Being from a totally fauji background and having a dad who loved to tell stories, I grew up as familiar with NDA as if I had trained there myself. Then Daddy was posted there as OIC ATT and I cycled around everywhere from the stables to Peacock Bay. As a cadet, I could chat so comfortably with my ex-NDA coursemates about GFCL and FL and 'restrictions' and GCI and everything, that they made me an honorary ex-NDA (from Echo Sqn, in honour of Daddy). When my brother was training, I returned every term to that sacred institution more out of my reverence for the Academy than my desire to visit Nipun. I was an officer by then and could throw my weight around a bit. A couple of my coursemates were Div Os too, and that only added to the fun.
After such long association with NDA, it was only natural that when I began writing, one of my initial articles revolved around the Academy. I am attaching a copy of it for your amusement, Sir.
To start with, there’s the Squadron. One of the fifteen first alphabets expanded into their telegraphic full form, to which each ex-NDA swears undying loyalty. A fellow in arms who belonged to the same squadron at any point of time since the inception of the Academy is a buddy. Needless to say, the senior among the two ‘Squadron types’ is obliged to favour the junior with more liberty than he would have otherwise received. Always remember your ex-NDA’s squadron, it’s traditions, it’s strengths (it never had any weaknesses) and the names of his Divisional Officers or DivOs. Never, ever criticize anything even remotely connected with his squadron unless you want to earn an instant battle or frigid silence, depending on the temperament of the man. His squadron is the supreme body of the supreme establishment which made him a man.
Next is the matter of hierarchy. There are many approaches to establishing the pecking order, which is never vulgarly obvious, but sacred nonetheless. “He’s from the twentieth course, man! Way, way beyond our league.”, “Oh, he was just an OC”, “He’s a General- both times discipline”, “Swimming Blazer. Did the Peacock Bay on campfire night for the tipsy”, “Arrey yaar, he’s a RIMCO. He’ll get it done through his network.”. Make yourself familiar with the terminology and never get confused between a course and a term. Remember his place in the hierarchy and along with him, sneer at those below and display appropriate awe towards those above.
Of all the physical events at the NDA, the two most dissected and rehashed by all ex-NDAs nostalgically are the Cross Country race and Swimming. No matter if he was a cross country medalist or a dead sinker, your man will never tire of discussing each visit to the pool and the usual six cross country races in excruciating detail. Listen with wide eyed interest and remember the best enclosure he ever achieved. Never, ever, ever compare your Asian Games gold medal in decathalon with his cross country participation. Never. A cross country in which he participated was sacred and at least one cadet died in the race during at least one of his six terms. You could never have died doing a shitty decathalon.
Term privileges are hard won freedoms which differ from one ex-NDA to another, depending on his Squadron. He will often use the same principle in the disciplining of his children. If it worked for the kids there, why not for his own? And trust me, it usually does… So if the man doesn’t take you for that long awaited movie just because you sewed the button on the wrong side of the cuff, forgive him. That sort of logic is only his training speaking. Likewise, he will also understand the principle of extra privileges and withholding privileges in your dealing with him.
Like all establishments, the NDA has its own jargon. OC is not the Officer Commanding like you would imagine, and FL is not Fairy Lights. GCI is not General Cleanliness Inspection and Cabin Cupboard is not a piece of furniture in a cosy little cottage. Patti Parade is not first aid practice and Fall In is not the opposite of a Fall Out. Bewildering though this unique language of the Ex-NDA may seem to you, never display any sign of scorn or boredom. Unless you want to be left out at every occasion when he meets a brother, pick up the terminology as quickly as you can. It is not too difficult. Most Ex-NDAs only need subtle encouragement to start a class.
And last, but most important of all, never underestimate the power of ‘Tipsy Pudding’. This one sweet factor to the life of an Ex-NDA cadet is like ambrosia on a parched tongue. Don’t even think of trying to whip it up in your kitchen, and take comfort in the fact that even the Queen’s kitchen cannot produce the item which he will accept as the ‘real’ Tipsy Pudding. No. The only real Tipsy Pudding is the one he licked off his filthy fingers out of a half full ‘pateela’ in which one of his coursemates stood knee-deep in fruits, nuts, cream and rum soaked cake, ladling out the treasure with his bare hands. If you have understood the passion which drove those young boys trembling on the brink of manhood and accept with a philosophical shrug that somewhere deep down, that boy is crystallized in his Tipsy driven optimism, then you will have no problems. For only a man who can doggedly claw his way through three years of weathering will surely in the light of your acceptance, stay doggedly by your side.