The period between the results and joining the Indian Military Academy was heady. Introductions to strangers changed overnight from a non-entity to an army officer in the making. Braving a tough regimen at the academy, a rather brazen transformation of a cushy lifestyle as a carefree college student to a challenging life of a cadet with a clockwork routine was exhilarating.
The crew cut, ram-rod bearing and an enviable fitness level coupled with the adulations of peers back at the civie street made me feel supreme. The exuberation of excelling during the five mile or a 10 mile run or the obstacle course was simply great. The President of India declaring me fit to lead men into battle and the period thereafter of either guiding a regiment of 54 roaring tanks through treacherous terrain in sub-zero climes or 52 degrees of unbearable Celsius, accomplishing missions in terrorist-hit areas, being at the side of the seriously injured or motivating mentally blue colleagues were satisfying experiences. This was my idea of pride. Pure, simple and rugged.
With this rather heady mindset, I hung up my spurs at a politically adolescent age this side of 50. One fine day, we got invited to a rather lavish party by a childhood friend celebrating the first birthday of his granddaughter at an upscale resort. The time on the invitation card read 8pm. We arrived at the venue 'dot on' to find the banquet hall bereft of guests and even the host. The host arrived half an hour later and invitees trickled in after 9pm. The conversation was centred around a busy life and lack of time. After a couple of tots, I suggested a convenient time, say 9, for the start of a party. The host innocently replied, "In that case, people would arrive after 10. It is a matter of pride for most to arrive late. It gives credence to their busy lifestyle!"
Recently, a close acquaintance was raided by an income-tax team. We felt sorry and wanted to call on him to provide a healing touch but before that his better half rang up my wife and proudly narrated the event and the fact that they have joined the elite club of rich people in town. An income-tax raid we got to know is now a matter of pride for most.
A school buddy who went on to become a senior civil servant faced suspension. I was rather sheepish when I called him to express concern. On the contrary, the fellow was upbeat. "Can we play golf? Tee off at time of your choice," was his response. I got wiser. Suspended government officials construe the temporary lay-off as a vacation to catch up with family and splurge the ill-gotten booty. It's like a paid leave. Reinstatement is, neverthless, around the corner.
My neighbour, a high-profile politician, was rather depressed when he got indicted in a corruption scam engineered by his brazen relative. Queues outside his home had an air of mixed body languages. The esteemed gentleman was, however, remorseless and unrepentant, of course, humiliated by the unforgiving act of his close relative. He came out unscathed and is proudly back on election track. The adage, "there is no smoke without fire", is clearly inconsequential today.