Running Away From Studies

We were about 30 of us who landed at Sainik (Military) School, Amaravathi Nagar, Thamizh Nadu from Kerala in July 1971, armed with little communication skill in our mother tongue Malayalam.  English, Hindi and Thamizh were alien to us.  First language and medium of education at our school was English.  We started with the English Alphabets under Ms Sheila Cherian and graduated to Wren & Martin and English Today by Ridout. We had to study Thamizh or Hindi as our second and third languages.

Thamizh as a second language was out of question as it required us to cram the Thirukkurals onward.  Thamizh poems, and ancient literature are not easy to understand. Hence we were given Hindi as a second language.  As expected we all fared badly and was the nightmare for us during the Grade 10 public exam.  Only the God Almighty and the examiner who evaluated our answer sheets know as to how we managed to pass.  It was all about cramming to the last alphabet and reproducing them on paper. Luckily we did not have to study a second language in our grade 11 and 12.

Thamizh was our third language, taught to us by Mr MV Somasundaram and Mr K Ekambaram.  We commenced with grade 1 Thamizh textbook in grade 5.  The only saving grace was that they put an end to our agony in grade 8 with a grade 4 Thamizh textbook.

We from the 1979 Batch were the very first batch to face the brunt of 10+2 education by Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) India – an extra year of studies.  Our previous batch graduated from school in 1977 on completion of grade 11.

Grade 12 was a bugbear for my likes who were pathetic with academics and who never achieved any academic glory while at school.

Why did I join the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later serve the Indian Army for over two decades?

The truth is that I ran away from studies.  The bonus of getting through the NDA entrance examination was that we joined the NDA after our grade 11.  We did not have to go through grade 12 and the culminating public exam.  What a relief!!!.

We were made to believe at school that the training at NDA was more about outdoor activities – Physical Training (PT,) games, drill, weapon training, equitation training, military tactics, etc – and that the academic component was very minimal.  On joining the Academy, reality dawned on us.  We had to graduate in a Bachelors’ Degree programme, covering over 30 subjects ranging from Engineering Drawing to International Relations to be awarded a degree from the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU.)  This is the only Bachelor’s Degree JNU confers as JNU is India’s premier research university.

Gods had to settle the scores with my academic pursuits, especially linguistics.  How could they spare me from the rigours of Hindi and Thamizh?

I was commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army – 75 Medium Regiment (Basantar River.) The Regiment then had an interesting class composition. One battery (consisting of six Bofors Guns, and about 150 soldiers) was of North Indian Brahmins; the second had Jats mostly from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh; and the third was manned by the soldiers from the four Southern States. Now I had to master Hindi the way the Brahmins and Jats spoke and also Thamizh as it was the medium of communication for the South Indian Soldiers.

At the end of it, commanding a Regiment and retiring after two decades of military service which I joined primarily to run away from studies – the reality was that neither did I stop studying nor did I stop running!!

Even while commanding the Regiment, I continued studying as we received  modern high-tech radars, survey equipment, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), etc which I had never heard of until then.  In order to command the Regiment, I had to master all the modern military gadgets and the only way out was to learn about them and operate them.  This meant I had to pore over volumes of operational and maintenance manuals.

My studies did not end with my hanging my military boots.  It continued and will continue for ever. 

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young – Henry Ford.

 Nehru – Gandhi Family

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Feroze Gandhi is a Parsi (not a Muslim as some claim), a politician and a journalist who served as the publisher of the National Herald and the Navjivan newspapers from Lucknow. His father was not any Khan, but Faredoon Jehangir from Bombay.

In 1930, Feroze met Kamala Nehru and Indira among the women demonstrators picketing outside Ewing Christian College, Allahabad. Kamala fainted with the heat of the sun and Feroze went to comfort her. The next day, he abandoned his studies to join the Indian independence movement. He was imprisoned in the same year, along with Lal Bahadur Shastri and lodged in Faizabad Jail for nineteen months.

Feroze first proposed to Indira in 1933, but she and her mother rejected it, saying that she was too young, only 16. He grew close to the Nehru family, especially to Indira’s mother Kamala Nehru, helping arrange her trip to Europe when her condition worsened in April 1935, and visiting her at the TB sanitarium in Europe, where he was at her bedside when she died. Kamala Nehru was so impressed by the conduct of Feroze that on her death-bed, she insisted on Indira marrying Feroze. In the following years, Indira and Feroze grew closer to each other and they married in March 1942 according to Hindu rituals.

The saree that Indira wore for the marriage was a khadi sari that Nehru wove and is pink, not red. It was worn by Indira on her wedding day, then by Sonia on her wedding day in 1968, and then by Priyanka too when she got married in 1996.  Red is generally the bridal colour in India and the Gandhis to choose the more low- key pink and leave the fiery red, a symbol of simplicity and tradition.

Feroze Gandhi won independent India’s first general elections in 1952, from Rae Bareli constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Indira came down from Delhi and worked as his campaign organizer. Feroze soon became a prominent force in his own right, criticizing the government of his father-in-law and beginning a fight against corruption. In 1957, he was re-elected from Rae Bareli. In the parliament in 1958, he raised the Haridas Mundhra scandal involving the government controlled LIC insurance company. This was a huge embarrassment to the clean image of Nehru’s government and eventually led to the resignation of the Finance Minister TT Krishnamachari.

This story was narrated to me by Ms Bimla Behn, who used to be the hostess of Teen-Murthy Bhawan when Nehru was the PM.   Further I had spoken to Mr Sharma, the caretaker of Teen-Murthi Bhawan from Nehru’s days. Our unit was responsible for VVIP security when Mrs Gandhi’s body was lying in state in Teen-Murthy Bhawan for viewing,  during the first week of November 1984, after her assassination on 31 October and there I met Bimla Behn and Sharma.

They further spoke to me in detail about the relationship between Nehru, Feroze and Indira and the role played by MO Mathai who was Nehru’s secretary. The rise of Mathai (a typical Syrian Christian like me, from the Central Travancore) from being a helper to the cook of Teen-Murthy Bhawan to be the PM’s secretary is another volume.

The aspect that Feroze and Indira lived separately after the birth of Sanjay is somewhat correct as by that time Mathai had succeeded in driving a wedge between Nehru and Feroze. Feroze was part of the fiery young Turks with Chandrasekhar (later PM) and Mohan Dharia and they opposed a lot of Nehru’s policies in the Parliament and party forums. So Feroze avoided any contact with Nehru, but used to enter the Teen-Murthy Bhawan from the Right Flank and go upstairs where Indira lived. This was narrated by Bimla Behn.

Bimla Behn further said that after the death of Nehru, Indira was appointed the communication minster in the Shastri’s cabinet. In those days she always suffered from common cold and a runny nose. If you observe the photographs of those years, one can always see Indira clutching a kerchief in her hand. That was when Indira came in contact with Dhirendra Brahmachari who advised yoga as a cure for her runny nose. She practiced yoga regularly and was rid of the problem.

Regarding the death of Sanjay, I had interacted with the President of the Delhi Flying Club in 1984 – (he was related to one of our unit officer). The aircraft was imported as CKD (Complete Knock-Down) kit and it came in boxes. A week before the fateful day, Sanjay ordered the President of the Flying Club to get the plane assembled. After assembly, even though it was not test-flown and certified by DGCA, Sanjay insisted on flying it. Some mal-function resulted in the accident and Sanjay Gandhi died instantly from head wounds from the air crash on 23 June 1980 near Safdarjung Airport.

So please do not get carried away by any propaganda taking rounds in the social media.