The day was just breaking and the lights on the ships cast a magic spell on the sea that reflected back millions of stars back, as the train rolled on Thevra Bridge just before entering the Cochin Harbor Terminus station! This was my first glimpse of the sea, which I had chosen as my career! It was like a dream that was playing as in a few minutes the train was at the station. A long journey had just ended and another new one was to begin!
I met a few more young men like me who were herded into a waiting truck to the Naval Academy. The gentle sway of the coconut trees enroute and the wind greeted us with the open arms. At the gate we got down from the truck and were advised to meet the training team in about an hour on the parade ground. We carried our bags to the ear marked cabins and after a quick wash and change arrived at the parade square. After introductions and filling up of some form, the officers inspected us closely and some were sent to the barber immediately! A few of us were still lethargic after long train journeys but then without compassion were ordered to run to every place when called rather than slouching! Those friends who had returned back from the barber could not be recognized anymore as it appeared that a lawn mower had run over overgrown grass in a garden! Those who tried to act smart were given a lesson in front roll and were soon rolling like a ball in unison with the orders and their white shorts and shirts appeared to be perfect setting for a ‘Daag Ache hain ‘ ad of Surf Excel! The remaining day was spent in showing us the sprawling academy running from place to place and as the night came, every joint ached!
The routine in the following days never left room for thinking as every moment we lived in present! The morning call for PT, breakfast, crash course in table manners of holding the fork and spoon the right way, class room lectures, a short break in afternoon followed with evening classes on boat pulling, sailing, compulsory games like football and sometimes even ‘patti parade’ ( involving changing ten different uniforms and assembling on ground).
Clearing of a swimming test was mandatory and I remember for those of us who had always admired a swimming pool from distance, it meant an ordeal each time to enter the pool. After a few days of observing us, the instructors told us to come to the deep end and made us jump. My friend Sunder, was first to go and after the splash we saw frantic waving of hand for a few moments and then like a stone he sank. After a brief wait, the instructor dived and pulled him out as he gasped for breath. I was next to follow and soon after the jump frantically tried to beat the water with hands little realizing that the concrete projection to hold at the end was near and next moment my hand crashed as I saw the streak of red color in the water and my bone on elbow was visible from the gash! I was rushed to the hospital and the elbow stitched with excuse for two weeks from swimming!
Every slack action was instantly punished with extra drills which meant an extra hour of parade in evening under supervision of the drill instructor, in boots, anklets and rifle! The inspection rounds of the Commanding Officer were always eventful as despite all care in keeping the cabin tidy, shoes/ boots polished and arranged, the brass buttons and buckles shining, he would find dust on the fan regulator which added to the growing list of extra drills!!
Every Sunday when rest of the world slept like horses, we would be galloping across streets and lanes of Cochin harbor for a 15 km cross country! Those who took short cuts or took inordinately long time to complete the course had to do a repeat in the evening!
A sailing camp involving remaining out at sea for 15 days with tinned ration and a compass and sextant to guide, and oars and sails to steer the boat in open sea were an experience difficult to forget The blisters on hands and sunburns were constant companions amidst laughter in sharing crude jokes. A truly Robinson Crusoe like life!
The bonds created after this rigorous training are for a lifetime! I still remember that when one made a mistake on the parade ground and other smiled were enough reason to go running with rifles up in arms for two extra rounds of the sprawling parade ground, to learn that one man’s mistake means so much for a team!!
Despite all the rigors the stamina that is developed cannot make you win an Olympic medal but can assure you of a healthy life style for a lifetime if one can continue with even half the things learnt! How I wish each youngster in our country gets a chance to serve in uniform to make us a land of disciplined people! I still take pride of having joined the service as a young lad and the training made a man out of me!
PS: Image kind courtesy Google