The other day while golfing at the nearby army golf course, a notice put up at the 15th tee caught my fancy, “In case of a bee attack, first-aid kit is available with the starter.” God forbid, if the bees do strike, reaching the starter, a good kilometer away, may be painfully arduous. Having experienced such kooky situations during my wonderful days in the army, I was least bit surprised at this veiled suggestion, ‘Taste their bites and get acclimatised for life or make own arrangements (the latter for the less brave)’.
It was a warm summer afternoon during 1979, when our train reached the deserted rail station at Dehradun. Selected to be future officers of the great Indian Army, without worry and hurry we waited for some one to rush towards us, salute us , pick our luggage, escort us to the car, which would then drive us with fanfare to the Indian Military Academy (IMA). Instead, there was peace and inactivity. We de-boarded and started looking around. Our misplaced optimism was disrupted with a deep scruffy banter, “Hey you dandies! Are you here for a rock concert?” (an obvious reference to our flowing manes). Now don’t stand there like morons… get moving”, and the young captain assigned with the duty of receiving us trooped off.
The railway station seemed bereft of porters, forcing us to lug the huge iron box and an overstuffed bedroll to the waiting army truck, which doubled as a means of transport for the luggage and the newly arrived trainees.
The first stop was the IMA barber shop. Our pleas of having had a hair cut before leaving home went unheard. A subtle message that a crew cut is the beginning and end of life. All else is secondary.
We had heard of an activity called the ‘Mussourie nights’, imagining it an excursion picnic to the beautiful hill station in the vicinity of Dehradun. Well this is how it unfolded. December night chill at Dehradun is not lost on most. A ‘fall in’ in PT (physical training) rig (shorts and vests) was ordered by our seniors. Once at the PT grounds, we were asked to go and take a clothed shower and get back. When back, all were asked to make a 100-metre sprint.
The procedure was repeated half a dozen times till the chill did not matter. Back to our cabins at midnight, I wondered how many of us would report sick next morning. Surprisingly, none did. Like most, I suspect, a feeling of blocked nose and a heavy head did surface, but kept it to themselves for the fear of being labeled a weakling. The ‘endurance boost’ surely made a life time impact. Even now during peak winters, a recollection of Mussourie nights makes us feel warm and snuggy.
I reported at my unit after getting commissioned and was escorted to the senior subaltern (senior most lieutenant in-charge of grooming the newly posted officer). Lieutenant Sidhu, without exchanging unnecessary pleasantries, asked me in his Sainik School dialect, “What do they call you?... Ok doesn’t matter! Do you drink?” “Occasionally sir,” was my genuine response.
I don’t remember thereafter till I was woken up the next morning by my soldier buddy. Supporting blood shot eyes and a breath reeking of alcohol, I was guided to the Adjutant’s (officer incharge of discipline) office, who counseled me, “A way to avoid hangover and drunkenness is to consume butter before drinking. The smooth buttery layer avoids absorption of alcohol thus increasing your apparent capacity to consume more and remain fresh the next morning.”
His words of wisdom keep me in good stead even today, though my wife often wonders why Captain Udawat, the adjutant never gave a simple two word advice, “Stop drinking” instead!