As cadets, they were all buddies at the Indian Military Academy. As officers, many of them went on to fight as enemies in rival armies – of India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh. But, 60 years later, the bonds remain.
Three dozen boys in their 80s (yes boys, but more about that later) who met in New Delhi on Wednesday evening will pack themselves into a train compartment and head for IMA Dehradun. They will celebrate the diamond jubilee of a historic occasion – the first batch of IMA cadets getting commissions in the armies of independent countries in 1947.
At the pre-jubilee meeting at the Gymkhana club, these octogenarians were like a batch of cadets still there at the academy. They hugged each other, played pranks and interrupted with cat calls from the back benches when their buddies spoke on the dais.
When Brig Mukhtar Kareem spoke about those from Pakistan who could not make it to the old boys’ meet, Col Don Blewitt inquired about his buddy Altaf Hussain. “He’s gone,” Brig Kareem said and a moment of stoic silence followed. “Altaf was my best friend but I never saw him after he left for Pakistan,” Col Blewitt said. Many from the batch are now dead or too ill to come.
Age had caught up all right, but today was the time to leave it behind. So when Brig A.S. Cheema announced: “Tomorrow we have an entire bogie to ourselves,” his batchmates cheered. Brig Cheema’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing since he’s making the arrangements. “Even my servants are fed up, they just keep calling,” he said.
Brig Kareem recalled how on the night of October 13, 1947, the cadets who had opted for Pakistan – 45 out of a batch of 189 – were asked to move with one kitbag and a rifle. “I thought after partition India and Pakistan would be like US and Canada. We will keep coming. I finally saw my father eight years later, when he came to Pakistan,” he said.