God! Thank you for the food, provided to me; make me worthy of it, that I am going to have”. I never really knew why it was paraphrased like this, but then most religious things are first followed and then asked why.

After the dinner was quite a peaceful time. We had nothing to do, and that really was something to do after the hectic day. We chit chatted with everyone else, who would play on our side and the opposite side for the next football game, in which I wasn’t very interested. I toured the hostels, made a brief plan of how to escape, in case I want to; talked to some more people, and then – slept peacefully – until Das sir woke me up for the PT and that was shit gruesome.