It was a fine July morning when I found myself standing at the Secunderabad Railway Station in front of a desk with three people sitting under the banner announcing Reporting for Air Force Academy. Got my name checked and they told me to remember the name of squadron as Brar. Outside found a few guys whom I met at SSB or medicals and was please to know that two other guys of my group from SSB were in same Sqn.
Quite a number of Cadet and some parents were standing there soon we guys boarded the bus, a photographer was clicking the pics of the guys and of course the gals present there, so that later we all could see them and make out how funny we were looking then as compared to now, and as a matter of fact one never fails to find how we people looked so funny and casual when we were still civilians(and it would be the other way round for all the normal civil guys when they notice the difference between us).
Soon enough we reached the gates of Air Force Academy(AFA) Dundigal and it was with a sense of huge pride that I looked at the runway and the gate and a feeling that finally I arrived at a worthy enough place which I deserved. The bus moved inside and the occupants of the bus kept their stares fixed at the various aircraft and missiles on display en-route from Annaram Gate to Flight Cadet’s Mess(FCM) aka our home for the next one year.
I remember well that it was lightly drizzling and in my astrological beliefs that was a sign of good beginning. Our stuff got offloaded and we moved to Shamiyana for the attendance. After a long wait, we got our luggage checked. The check were to make sure that we were not in possession of a mobile phone or camera or any eatables !! and other superficial stuffs(even personal medication) like that. All these while the things were being done by the Appointments, who are the Senior Term cadets who takes care of the Cadets while they are in FCM, kind of like School Captain.
After a while we got several items issued and our cabin numbers. Life in college can be easily managed without even seeing a water glass, water bottle, hangers, brooms and all some trifle items but not so here, maintaining a living standard of an Officer requires a lot of polishing of the attitude and this was a small beginning.
Once all the luggage was dumped in the cabin and after acquaintance with the neighbors around the rest of the evening and night passed in having a gala time with old friends from SSB and medical. Since by this time any of the Senior Term cadets have not arrived except for the Appointments, there was nobody to check any junior cadets.
Then from day two to the first week were probably the most boring and disgusting days of my life. There were lot of formalities, kit issue, tailor issue, hair cut, medicals and so on and so forth an endless number of things in which we just have to go to one place and keep standing at-ease and just wait till eternity till everyone got finished and then we march of back to Sqn Office. It was like at the end of every day we used to count that in the whole day we have just done 3-4 things and not even have time to sit down once or be in our cabin for more than 5 minutes. The first night muster of the Academy was quite an experience of continuously standing in attention till all the counting was done, report compiled, its checked and rechecked that all are present and Duty Instructor came, report is handed over, he again checks and cross checks and finally goes back.
At the end of first week we could feel that our previous lifestyles have been left far behind, every luxury and privileges that we were used to were taken away. No more were we getting time to be alone as an individual, the only time spend alone was either during study hour or while sleeping after lights-out. The clothes we wore became the simplest a white shirt(with collar and cuff button and no tie) and white trouser(no provision as well as need of a belt, as only the size being fit is worn) for the formal places and white PT kit for games and ragda sessions . No dhobi, no orderly and any facility of fruit shop, bar etc etc. It would seem like a POW camp but this is how an individual is broken down of his shells of individuality and made in an person who matters only along with his Sqn.
A normal daily routine of junior cadets at the beginning of term used to be like, waking up at between 2-3am depending on the amount of clothes that you have to wash(it is quite difficult to hide any dirt or dust in white clothes) or iron, and then attending a 4 am fall-in in which the report never gets compiled and submitted to Sqn Appointment by the allotted time and hence by default all the undergoes a series of push-ups, sit-ups and other doses of early morning exercises. At 5 am there was another fall-in for juniors for daily Drill( that is march past) and we were left sweating from the sqn office just 10 min to 5, to change to drill uniform and report in time. From 5 am after all the junior cadets have came, all the sqns’ report compiled and submitted, then the dreaded round of dress inspection by the appointments and the defaulters caught with dirty clothes, improper ironing and anything major or minor were rounded off to be destined to do some more sweating out in the afternoon and evening in the form of reportings.
After that we move on to the Drill Square or Parade ground where Drill Ustads instruct the cadets to perform the parade movements individually and in synch when in a group. Drill is one strenuous exercise, from the outside it appears only few movements are being done but the crispness, speed, timing and intensity of these calculated movements will make you sweat in no time. Anyways its always a treat to the eyes to watch well executed josh-filled parade movements. We graduate from basic hand drill to parade with rifle in the later part of the training. Left from their we rush back in great hurry, to make good the fall-in time of 0730 with half-an hour to spare for bath, change over uniform and have breakfast. It really amazes now how efficient people become with their time once time becomes precious. In such testing times it helps to have a priority, I for one have highest priority for breakfast in all of this morning chaos. I was willing to take an hour or so of punishment later in the day rather than start the day with empty tummy. Bottom line make your value system and prioritize your task and stick to it.
At 0800 another part of the day commences in which cadets of different branches go to their respective faculty for studies in their relevant subject. This probably is the most relaxed part of the day with ample opportunities to relax from the tiredness of the early part of the day, some people keep their eyes and/or ears open for the activities going on in the classes but some simply give up on the efforts. By 2 o’clock in the afternoon we leave for FCM again and after having a more or less unhurried lunch, we come back to our rooms, just to hear in time another round of session for accumulated deeds of the morning or anything pending. By the time we get done with this it is again time for PT and so we proceed for the fall-in routine for the same.
PT is a toned down activity compared to the same happening all the time in FCM. We come back by around 6 in the evening and after having a round of eats/tea/cold coffee served in mess office, we again barely have 30 min or so to take bath to clean up from the sweaty, soiled condition of us and our clothes and also get our rooms in Cabin-Cupboard inspection standard for the study period starting from 7 o’clock. Study period is an open door time in which you are supposed to be studying in your neat and tidy room dressed up immaculately in whites/muftis simply meaning white full sleeves shirt & white/grey coloured trousers with or without neck tie.
Inspection goes around by an Officer or Sqn Appointment to ensure compliance of the same. End of the study period starts with a call for Dinner, and all the cadets assemble in their sqn office and proceed to Dining Hall together. Then after having food or something else depending on your luck, again a mass gathering of the whole cadet lot of all branch and sqn, a night muster takes place in which everyone is counted, accounted and presented on the parade for inspection. After this the everyone is dispersed for a Lights out time of 2200. But the time in between is again a fun filled activity of some more bit of exercises and couple of minutes before the Lights out time we are left to rest our body for the night.
Coming back to the room, sleep is a something you don’t have to wait for and paying no remembrances to all the good, bad and ugly things of the day, we sleep on like a baby with a clear head and tiring limbs, to soldier on for another day and then another day for the whole duration of the junior term.
So for the uninitiated, as the saying goes though it would seem contradictory, this whole routine of training is mental rather than physical. People say that if you survive the academy for first 22 days you will make it through 22 weeks.
This article is republished from Thoughts by Shubham Gautam with due permission.