Patrick is studying aeronautical engineering in Toulouse and his father - a French Army veteran - is keeping his fingers crossed that the young lad will enlist in the French forces to keep the family tradition alive. Should France have not abolished conscription in 2001, a father’s dream would have come true. Now it’s a distant possibility.
Lack of inspiration can perhaps explain why young men like Patrick, Pondicherry’s French nationals, are shying away from a military career, which their fathers once embraced with pride.
But inspiration was not a scarce commodity a generation ago. And it was the National Cadet Corps (NCC) that steeled their resolve to become soldiers and fight battles in a distant land. Fifty-two-year old Jayachandran would have never joined Armee de Terre (army) and served for 15 years had he not been an NCC cadet during his school days.
A former Corporal Chief, Jayachandran credited NCC for moulding him physically and mentally for a military career. He said: "The training stoked my ambition to become a soldier." At least 25 of the 145 French ex-servicemen in Pondicherry trained as NCC cadets before adopting `code du soldat francais’ (code of the French soldier).
S Sattianandame, a former Sergeant Chief in Armee de Terre and President of French Under-officers’ Ex-servicemen Association, said many ex-combatants, including him, joined NCC in school, attended camps and were awarded different types of NCC certificates.
He said the exposure prepared them for a military career by giving them an idea of training in the armed forces and inculcating discipline. Another ex-combatant, who served in Lebanon as part of the French contingent in the UN Interim Force, said that NCC training gave him a head start over some of the other conscripts from France. Most conscripts from Pondicherry, during 1970s and 1980s, chose to extend their army careers beyond the prescribed one year and went on to serve for 15 to 30 years.
Lieutenant Colonel Mouhamad Moustafa, a former intelligence officer in Armee de l’Air, told Hindustan Times: "We were given equal opportunities in the French forces. I was one of their representatives in NATO and held prestigious appointments in the Prime Minister’s office and the home affairs department during my 29-year service." He was later elected as a French representative of the Paris-based Assembly of French nationals living abroad.
Ex-combatants are holding counselling sessions for young men in the hope of resuscitating a dying tradition. As Jayachandran says, "We will not let go off this slice of heritage that easily."