Ten days ago, on a chilly mid-November evening at Lucknow’s Gorkha Regimental Centre, a unique light and sound show kicked off a reunion of men who were boys 40 years ago!
These boys-turned-men belong to the 39th Course of the National Defence Academy (NDA) and/or the 48th Course of the Indian Military Academy!
|Gen. Batoo Tshering, Gen. Ahluwalia, ACM Charlie Browne: course mates all|
|Gen Ahluwalia & Bhutan Army chief Gen. Batoo Tshering|
In many ways, it’s an exceptional batch which passed out of the hallowed academies a fortnight ahead of the schedule since General, later Field Marshal, Sam Maneckshaw wanted all them to straightaway join the war against Pakistan in November/December 1971.
Two of them died in action, within a fortnight in what is now regarded as India’s finest military victory after Independence.
Four decades later, a handful few are at the zenith of their careers.
Among them: India’s current Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK “Charlie’ Browne, Bhutan’s Army Chief Maj Gen. Batoo Tshering, India’s Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal KK Nowhar, Central Army Commander, Lt. Gen. VK Ahluwalia and C-in-C, Air Force Training Command, Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja, just to name a few. Lt. Gen Shankar Ghosh, Western Army Commander, could not attend the reunion since he was unwell.
But there were others too, hundred plus friends and colleagues, once together at the NDA—all of them still call the Academy the world’s finest training institution–but who retired at various stages of their career from the armed forces but certainly not from the business of life!
Wing Commander KJ Bhatt, a passionate singer, performer, for instance. Or Brig Rajeev Williams, who handles CSR for a steel major after shedding the uniform but can still hit the right notes with the guitar or the keyboard as he would do during his academy days.
Their joie de verve, their zest for life undiminished.
As these officers and gentlemen—at the apex of their careers—spent two days catching up on the years gone by, long forgotten moments rushing back into their conversation with every peg poured into their glasses, we were sometimes silent bystanders, sometime participants.
Me and my better half Neha were privileged to be there as guests of Central Army Commander Gen. Ahluwalia and the elegant Mrs Ahluwalia.
In fact we were the only odd couple. At least a decade younger than the assembled gathering and a civilian couple at that, we could have felt awkward but it is a tribute to the spirit of the men in uniform and their wives, especially Gen and Mrs Ahluwalia that we never felt left out.
|Gen. BatooTshering (r) sharing a lighter moment with a course met and me|
No minute detail escaped the attention of Gen. Ahluwalia’s Staff officers–Brig. Uppal, Col Brijesh Pandey, Lt. Col. Pradeep and the young Maj. Sriram Joshi.
The get-together kicked off—appropriately—with a heart-felt and beautifully put together and choreographed tribute by the men of the Gorkha Regimental Centre to the martyrs of 1971.
As dusk merged into the night, the spirits soared high.
Long forgotten faces brought back a flood of nostalgia. Friends and buddies who had done everything together—from the morning PT to front roll and from a hurried breakfast to a tough bout of boxing together—started recalling smallest of incidents even as their wives listened in part bemusement and part detachment.
For some of these friends have known each other longer than they have known their wives. Some started out together at the age of eight in Sainik Schools and have continued to nurture the friendship half a century later! The bond stronger perhaps than the relationship between husband and wife!
Although many of them have been meeting each other at reunions and regimental get-togethers occasionally, this was a gathering like no other. Buggy rides, a horse race at the Lucknow Race Course, a Shyam-e-Awadh of ghazals, a round of golf and some shopping thrown in, there was a variety of entertainment to keep everyone engaged.
|Enjoying an evening of Ghazals|
As the final hours ticked by, it was left to Air Chief “Charlie” Browne to belt out Que Sera Sera along with the inimitable KJ Bhatt and the ever-smiling Rajeev Williams to bring the curtains down.
For the 39th NDA Course this was certainly a reunion to remember.
For us—me and my wife—a once-in-a-lifetime experience that allowed us a small glimpse into the lives of men in uniform and what they generally are—warm, loyal to friends through thick and thin and full of optimism no matter what the circumstances.
As we said our good byes, I wondered if Airtel borrowed the theme of its latest ad campaign—Har Ek friend Zaroori hota hai—from the camaraderie and bonding that only soldiers seem to develop!