On August 4, over a hundred youngsters, most of them in their teens, gathered from every corner of India, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, Kutch to Kolkata. The occasion: the golden jubilee of the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) at Pune.
They spoke a babel of languages. From sambar-smelling South Indians, dal-devouring Delhites and rasgulla-loving Bengalis to dhokla-munching Gujaratis, pao bhaji-gorging Maharashtrians and hot pickle-addicted Andhrawalas, they were all there, apart from a couple representing the Indian diaspora in South Africa.
Friends, we, from the pioneer "A" batch, were the guinea pigs and the AFMC Under Graduate (UG) wing the laboratory. Yes, we were the voluntary human guinea pigs taking part in a unique experiment in medical education, social and national integration, an experiment in combining military discipline and civilian chaos.
We do not know whose idea it was, most probably a bright civil servant sitting somewhere in the shadow of the defence ministry or some top brass in the Army Medical Corps (AMC), or perhaps both. The credit has certainly gone to that wiry, hyperactive barrister, freedom fighter, diplomat, king of orators and chronic bachelor, the then defence minister Krishna Menon.
We were kraaled like cattle in barracks, protected by a barbed wire fencing and security at the gate, woken up at 5 am by burly-looking NCOs to run around the racecourse. We were made to march on Saturday afternoons on a full belly, transported in backbreaking army trucks.
We plunged our bare hands in the cavities of pickled cadavers to master anatomy, we dug our fingers in the heap of rancid gluteal fat in search of sciatic nerve, we looked through the microscope to identify the deadly bugs, we poked our fingers in every human orifice in search of knowledge.
Years went by. We walked out of the gate, some straight into uniform with a good salary. Others stood at the crossroads of life, scared and wondering which direction to take and where to get a job. The civilians and ex-military got scattered in various parts of India and abroad. Some became famous and multimillionaires, others good clinicians and academics.
Decades passed and ravages of time started showing their cruelty on our anatomies. Wrinkled skin, bald heads, grey hair, failing vision, impaired hearing, arthritic joints, diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases all became a part of our lives. Few kept in touch with each other. We complement Ashok for his great effort to start the Google group and Subhash for taking over the responsibility when the system needed change. This is the best thing that happened to "A" batch to keep us connected.
Years rolled by, and now we are here, on the 50th birthday of "A" batch and the golden jubilee of the UG wing. Soon, we will disappear into the deep abyss of time and will be forgotten like previous generations, but we have become a part of the history of a magnificent institution, the first-born, the pacesetters, the most successful guinea pigs.
Thousands have passed through the doors of this great institution and many more will pass through it. It will remain a magnificent institution as long as India remains one as a nation. We wish the "A" batch a great birthday and the AFMC UG wing a wonderful golden jubilee with the Government of India releasing a postal stamp and first day cover on the occasion.