At the final training camp, just 2 days to get our backpacks ready and head to Delhi for the RDC…the cadets were given permission to go home to do their laundry and get cleaner clothes. RJ’s folks weren’t home, so she went along with JN (fellow cadet) to her place.
We put our clothes into the washing machine and went on JN’s Hero Puch (motorcycle) for some LMS (Last Minute Shopping), with JN riding pillion. On our way back, it started drizzling. We didn’t have much time to hang around (take shelter) since we had to be back at the campsite by 5.30 pm.
RJ & JN were cruising (on wet slippery road) at normal speed (it’s a Hero Puch not a Harley!). At an intersection, a truck decided to cross without indication and all of a sudden. RJ clutched on the brakes with all her might. Narrowly escaped colliding head-on with the truck, but skidded right across the road. RJ scraped her knees badly with the pants completely ripped-off at the knees. JN got a silencer burn on her legs. A huge crowd was gathering. But the brave girls, didn’t want a scene and picked up the fallen Hero (motor cycle) and scooted.
We escaped JN’s mom’s scrutiny, went to the bedroom, applied some anti-septic cream, changed clothes and put up a normal appearance like nothing had happened. Ironed the clothes, packed, took an auto and dashed to the campsite. Nobody noticed anything unusual, obviously (we tried hard not to overact!). By night, I had fever and a fellow cadet who coaxed the real story out of me alerted the camp commandant. They rushed me to AFMC (Air Force Medical College) Hospital nearby, gave me a tetanus shot and some paracetamol for the fever to subside. Back at the campsite, and everybody chided RJ & JN for behaving irresponsibly. We got away with our sheepish grin and innocent nods.
Next day, was d-day. The cadets got to the Railway Station. RJ’s folks were also there, waiting to see us off. RJ was trying hard to hide the limp. The folks noticed that the fellow cadets were being extra nice helping RJ with her luggage. They asked, but RJ pretended not to hear. RJ and the other cadets got into the compartment and occupied their seats. The folks stood by the window to bid their adieus. And then…
The Wing Commander came by RJ’s window and enquired “Hope you are doing fine now!” And RJ was like “damn, not now!”And mustered a feeble voice that sounded more like a sheep bleating “yes sir, yes sir (3 bags full!)”. RJ's folks were perplexed. The curious mom asked “what’s happening? You’re walking like you have one flat shoe on and the other heeled, others are carrying your luggage, everybody is extra concerned about you…Tell us the truth!” Confession time, so RJ tells the story (can’t get away with anything, from your parents, can you?!) And then, more chiding over the “ting-ting…announcements”, “chai, vade” and the chaos at the Station. The Wing Commander and Camp Commandant also pitched in. On the receiving end, there’s nothing much else you can do, but nod your head gently (to vigorously). The train started to move, and RJ was relieved. Quickly waved “goodbye”, promised to stay in touch and looked forward to the RDC we’d all been waiting for, eagerly.
01 January 1996 - Garrison Parade Ground, Delhi Cantonment
It was a cold winter morning in Delhi. We were transported from the Station to our barracks in a big army canter. The boys were led to their tents. The girls were taken to their barracks, which was like a dormitory with many cots, no mattresses. The sleeping bag was used as a mattress-cum-quilt. They settled down and there was a call for breakfast. Bread, jam and butter. And apples (from Kulu Valley, we were told). It was the sweetest apple RJ had ever eaten. A good feeling already. Lunch was even better. And dinner was, well what can I say, the best! RJ suspected if this was like a demo version where everything would look good at first glance and the real thing would be hell (with all the bugs), considering the bad taste of food still lingering, from the training camps.
On the first day, the cadets were allowed to get familiar with the whole place which was huge and it took us a while to find our way around. 2nd Day, morning up by 4 am, and level the ground with our bare hands touching the cold soil and some spade and tools to make the irregular terrain right outside our barracks into a beautifully landscaped area (part of the competitions). Then brush our (chattering) teeth and have bath in hot water (that turns cold by the time we get to the bath). Then slip into our uniforms and get ready for a long day of drills and competitions. This was pretty much our routine for the whole month.
Various competitions are conducted in National Integration Awareness, Drill, Line & Flag Area, Cultural programmes etc, amongst the16 NCC Directorates, to decide the Champion Directorate for award of Prime Minister's Banner. The first was of course in drill. The whole contingent is judged and given points based on performance, uniformity, uniform (including the sparkling shoes and buckles), precision and other such parameters. Then cadets are selected for the Guard of Honour. Cadets from all contingents are mixed and asked to march forward one row at a time. Then each cadet is judged based on their individual performance. The selected cadets are retained, while the others are sent back. RJ was one of 2 girl cadets selected from our contingent for the Guard of Honour. The other cadets get a 2nd chance in the RD Parade selection. Each selected cadet earns some points for the contingent.
Later, we discovered (cadets from other Contingents), that there was clear bias in the selection. The chief commandants were basically from 'M' Directorate. All cadets from the 'M' Directorate had their butts (riffle butts I mean) painted white, which you can clearly distinguish from a distance. And each one of them from that contingent (12/12) made it to the Guard of Honour, inspite of their not-so-great drill performance. The rest of the contingents were fuming. It was an unfair competition, everybody knew about it, but the show had to go on. So we took it up as a challenge and competed with greater vigour.
Break for scrumptious breakfast. And break from the post (it's getting longer than I intended). I'll be back with the rest of the story, when we pick up our riffles and fall-in at the parade ground, for guard of honour training....
For those of you who are not familiar with these abbreviations:
- NCC: National Cadet Corps
- RDC: Republic Day Camp