Cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar (Tamil Nadu) were divided into four houses named after four Tamil Kingdoms – Chera, Chola, Pandya and Pallava. I was in Pandya House. Reminiscing through the good old Sainik School days, a thought came to my mind about my many visits to Chera House dormitory in my Grade 11 days (1978), walking through the back alley of Chola House dorm.
The most prominent object that would catch my eyes was the wheel of a trolley that lay unmoved in the Chola House back alley. It was black cast-iron wheels, surely weighing over 80 kilos, from one of the trolleys used during the construction of Amaravathi Dam. It had a solid axle with two wheels, akin to the wheels of a railway wagon, but a bit smaller. It obviously resembled the ‘Barbell with Plates’ used by champion weightlifters. I used to try moving it and many a time realised that it has not moved an inch since 1975.
These trolleys used during construction of the dam found their resting place behind the old Cadets’ Mess, now the Gymnasium and Cinema Hall on completion of the dam. The Gymnasium building was the workshop during dam construction days, hence these trolleys were abandoned there.
How did this barbell find its way to the back alley of Chera House dorm?
It was brought in by Veteran Commander Ponnar and his friends who managed to pick up the trolley-wheel from their ‘graveyard’ behind the gym and carried it over a kilometer long trail and brought it to its current resting place in the back alley of Chera House.
The toughest senior cadet I came across during my Cadet days at Sainik School Amaravathinagar was Cadet KK Arun of 1975 Batch. He was tall and well built, quiet and unassuming, always with a smile on his face. I realised he too was a Malayalee who found his moorings at Amaravathinagar, Tamil Nadu like me. I hardly ever interacted with him – he was too senior and I belonged to a different House – the Pandyas.
It was a matter of pride, sense of achievement and a dream for any Cadet at Sainik School to be selected to join the National Defence Academy (NDA). It involved passing a written examination with a qualifying rate less than a percentile or two. Then was the five day Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and then a stringent medical examination. Cadets of the graduating year (Grade 11 then) used to work out mentally and physically to qualify through this rigorous and grueling procedure.
Cadet KK Arun too had set his aim to join the NDA. He found the weights and exercises at the gym and the morning Physical Training (PT) inadequate to stress and strain all his muscles. One often found Cadet KK Arun lifting it with ‘Clean and Jerk’ or a ‘snatch’ in the evenings after the Games Parade. Whenever I walked past this ‘Barbell’ during my NDA preparation days in 1978, the idea to lift it germinated in my mind. Obviously, I could only lift it from a side, that too with both my hands. I always had a ‘Hero Worship’ for Arun as to how come he could lift this monster many a times at my age.
Arun joined NDA in 1975 and I followed suit in 1979 January. We never met since our school days. Arun remained a fitness freak throughout his Indian Army career. He was an Instructor at the Commando Wing of Infantry School – an appointment any young officer will even trade his ‘girl friend’ for.
As a senior Major he landed in a coveted appointment – The Adjutant of NDA – an appointment any Cadet who passed out of NDA will sacrifice anything and everything for. It was a reward for Major Arun’s soldierly qualities, his love for his soldiers, dedication to duty, physical fitness, gentlemanly qualities and so on.
Drill is the bedrock of discipline – thus goes an old saying and it is the Adjutant who meticulously oversees the Drill Training at NDA. It culminates with the Passing Out Parade (POP), a spectacular event which marks the culmination event of another successful semester. POP parade held at the Khetarpal Parade Ground comprises over one thousand cadets bidding farewell to their senior colleagues and will remain etched in the memory of anyone who has witnessed it. Passing Out Cadets march past the Quarter Deck to the haunting strains of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The Adjutant on his charger accompany the passing out cadets to their Final Steps.
This entire spectacle is the culmination of five months of rigorous drill training imparted by the Drill Instructors under the watchful eyes of the Adjutant. It is purely an Adjutant’s show. Please click here to read more about the Academy Drill Instructors.
Who will ever forget the ‘Josh Pep-talk’ delivered by the Adjutant prior to the commencement of POP, exhorting all cadets to put in their best to make it as spectacular as possible. A young Officer on commissioning to our Regiment narrated an anecdote. He was trained by Major Arun at the NDA. He said “While delivering the customary Pep-talk by the Adjutant, his Charger, a well built white horse, delivered an anal salute. Major Arun immediately said ‘SORRY’ and continued. That was our Adjutant, an epitome of decency.” I felt very proud of our Alma Mater and did not miss the opportunity to declare with pride in my voice “I attended the very same school from where Major Arun graduated.”
Major Arun served as a Commando Instructor. He was a real ‘tough’ instructor and was well known for his teaching abilities with love for his students – A real GURU in all aspects. Some even say the Nana Patekar’s Hindi movie ‘PRAHAR‘ (please click here for more about the movie) was inspired by him. He was awarded Sena Medal for gallantry.
He rose to the Rank of Colonel and commanded a Rajput Regiment. There are many anecdotes from his army life worth mentioning. He hung up his military boots and is now settled with his family at Greater NOIDA near Delhi.
I was lucky to come in contact with him, courtesy Colonel TM Natarajan, our batch mate from Sainik School. It was a rewarding experience sharing our journey experiences and also relent that we two never met after leaving school.