‘You have come here as boys. But when you leave the academy, you will be men, trained to take on any challenge in life”. So said Brigadier HB Kingsley, the British Commandant of our batch of Gentlemen Cadets in August, 1938. In those days, the maximum number of cadets at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) was only 150. Today the IMA takes in nearly 2,000, with 600 graduating at a time.
On December 10, 2007, the IMA celebrated its 75th anniversary. The entire programme of events was carried out with precision that the IMA is famous for. I had the good fortune of being invited as one of the alumni. On the last day of the Passing Out Parade, there was a very moving ceremony at the War Memorial. As we stood in silence and the buglers sounded the Last Post, my thoughts went back to all those batchmates who never came back from the war fronts during World War II and also to those young officers who have made the supreme sacrifice for the nation. The Parade was reviewed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He stressed on the importance of Armed Forces and its role in keeping the country safe.
But what was uppermost in the minds of senior retired officers listening to the PM was that more positive steps need to be taken to improve the financial and other service conditions so that our young men don’t hanker for other lucrative careers.
A year before joining the IMA, a strapping Sikh and I were batchmates at the Government College in Lahore. His name was Arjan Singh, who later became Marshal of the Indian Air Force. He won several awards in swimming, while I achieved the same in boxing. When I went to the boxing arena at IMA on this recent visit, I remembered many contests that I had with cadets, who after Partition, went across the border.
One such cadet was Tikka Khan, who later came to be known as the ‘Butcher of East Pakistan’. During my first term at IMA, a Cadet Sergeant once entered my room before an inter-company boxing match. He threatened that he would make my stay at the IMA ‘a living hell’ if I beat his company colleague. I won the match but the Cadet Sergeant was nowhere to be seen near me. And guess who that Cadet Sergeant was: Yahya Khan who became the head of the Pakistan Army and then the President of the country.