Thoughts that originate deep within

The Deadly Duo- Father & Son! : Zero to Hero

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!!


The National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, Pune

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 …


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.


Vayu Sena Medal

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!”


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21 thoughts on “The Deadly Duo- Father & Son! : Zero to Hero

  1. Col Amish Chadha(Retd) on said:

    Another feather isn ur cap Sajan . Kudos for a brilliantly written article and more so for the exceptional work done as a Div O in NDA . Awesome keep the ink flowing buddy proud of u.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pankaj Fotedar on said:

    A few DivOs like you Sajan is what makes our alma-mater the ‘Maker of Men’ .. Pray there be more of your ilk …

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pradeep Sharma on said:

    Excellent article sir, you have been the best instructor without any doubt.. I fondly remember your guidance to make me a better person and a professional soldier

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Inspiring story indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Vikrant Khare on said:

    Dear Sir,
    I am coursemate of Vikas and really the trophy goes to you. You have always been a source of inspiration to us and your blogs really raises the level of respect for you by several notches. Kudos to you for the great work. We are existing because of our parents and we flourishing because of GURUs like you.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Mohit Nangia on said:

    Inspiring and dedicated involvement by the DivO. Stupendous Sajan

    Liked by 1 person

  7. A Div O at the NDA got to act like a father, a mother and an elder brother. It is a matter of pity that many DivO’s never realised this basic fact. They forgot that they have grown and their times have passed – in that many try to outsmart their cadets – without realising that the cadets are much more smarter and agile – both physically and mentally. Many in their attempts to beat or outsmart their cadets end up more as ‘jokers’ and thus lose the respect of the cadets and hence fail to inspire them.

    You have narrated a story of an ideal Cadet -DivO relationship – which every cadet dream of. Well Done.

    I would like to bring out my relationship with two of our Great DivOs (others including the Squadron Commander I would rather forget and to my horror one of the DivO ended up as our Commanding Officer and rest you can imagine).

    First is Flight Lieutenant TD James. After about 15 years of service, I met him at the Delhi Airport as I was about to board the Assam Courier aircraft. We exchanged the usual pleasantries and an officer senior to both of us walked in. He introduced me to him as “Major Reji – we were both at the NDA together.” After the senior officer left, I asked Group Captain James as to why he had to introduce me like that and he could have very well said – like most DivOs – that he was my acdet at the NDA. To this he said “Weren’t we together at the NDA? Weren’t we brothers? Weren’t we two humans at the NDA?”. This stuck on with me and whenever an opportunity came to introduce or speak about a junior officer, I always said “We served together at ____.”

    Next is Captain Raj Mehta. A soldier to the core and a Cavalier by profession. He mentored me well at the NDA and whenever we met later, was always full of words of encouragement, which continues to date. I would be visiting him at the War Museum – Amritsar – which he has been working on from its inception and is still being developed. I did send him as much information I could collect from such War Museums in Canada. This is the first War Museum being developed in India, whereas, in Canada every town seem to have one, even though India has a more colourful war history.

    Regarding my relationship with Major General Raj Mehta, please read my blog post

    Pray that the NDA gets such DivOs.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Surendra on said:

    Excellent Article. The writer underplays his own role as DivO! It is because of few officers like this, that NDA still produces winners. A must read for all Div Os , Sqn Cdrs, Bn Cdrs and dare I say – the Commandant & Dy Commandant, whose job it is to nurture excellent staff at NDA.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Terrific stuff. It is the Cradle of Leadership.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Sheila Singh on said:

    Congratulations to Vikas but I do think the DivO deserves an award too for his motivation and dedication.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Rajesh Krishan on said:

    Sajan yet again buddy, you have an uncanny art of giving wordy shape to your thoughts…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. K JAGANNATHAN on said:

    Good one Sajan. Commitment always pays. These memories are indeed one’s treasures.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nandita Singh on said:

    Wonderful reading. Commitment pays as always !! Faith in oneself is a quality that shd be nurtured. The Div O and the father of the cadet made it happen. One hopes for such combinations for every individual. Thanks for sharing such a positive experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. venkateswaran subramaniam on said:

    I can understand the instr CDT relationship very well having being one at my Alma mater OTA. It’s a guru sishya bond that stands way ahead of everything. The thrill the guru gets / undergoes is something very unique.
    Hats off to u for a very articulated prose which swells my heart with pride.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Sqn Ldr Nirmal on said:

    I have the previledge of having served with Vikas sir. He is an ideal example of how an officer should be; both at personal and professional front. He deserves much more than what he got. We pray for success in all of his future endeavours.

    This article will help us understand him better.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Dr. KJ Singh, Surgical Gastroenterologist and Laparoscopic Surgeon, Jalandhar, Pb. on said:

    ख़्वाब टूटे है मगर हौसले अभी ज़िंदा है,
    मैं वो शक्स हूँ जिससे मुश्किलें भी शर्मिंदा है !!
    When you gotta mentor who guides you head on to take such intrepid pursuits and you got iron inside your head too, such stories are born.
    This is a fine example of the duties of a ‘guide’, the faith of a father in his son and lastly, the faithfulness of the Son to be true to ‘expectations from him!’
    Even if one of the trio had underperformed, the story would never have been born.
    Salutes to the trident, the mentor, the apprentice and the Daddy!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. This is what true leadership is all about. It is not about YOU but is about THEM

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Lt.Col. A J Vijayakumar (Retd). on said:

    Dear Sajan, please keep writing. As I read your article, I became emotional tears welled up in my eyes! Our nation preserves all its true glory because of fine gentlemen like you, Vikas and his Dad!

    All through my 21 years of Army life, 10 years in training (7 years at Sainik School, 3 at NDA and 1 year at IMA) most I came across were gentlemen – to the core!

    How I wish such men could be at the helm of affairs in this country rather than the hooligans who make up our political masters!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Kudos…spellbound..awestruck..speechless

    Liked by 1 person

  20. True reflections of an Officer and a Gentleman. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. LALIT KAUL on said:

    A very good article – we need guides / mentors like you – no one is useless in life as everyone has a hidden talent in himself – it’s for the guide / mentor to help out such weak students by encouragement .
    I remember and it’s a fact that many of the students / cadets from the FIVE reputed and renowned public schools under Min. of Defence viz.,King George Schools / Military Schools / Rashtriya Military Schools who were weak in studies at school did so well in the Armed Forces that they became Generals / Admirals / Air Marshals .
    So was the case with others who passed out of school and who did not join the Armed Forces also did very well in their life in their chosen fields .
    So , everyone has an inner talent which has to be understood by the guide / mentor and firm guidance and motivation by the parents .
    A mix and co ordination of all togather can make a person shine in life like a DIAMOND .

    Liked by 1 person

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