For the Passing Out Parade of our nephew, I landed at the Officers’ Training Academy, Chennai, two days in advance to be a guest of our regimental officer Major Subash. That evening, Major Subash’s Company Commander had invited all passing out Gentleman Cadets (GC) for a customary dinner. Major Subash, a Platoon Commander, forced me to accompany him for the dinner despite my efforts to wriggle out of it. He wanted me to interact with the soon to be commissioned officers.
During the event, I was fairly reticent and kept to myself as I thought that I had hung up my boots some sixteen years ago and living in Canada ever since, what would I share with these youngsters? Some of the GCs prodded me for some advice.
The advice I gave was that everyday ensure that you read five pages and write a page. To this a GC enquired “What should we read?” “Anything and everything – newspaper, magazine, military pamphlet, user manual – or even porn, but ensure you read every day.”
The GCs it seemed were a bit bewildered by my rather unexpected advice. One of them asked me “What about saving money? Many have been advising us about it.” It must have been advised to them by many senior veterans who are currently employed by banks as ‘Defence Accounts Specialist‘ and why not catch them young!
When they persisted, I went on to add “On joining your regiments, learn to be part of it and be a soldier first. Learn about your soldiers, equipment and so on. Remember to enjoy your life. Pursue your passions/ hobbies/ interests. Participate in adventure activities and use your vacations to travel around the country and around the world,” I suggested.
“What about savings?” perhaps, some of the guys who joined the service for a few dollars more, persisted. The financial genius in me said “You do not have to worry much about it for the first three years of your service. Contribute to your Provident Fund to save you some taxes!“
Analysing the conversation that evening, I will state confidently that each and every officer of the Indian Armed Forces can be classified as ‘Gifted.’ Most of us are through Sainik/ Military Schools where for admission we went through a test in grade 4/5 similar to the one in Canada to identify gifted children. If I recall correctly, it was a bit tougher than the test administered in Canada.
After graduating from School, we all went through a very tough entrance exam for the Academy where the qualifying result was a fraction of a percent. Then we qualified a much more rigorous Services Selection Board (SSB) interview stretching five days. If anyone qualified through it, that person is real Super-Gifted. Training at the Academies is not an easy one, especially the need to qualify in academic subjects along with the strenuous physical activities and tests.
On commissioning, the problem of diminishing creativity begins. Officers tend not to learn but to study. Here let me define both – What you study, you forget soon after the exam; but what you learn, you retain for life. The study tendency can well be attributed to the grading system in most courses.
While I was in command of our unit, we were tasked to write a paper on tactical employment of modern surveillance devices. I tasked the junior officers to come up with a draft and one of them said “Sir, you write well. This paper is for Army Headquarters and why don’t you write it. Our efforts may not be that good and creative.”
I pointed out to them how they had closed their minds to creativity. “You all have gone through the SSB where in you were shown nine caricature images of which you could not make out head or tail, but you all managed to write nine good and creative stories. The tenth one was a blank one, but still you wrote a credible story. One hundred words were flashed to you with an interval of 30 seconds and you all wrote one hundred sensible sentences. Now you say that you are incapable of writing a creative paper?” I explained sternly.
The death of creativity begins when a young officer given any particular task is asked to go through an older file/paper/ Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to understand how it was done previously and then accomplish the task in a similar manner. Many military units have SOPs even for the most mundane activities like organising an Officers’ mess function. These SOPs, while they serve to accomplish a task quickly and without confusion, also serve as creativity killers.
One of the first documentation tasks for a young officer is usually a Court of Inquiry (C of I) and in most cases it would pertain to a severe injury suffered by a soldier. The Adjutant invariably asked the young officer to refer to a previous one and carryout a C of I in a similar manner. If you want the young officer to be creative, you need to make him understand the need for the C of I, and from where he should read up on what evidence is, how to adduce evidence and reach a finding on the investigation based on evidence. The manner in which the proceedings of the C of I are recorded on paper is perhaps the only thing that an old court of inquiry would reveal.
The trend of ‘ஈ அடிச்சான் கோபி (ee adichan copy)’ or blind copying or ‘Cut & Paste’ begins from here and it continues through service, culling all the creativity one had at the time of the SSB.
Reading five pages and writing a page everyday are the very first baby steps to professional creativity and competence. As the youngsters anxiously awaited their entry into the mysterious Olive Green world, what better piece of advice could I give them?