Jan 26th, Republic Day arrived- a day when deserving Defence Forces people get awarded for various acts of bravery and distinguished service. A few of my friends, and course mates too got the well-deserved awards.
A week later, I got a call from an unknown number. “Hello Sir! I am Vikas, can you recognise me”! It just took me two seconds to call out his surname, and he was thrilled and said “You haven’t forgotten me Sir, after all these years!”…. I replied, “There are very few students from whom I have learnt so much. And you are one of them. How could I ever forget you!!
My mind went back to the year Y2K. I was posted as a Divisional Officer – called as Div-O in the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla, Pune. This Academy is known as the Cradle for Leadership where Boys become Men. Cadet Vikas, was a tiny puny second termer. During my visits to the PT and games fields, I noticed he was weak in Physical Training. Then his mid-term academic results came, I realized he was weak in Academics too. As per routine procedure, I took out the cyclostyled sheet, filled his details and addressed the letter to his Father. The letter went like this …
RELEGATION WARNING LIST
Dear Shri Vinod Kumar,
We regret to inform you that your son/ward, Academy Number xxxxx, Cdt Vikas xxxxx of xxxx Squadron has performed poorly in Academics / PT for this semester. You are hereby advised to warn your son/ ward to improve in the subjects mentioned, failing which he will be relegated on these grounds at the end of the semester.
We are hereby placing him in the Relegation Warning List”
Anyone who has been posted at the NDA would know, this was a pretty routine affair for Divisional Officers, and most of these weak cadets barring a few would always scrape through. The parents also came on hard on their children and gave the cadets a piece of their mind through their letters or telephone calls.
In this case however, things did not happen exactly the same. Instead of Vikas getting a letter, to my utter surprise and shock, I got a letter from his father instead, and it read like this…..
Dear Capt Sajan,
I have sent Vikas to National Defence Academy. My duty ended there. If he is not performing well in the Academy, then I suggest you review your own performance, because it is your responsibility to make him do the needful to pass all the subjects.
The ball was back in my court, and the father’s letter made it look like, that his son, Vikas was my responsibility. So I sent him another letter. I told him that I would ensure that his son passes the Physical Training tests by putting him through extra paces. But in Academics, nothing could be done, unless his son works harder. I informed him that his son had failed in Maths and the only way to ensure that he passes out with his course, is to change his stream from Science to Social Studies. I thought I had devised a brilliant way out. The ball was sent back to his court.
Pat came his reply a week later, with the letter starting in Hindi…with these lines.
“Girte Hain Sheh-Sawar Hi Maidan-E-Jung Mein; Woh Tifl Kya Gire Jo Ghutnon Ke Bal Chala Karte Hain! (It is only those who ride a horse in the battle field who may fall; How can cowards fall who walk only on their knees).
My son has dreamt to become a pilot and by shifting his stream to Social Studies you are taking him away from his dream. Vikas may fail, but he will learn. I have handed my son over to you. Do what is required. You can kick him, kill him, but I want to see him, as an Airforce Pilot”
More than Vikas, I was highly motivated with such a father who was not willing to compromise, not ready to give up. I just prayed Vikas would imbibe his Dad’s attitude.
As the days passed, I went about kicking Vikas nice and proper especially in the PT fields. I was around when the second termers had their PT classes. Ustads were instructed to give Vikas an extra boot up his back to make him do exercises to ensure he passes. My visits to the Squadron often during the ‘Study Periods’ always ended up in his cabin. I would ask Vikas how his academic preparations were and he always told me it was going fine. To my great relief, towards the term end, he scraped through in PT in the last attempt of the tests. Vikas had made sincere efforts to make himself stronger to clear the tests on his own. What endeared to this guy to me was that despite all his difficulties, he always had a smile in his face whenever I met him.
Academy end of term mood arrived. The semester exams ended. Everyone was busy preparing for the Passing out Parade of the sixth termers. One day, I got a call from the Academic Counselor, asking me if Vikas, was my cadet. On my affirmation, he told me, to my horror that Vikas had failed in the final exams. His marks were so poor that the Maths Dept had decided to relegate him straightaway. I asked the Counselor, whether the names have been sent to the Adjutants Branch which printed the Relegation List. He said they were about to send it. I requested him to hold on for a minute. I rushed to the Sudan Block where the Maths Department was located. I ran to the HOD who was my professor at NDA many years back. I pleaded that the cadet has failed, yet he deserved a chance. If only he could recommend a retest instead of relegation, it would mean a lot to me, to the cadet and his family. The HOD relented and recommended his name for a Retest instead of Relegation. I requested the HOD to provide extra tuition for Vikas. The HOD happily agreed and allotted a Teacher. Vikas was excused from all other duties except the Drill practice in the mornings and I told him that if he had to get out alive from the Academy on term break, he better study hard. Otherwise I would skin him alive.
The tuition’s helped. Vikas worked doubly hard. He passed the Maths retest and was promoted to the next semester. His Dad visited the Squadron few weeks later and met me. A fine gentleman, who could really motivate a dead corpse and make it run in no time. A man of principles and extra ordinary courage who had struggled in life, had seen the worst days of partition, and supported his entire family single-handedly. He himself wanted to join NDA, but was medically unfit with colour blindness. In the wake of the Kargil War he had motivated his son to join the Forces. Vikas was therefore a product of a powerhouse Dad, brought up with very solid principles.
Few months later I got posted out back to my Unit. And Vikas and his Dad moved into a corner of my memory, as I went ahead with life, busy with my work in my unit. Some years later, I got a letter from Vikas. This boy had kept track of me. The letter proudly announced that he stood first in the Helicopter Training School and got the Best in Flying Trophy. I was so proud of him. Few years later, I was specially invited for his wedding. His father spoke to me over telephone, very kindly and fondly about our association. My official work prevented me to attend his wedding. Over the years, I kept getting brief calls. Even that stopped for some time.
Now after a very long time, Vikas was again on the line. He proudly announced to me that he was awarded the Vayu Sena Medal for outstanding bravery during flying in the Northeast where his act saved many passengers when his engines flamed out. I was so proud. My cadet had progressed so much ahead from his Academy days and is now blazing his path with panache. He has made his Dad proud. He has made me, his Div-O, proud.
This tiny puny guy, overcame all his weaknesses and kept working at his goal to become a pilot and, what a fine one he has become. To such an extent that he has now been recognized by the nation for his bravery. Proud of you Vikas! May you continue to Touch the Sky with Glory!
What stood out for me here was the indomitable spirit of two made up minds who simply refused to give in to challenges until their battles were won victoriously. This is therefore dedicated to Vikas and his wonderful Dad, Shri Vinod Kumar! The Deadly Duo!
As James Allen aptly puts it ….
“You will be what You WILL to be! When the Spirit rises to Command, the Gods are ready to obey!”