The Autobiography Of A Killer

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Manmohan
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The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 01 May 2019 23:47

Folks, I have been a lurker for a long time, till I came across this story that absolutely had to be shared with you all. I felt the need to start a fresh thread because somehow, it wouldn't fit in with the basic theme of the Military Scenarios thread.
The story is about the training imparted at the National Defence Academy as narrated by the main protagonist who is from the Killer Squadron in the NDA, hence the title.
I hope the mods will indulge this thread.
The story is shared here with explicit permission from the author.



PROLOGUE

‘Go back’.

The words rang in my ears as the Jhelum Express left Gwalior, leaving behind Lieutenant Rajiv, who’d just said these parting words. I was perplexed. Go back? Barely five hours into my journey towards my dream, and someone who had ‘Been There, Done That’ was advising me to turn back! But the train was already moving towards my destination and there wasn’t much that I could do, even if wanted to. Not after all the efforts expended in convincing my parents that giving up on a Bachelors’ Degree in Computer Application from Delhi University in favour of joining the National Defence Academy.

No way!

___________________________________________________________________

The past one week had gone by in a blur, literally. The entire year, in fact. I had cleared my Class 12th Board Examination in March and soon thereafter moved to Mysore for the SSB (Services Selection Board) interview. Got recommended for commissioning into the Air Force but the medicals that followed in Bangalore only declared me fit for Army, due to weak eyesight. The catch was, I’d only written Air Force in my choices when filling up the NDA form. As a result, after getting back home, it was back to the rut – wait for Class 12 results, go about filling up forms for various colleges and ultimately join one. It didn’t matter that in between a letter landed up from the Army Headquarters asking for my willingness to join as an army cadet in the next course in case vacancies were available and that I had gladly signed it and sent it off, without telling anyone.

Over the next few months it was all forgotten as I got busy with life in college and all that came with it, including asking ‘her’ out. That she refused point blank was a mere momentary setback as I saw it. All in all life was going on at a good clip. Until 6th Jan 1998, that is!

That day I returned from college as usual. But the moment I stepped back into my home, I knew it was no longer ‘usual’. Call it a cliché, but you could literally cut the tension with a knife! And I don’t blame my parents for that. A studious kid, doing one of the best courses DU had to offer and preparing for a professional post graduation course suddenly plans to give it all up and join the army. And the best part? They had absolutely no clue! To them, the ‘fad’ of Air Force was done away with for good. And then out of the blue comes a ‘call letter’ from the Army HQ for their son to report to the NDA 10 days later.

The scene is still etched in my mind like it happened yesterday. Siblings not otherwise known for academic pursuits were literally meditating over their school books while parents were .. well .. arguing, with Dad as usual, doing much of the talking in a voice that was a tad bit louder than normal. Loud enough to be heard even before ringing the doorbell, in fact. Dialogue of the millennium, however, was reserved for the moment he saw me – ‘Ae Munda Meri Jaan Nu Bhangra Paayega’. Can’t really translate this from Punjabi to English, or any other language for that matter. But loosely .. very loosely .. it can be explained as ‘This Boy Will Dance Over My Life Plans’, or something like that.

This was just the beginning of a long monologue directed at me. Too bad I missed most of it as I dove for cover against any projectiles that might soon come hurtling towards me. But thankfully they didn’t. Six months into college, I was still to come to terms with the fact that my old man now considered me grown up enough to let go of the ‘flying projectiles’ option when venting his anger!

But angry he was, no doubt. The insurgency in Kashmir was at its peak, as were the casualties being suffered by the Indian Army. And here was his son, working quietly behind his back to join the army. This, when there was practically no one in the entire clan who’d ever donned any uniform of any kind. To him, a BCA (Bachelors in Computer Application) degree, followed by an MBA was the path I was supposed to take in my life.

To cut a long story short, by the time the day was over, I’d managed to convince him that joining the NDA was not a bad idea. I suspect what actually clinched the argument was that of his three kids, atleast one would be settled in life, leaving one less liability for a salaried govt employee like him. Oh, by the way, my siblings, in the middle of all this drama, had managed to complete next two months’ worth of school syllabus because they didn’t dare move a muscle, lest they get caught up in the torrent directed towards their elder brother!

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 01 May 2019 23:49

The task of convincing parents accomplished, focus now turned towards preparing for the move. Time was short. The younger brother was rewarded for the extra hours of study by being excused from school the next day and being sent to book a train ticket for his elder brother. On that note, thank God for the internet revolution and the IRCTC today! That day in 1998, however, he had to stand in line for nearly four hours to get the ticket. But I have no doubt that he was happy to do so, just so that he could finally get to ‘take care’ of his elder brother’s bike hereafter. Let’s not go there for the time being, however!

Next on the agenda was the shopping. And quite a list it was, that had come along with the call letter. Trousers, shirts, bedding, sports equipment, shoes, even the number of handkerchiefs and undergarments was specified. As was the size of the black painted metal box in which to get it all to the Academy. What followed was a hectic seven days of spending my middle class father’s hard earned money by day and bidding farewells to the entire extended Punjabi family at night, one relative at a time, or in groups.

In between, I managed to sneak one afternoon to take ‘her’ out for a coffee. She seemed genuinely happy upon hearing the news, though it was difficult to gauge whether it was because she was impressed, or simply glad that I was leaving. I chose to hang on to hope, though. A quiet coffee in the afternoon followed by a promise to write letters and we parted ways. For the time being.

Time simply flew by and soon Dad and I were headed for the New Delhi Railway Station on 14 Jan 1998. Tearful / cheerful farewells had been said to all concerned. Addresses and phone numbers had been duly noted down. And most importantly, my Dad was lighter by about 35 thousand bucks .. more than an entire month’s salary.

It finally sunk in as we pulled into the car park. There was no coming back now.

Yet Dad said one last time – ‘Abhi bhi bolega toh wapas le chalta hoon tere ko’. (If you say, I will take you back home even now)

Nope, I had said, I want this.

30 minutes later, the train pulled out of the station. My father’s parting words as I set about on a journey towards my future were typical of his practical approach to life. He advised, ‘Kal subah train Manmad mein rukegi. Station par Sambhar-Dosa achha milta hai. Breakfast kar lena’. (Translation: The train will halt at Manmad tomorrow morning. Sambhar-Dosa at the station is really good. Have that for breakfast). Little did I know that this would become my staple fare at Manmad during all my Delhi-Pune round trips over the next three years, regardless of the time / train I took!

Anyhow, for the time being, I was finally alone and free to contemplate on this decision of mine that had brought me to this moment. One thing was very clear, whatever shape this endeavour of mine took, the responsibility for it would solely be mine. Here I was, leaving my home against practically everyone’s advice not to do so. I had been adamant. And I had had my way. But now that I was finally alone with my thoughts, the enormity of this decision was finally dawning on me along with the doubts that accompanied, uninvited. I knew it was going to be a long train journey indeed.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby ramana » 01 May 2019 23:49

Sure go ahead.
ramana

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 02 May 2019 08:15

ramana wrote:Sure go ahead.
ramana


Thanks a lot Ramana Ji.
Will post updates over the weekends.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby nandakumar » 02 May 2019 12:50

I am looking forward to reading further updates. I know of two cases of NDA recruits. Both solid Tambrahms. One successfully completed the course, graduated, commanded Rashtriya Rifles Regiment in Kashmir valley and retired as a full colonel. The other from a relatively lower middle class background. Couldn't take the punishing rigour of the Course and got out after one year of training.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 04 May 2019 08:38

‘Are you in the Army’?

These words suddenly jolted me out of my thoughts as the train left Faridabad. I looked ahead to find a young guy occupying the vacant seat ahead of me. I stared blankly at him, not knowing what to say. Less than an hour into the train journey towards joining the NDA and I already looked like I was in the army! Not bad. Not bad at all! I could feel the uninvited doubts beginning to melt away. I could do this, I told myself. Next four years would just breeze past soon enough.

And then he brought me back to reality. I guess he saw my rapidly changing expressions and decided to move the conversation ahead.

‘I saw your box and thought you might be in the army’

Ah, so it was the box that looked like it belonged to an army guy .. well that burst the little bubble a bit too soon. And the doubts couldn’t have come running back any faster.

Damn you box!

Unimpressed with my retarded looks, the fellow made another attempt at starting a conversation. ‘I’m Lieutenant Rajiv’, he said, extending a hand. I finally got out of my reverie and took his extended hand. I introduced myself and told him I was on my way to report to the NDA. The moment he heard it, a smile came across his face. A smile that was difficult to explain at that time.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 04 May 2019 19:07

Next few hours till Gwalior were spent in Lt Rajiv sharing his experiences of life as a trainee and later, a commissioned officer. All very interesting stuff, especially for someone like me who had no knowledge whatsoever about what the Indian Army actually was. All that I had for reference was the occasional war movie that the Bollywood would come out with every once in a while, the latest being ‘Border’. Talking with him quickly quelled most notions I had of what the army was. It was a quick five hours and before I knew it, the train was in Gwalior. I was taken by surprise. I never knew Gwalior was so close to Delhi! And that was only the beginning of the geography lessons that were headed my way over the coming years.

But then, at the time of leaving why did he say, ‘I’ll give you one sincere advice, ‘Go Back’’?

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 05 May 2019 09:22

With too many thoughts wracking my mind, I decided the best thing to do would be to take a quick nap. And it turned out to be the one decision in past week or so that I was genuinely proud of!

Woke up refreshed just as the train pulled into Jhansi for a 10 minute halt.
Hmmm Jhansi .., I thought. The station looked quite big as I gazed out of the window, with no intention of exploring it any more than that. Suddenly I saw a face that looked familiar, apparently searching for someone by trying to defy laws of physics which prevent someone from outside from seeing what is inside an AC compartment, by pressing his nose to the window. He looked a bit like my cousin Varun.

Damn. Varun!

In the midst of my ‘musings’ and then the nap, I’d all but forgotten about him. He was supposed to be bringing me my dinner at the station. Poor guy, had been searching for me frantically as the time for the train to depart neared. It was sheer good luck for him that I woke up just in time and to add to it, saw him searching for me!

I was out of the compartment in a flash. The young guy, preparing for his Class X Board Examination seemed mighty impressed that his cousin was enroute to the NDA.

If only he knew the crazy doubts running haywire in my head!

Thankfully though, the appearance of Varun and my uncle and aunt at the railway station took me away from those doubts for a while. Within the five minutes or so that we had before the train moved on, a lot was accomplished. Feet touched, blessings (and dinner) obtained, listened to glowing compliments at I making a good career choice and exchanged some family gossip. They’d even brought me some prashad from a nearby Gurudwara Saheb.

This little ritual at the Jhansi Railway Station too would become an inescapable, though welcome routine every time I would travel between Pune and Delhi.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 06 May 2019 07:13

Moving on after Jhansi, I remembered that I’d forgotten to have lunch in the middle of all the talking with Lt Rajiv and the siesta that followed. I was suddenly hungry now! Itching to open the dinner packet and atleast see what it contained, I tried desperately to hold myself till it was atleast a bit close to dinner time. But it wasn’t dinner time yet!

Somehow I managed to hold myself together till about 7 pm before digging into the home-made chicken curry and rotis and once again, fell asleep soon thereafter. The fatigue of the last week or so had really caught up with me.

Next morning, I had the dosas at Manmad for breakfast, just as advised. My old man had been absolutely right. They were delicious!

The long, lonely journey continued apace before the train finally pulled into the Pune Railway Station late afternoon on 15th January 1998. I realized that there was still enough money in my pocket to purchase a return ticket and head back homewards in the same train two hours later. But these thoughts were quickly brushed away.

There was no going back. Period.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby UlanBatori » 06 May 2019 07:53

Nice. Brings back memories of heading out into the wild Badlands of Ulan Bator with the Bredators hovering. I don't think return was an option. :eek:

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Aarvee » 06 May 2019 10:11

Manmohan wrote:Moving on after Jhansi, I remembered that I’d forgotten to have lunch in the middle of all the talking with Lt Rajiv and the siesta that followed. ................


Writing is pretty good. Is the story already written or is it being written? If already written, can longer passages be posted in greater frequency please?

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Mukesh.Kumar » 06 May 2019 10:49

It's very well written. Captivating.

Maybe you could post in slightly larger segments, maybe once a day or once in a couple of days.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 07 May 2019 07:32

Thank you for the feedback, Sirs!
The book is nearing completion but all that I have right now is the first two chapters and that too in a print copy. So I am having to type it all over again. Hence the posts restricted to weekends and the lengths of the posts.
Will try and post longer portions of the story starting this weekend

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Aarvee » 07 May 2019 07:54

Manmohan wrote:So I am having to type it all over again. Hence the posts restricted to weekends and the lengths of the posts.


:shock: :shock: Really appreciate your effort, please, take your time. Cant wait for the book to come out.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby UlanBatori » 07 May 2019 08:19

Seems like a while to go before The Killer starts Killing. I am here mainly to read about the Sambar-Dosa. The "Hot Parts".

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Rahul M » 07 May 2019 19:26

Manmohan wrote:Thank you for the feedback, Sirs!
The book is nearing completion but all that I have right now is the first two chapters and that too in a print copy. So I am having to type it all over again. Hence the posts restricted to weekends and the lengths of the posts.
Will try and post longer portions of the story starting this weekend

please scan/take a photo and OCR the image to get the text. Much faster and easier than typing by hand.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 12 May 2019 10:16

CHAPTER I


Home Sweet Home?



I had finally reached my new ‘hometown’ and what would soon be my new family. First step towards that direction was getting the damn box out of the compartment and thereafter look for the NDA reception at the station as was mentioned in the very detailed joining instructions. I had hardly any idea what the said ‘reception’ would look like or where to find it, but the coolie carrying the box did, and took me straight over there.

The reception was quite a functional setup. I guess it had been scaled down a bit since bulk of the guys had already reported nearly two weeks ago. As of right now it was a desk and a chair close to the entrance of the station, with a uniformed guy sitting there. A signboard saying ‘NDA Reception’ was placed right next to it.

I went ahead to the guy sitting over there. Just as I was about to open my mouth, I realized I didn’t know how to address him – do I call him Uncle (he did look the age), or is Sir a safer bet?

Before I could open my mouth, the coolie took it upon himself to introduce me. ‘Ye naye aaye hain Saab’ (Sir, he has just arrived), he told the uniformed uncle.

Hmmm ..‘Saab’ .. I could get used to this word!

And once again I was very quickly brought back to mother earth.

‘IDHAR AAO CADET’ (Come here, cadet), a voice boomed. Startled out of my reverie, I searched around to identify the source. Apparently, it came from the sleepy uncle in uniform. What made me somewhat sure was the fact that he was no longer sleepy, but looking at me with eager eyes. And at the same time, there were dozens of eyes on him, mostly from people who were just as startled to hear the loud request.

Or was it an order?

By the time my mind processed all these thoughts, somehow my legs had carried me towards the said gentleman.

Damn .. I still didn’t know how to address him!


‘NAAM KYA HAI AAPKA?’ (What’s your name), the voice boomed again. Now it was confirmed, it was the same uniformed uncle who owned this voice. But did he not have any concept of toning it down a bit? From 10 feet, the distance between his vocal cords and my ears had now reduced to a mere 3 feet, yet his vocal cords refused to acknowledge this proximity.

‘Manmohan .. Sir’, I suddenly heard myself squeak. Anyhow, atleast my sub-conscious mind had clarified the conflict between Uncle and Sir!

‘CADET MANMOHAN, SAAB’, the voice boomed again. ‘AAPKA AAJ SE YE INTRODUCTION HOGA’. (Cadet Manmohan, Saab. From today this will be your introduction)

There was that word again .. Saab .. Not bad!

My voice squeaked again, ‘Cadet Manmohan’. As I heard myself again, I made a mental note to put some more force into the sound that came out of my vocal cords.

‘CADET MANMOHAN, SAAB’, the uniformed uncle thundered again. ‘AAJ SE AAP APNE SABHI INSTRUCTORS KO SAAB KEHKE BULAYENGE. CLEAR HAI?’
(Cadet Manmohan, Saab. Today onwards you will address all your instructors as ‘Saab’. Is it clear?)

NOW it struck me. The ‘Saab’ was for him and not me!

Talk about bursting petty little ego bubbles. And this was just the beginning!

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 18 May 2019 21:18

Suddenly I realized that the uncle must be waiting for an answer. Focussed back on him and yes, there he was, clearly expecting a correct reply.

Cadet Manmohan, Saab’, I squeaked, a bit louder this time.

This reply seemed to satisfy him and he broke into a half smile, perhaps satisfied that he had imparted the first military lesson to yet another soul. Satisfied that I’d learned the first lesson, he introduced himself. He was Subedar Kripal Singh Rawat, from 9th Battalion The Kumaon Regiment, a drill instructor in the Academy.

Now came the formalities. Call letter was demanded and produced. The box and other small pieces of baggage were deposited into a waiting truck while he jotted down something in the papers lying on the table.

Soon he and I both were done with our respective tasks. I looked at him expectantly and he told me that we would move after waiting for the Goa Express to come in at 4:30pm. There was about an hour to kill. I took permission and went across the road to the nearest phone booth to call up home so that I could let them know I had reached safe and sound.

The phone call went by in a blur of mixed emotions that cannot really be described. It was my first contact with my parents from my new home. I can’t say for sure whether they too saw it that way. Especially with my Dad, I could never be sure. He is exceptionally ‘gifted’ when it comes to conversations with me. This day too it was more an interrogation than a conversation!

It went something like this:-

He: Did you have the Dosas at Manmad? (Yes, this was the opening question!)

I: Yes

He: Where are you now?

I: Reached.

He: Koi aaya tere ko lene ke liye? (Did anyone come to pick you up?)

He too had no idea about how military receptions worked

I: Haan, will be leaving shortly.

He: Ok, tera bill badh raha hoga. Phone rakh de ab. Call me once you reach the Academy. (Your bill must be increasing. Disconnect now. Call me once you reach the Academy)

I: Ok Dad.

The next call home would happen 11 days later.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 19 May 2019 08:58

For the time being however, I was blissfully unaware of this as I walked back towards the reception and the uniformed uncle. Wait, Kripal Singh Saab was what he had told me to address him as. No more ‘uncle’ business. Glad I hadn’t actually called him uncle!

Soon after Dad disconnected, I had dialled ‘her’ number as well. I knew she would be in college at this hour, but hoping against hope, decided to take a chance. Nope. She wasn’t home, her mother replied. Hearing ‘her’ voice too would have to wait for some time. Even though I knew ‘she’ wouldn’t be there, yet I was sad I wasn’t able to speak to ‘her’.

HO GAYI BAAT? (Spoken home?)

Damn, it would take a while to get used to this booming voice. Even for someone like me who came from a loud Punjabi family.

Ji Saab, I replied.

A moment of silence followed as he probably realized my mental state. I was down in the dumps. Home as I knew it, was more than 1,500km away. And I still had no clue what the new ‘home’ looked like. To pile on it all, the much needed balm of hearing ‘her’ voice again too had eluded me.

BAITHO (Sit)

Compliance on my part was instantaneous, partly because of the loud authoritative voice, and partly because my back was killing me. Yes, this realization suddenly dawned on me the moment my backside made contact with the plastic chair.

Kripal Singh Saab had given me the stare of death when I started searching for a coolie to put my box in the truck. No words were exchanged. I had automatically ‘volunteered’ to help the lone orderly manhandle my box into the truck.

Aap Kahan Ke Rehne Wale Hain, Cadet? (Where do you belong to, Cadet?)

Did I just detect a tinge of softness in the voice?

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 25 May 2019 18:37

Delhi se, Saab.’ The ‘Saab’ came more naturally this time

What followed was about half an hour of conversation before Subedar Kripal Singh and I would officially become instructor and instructed later in the day. Apparently, his own son too had just appeared for the UPSC entrance exam for the next NDA course.

Aapne numerology ke baare mein suna hai? (Have you heard about numerology?)

I knew a bit about numerology. Ok, so my knowledge was limited to the fact that I had heard of the term. But that was the exact answer I suspect he was hoping for.

I had merely said yes when he launched into his own numerological analysis about the prospects of his son clearing the exam. He worked and re-worked some numbers on a sheet of paper and came up with a 70% chance of success for him.
Conversation then veered on to my family background. He seemed genuinely surprised to learn that no one from my family had been in uniform. His eyes grew even wider when I told him about my marks in Class XII Board Examination and the BCA Course in Delhi University which I left to be here.

I in turn asked him about life in uniform in general and life as a cadet in particular. All he did was smile and say, ‘You will soon find out’.

Of course I would .. and how!

Soon the Goa Express too arrived. We waited for exactly half an hour before concluding that no one in the just arrived passengers was headed to the NDA. It was time to wind up the reception and head towards Khadakwasla on the outskirts of Pune, where the National Defence Academy stood.

Within 10 minutes of Kripal Singh Saab deciding to move, we were on our way – tables, chairs, papers – everything travelling back in the truck and a grand total of four souls in a huge army bus.

Oh, by the way, Kripal Singh Saab’s son didn’t make it to NDA at all. But he did land up as a junior when I reached the Indian Military Academy three years later. I guess he had been right with his numerology somewhat, just off by a few years, though!

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 25 May 2019 23:31

Pune city traffic was at its peak at this hour. It took us the better part of an hour to clear the city. Soon, however, we were on the NDA Road – a long, winding road flanked by small hillocks and very little traffic. It was about as far from the chaotic Delhi traffic as one could get.

Soon there was a sign to the left of the road – ‘First View of NDA Coming Up’.

Excitement!

I started looking left and right as the bus climbed up a gentle slope. Soon it was going downhill. Kripal Singh Saab asked, ‘Cadet, aapne dekha NDA ka first view?’ (Cadet, did you see the first view of NDA?)

I once again gave a dope-ish look. His reply was in the form of an unamused grunt. Nothing more than that was owed to me. Back in the hallowed precincts of the Academy, his persona had undergone a not so subtle change. Defying all laws of nature, his back had become even more ramrod straight! There also was a small tinge of arrogance in the way he surveyed the surroundings. Arrogance that comes naturally to one who is supremely confident of his professional competence, and apparently, he was amongst the best that the army had to offer in terms of Drill Instructors.

Soon the bus reached the entry gate of NDA. Pashan Gate, it was called, since the road out of it led to Pashan Village. Some decades ago it would have been the first sign of habitation outside of the NDA but alas, since then Pune had grown and engulfed the small village, very nearly reaching the Pashan Gate itself.

Necessary formalities at the gate were soon completed, ‘JAI HIND SAABs’ exchanged and the bus entered the Academy. Apart from the No 2 Air Force Selection Board at Mysore and subsequent medical check-up at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Bangalore, I didn’t know what the inside of a military establishment looked like. So I eagerly waited to see what this one would be like.

And the National Defence Academy didn’t disappoint!

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby UlanBatori » 27 May 2019 23:44

Wow! When do we get to the part where he learns to fire a 0.303, and hits the embankment cement wall 2 inches in front of the barrel?

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 02 Jun 2019 11:02

The moment the bus entered from the gate, it was a different world altogether. It was nearly dark by this time and most activities were winding up. Yet, not even the creeping darkness could hide the beauty of the place. The smooth roads and the ordered surroundings were a sight to behold. And the cleanliness. For someone like me, having his roots in Old Delhi, this place seemed a bit excessively clean!

Then there was the occasional tank / aircraft / ship on display by the roadside. Lots of them, in fact. Soon we were by a roundabout that doubled up as a marketplace – the very aptly named Gole Market. My eyes were yet to adjust to this orderly marketplace when the bus exited the roundabout onto the Trishul Marg.

It was a beautiful tree lined road that could put even the diplomatic enclave in New Delhi to shame. On both sides were what I presumed to be cadets’ living quarters in form of imposing double storeyed buildings.

Ah, Cadets!

The first thought that crossed my mind when I saw a few was that they would soon be my colleagues. But they seemed to be in an insane rush, running for their lives literally, mostly in groups of four.

And they looked famished. All of them. At 60kg, I too was a thin guy, atleast by my Punjabi family’s standards. But these guys would have sent my folks into shock!

Seeing those malnourished bodies running about made me wonder about the standards of food being given to them. Even as these thoughts coursed through my mind, I subconsciously patted the bag carrying the pure desi ghee panjeeri that my Mom had packed for me.
This chain of thoughts about food and nourishment was suddenly interrupted when the bus turned right and halted next to a beautiful lawn. I turned my head left and saw the Cadets’ Mess.

More questions in my mind. Cadets’ Mess .. what exactly did that mean? What sort of mess did the cadets make here?

CADET, MOVE OUT. The voice boomed again, as Kripal Singh Saab got down from the bus.

I quickly followed suit, with a sense of anticipation mixed with trepidation.

I was finally here.

NDA MEIN AAPKA SWAGAT HAI, CADET MANMOHAN (Welcome to NDA, Cadet Manmohan), Kripal Singh Saab shouted .. err .. said, and pointed towards another reception desk next to the entrance of the building, implying that I was to go there. With that came a handshake. Atleast I think that was what it was supposed to be, instead of an attempt at crushing the very bones of my hand that it actually felt like!

Soon he was gone and I climbed up the stairs towards the reception, this time manned by two cadets, just as famished as all others I had seen. But there was one noticeable difference – they might all look the same from a distance with their cropped hair, starving bodies and similar uniforms, but when you got closer, you could actually differentiate between individuals!

Hurry up, Khalsa.

Another voice suddenly hit my ears. It was loud, but not Kripal Singh Saab loud.

Nothing could be that loud.

As I neared them, I smiled in greeting.

In return, they frowned.

Hi Guys, I said as soon as I reached them.

The frowns vanished and smiles appeared in lieu. Yes, things were looking up. It was a friendly place after all.

But the smiles kept on growing and growing until both of them very nearly teared up trying to control their laughter. Hi Guys, they kept repeating and laughing even louder.

And I was back to reality.

Good Evening Sirs, is how you greet seniors, Khalsa. This is the National Defence Academy, NOT your ****** college. Got that?

I nodded in embarrassed acknowledgement. And in order to avoid further embarrassment, I (correctly) assumed the moniker ‘Khalsa’ to be the default method of addressing Sikh cadets. And that explained the frowns on their faces. They had been telling me to hurry up, instead of trudging up the steps at my own slow pace.

Once again, the call letter was asked for and produced.

Now came another round of laughter.

Oye, tu ek din pehle aa gaya! (You’ve reported one day early!)

Yes, Sir, I replied. I thought about telling them the importance of being punctual and early for important appointments that my Dad always harped upon because of which he ensured I reach Pune one day earlier than what was mentioned in the call letter.

I thought that by coming one day early, I will get some time to rest and prepare for the training.

This time the laughter was even louder.

Yes, good idea. You can rest for one day .. Hahahaha

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 09 Jun 2019 11:00

They finally managed to gather themselves and one of them suggested that they call someone called Adju (short for Adjutant, as I learnt later). The phone call was short and crisp. I could hear only one side of it, though.

Good Evening Sir, this is Cpl (Short for Corporal) Mohit Sharma. One new cadet has just reported, Sir.

Yes Sir, Jhelum Express.

Cadet Manmohan Singh, Sir.

Yes Sir.
Roger Sir.

Good Evening Sir.


And the phone call was over. Cpl Mohit turned towards me and said, Khalsa, you are a Killer from now on. Welcome to the Academy.

Everything else got filtered out of my head except that one word – Killer.

Killer, Sir? I asked.

Pat came the reply, Yes, Killer. You have been assigned the Kilo Sqn (Short for Squadron). You are a Killer from now on.

I continued looking at him, aghast. Why was I being told that I am a Killer? What was Kilo Sqn? Was it some elite force that specialized in killing bad guys? How could they be sure I could be up to the job when I have spent barely 10 minutes in the Academy? At the same moment I remembered there were psychological tests too as part of the selection process in the SSB interview. Maybe the psychiatrist had determined that I would be fit as a killer in the army?

It was the turn of Cpl Amit to bring me back to reality this time.

You clown, do you understand what Cpl Sharma just told you?

Did he just address me as a clown?

I gave him a blank look.

Joker, there are 15 sqns in the Academy, named from ‘A’ to ‘O’, or Alfa to Oscar, where cadets stay. You have been assigned the ‘K’ Sqn, or the Kilo Sqn. Cadets of Kilo Sqn are called Killers. THAT is what you are. Don’t start getting funny ideas of becoming a John Rambo just yet.

Ah, that explains it,
I thought, even as I pictured myself as a turbaned and bespectacled John Rambo!

Another phone call had been made as I dreamed on.

Ya, Kilo? This is Cpl Mohit Sharma from the Reception. Get me your Duty Cpl.

Hello, kaun, Pathania? Oye, naya Killer aaya hai ek. Aake le ja usko yahan se
(Who, Pathania? A new Killer has come. Come and get him from here)

Khalsa hai. Manmohan

Ok, come quick. We also have to pack up after this.

Message passed, they both started packing up the stuff in the reception. This took them all of two minutes. Now started another question and answer session as they waited for Cpl Pathania to arrive. It was mostly the usual questions about me, my family and such likes till the time Cpl Amit asked, What is the English translation of Josh?

Josh? The answer was simple.

Excitement, I answered.

Cpl Amit glared back in return.

Excitement, Sir, I quickly corrected myself.

But that would be Utsah, no?, came the reply.

He was correct. Josh couldn’t be translated as excitement.

Determination, Sir?, this time my reply was a bit tentative.

No, that would be Drihrta (द्रृढ़ता).

Thus commenced a game of I looking for a translation and he proving me wrong. At the end of it, I simply gave up.

It was then that Cpl Amit gave me one of my first lessons in the Academy.

Josh cannot be translated to English. It is something that can only be felt within you, but not explained. You will hear a lot of English in the Academy and subsequently the Army, but the one Hindi word that will figure in all such conversations / orders / instructions, unchanged, is Josh. And you will hear and say it a lot. Always remember that.

Here was a 19 year old, giving a profound life lesson to an 18 year old. But that is how you grew in the Academy.

Soon we saw someone in a trouser, shirt and tie running along the Trishul Marg towards us.

Aa Gaya Pathania, (Pathania is here) Cpl Mohit remarked.

Cpl Pathania was yet another famished guy. He quickly offered his hand for a firm handshake and welcomed me to Kilo Sqn. And then his first words threw me off balance.

Welcome Khalsa. Hurry up now and pick up your box, suitcase and bag so that we can get you to the sqn.

Pick up the box? And the suitcase and the bag too? That mental image of me as a turbaned and bespectacled John Rambo came back to my mind for a fleeting moment. But I saw Mr Rambo look at me, then my luggage, shake his head side to side and walk away.

No Sir, you are in this alone, Rambo said!

Well, if John Rambo couldn’t do it, neither could I. Unsure, I squeaked, But Sir ..

And they all burst into laughter once again. This time I joined them, though not as raucously. Soon a couple of orderlies materialized and picked up my box. With my bag over my shoulders and the suitcase happily wheeling behind, Cpl Pathania and I started walking towards Kilo Sqn.

More banter followed in the short walk towards the sqn. But one question that stood out was ‘Have you got anything to eat?’

This was new. No one had ever asked me this. Not even the beggars on the streets of New Delhi. They preferred hard cash instead!

Yes Sir

Good, what is it?

Sir, Panjeeri

Wow! Achha listen, in case anyone asks if you are carrying anything to eat, just tell them that you are not. Got that?


This puzzled me. But I decided not to push it and simply replied in affirmative.

Woh Dekh, Kilo Sqn aa gaya (Look there, it is the Kilo Sqn)

I was now a Killer.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby dnivas » 10 Jun 2019 01:20

keep it going sir. this is great

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 15 Jun 2019 17:50

dnivas wrote:keep it going sir. this is great


Thanks.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 15 Jun 2019 17:58

CHAPTER II

Kill ‘em Kut ‘em But Kneel Knot


Welcome to Kilo, Khalsa, said Cpl Pathania as we climbed up the three stairs into the sqn building.

The first sight of the interiors was as stunning as it can get. The main gate led into the Ground Floor Central Lobby (GFCL, in short). It was approximately 20 feet by 20 feet in dimensions. On the walls to one’s left and right were notice boards. Across the GFCL was a corridor going left to right and a flight of stairs right in the middle, going to the upper two floors. And there was a bronze skull of a tiger on the edge of the guard-rail that went up with the stairs.

To the right of the staircase were another two small steps, another 8 feet by 8 feet lobby and a small door leading outwards. It was locked for the time being. As I walked to the far end of the GFCL, I realized that on both sides of the corridor were cabins occupied by fellow Killers, senior and junior.

But the one thing that totally overpowered my visual senses was the cleanliness. If the Academy looked excessively clean from within the bus, the scenes inside the sqn were simply incomprehensible to someone like me (with roots in Old Delhi, remember?). THE TILES ON THE FLOOR WERE LITERALLY SHINING!

Not a speck of dust could be seen anywhere and not one thing seemed out of place. Heck, even the black wooden stairs seemed to have been polished just a few minutes ago, as if in anticipation of my arrival.

The maids out here must be exceptionally gifted, I thought.

The sqn was all lit up. Any and every lighting fixture I saw, was switched on. And then there was the absolute pin drop silence. Not a single sound. It was difficult to believe there were nearly 150 souls inside the building.

As if he could read my mind, Cpl Pathania whispered, Study period is on. Stay quiet.

Ah .. Study Period .. So that explained the silence.

Wait a minute.

STUDY PERIOD?

They make you study too in the Army?

The poor civilian mind of mine couldn’t comprehend the concept that to become an armyman you needed to study. I had never seen John Rambo with a book in his hand. Ever!

Neither did Sunny Deol spend his free time reading books in the movie Border. Heck, he didn’t even get a letter in the song ‘Sandese Aate Hain’!

And here these folks were studying?

So many questions came rushing into my head. Here I was, having literally sold my books to the scrap dealer before leaving home and using the money to fund that coffee date with ‘her’. And I was expected to start studying again?

Mr Rambo again came back into my head, laughing hysterically. This time he was also joined by Sunny Deol!

Cpl Pathania took me straight to the CSM (Cadet Sergeant Major) whose cabin was right next to the staircase. ‘This is the new guy, Sir’

CSM Nishant Ohri was suddenly jolted from his chair upon hearing Cpl Pathania’s voice.

Patty, how many times have I told you not to wake me up during study period?

Cpl Pathania just grinned in reply.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Rudradev » 18 Jun 2019 10:20

Great storytelling. Keeps up a riveting pace, with a very relatable main character. And the experiences you narrate seem genuinely authentic... just enough details to make everything feel real without drowning the reader in words.

I am eager to find out why all the cadets are famished-looking. Was the mess food really that bad?

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Dileep » 18 Jun 2019 14:22

Great going Manmohan.

I got a few suggestions on the writing conventions about technical/domain stuff. I got reminded by reading this:

Good Evening Sir, this is Cpl (Short for Corporal) Mohit Sharma


Obviously, no one can SAY Cpl. You WRITE Cpl . I don't know how exactly it is SAID. Maybe the full "KaarParal". Maybe just "Korpal". Whichever, it is better to phonetically write what is being said when you quote someone verbatim. I know that airforce guys call themselves "Groupie" "WingCo" etc. So an example would be
"Can I get Groupie Vijay on line please". Wg Cmdr Eldho said calmly into the receiver.

The first sentence is a quote, which writes as spoken. The second sentence is narration, which is written as it should be.

Also, the explanation given in brackets isn't necessary there. Maybe it can be added in narration subtly.

When you actually say the letters of an abbreviation (like LED or BRF), there are two ways. If the abbreviation is well known to the audience, write the abbreviation in caps (LED). If it is not, write it phonetically (BeeYaarEff).

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby williams » 18 Jun 2019 22:51

Don't miss to describe the world's best breakfast those famished-looking guys will eat the next day. :wink:

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Rudradev » 19 Jun 2019 03:02

In addition to Dileep's points, I would add the minor nitpick that it's best to be consistent with formatting style. For example, sometimes you have everything in italics, sometimes spoken dialogue in italics, and sometimes "inner thoughts/monologue" in italics. This is fine for a first draft, and for me at least it doesn't distract from the story. But if you're submitting the draft for consideration by a publisher, I would make sure you copy-edit to follow formatting conventions (e.g. put all spoken dialogue in double quotes "" and use paragraph breaks to separate it from other dialogue).

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby UlanBatori » 19 Jun 2019 15:57

Anyone been killed yet?

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby ramana » 20 Jun 2019 01:25

You are getting Twitter readers too.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 22 Jun 2019 21:55

Thanks for the endorsement, gentlemen. The same has been duly conveyed to the author!

@Rudradev Ji, the famished structure of the cadets is hardly attributable to the food. There are other reasons for that! The formatting, esp the italics part, is exactly for what you guessed.

@Dileep Ji, duly noted. The explanations in brackets are meant to translate the dialogues for those who aren't as well versed in hindi.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 22 Jun 2019 22:09

What is your name, Khalsa?, CSM asked, his voice echoing throughout the silent corridor, in a somewhat irritated tone peculiar to someone who’s been rudely woken up from a sound sleep.

He had no regard for others who were studying, or snoozing for that matter!

By this time I was at my wits’ end after a very long and tiring day and could barely manage an inaudible Cadet Manmohan, Sir

He kept staring at me till I figured out the correct answer.

Cadet Manmohan Singh, Sir, I spoke a bit louder this time.

A half smile appeared on his face and a microsecond later, he introduced himself.

What is my name, Khalsa?

I was about to smile back in return when I suddenly stopped and forced myself to mentally rewind his words and listen to them again.

Confusion.

Isn’t he supposed to tell me his name instead?

There seemed something wrong with his question. I mentally rewound the conversation to go over it again.

What is my name, he had asked.

I went over it again

What is HIS name??

Was he not supposed to be TELLING me his name during introduction?


I was instantly out of my ‘tired’ mode, and back to the ‘confused’ mode!

Wake up, Khalsa, I heard the CSM’s voice again, bringing me back from my reverie.

Hearing this commotion, another senior decided to leave his books, or maybe he too woke up from his snooze (the correct word for it was ‘meditation’, as I later found out) and sauntered across the lobby.

SCC (Sqn Cadet Captain), Cpl Pathania whispered into my ear.

Why the hell was everyone being referred to with three letter acronyms out here?

Oye SCC, this ikkie (slang for first termer) doesn’t know my name!, rang the voice of the CSM.

The SCC turned towards me and offered his hand. Even as I shook his hand I braced for another question from out of this world. Instead came an introduction.

Welcome to the NDA, Killer. I am SCC Kotwal, he said in an elder brotherly voice.

Cadet Manmohan, Sir, I introduced myself even as I wondered whether he was a local policeman assigned to the sqn! He surely looked the part with the Khaki uniform he was wearing. I suddenly realized even the CSM was wearing Khaki. A quick glance at the SCC’s name tab revealed that Kotwal was actually his surname, not a police rank.

That gave me an idea. I quickly turned towards the CSM and tried reading his name tab as well.

Smart Khalsa, he remarked, the moment he observed what I was up to.

CSM Nishant Ohri, Sir, I smiled back in reply.

Hmmm, he grunted and turned towards Cpl Pathania.

Apparently, I was not worth any more of his time.

Take him to DCC Raveesh was his next order.

One more three letter acronym, I thought in the meantime.

Off we went to DCC Raveesh’s cabin which was on one end of the corridor. As we walked past the many cabins enroute, I managed to look left and right into the cabins where some cadets were studying, while others ‘meditated’.

How in the world could a guy’s room be so clean and so organized?

My respects for the maids who would clean up and tidy up these rooms to these standards automatically went up by a few more notches.

DCC (short for Divisional Cadet Captain) Raveesh was a short and stocky guy from Hyderabad who was in-charge of first termers. One look at me and his first words was ‘@#$%@ one more’, or something like that!

One more first termer meant more work for him. Initial documentation would have to wait for a while since the day was nearly over. The first task was to find a place for me to billet for the night.

Let him share a cabin with Daljeet Singh for tonight. And make sure he is in time for dinner

One word from this conversation lingered on inside my head – DINNER.

Come, Khalsa, Cpl Pathania said and we take staircase onto a flank of the building to go up to the first floor. Here too the floor was literally shining as we walked towards the other end of the corridor, my sneakers making the typical ‘chrrrr chrrrr’ sound despite my best efforts to prevent that.

That sound also meant that every head was turned towards me. Well, almost every head. Many were simply too deep in ‘meditation’ to care!

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 29 Jun 2019 22:36

How in the world could a guy’s room be so clean and so organized?

My respects for the maids who would clean up and tidy up these rooms to these standards automatically went up by a few more notches.

DCC (short for Divisional Cadet Captain) Raveesh was a short and stocky guy from Hyderabad who was in-charge of first termers. One look at me and his first words was ‘@#$%@ one more’, or something like that!

One more first termer meant more work for him. Initial documentation would have to wait for a while since the day was nearly over. The first task was to find a place for me to billet for the night.

Let him share a cabin with Daljeet Singh for tonight. And make sure he is in time for dinner

One word from this conversation lingered on inside my head – DINNER.

Come, Khalsa, Cpl Pathania said and we take staircase onto a flank of the building to go up to the first floor. Here too the floor was literally shining as we walked towards the other end of the corridor, my sneakers making the typical ‘chrrrr chrrrr’ sound despite my best efforts to prevent that.

That sound also meant that every head was turned towards me. Well, almost every head. Many were simply too deep in ‘meditation’ to care!

Soon we came by cabin No 35. The name tab on the door said Cdt (short for Cadet) Daljeet Singh. Inside there was a Khalsa frantically writing something on a piece of paper on his study table. His demeanour was that of a typical ‘ikkie’, I realized – extra alert always. Extra ‘jumpy’ would be a more correct description, in fact. He even looked too small, not by his size, but from his demeanour. His size was not small. ‘Small’ didn’t even come close to describing him physically!

Oye Daljeet, Cpl Pathania’s voice made him jump out of his chair. His first instinct was to scramble to ‘hide’ the paper on which he was writing and open up a mathematics textbook instead.

Relax, Khalsa. I am not here to read your letter to your girlfriend, Cpl Pathania soothed him. At that very moment Daljeet glanced towards me and almost smiled before quickly assuming the persona of a newly minted dope ‘ikkie’.

Uninterested, Pathania continued with a barrage of orders for Daljeet.

He is your newest coursemate.
Tonight he sleeps in your cabin.
Make sure he is well settled and in time for dinner fall-in
He should be ready for the morning muster in mufti
Birsa will be his overstudy


On and on he went. But all I could hear in my head over and over again was Dinner! It had been a very long day indeed, emotionally as well as physically. I couldn’t wait to have a good meal and a good night’s sleep.

Got that?

Finally the barrage of orders ceased. It was only now that I noticed that Daljeet had been nodding furiously all through this.

Yes Sir, came the instantaneous reply

Pathania gave a small smirk and was soon gone, giving me a pat on my back that nearly sent me reeling.

Oye, tu itna late kaise aaya?, (How come you have arrived so late) whispered Daljeet, while motioning for me to pull a chair.

Once again, I was unsure how to address him. The ‘Hey Guys’ incident at the Cadets’ Mess reception was still fresh in my mind.

I was actually supposed to report tomorrow .. Sir.

The ‘Sir’ came as an afterthought. As it turned out, it wasn’t needed at all. Not when addressing coursemates.

Seeing the incredulous look on his face, I quickly explained the circumstances of my SSB interview and the willingness letter and hence the late reporting date. But instead of settling back to normal, he somehow ended up looking even more aghast.

Same set of questions was repeated for the third time in the day, only difference being that this time it was in excited whispers instead of booming voices. I was just too tired to say anything and just nodded my head. Gradually, the tiredness of the day combined with the incredibly silent ambience took over and I too joined the dozens like me in the building that were quietly ‘meditating’.

As I drifted deeper into dreamland, I could just about make out someone talking in the background and then footsteps going away. My sub-conscious mind, however, quietly encouraged me to ignore all and let darkness take over. I was only too willing, and too tired, to happily give in.

But what happened next, shook my very soul out of its slumber – A loud cry pierced through the peace and quiet. And it was followed by sounds of a stampede of sorts .. like everyone was running for their lives.

As I jumped out of the chair, still disoriented, I realized Daljeet was missing. Suddenly the piercing cry rang out again.

IT WAS DALJEET!

And he sounded like someone was murdering him.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 07 Jul 2019 10:08

But something didn’t quite add up .. it wasn’t really the shout of someone dying. It sounded a bit .. musical.

Was he singing at the top of his voice? Yes, it did sound like he was indeed singing. And practically everyone in the building was running.

What kind of a world had I landed up in

Then just as abruptly as it had started, it stopped. A second later Daljeet ran back into the cabin and whispered urgently, ‘Abe Jaldi uth, announcement nahi suna? Dinner nahi karna?’ (Get up fast, didn’t you hear the announcement? Don’t you want dinner?’)

Ah .. announcement .. so that’s what Daljeet was shouting at the top of his voice!

I am not feeling hungry, I think I will rest a bit, I heard myself say just as another head popped up on the door behind Daljeet.

Seeing him, Daljeet went stiff, and seeing Daljeet, I too went stiff, though with no clue as to why!

Problem, Khalsa?, asked the head, even as the rest of the body materialized behind him.

No Sir, just taking the newcomer for the fall-in, Daljeet said as he quickly motioned at me with his eyes.

And I just stood there .. wondering who was this impoverished looking five feet some inches guy that could so terrorize a six footer sardar who weighed nearly 20 kg more than him!

But for the time being, I caught his eye once more and decided to just follow Daljeet wherever he was headed. We quickly left the room and started running. I knew we had to go downstairs, but then, we ran right past the black painted staircase and straight towards the end of the corridor towards the other one. What was more, he actually pulled me back as I turned towards it!

Yeh chhakkon ke liye hai (This is for the chhakkaas), he said

CHHAKKE!!

My head was spinning again. What in the world did this mean now?

But there was neither time nor someone willing to clarify my doubts. I kept on following Daljeet and within 11 seconds we were inside the ante room on the ground floor. All 148 cadets of Kilo Sqn were crammed in there.

BUT WHERE WAS THE DINNER??

Apparently, dinner would wait a bit longer. For the time being, it was I that was the centre of attraction. And it gave me some insight into how a rare animal might feel in a zoo!

The questions and comments came thick and fast, mostly from the seniormost cadets. The rest wouldn’t dare to, in their presence, though laughter was not entirely banned.

Khalsa, what is your name?
Brought anything to eat from home?
Abe, itna patla Khalsa dekha hai kisi ne? (Oye, has anyone seen such a thin Khalsa?)
Got a girlfriend, Khalsa?
What have you got to eat?
Why did you come here, joker?
WHAT? You left BCA to join NDA?
How come you reported so late?
You really haven’t got anything to eat?
Anyone in your family in the forces?
.
.
Don’t smile, Kaalsa
(this came from one of the juniors, taking me by surprise)
So he’s your undie, Birsa? .. God save you!, came the reply from a senior to the guy who didn’t like the fact that I was smiling.
.
.
So, Khalsa, can you sing?
What game do you play?
You didn’t even get some panjeeri from home?

.
.

They kept on coming, sometimes in ones and twos and sometimes in a rapid fire. I tried to answer as much and as fast as I could, even as I tried to understand what part of my face looked like an undie.

Oye Chhakkon, bas karo, let me give out the orders for the day, rang a familiar voice.

Ah, CSM Ohri!

And a eureka moment .. Chhakkas were sixth term cadets!

Khalsa, sit down, he ordered next. And I was only too happy to comply.

Kaalsa, sit up, rang another voice .. the same voice that didn’t want me smiling. Now, I would have happily obliged him but he was grammatically wrong!

Sit down is how it was supposed to be, and I was already sitting down!

Oye, sit up matlab seedha baith, (Oye, sit up means sit straight), another coursemate, Sanjeev Singh Kakoti, hissed from behind. I looked to my left and right and all my coursemates were sitting with their backs ramrod straight. I quickly followed suit.

Now the CSM started off with welcoming me to the sqn and moving on to orders for the day. Not one order made any sense to me. Instead, I looked around. Each and every cadet was wearing exactly the same Khaki uniform – a tunic and a trouser. I never felt more out of place as I did at that moment, sitting in a colourful shirt and trouser.

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Re: The Autobiography Of A Killer

Postby Manmohan » 13 Jul 2019 10:54

CSM was done in about 10 mins, following which all sixth termers calmly walked out. And then all hell broke lose!

In the blink of an eye, practically everyone was on their feet and running to get out of the single door leading out of the ante room. By this time I had given up trying to make sense of things and just followed the crowd, or more specifically, homed in on Daljeet’s turban and tried to keep up.

This time I found myself outside the sqn building, with the entire sqn lined up in three files. First termers were at the head of the long formation. As soon as everyone was in, we started running. Again.

It was almost as if they hadn’t heard of walking as a mode of commute!

Anyhow, for the time being, I trotted along and found myself in a sea of khaki uniforms outside the Cadets’ Mess once again. Somehow, I made the connection and realized that it is where they dine. And that was yet another doubt cleared. But why call it a ‘Mess’? And more importantly, why were we .. all 1800 or so cadets .. just standing outside instead of moving in and digging in?

Too tired by now, I just switched off .. and in popped Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini and the rest of the cast of ‘Satte Pe Satta’, playing out the dinner scene where the protagonists are raring to go at the first meal prepared by the leading lady .. and the chaos that ensues!

Maybe that explains why they call it ‘Mess’ .. perhaps that is how these folks eat here too!

To cut a long story short, dinner was nothing like what happened that night in Amitabh Bachchan’s household in ‘Satte Pe Satta’. But it was still quite different from what I was used to. No unhurried, loud, Punjabi dinners over here. My first meal in the Cadets’ Mess was an insanely formal affair. I was seated with Daljeet next to me and Birsa in front of me.

Ya, Kaalsa, You are going to be my undie for this term. Got that?

I didn’t know what confused me more – his South Indian accent that pronounced Khalsa as Kaalsa, or his malnourished, yet threatening demeanour, or the fact that I was supposed to be an ‘undie’!

Undie .. the word rang and rang in my head.

Kaalsa, where are you? Did you understand what I said?

Sir, undie??

UNDERSTUDY, YOU JOKER, he hissed, even as the other third termer seated next to him snickered.

This Khalsa will have your happiness, Birsa!

Shut Up Chichi Yadav, Birsa hissed some more.

Hmm .. Chichi Yadav .. interesting name, I thought even as I instinctively turned my head towards his name tab. Rishi Yadav, it said.

Khalsa, don’t stare at your Pops.

What the hell was with these guys and the perpetual scowl on their faces?

Chuck it, I thought, I’d rather eat something and stole a glance at the fare laid out in front. And just when I thought I was too tired to care about any more surprises, the National Defence Academy threw yet another googly at me – Bread!

Bread? For Dinner? With Cutlets?

The only thing looking remotely dinner-ish was a really thick mutton curry. But there was no bowl to serve it in. I just couldn’t seem to catch a break!

And we were still not seated.

All that had changed was that from standing outside the Mess, we were all now standing inside, staring at the food. And some like me, getting taught the basics of Academy life.

Suddenly there was some shuffling around and one moment later everyone was seated, and one moment after that, me too. Now came the kicker. Birsa asked me to take the first helping. Apparently, during meals it was the juniors who took the first helping.

Not bad!

If only I knew how the hell to eat bread and cutlets for dinner, and that too with a thick mutton curry without a bowl to serve it in!

Meanwhile, cutlery crackled all around me.

Hurry up Kaalsa

Did I just detect a tinge of sarcasm in Birsa’s voice?

Daljeet, show him how to eat an English dinner

English dinner. So that is what this is. Eureka!


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