Rum, Bum and Mouthorgan and other Indian Army stories


I had gone to Bhopal on a short stint of leave.

The Corps HQ was located in Bhopal. The Corps Commander knew me and so he called me over to his office for a cup of tea and chat.

At the appointed hour, I was ushered into the hallowed chambers of the Corps Commander. I was quite apprehensive, not because he was a very senior officer, but because he had a very odd and cutting sense of humour. Therefore, while I may have been delighted to have the Corps Commander calling me for just a chat, as his Colonel Military Secretary put it, I was a trifle apprehensive that this chat would be an exercise in dripping sarcasm of some omission or commission that I may have inadvertently done or not done in my official or unofficial capacity.

The Corps Commander was most cordial. Coffee was served and he actually was doing small talk about life in general including a gentle reminder of the dinner my wife and I were to attend at his place at 8 PM Indian Standard Time and not Indian Stretchable Time. He continued to chat with the serenity and deadpan of a Chinese Buddha. The emotions of the Indian Buddha, in comparison, could at least be discerned. Therefore, it was difficult to gauge the Corps Commander's thought or his physical state.

As I was trying to gauge the Corps Commander, he gave a deep sigh. It was as if he was immensely tired and that the onerous task of heading the large Corps was wearing him down. It was surprising since nothing could ever wear him down. He was reputed to be the coolest cat amongst senior officers because he sincerely believed in one theory i.e. if you don't have wings, then why flap ?

Thus, the deep sigh, was extraordinary; and that too coming from such a person who could go off to sleep during moments of serious business and when asked if he was sleeping, he could calmly state that he was merely meditating, the soft snore being only a metaphysical clash of temple bells with the wail of a conch shell in the truest tradition of the Indian Puja rituals.

Therefore, I was forced to venture, "Not feeling well, sir?"

"How did you guess it?"

"I didn't guess it, sir. You don't look under the weather and so I am surprised that you proffered such a deep sigh".

"Thank God it was only a sigh. Air can pass through many orifices. By the way Roy, do you know why most of the Major Generals who have just relinquished command like your Divisional Commander [GOC] will become Lieutenant Generals next year?"

This was a real extraordinary bit of news. Even though I was rather fond of my erstwhile GOC, Major General SP, but such a quick promotion was hierarchically extraordinary. And anyway, the rapid promotion of my GOC had not the remotest connection with any illness of the Corps Commander even if the Corps Commander was not at his pinkest best in health.

My brows had wrinkled querulously.

The Corps Commander continued, "I reckon the quick promotion is the order of the day. After all, all Corps Commanders are moving medical miracles and should actually be medically boarded out and be shown the door".

I was aghast.

If all Corps Commanders were medically unfit and sick, then why have they been promoted? Also, how come all the present Corps Commanders were a sick bunch? It was indeed a most unusual coincidence!

"If I may ask, sir, how come that all the Corps Commanders are a sick lot?"

"Roy, it is like this. Not only are the present Corps Commanders a sick lot, all Corps Commanders, Army Commanders and Chiefs throughout history, like all in high offices in all facets of professional life are or were a sick lot".

Now, the musing of the Corps Commander was indeed getting amusingly crazier. Ramblings of a genius on the thin red line of sanity?

"Extraordinary. Would you care to amplify, sir?" Remember, one cannot ask senior officers to explain. They only 'amplified' after the junior made a "submission".

"It is like this, Roy. All Corps Commanders, like all senior officers in government service, have no spine. Further, they have no guts. Their hearts are similar to that of the chicken and thus chicken hearted, but what is just not acceptable is that they suffer from meningitis".

Meningitis? Collective meningitis?

"Meningitis, sir?"

"Yes, Roy, they all have swollen heads!"

That really floored me.

You can't beat the General in macabre wit!

Many would pick up this book for its queer title – Rum, Bum and Mouthorgan [Harmonica]!

The title is indeed thought provoking. However, the rationale lies in the fact that the Armoured Corps or the Tank boys, the world over, are the ‘glamour boys’ of the Army. They are associated with Wine, Women and Song. We, the poor bloody Infantrymen [PBI] as we are called, are on the other extreme side of the social and worldly spectrum. We have to make good with just Rum, Bum and Mouthorgan [naturally, in a metaphoric way]. And, I am an Infantryman! Thus, the title of the book.

I have had a chequered career in the Indian Army. There can be no better a profession, or, as I would like to remember, a calling. The Army is a fabulous organisation. It works 24 hours of the day. Yet, we can squeeze in a round of golf [the senior ones] or a game of basketball with the troops [the younger lot] in between. That not being all, we have to be still our chirpy best when doing the rounds of a social evening; or when going through the dreaded regimen of a dinner night, where one can hardly eat lest the clatter of the cutlery ordains a hoofed out exit as it would be blasphemous to the protocols of the voodoo rites involved in a dinner night that was bequeathed to us by the pagans of the dreary, wet and foggy island of Rani Liz, nestling between the spud eaters [Irish] and the frogs [French].

There is a misconception that being disciplined is to be in a straightjacket. The Army is not a lunatic asylum. It is merely a gathering of intelligent folks, brainwashed into believing that the senior [Boss?] is ALWAYS RIGHT. I say that with authority since I have a rather long innings in this organisation. There is also an Archie’s poster that, with mathematical logic, analysis and precision, concludes that the Boss is but only the human orifice that is used daily every morning to emit bodily waste. There maybe truism of this adage. The Army Bosses, however, don’t think so. And, in the rank that I retired, I qualified as a Boss. However, I reckon all Bosses in all fields of life would agree with the Army Bosses, since they too qualify hook, line and sinker. Ask any subordinate.

I have a funny bone. An eye and a penchant for the ludicrous is my forte. That’s why I have this ‘affinity’ for the Bosses of the Army. My Bosses have not always appreciated this ‘affinity’. Therefore, it is not surprising they feature more regularly in this book. Lest I forget, I must mention that this Book is a collection of the funny side of the Army, as I saw it. I have enjoyed its funny environment where all are kept on a tight leash by hilarious principles of ‘I am the Lord of Tartary’ and ‘Sir Oracle’ lent a hand by the funniest law of the century called the Army Act where a person can be dismissed just because the President is ‘displeased’ and no reasons assigned why he took umbrage! Lest the reader misunderstands, I have retired honourably and claim the rare privilege and possibly the only one in the Army to claim that in all ranks I saw combat in some form or the other!

These stories are true stories. The names have been changed. It is not to protect the identity of the characters involved, but to protect myself from their wrath. Can’t face the wrath of the enraged. Remember, we can’t let them have the last laugh with their invoking the funniest of law of the century, the Army Act, can we? After all, the senior is always right.

The senior is always right. This, in itself, is weird. Biologically, the brain cells wither, as one grows old. However, in the Army, the brains cells grow with age to such an extent that civilians associate this phenomenon as ‘fat head’ with a touch of meningitis [swollen cranium].

To the Army reader, I tender my apologies in case some of the detailed explanations of army’s pagan rituals, customs and drill encourage a yawn. These are for the general public who will be regaled with our rites that make the Klu Klux Klan customs appear Kindergarten material. Remember, they also serve who stand and wait…..for the next War to be shown on the TV! Remember Kargil?

I thank all those who have helped me with this book, especially the characters in the stories and Bill Gates for his Microsoft Office. But for them, this Book would not have happened. I also thank my parents [for not counselling me on other professions that I could have undertaken and thereby losing out on a better hilarious platform than the circus or the IAS [Indian Administrative Service or ‘I am Sorry’ Service] or the best platform – politics!], my wife [for not nagging], my children [for not being pains and keeping me busy with their homework and thereby making me not see the humorous side of life] and the Indian Army itself. Without them, I would have been a ‘nobody’. I also thank my countless juniors who were subjected to read my stories under duress and also the publisher for his courage to extend Bush’s war on terrorism! I thank you, my reader, for glancing through this book without buying and my gratitude to those who have actually bought this book with their hard earned money!

I wish you, my reader, Happy reading. Tighten your seat belt and watch your stomach. Either you will throw up or your stomach would be wobbling like jelly custard with mirth!

This story was told to me when I joined the unit that I commanded.

The unit was located in Naushera in J&K and was deployed on the hill sector along the Line of Control.

The Corps Commander was visiting the unit. This was not a normal event since Corps Commanders are very senior officers and three levels above the unit level.

Army, being over-reactive about their hierarchical pecking order, such events ‘traumatised’ the protocol infrastructure and each level of command took hyperactive personal interest in ensuring that the visit went off flawless. None wanted their heads to roll. Each level of the hierarchy ensured so by checking, re-checking and re-rechecking ad inifitum right down to the ground level that all contingencies had been catered for and nothing was overlooked. In short, such visits were a torment to those being visited. Interestingly, Parkinson’s Law always, without fail, did not fail to apply itself during such visits!

On the momentous day, every aspect of the visit of the Corps Commander to the unit was picture perfect. However, Parkinson’s Law, right as rain, applied itself. The Corps Commander, who was to arrive at the unit Tactical HQ by helicopter, could not do so as the weather was foul. Hence, he landed at the Divisional HQ and was driving down to the unit. The drive would take about two hours and so there was ample time to react.

Everything had been catered for. However, what supposing the Corps Commander wanted to ‘wash his hands’, after the two hour journey, at the unit Base before commencing the ride up the hill to the Tactical HQ?

The Commanding Officer {CO} was a man of details and this aspect was bothering him intensely. He was a person who liked preciseness. He wasn’t at all comfortable or happy about the departure from the set-piece programme of the Corps Commander with this driving down instead of landing by helicopter at the unit Tactical HQ.

The Quartermaster {QM} was at the Base. He was a pleasant, happy go lucky, rotund young officer with a bagful of initiative and a ‘never say die’ attitude. The CO rang him up and told him to ensure that the Officers’ Mess, at the Base, was shipshape, the toilet spankingly clean and to keep a safaiwala [janitor] ready at a moment’s notice in the vicinity. And of course, some light refreshments were to be at hand that could be served so that the Corps Commander knew that the unit was ‘on the ball’. Having ordered so, the CO went back to the practising of his Briefing for the 189th time!

Parkinson’s Law didn’t apply this time. The Corps Commander stopped at the Base to ‘wash his hands’. There was the usual hustle and bustle of his personal staff, the Divisional and Brigade HQs staff who were accompanying and the Mess staff including the QM. They followed the Corps Commander towards the Mess as if being pulled by the vacuum created in his wake! It is only in the Army that a VIP relieving himself by answering nature’s call is given the reverence normally associated with an event of national importance!

The Corps Commander entered the Mess. He looked at the QM and gave a shake of the leg as if shaking a boisterous housefly off the trouser. Bending at 80 degrees to the perpendicular, the Corps Commander wiggled his little finger of the left hand as if seized by an involuntary twitch and said “Which a-way to the Loo, old boy?”

The QM had never ever had the good fortune of a Corps Commander speaking to him. He was awe struck! He thought that he too had to answer in a fancy way and so he said, “That a-way sir’ and before he could copy the Corps Commander’s leg shake which he thought would be appropriate, the Corps Commander, fortunately for all, was on his way.

The Divisional Commander [next in the hierarchy] was taken aback by what he thought was the cheek of this junior officer to copy the Corps Commander’s syntax. He would have been hopping wild had he realised that the QM had attempted the Corps Commander’s leg shake. To him it appeared as if the QM had slipped on the water that had by then settled on the linoleum from the clothes of the various personalities [who were wet from the light drizzle] crowding the alley leading to the ‘Men’s’.

The Corps Commander had moved into the ‘Men’s’. The Divisional Commander decided to have another ‘dekko’ at the arrangements. He stood aghast as his eyes laid on the savouries to be offered to the Corps Commander.

“Bondas?” he asked querulously and fixed a horribly immobile stare on the QM, who was beaming with delight that the Divisional Commander had observed the savoury that he had had prepared for them.

“Bondas?” echoed the Brigade Commander peevishly on cue as did any other officer worth his salt. All were aghast and all spoke in unison, so much so, the statement resounded like the Onida Bass Surround TV. It was a different matter that they did not understand why the Divisional Commander was horrified and grouchy at the sight of Bondas.

“Are you aware that the Corps Commander is an Armoured Corps chap? ……and you have the temerity to offer Indian savouries and that too the type that would be found in a cheap halwai’s [sweetmeat vendor] shop?”, bellowed the Divisional Commander, a decibel lower that what would reach the ‘Men’s’ where the Corps Commander apparently had nestled.

“Yes sir. I know that the Corps Commander is an Armoured Corps officer and they are reputed to prefer crumpets and strawberry in cream with their tea. However, sir, I don’t know how to make them and also, sir, what could be better than hot hot bondas on a rainy day like today?” the QM said with a radiant smile that annoyed the Divisional Commander no end and even more, the Brigade Commander.

“Bakwaas [Tommy rot]. You village bumkin. You are the biggest idiot I have seen. A rum ball with a hot rum punch would have fitted the occasion and the weather; not these stupid, smelly, oily [he was spluttering in anger and had apparently run out of adjectives] bondas. Have you seen the size of the bondas? They are as fat and big as you are. How can he put them ever so gently in the mouth? You have no sophistication. You are a real rustic!” the Divisional Commander thundered. He, it appeared, was by now immensely inflamed and frothing at the mouth.

The QM cringed. However, Divine intervention saved him from a further berating. The Corps Commander had emerged from the ‘Loo’ and was looking definitely much relieved. He seemed to be in the best of moods and was genially smiling as he emerged.

His eyes fell on the Bondas. The Divisional Commander and his ‘faithful echoes’ froze!

The Corps Commander took two steps towards the Bondas and stopped abruptly, practically screeching to a halt! A cold shiver went down the spine of the Divisional Commander.

“Ah, sir…….” and whatever the Divisional Commander wanted to say was drowned in the shriek that emanated from the Corps Commander. All froze with fear – waiting anxiously for the Corps Commander’s inevitable indignation that was expected at this spread.

The Corps Commander pounced towards the table in what appeared a leap…. swiped the largest Bonda……. bit a massive chunk….. and literally gloated, more like a cat which had filched a platter of milk.

“What a capital idea! Hot hot Bondas on a rainy day. Well done and well thought of, old boy”, the Corps Commander was definitely rapturous as his gaze twinkled towards the QM.

The Divisional Commander and his gang emulated the Corps Commander’s leap, swiped the Bondas, and echoed, “A wonderful idea indeed, sir”. They too beamed but definitely not towards the QM.

The broadest smile was on the QM’s face.

He had had the last laugh and damn the strawberries, cream, and crumpets!
OldRedCap said:
I've just searched Amazon UK for Rum, Bum and Mouthorgan. No record. Any idea where I may obtain a copy?
I am the author.

It is still not published.

I was putting in some of the stories to get a feedback from you all so that I could get an international cross section of comments.

Thank you for your interest.

Your interest and the comment from Polar 69 for the Kargil War story is all that I got, but wasn't enough to set me going.

Polar I believe is looking for his elastic corset, though I wonder if men wear corsets. Maybe the Armoured Corps! :lol:

My concern was that since the modern British Army is not conversant with the ethos of the Indian Army, comments are not forthcoming and that the stories, thus, were boring for them.

Do give your honest opinions since that would help and for which I would be obliged.



Hmm I thought they were interesting. Perhaps you have started a new Genre of writing - the Hanif Kurishi of Military anecdotes. Its a mild shock to read about an army where they have possibly more than one Corps Commander....
Pteranadon said:
Hmm I thought they were interesting. Perhaps you have started a new Genre of writing - the Hanif Kurishi of Military anecdotes. Its a mild shock to read about an army where they have possibly more than one Corps Commander....
Why the shock?

BTW, I have the penchant to look at the oddity of any situation.

We have quite a few Corps Comanders.

And these are real life stories.

Thank you for your comment.

The Corps Commander had come from his HQ in Bhopal to be ‘in situ’ for the Army Commander, who was visiting our Division, for the first time.

As per the custom, a cocktail was organised in the Divisional Officers’ Mess to host the Army Commander and his wife. The Divisional Officers had been called and about 40 odd individuals and their wives were ‘gracing’ the occasion.

The Corps Commander arrived about five minutes before the Army Commander since protocol expected that he arrived before the Army Commander, who was, as per the Army pecking order, senior.

We received him and the General Officer Commanding {GOC} asked me to escort him to the lawn where the remainder guests were. I was the second senior most officer of the Division and so I was expected to ‘look after’ him. The Corps Commander had not come with his wife since she was away in Pune.

I got him a Campa Cola since he did not drink, which he immediately put it on a side table. It was a most unusual action. Observing my unease, the Corps Commander informed that he had put the Cola ‘off the automatic’ ’.

A Cola off the automatic? How crazier can the world get?

“Didn’t get that?” the Corps Commander queried. Not waiting for a reply he continued, “It’s the Ali Baba ‘khulja sim sim ’ (Open Sesame) syndrome that afflicts my Colas whenever I finish it in a hurry! No sooner I have finished one, another one appears with the waiter. How many Colas can I drink in an evening?” That was true. There is always a waiter who looks after the VIPs and an officer is always most obtrusively around to ensure that their glasses are always ‘charged’.

The Corps Commander’s attention was engaged by the many officers who surrounded him. I, therefore, moved off to see that the other guests were also being looked after, since I was also the ex officio Chairman of the Mess Committee and hence the organiser of the ‘show’.

After some time, having seen that the others were being looked after, I returned to see how the Corps Commander was faring. His Campa Cola still adorned the side table some distance away from where he was surrounded by his ‘fans’. They were talking while the Corps Commander, who was a man of few words, listened with his characteristic deadpan sage-like expression.

Seeing me, he beamed. It was the same dazzling beam as would Rapunzel, locked up in the tower, on seeing the Prince, who had come to rescue her, have beamed.

“Roy, just come here.” Obviously I went.

“You know chaps”, he told the rest of the gathering around him, “Roy is the guy who has ensured that all offices in the Divisional HQ have an aquarium. His GOC was giving me some theory of Japan that Roy must have confused him with – that it relieved stress because of the mobility of fish in the water and things like that.”

I felt uncomfortable with what he was saying. The Corps Commander had a weird sense of humour. It was always ‘loaded’ with ‘inner’ and not often comfortable meanings. Therefore, my tentacles were up.

I listened more carefully.

“I, too, like fish, but not to relieve the stress that seems to build up in this Division”, the Corps Commander continued….. “I like the fish because they keep opening their mouth and closing them.”

“Really. Sir?” chimed the coterie around him in total awe, as if the Corps Commander had cast pearls before swine.

“Yes. They are my favourite……..because the gasping fish are the only unusual creatures amongst God’s Creations including humans and Army officers. They are the only ones who open and close their mouth………… and don’t ask for either a favour or for money!”

That really left the fawning fans around him gasping…… not unlike the fish in the aquarium!
Rayc, I like your stories very much. They are filled with good humour and the characters and situations feel familiar but strange at the same time. No doubt there is a lot of common heritage at work here. I am reminded of John Masters' book 'Bugles and a Tiger' and George MacDonald Fraser's stuff about soldiering in India. Your stories approach the same thing from a different and refreshing point of view.

I would make two suggestions: make sure you do not sell your comrades short by only portraying them as amusing chancers and, if you would like to publish, get yourself a sympathetic editor and listen to what he or she has to say.

But anyway, good show! To be so creative is a rare achievement.
My only concern here is that these stories must surely have a limited appeal - it is only guys "like us" who would appreciate them. That might be further reduced by need to have associated with "Staff" to fully understand. Guy I knew had similar problem which he solved by having his published by subscription. Those of us who supported him paid less than bookshop price but slightly more than cost. This funded book for each of us plus some to go public - he then got a publisher on board when the public ones sold well.
If so - put me down for one!
Vasco and OldRedCap,

I value your advice.

Indeed, these stories does not have a clientele; at least in India.

I have kept the issues humorous, so that I inject an element of doubt that say, "Go on, this guy exaggerates, but OK, it is a nice story".

Does it appear that I am ridiculing my seniors? If so, do let me know where.

I will continue posting these stories if you all are interested. True, one can always do with more money, but then if one can bring cheer on a dreary day, I think it would be worth the while.

I will have to read the stories again, so that I can at least attempt to make the stuff comprehensible to some extent for a British audience.

Thank you for your interest and comments.

It is encouraging to say the least.

The biggest curse of modern life is the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell, if he lived today, would have been lynched by quite a few of us.

The telephone conversations in the Army are quite unique. It follows a set pattern. The syntax is mostly Punjabi, since the majority in the Army are from this community and their cultural invasion permeates the military fabric. Extraordinary is that South Indians, who have no clue of Punjabi, are prone to speak in this language, remaining delightfully untutored of the nuances of this unique language. I, too, though not a South Indian, am in their ranks.

Like it or not, Punjabi is the ‘national language’ of the Army. The Punjabis are also polite fellows. In conversation, they like to build up bonhomie with a personal touch before coming to the point, more so when favours are required.

One day, I was in the office of a South Indian friend when a telephone call came.

“Colonel Nellakipalli Parambil Balakrishnan here”, said this friend of mine. He was also known as ‘Bala’ to friends. Bala was pathological averse to North Indians calling him a South Indian. He repeatedly, ad infinitum, corrected all and sundry that there were four different communities in the geographical entity called South India and that they were as similar as chalk to cheese. He informed that he came from what was known as ‘God’s own country’ – Kerala and that it was derogatory to club them with all and sundry from the South.

I couldn’t hear clearly what the caller said since my friend was holding the earpiece glued to his ear as per the instructions on the ‘Use of Telephones’, issued by the Corps of Signals.

“What do you mean you are fine? I never asked you about how were you. Please be to the point.”

I realised that the caller had replied ‘I am fine’ as per drill since the first sentence normally was a ‘How are you?”

“Why are you asking how my Mother is? I don’t think you know her. And anyway, she is dead.”

There was a long-winded question from the caller as the next reply took some time. Colonel Bala was looking at me like a fish that had just been landed would gasp, when out of water as it slowly died!

“My father? How is he? God Bless the old man. I really don’t know. He has already entered the Pearly Gates of Heaven. Since you have enough time at hand, as I perceive, why don’t you contact God instead of me?”

“What? My dog? Well, my dog is fine. Anyway, how does it matter even if he has had a touch of rabies? I say, can’t you come to the point? What is that you have rung me for?”

“What? You want a vehicle? Well, I am not dealing with vehicles. And anyway, if that was what you wanted, then why the hell did you want to know about how my dear departed family was doing and that too when you didn’t know the folks? You Punjabis are the limit. To get something out of a guy, you really do anything to be folksy and familiar. May I recommend that you do your homework first? ”

“OK OK. I am not being angry but I have work to do. Also, to be frank I don’t know Punjabi and so it took me more time to understand what you were talking about.”

“What? A whore? What do you mean calling me a whore? I can’t give you a vehicle since I don’t detail vehicles. But I must ask you to have a civil tongue in your head. There is no need to be offensive and call me a whore. Even there you are wrong. I am a man so I can’t be a whore.”

“OK. OK. So, ‘whore’ is actually ‘and what more’ in Punjabi? Great. You guys up North can really confuse issues. If I asked you ‘more’ I am sure you would have thought I was taking about a peacock (in Hindi a Peacock is called a “More”). Boy, you guys are rare! Thank God I am a Keralite. We at least have a sensible tongue to speak and understand.”

Having said that, Colonel Bala hung up. I could see he was livid but I thought he was being a trifle unfair.

So before he started haranguing me, I quickly said ‘Malayalam [his language] is also queer, Colonel Bala. You say ‘Sari Sari’, when you mean neither a ‘Saree’ (the dress Indian women wear) nor an Indianised “Sorry”; and instead actually meaning, ‘Correct’ in Malayalam. So, I reckon all languages are funny if you interpret it in another language.”

That stumped Colonel Bala. As I left his office having said it, I saw that he was still gasping for words like a fish landed out of water!

This is an unedited version and in it raw form.





This story is about the first day of my military career when I joined the National Defence Academy [NDA] – the nursery of the Indian Army. World War II veterans mistook NDA to be Stalag 17 [Prisoners of War Camp 17] and Solzenytsyn took inspiration from it when he wrote on the evils of the Soviet empire.

All momentous and landmark events of my life started on 5th of January (my birthday!). Interestingly, each one contributed in a change in my life, but each one was a dirge. Yet, extraordinarily, each one bestowed me with all the honours that any soldier would feel proud of. Mysteries of God, I reckon.

My army life has been tumultuous. It couldn’t be anything else. The day I was selected at the 19th Service Selection Board at Allahabad in October 1962, China attacked India! So, not unusually, my whole life has been one of interesting battles of [or is it, ‘for’] life.

I joined the NDA on 5th January 1963. I wanted to join earlier. Nonetheless, John Mukherjee of my school, in whose care my father boarded me on the train and who was a final termer and a Divisional Cadet Captain, strongly discouraged this. Instead, he told me to join my relatives in Bombay and join NDA only on the assigned date. I was most unhappy, but this turned out to be a most valuable advice. When I joined the NDA on the assigned date, I realised the meaning what was meant by ‘dead meat’! Apparently, 1st termers personified the same. By the end of the day, they also were equally malodorous – but that did not discourage the ‘butchers’ that other cadets apparently turned out be.

On the assigned date of joining, the ‘Deccan Queen’ regally steamed us into Poona, right into the arms of an officer and some over zealous jawans (soldiers) forming the Reception Committee. The rickety military Studebaker truck rattled us past the majestic Deccan plateau and into Khadakvasla.

The first glimpse of the NDA was awesome from atop the plateau as we wended forth. Vast miles and miles of lush forestry and verdant greenery swamped us into a sublime ecstasy. Majestic buildings unobtrusively dotted the green expanse. The signature dome of pink sandstone, of what we later learnt, was the Sudan Block rose upwards in salute as if in gratitude to the money that had been donated by Sudan for the services during World War II by the Indian Army. The bountiful silence of the forestry calmed us into a pleasant security of a world at peace and order.

We disembarked; more appropriate would be disembowelled, at the Cadets Mess – an imposing and sprawling one storey building with teakwood frescos depicting mythological battles. We were convinced that there could be no better profession than being a soldier. Our chests puffed up. I am sure we had the cocky glint of the German General, Rommel. Then, amidst the confusion that can only be whipped up by new eager beaver cadets, we, with a flourish, produced our papers to the officer in charge. It was heartbreaking that the officer was not as enthused as us. He was the only discordant item in the joyous, excitement charged environs.

I was assigned to ‘Dalda’ Squadron. That was my first shock. Imagine, Dalda – hydrogenated oil! I confess that my mother had worked for Dalda with Mrs Ninen as her boss. I distinctly remember Mrs Ninen was not too enthusiastic that Dalda was a good thing for health. So, Dalda did not please me at all. But Tennyson run in my ears – it’s not to reason why…and all that blah blah and more blah blah.

I had a huge army trunk and a bedroll as luggage. A civilian bearer picked this up and cockily led me to my ‘officers’ quarters [as I had imagined], walking down the slope to ‘A’ Battalion.

Lo and behold, hardly had I entered ‘A’ Battalion when a chap in khaki half pants with spindly legs halted me. Like a jagirdar (squire) talking to his serfs, he ceremoniously told me to carry my trunk – all of its six feet length - on my head! Bloody cheek I thought, especially since he looked more of a village bumpkin. His accent was so unintelligibly dreadful that it took time to understand him. I was from La Martiniere, a reputed public school in India and France and the only school with Battle Honours in the World and here I was to hear some foreign gibberish akin to English! Peter Sellers would have been closer to English than this bloke!

I was thoroughly baffled, perplexed and odd at ease.

To the diktat of my carrying the trunk on my noggin, I flatly refused. However, with the start of a menacing growl emanating from this rustic, like a pit terrier, I realised that this was not the time to show valour. I tried to carry the trunk, but being the 90 lb weakling (like teh Clarles Atlas ads in the comic books), I crumpled like an aspen leaf under the weight.

The rustic who told me to pick up the trunk compressed with laughter and I was allowed to wend my way beyond. I felt like a worm.

A few moments later I reached the portals of ‘Dalda’ Squadron. By then I was quite deflated. I was ashamed of myself that I had wilted.

At the portals of this magnificent squadron I met Cadet Sergeant Major {CSM} Chauhan. If I can digress, I call the squadron magnificent because it hardened me to take all the nonsense that was doled out during my service in the name of discipline and things ‘not done’. Thus, it was magnificent – a magnificent delusion.

CSM Chauhan was all sugar and honey and he spoke in Bengali! It was music to the ears [You must remember that one silly bloke at A Squadron had shaken me totally and so anything familiar was great; fie on me to be parochial!]. Under normal circumstances, we from La Martininere don’t converse in the vernacular, but then these were not normal circumstances. These were abnormal hours, to say the least. Notwithstanding the Bengali welcome, I poured my heart out in clipped English. The CSM was impressed but excused himself as he was going for lunch.

There I was in front of this magnificent stone edifice called the Dalda Squadron. I entered the Squadron to be met by the most hairy thing that I ever saw in my whole life – Corporal AS! He was indeed huge and hairy as Sikhs are wont to be. In fact, it took time to realise that through all that hair, there were eyes peering at you.

“What are you?” said this matchless thing, which I had mistaken for some exotic South Pacific tropical tree. In a clear voice I replied “XYZ” (whatever was my name). Three times did he ask, as Anthony had asked of Caesar, and three times I replied the same!

This ‘tree’ turned pinker than his natural pink. At least he was turning pink in the areas that could be discerned. “Are you a Bhangi?” asked Corporal Avatar Singh. Now, while I knew passable Hindi that I used at home to talk to the retainers, I was not endowed with such technical Hindi. Naturally, I was confused. However, enlightenment dawned on me.

I was getting used to the fact that these blokes in the NDA had a problem with their English accent. Therefore, I surmised that most probably he was trying to say ‘Bengi’ as the Anglo Indians in my school called us Bengalis.

With a radiant smile I proudly said, “Yes”.

AS visibly recoiled as if he had seen the ghost of Banco. He was incredulous! Keeping a safe distance, thrice [it was his habit of repeating himself thrice in the best of North Indian English] he asked the same question and thrice and I answered the same – thrice.

“Are you sure you know the meaning of Bhangi?” asked Avtar totally disbelieving.

“Why not? I presume you mean a ‘Bengali’,” said I.

AS buckled with the mirth of a steam engine chugging away from a station and the wheels sipping on the rails. His belly fat quivered like Pompeii about to spew.

As his amusement faded like a wailing banshee, he bellowed, “Silly man Charlie bai [boy]. It’s not a Bengali, Bhangi means a scavenger. A sweeper. Are you a sweeper?”

George Washington could never lie. I too could not and so eating humble pie, I announced that I was not a scavenger. Huge that he was, he showed uncanny gentleness when he said, “You no longer civilian. You now Cadet. Be prod [proud]. You now “Cadet Raychodri” and add ‘Sir’ to all seniors.”

While I had no objection to being a Cadet, I somehow could not reconcile to the pronunciation of my name since it had an obnoxious sexual connotation in Hindi. I, however, kept my counsel. It dawned on me that I was no longer a human being and instead I was a Cadet!!!!!!

I had barely walked two steps when another unique specimen of humanity accosted me. It was a 3rd termer. He went thorough the preliminaries regarding my antecedents like the FBI would of an Al Qaeda prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. I was careful to add the words ‘Cadet’ and suffixed with a ‘sir’. I thought he was satisfied and would allow me to proceed, but much to my chagrin he asked me to start front rolling!

Catch me knowing what it was. So, I asked him what it was. In the best of military curtness, he collared a 2nd termer for a demonstration. Demonstration done, I exclaimed, “Ah, I see what you mean, sir. A Somersault!” This specimen, from the northern areas of our country and from the Bal Mukund belt {a vernacular school from Kiomandi (clarified butter wholesale market), Amritsar, Punjab}, was furious. He had not understood what a somersault was. His face gave that away. For all I know, he thought it was some special salt that one took during summer and I was being blasted cheeky it being winter now.

“O getting clavar [clever]? Al-rat [All right], you do five somersaults and eight wintersaults”. Axiomatically that had to be done. In the process, I found that I got terribly giddy because instead of rolling over forward or backward as the case should have been, I wobbled upside down, holding the pose involuntarily in a semi sirshashan [yogic headstand], to crumple as a deflating balloon, with the gas emitting furiously from the orifice, moving to either side in slow motion and returning to the terra firma with an all resounding thud. The sensitive part of my anatomy, in the bargain, felt sorely insulted.

More blokes arrived. I was something like a new addition to a Zoo. I was about to say “Take me to your leader” as they say in the comic books when Martians land. But then, they didn’t give me chance.

“Hop and Rotate.” What, in the name of Dickens, was that? My blank look encouraged a senior to collar another of the demonstration species – the 2nd termer. The demonstration was executed. It was asinine. No options could be asked for surely it would not be given. I hopped and rotated like some mentally depraved frog with a sexual fantasia since I am sure such a pose would be in the Kamasutra, but for frogs only.

I thought I could now go, having qualified, not for the Gemini Circus, but for the very best – Ringaling Brothers of the USA! No way. The next lot came.

This was like the Korean War repeat of Chinese human wave attack tactics – one wave after the other…... They had watched me hopping and rotating and the way I was at it, I thought I could have won the figure skating in the Olympics for frogs and other deprived species! However, this new lot had other preferences. They wanted music accompaniment. I, therefore, found myself hopping and rotating, singing my name in 27 different tunes. Why 27? Ask these mental morons.

New ‘murgas’ [chicken: male and of the 1st term variety] arrived. They lost interest in me. God, where were you all this time?

The bearer [remember him? He had carried my luggage] read a list and ushered me to a ground floor room [later I learnt that they were known as ‘kebin’, which in English stands for ‘cabin’]. I still remember the number. It was 18 and two 3rd termers, ‘Goofy’ Vohra and ‘Pain in the Backside [a polite term being used]’ Agarwal flanked my cabin on either side. If they were pains, I had still not met the Mother of Pains i.e. Sarin [2nd termer] who was on the far end of the corridor but was always available like a cadaver eating vulture looking out for 1st termers to satiate his power hunger. There was also this chap Upadhyaya, who later when he became a Corporal, had a spot at the corner of the Mess dedicated as Checkpoint ‘Charlie’, named after his pet name given by his juniors, to catch juniors and punish them. The Geological Survey of India has by mistake annotated this point on the map since they thought Upadhyaya was another immovable object and hence a landmark suitable for compass fixes!

Hardly had I entered my cabin and put down my things when AS surfaced. I was hauled off to his ‘kebin’. I was finding the North Indian English accent odd and they were finding my accent odder and hence I was becoming an object d’ art. In AS’s cabin I found Cadets AS Jamwal (now he is our Adjutant General) and Rathore [both my coursemates] were already there. They were convoluted in the ‘murga’ position [squatting on one’s haunches and putting one’s hands under the knees and holding the ears!]. I was awfully amused. The NDA was indeed an exciting place where they could convert normal human beings into gymnasts of the highest order and yet Indians never won in the Olympics!

I was asked if I could sing. I could. AS beamed. He barked that I should sing ‘Do hanso ka jora, bichar gaye re’. Funny guy, this AS. I told him that I could only sing Elvis and Pat Boone.

“Bone? No picking of Bone. You sing. You bladi mane”. I could never fathom even till the time AS passed out of the NDA as to why he ended all his sentences with ‘Bladi Mane’ [Bloody Man]. Even ‘good morning’ had this appendage.

Seeing my consternation, he relented. I could sing in English. He was dissatisfied with my effort because he found my rendition of Jailhouse Rock as very noisy. Imagine a Sardar finding Jailhouse rock noisy! I wonder if he had heard the Punjabi song ‘Main choot bolia koina, something kufartoliya koina, balle balle ….broooooo. Surely that is not melody, it was pure, unmitigated roar of an avalanche in the Himalayas ! In fact, it was sheer cacophony! The temerity to call Jailhouse Rock noise!

By this time, Rathore and Jamwal were allowed to resume the vertical position and were in boisterous unison singing AS’s favourite – Do hanso…., even though both these boys were more like wet murgis (chicken) by then; forget about being hans [swan]!

After inane questions on our sex life and other mundane nonsense, we were allowed to go. We peeked out and seeing the coast clear tried to scamper to our ‘kebins’. But whom do you find waiting? It was none other than MSR. We didn’t know his name then but later he was as indelible in the memory as Hitler is to the Jews!

We walked into MSR’s metaphoric embrace……………… but then it’s another story.


Corporal AS had been regaled with Do hanso ke jora and Jailhouse Rock. We (Cadets J, R and me) came out of his ‘kebin’ [cabin]. We peeked out and seeing the coast clear tried to scamper to our ‘kebins’. But whom do you find waiting? It was none other than MSR. We did not know the name of this horror then.

He resembled the figure that symbolises ‘Death’ with the scythe. Such immobile eyes and that too with the shades of slate upon a background of pale white! His face was a motionless wonder. He resembled an upright, wiry corpse. His complexion was as white as chalk. His demeanour discouraged any meeting by day, let alone in a pitch-dark night. Fortunately, the sun was still up even if the day looked bleak

He beckoned us to follow him; and near his cabin, he said, “Anter”[Enter].

We shuffled into his cabin, crazed with fear.

“Lags up. Hends don” [Legs Up. Hands down], said this stereotype of the Lubinka gas chamber attendant. I was about to cry out, “Sir, I am not a Jew, a gypsy or a Communist”, but his glass eye stare choked me in a worse way than that which gas can do.

So, there we were the three of us, in this ridiculous position with our legs on his cupboard and hands on the floor. And the cupboard was high!

“What’s my naem [name]?” There was tomblike silence. Actually, none cared what his name was. He was just another bum like the rest of the seniors. Yet, not knowing the name of this ‘great soul’ holding us hostage, bestowed on us the ‘privilege’ of a press up with each syllable of his name as he spelt it out. Extraordinarily, this ‘soul’ [since he was from the nether world] sincerely felt it was an honour that he was bestowing us!

I reached ‘Mahen….’ (part expansion of his first initial) and my legs fell off the cupboard……my arms had given way. J stoically reached the end of this wondrous name and R, the toughest of us, pressed along gamely till ‘Singh’ (MSR’s second expanded initial). He too gave in to nature and gravity thereafter.

Actually I benefited being the weakest. I had collapsed the earliest and had to wait till the others carried on. R suffered the most. It was only after he dropped that we had to repeat the process over and over again. We built muscles along the way since the biceps has swollen up and indicated no inclination to maintain status quo ante. Did we experience pain? We had crossed the Rubicon in the feeling of pain!

MSR got bored. All sadists do. Ask the Jews in the Holocaust. His eyes suddenly glowed like the embers of a totally dead fire. A brainwave had struck him.

“What be size my underbear?” No, even though I thought NDA was a Zoo, no bear had assailed it as yet or at least we did not know. He was not talking about any pet bear under him either because we didn’t see any. It was just that that is how the North Indians pronounced – ‘underwear’. I was getting used to the North Indian accent and thus understood some of their ‘English’.

I was at my physical end. I was fed up. I had enough of this silly NDA. I didn’t want to be an officer if being an officer meant this insane stupidity. Before others could answer, I snapped in clipped English, “if one goes by your behaviour, I don’t think, sir, you wear any underwear. You actually must be using a gunny bag! And by Jove, Sir, I did not have the privilege to be a coolie at the railway siding unloading sugar and so I just don’t know”.

MSR was thunderstruck. He was livid. He spluttered and spittle sprayed out like a hesitant fountain. ‘I’ll show you what I wear’, he thundered in an evil menacing way. He did not show us what he wore below. He showed us things which were even more forebearing!

Our life for the next hour was hell. All forms of physical punishments ruled the day and boy, was he not a sadist! I am quite sure MSR must have held Hitler’s hand as Hitler committed suicide. Ms Eva Braun would have been only the second best in Hitler’s heart.

After an hour of most ‘imaginative’ punishment, we staggered out. It was not that MSR had a change of heart – it was just that he required going to the toilet for a pressing anatomical obligation.

It was my desire to observe his underwear and measure the same, lest he punished me again on this burning issue of the century……. but then I reckoned that it was better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Thus, God had intervened.

MSR’s requirement to release natural pressures, released the pressures he conjured on us!
I would hope times have changed somewhat! A bit more peaceful, to begin with!

How are the Indian officers trained now? a shorter year course or the old longer course?
There are many entries and I am basically speaking about Officer entry.

In my time, one joined the NDA (Joint Services) after completing pre Senior Cambridge or the equivalent. Class X and we got the Intermediate degree on completion of the course.

Nowadays, it is Class XII and the cadets on completion of NDA get a Bachelor of Arts/ Science degree.

The NDA is a three year course where academics and military subjects are taught concurrently. Having completed it, the cadets go to the Indian Military Academy (IMA) for a one year course. On sucessful completion, one becomes an officer.

In my time, we were commissioned as 2/Lt and had no stipend or pay. Nowadays, they are commissioned as Lts and during the training at the IMA they get the pay as a 2/Lt but not the rank.

There are other entries into the IMA eg OTU (University Entry who have done the National Cadet Corps training), Direct Entry, Technical Graduates Entry and the Army Cadet Corps (from the ranks) entry.

In addition, there is the OTA entry for the Short Services Commission Officers who are for a tenure of 5 years, extendable to 10 (unless selected for Permanent Commission provided they volunteer for the same after their Short Service tenure).

All officers irrespective of Arm/ Service commissioned into, have to serve with the Infantry for a tenure, depending on the Arm/ Service one is commissioned into.
"All officers irrespective of Arm/ Service commissioned into, have to serve with the Infantry for a tenure, depending on the Arm/ Service one is commissioned into. "

Thats interesting in its own right; Did the Wehrmacht not do something similar? Having all officers work as infantry for a time?

Another interesting thing is the number of 'flavours' of officer training: Are not the standards variable?

In another post, you suggested that you'd seen service in one of the India-Pakistan wars. Without stirring up too much trouble, can you tell us more?

Similar threads

Latest Threads