The two night journey by the train was perhaps the longest one I had undertaken in my life. This was way back in the late 1970s, and after having completed my graduation, I was headed to Kochi to report to the Naval Academy for my initial training. The journey was thrilling but a lot of mixed emotions of having left the house to start a new career on the high seas, in my pursuit to do something different and not to tread the beaten path!
After taking a train from Delhi to Chennai which took 48 hours, I changed to head for Kochi. I don’t recollect when I dozed off, and at the break of morning, I suddenly woke up on hearing a rumbling sound. I looked out of the window to see the huge channel on either side of the Thevra bridge, with twinkling lights of ships and the city of Kochi. In a few minutes the train arrived at the Willingdon Island, station at Kochi. I tried to adjust my vision to the new surroundings of swaying coconut trees , the smell of hot brewing coffee and piping hot fluffy idlis. I disembarked the train, had a quick bite and found that a 3 ton blue painted military vehicle was waiting for me besides a few more that were headed to the Naval Academy!
‘Pick up your bags, and get into the truck’ the Petty Officer told us curtly.
This was the first taste of what was more to come. In few minutes we landed at the Academy which had a sprawling campus, with more coconut groves, and several small buildings in barrack like structures. Most of us had disheveled looks after the long journey and many had not shaved!
‘Welcome to the Naval Academy, I am your divisional officer Lt Dhawan’ a voice boomed as we turned to find an immaculately dressed officer in sparkling white with golden epaulettes on the shoulders!
He asked us to fall-in three columns and inspected each one closely. He pointed his fingers at a few who had a long mane or had not shaved and asked them to ‘fall out’.
‘You are a bunch of hippies and not the officers of the Indian Navy. We will soon make gentlemen out of you,’ he thundered.
All those who had been singled out were asked to raise their hands up in the air and asked to go for a run around the parade ground and later marched up to the barber! After an hour when the defaulters returned they were not recognizable any more as they all looked alike, with clean shaven faces and crop cut hair!