Thoughts that originate deep within

The Tipping Point: Give Me One Last Chance!

Some time back, I got a call – a girl’s voice and I expected it to be another of the pesky marketing calls. She introduced her name and said, “I don’t know if you remember, I had spoken to you long back”. Her name was unique, it connected somewhere in my mind. I quickly put two and two together and replied, “Of course I remember you. You are Abhi’s sister”. It was her turn to be surprised. She said, “How come you remember my voice after so many years?” I confessed, “Your name is unique, and I follow Abhi’s updates on Facebook. Your name did come up couple of times and I just guessed, it must be you”. She was asked by her brother to contact me, to know more about a career in Corporate Training.


Her call opened up the closed pores of my memory. It was Y2K. Computers were being introduced in a big way at the National Defence Academy, Khadawasla, Pune – The Cradle of Leadership. Technological advancement was happening big time, yet the cadets remained the same. Trying the same old ways to outwit the Divisional Officer’s (Div-Os) without realizing that these instructors had walked the very same path many years back and were aware of all the Tricks of the Trade. Yet at the end of the day, we often learnt a lot, from these young men.

The squadron I was posted as a Div-O was doing well. Things were going in absolute harmony, till one fine day, Cadet Abhi, a fourth termer from another Squadron, was relegated on disciplinary grounds for some major breach of Discipline. He was transferred to our Squadron and my Division. My Squadron Commander Sqn Ldr Sharad Srivastava, told me, “Sajan, this boy requires guidance.

I was a No Nonsense guy, who disliked people who broke the rules. I was nicknamed “Bajauddin” by the cadets because I was extremely strict. I knew this because this name cropped up during the spoofs done by cadets during the end of term Squadron Socials. During my first interview with Abhi, I made myself amply clear, “Son, you have to play by the rules, You have made a mistake, for which you have been punished with relegation. It is a big blow, I understand. Now it is time, you got your act together and be disciplined. This Squadron and I, will show NO mercy at all.”

The next thing I did, was to take out the cyclostyled sheet and send a Withdrawal Warning Letter to his father stating that, he better advise his son, Abhi, to improve his Discipline, failing which he would be withdrawn from the Academy. The rule position was very clear. You could not get relegated in the same subject again in the same term. And in all, you couldn’t get Relegated thrice in all the terms put together. The cadet would be withdrawn from the Academy if that happened. Unlike other subjects where one had to clear regular tests, Discipline was assessed differently. Punishments were awarded for every breach of discipline and published in the Academy Routine Order. Each punishment carried with it a physical endurance activity as well as some negative points. For example, Extra Drill would be 1 point, Endurance Training Run awarded the cadet 2 points, a Hike to Sinhgarh Fort collected 4 points, and a Restriction added 7 points. Anyone who collected more than 200 negative points in a single term, was relegated on Disciplinary grounds. So Abhi, having collected 200 negative points, got relegated right in the middle of the term itself.

Unfortunately, this boy was of a different mettle. He just couldn’t care less. He went about his life as if nothing happened. Very soon, I received a report from the Academics Dept about his continued absence from class. I confronted Abhi and he promptly confessed that he had bunked. He used to sit in the library instead and browse through his favourite books, magazines or the internet. I awarded him 5 days Restriction, and counselled him NOT to miss classes anymore. But this boy cared even lesser. In less than a month I received a number of reports that he had missed his classes again. This time I marched him up to the Squadron Commander, who warned him to be careful and awarded him 7 days Restriction for the repeat offence. Since he was approaching the half way mark for relegation (in his case withdrawal), a letter was shot off to his parents asking them to warn their son. Surprisingly, I never got any response from his parents.

Yet this boy would not improve. He was caught bunking again and this time due to the nature of repeated offence he was marched up to the Battalion Commander, who awarded him 14 days Restrictions. I called Abhi and advised him that he was continuing to play with fire and that he better be very careful. If he received any more punishments then he would be withdrawn from the Academy. Despite this, Abhi collected some more punishments elsewhere and crossed the 200 points threshold. As per rules, he was to be withdrawn from NDA. A letter went out from the Academy asking his father to come and collect his son after paying up the training costs. His father had to pay up almost 1.5 lakh rupees for the 4 semesters he was at NDA. I thought, this boy will never learn in life.

The end of semester was in progress. One day, a scraggy looking, tired and weary, thin, bearded man walked into my office. He introduced himself as Abhi’s father. I was very annoyed with him. I asked him why he had never bothered to reply to my numerous letters. Now that his son had been withdrawn from the Academy, what was the use for him to finally come. He spoke with lot of humility, “Sir, I can’t read. Letters used to come to me, and I used to call up Abhi. He used to tell me that they were letters praising him for good work done in the Academy. It is only when I got the letter asking me to pay up huge amount of money, I took the letters to my office colleagues and they told me to rush here.”

I was annoyed further and told, “Now, nothing can be done. Please take your son back. Kindly pay up the training cost at the earliest.” His reply resounded like a tight slap to me, I am a class IV employee from Railways. I hardly earn anything. This is a huge amount for me. I came here on a Railway pass, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to. All what I earned in my life, I have educated my children. When Abhi qualified for NDA, I thought a huge burden is over. This much amount of money I can never pay back in this lifetime. And the he delivered his punch, that left me stunned, “Even if I SELL my wife and daughter in Agra market, I can’t raise this much money. You do one thing, please take my son and SHOOT him. He doesn’t deserve us.” I was knocked out!

Tears rushed into my eyes. What have I done? How could I ever resolve this issue? How I wish the father had spoken to me earlier. How I wish I was not instrumental in the punishments awarded to this boy. No one, I knew could ever turn the clock back. This poor family was doomed, and I cursed myself partly for it. I thought there is only one man who could do something. That was the Commandant, Alas! He could do Nothing, now that the orders for withdrawal had come from the Army Headquarters.

I pulled a chair near the computer and furiously typed out a letter addressed to the Commandant from the Father. I poured out the angst of a defeated parent into words. Took a print out and made Abhi’s father sign it. I requested him to post it from his hometown. I told him, I was sorry for what had happened, but the only hope was Commandant acting on this letter. With that letter and Abhi tagging along, with drooping shoulders and his face, writ with pain, the poor man left my office. I got calls from his sister and mother. I told them, I was sorry for what happened, it was Abhi’s mistake, but now, nothing could be done by me. Abhi stood withdrawn from the National Defence Academy on Disciplinary grounds. His father was given some more time to pay up.

Vacations started and I went for my Annual Leave. The pain of this incident receded. Soon the next semester commenced and things started buzzing again in the Squadron. One day I was going to the office and all of a sudden, one cadet jumped into my path. I screeched to a halt almost falling off my Bajaj scooter. The cadet gave a smart salute, standing in perfect attention in crease-less uniform. I realized, it was Abhi standing there. I was shocked, and sweetly surprised. I asked him what he was doing here.

He narrated to me that, he went back to his hometown. He realized that he had brought immense sorrow to his parents and sister. He prayed if and only if he had GOT ONE MORE CHANCE. Miraculously the letter did its work. They received a reply from the Commandant informing that he was taking Abhi back, for one last time. I looked up, thanked God, turned towards the other God inside Sudan Block, the Commandant – Lt Gen SBS Kochar, PVSM, AVSM and thanked him as well. Now Abhi was in another Squadron. He then promised me one thing, standing right there on Trishul Marg, “Sir from today, I will not get even one punishment in my life. You will see this”. 

I kept a close watch on Abhi, even though he was in another Squadron. True to his word, throughout his next three semesters, he did not get a single punishment. Not only that, he did not get any punishments at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.  He kept in touch with me through letters. He took my guidance to opt for his Choice of Arm. He asked me if his dossier from NDA would ever come in his way when he became an Officer. I assured him, what happened in the Academy stayed there. Soon he informed me about him donning his stars as a Commissioned Officer. I was relieved. My Cadet had kept his word.

IMA Passing Out Parade-

Occasionally I got his letters. Years later, we got in touch on Facebook. He was doing well in life. His passion for photography was unmatched. In one of his updates, his Dad, Mom and sister were standing in the picturesque surroundings of Wellington where he was posted. I was not only happy but proud of this reformed cadet.

Today, Lieutenant Colonel Abhi is doing exceptionally well. He was awarded three Commendation Cards for Gallantry in consecutive years. His undercover work broke the back of one NE Militant group where the entire hierarchy was apprehended. He has completed a tenure abroad with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. I am confident that soon he will be approved for his next rank too. His sister, works for a top MNC traveling often to US. Their Dad is retired, content and happy. A few weeks back, when we talked over phone, I was asking Abhi about his Dad, he said, “My biggest assets in my life are my Parents. My family today is what it is, all thanks to the love and care given by my parents.”

The long journey from the dingy Class IV houses of Railway Colony in Agra to the place where they are today, really is a journey that gives hope to many. Along with it, I learnt very valuable lessons to….. Never Judge a Book by its Cover or even the first few chapters. And to always provide another chance to someone who makes a mistake, once twice, thrice….

Give them their, One Last Chance! You never know when the change happens suddenly, to last a lifetime. Never ever ever give up, on anyone!

This article is dedicated to Abhi, his Dad, Sis and Mom, and to Gen Kochar.

Jai Hind!


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24 thoughts on “The Tipping Point: Give Me One Last Chance!

  1. Col Amish Chadha(Retd) on said:

    Sajan a well articulated piece. Alas we learn from our mistakes a little too late . It just goes to further the cause that when playing with lives of Fellow Humans we should not act as if we are Gods but remember that we too are mere mortals and give the benefit of doubt to the other person. Life is a big teacher some learn early some alas continue their way without realizing their faults. Kudos u wrote that letter to make the Cadet an Officer today. As usual well done and well narrated but the lesson is one to remember.God Bless

    Liked by 2 people

  2. js Ahluwalia on said:

    great .inspiring anecdote.


  3. Witheld on said:

    The one thing I can say is that Lt. Col. Abhi was lucky to have a Div-O like you. I joined the academy much against my own wishes and became an instant problem child in my first term itself never managing to cross green horn before getting boarded out. When you join the academy as a confused 17yr old life takes its twists and turns, you’re pounded with a reality you neve knew existed. I’m glad for Col. Abhi. God bless him, you and Gen. Kochar… Your one small action impacted many lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ranjan Keron on said:

    What an excellent anecdote ! Your efforts to get Abhi the valuable second chance and Abhi’s transformation into a responsible and mature Officer … priceless memories !! Keep writing Sajan ! YOU ARE GOOD !!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Vivek Mathur on said:

    Great writing, Sajan. Enjoyed reading it. Though, it’s always a tough call – whether or not to give that last chance, specially in an organisation of which the very foundation is discipline.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Pankaj Fotedar on said:

    Sajan, I bow to you once again .. Hope I can meet Abhi some day … How I wish Mathura sir had been given that one chance .. I remember him not getting a single punishment in academies till he was relegated for the only mistake he made in four years .. wish Gen Tomar had given that one and only chance .. This article has left me with a lot to think about .. some red inks that I dished out .. still make me feel sick .. thanks for reminding me for a great lesson .. Breathe before you Act …

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Silence on said:

    That letter you wrote was a piece of deep insight into human heart, I still remember Sir that day when it was being read as a letter from father of Abhi, my mind was sure that it has to be you and only you who could pen down such a deep and insightful letter. But one cant ask his Divo that sort of question those days, but I was sure it was you. You have finally answered it after 18yrs if I am not wrong.. Thank you Sir you have solved that query that was lingering in my mind since ages……

    Liked by 2 people

  8. vineet on said:

    wonderful buddy. keep the wonderful soul in you alive always. will catch up with you next time am in your town

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Raunak on said:

    Sir such a well written article. I could visualise the events as you narrated. And true each one deserves another chance

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I told you on the very first day, “Sajan, this boy requires guidance!”

    I guess, life had to take the course that it did. Sometimes a normal trigger doesn’t work, and it takes a while before the lessons sink in… but he finally made it, and that’s what matters!
    All’s well that ends well…

    Very well narrated…kindled a lot of old memories!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. A wonderfully written anecdote sir…And a lesson to remember… Never Ever Give Up On Anyone… Cheers sir!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Col Ravi Ghodake on said:

    Excellent narration.. Heartiest congratulations..
    Really puts down issues when we act in haste without looking issues in totality..
    I was instrumental in awarding 14+28 to one soldier for being OSL.. (soon after joining unit as Lt).. After some time I started getting into the things more deeply and realized punishment is not a solutions.. I felt lacking of leadership and requirements of improving ourselves..
    Since that incident, I feel proud to mention that there has not been a single official punishment I awarded to recommend for..
    Even during my command..

    Liked by 1 person

  13. shailendra on said:

    very well written. Inspiring.Look forward to more such insights.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Pramod Kapoor on said:

    A very moving account. 45 years after I was commissioned every bit written here appears so vivid in memory. A story like this is a very fine line between what is right course to be adopted and what is not. But that is why this great institution has an organisation structure that lends itself to youth and maturity rolled into one. Sometimes a particular course of action goes horribly wrong, but that is rarer of the rarest. At most times the organisation that we are blessed with ensures fair play.
    Am really proud to have gone through such a fantastic cradle in my life

    Liked by 1 person

  15. The problem with the DivOs at the NDA has been the mindset that “Trying the same old ways to outwit the Divisional Officer’s (Div-Os) without realizing that these instructors had walked the very same path many years back and were aware of all the Tricks of the Trade.”

    They never visualise that the generation next is smarter than them. We as cadets always felt that the DivO was not that smart and the DivO’s must have thought that the Cadets aren’t as smart as they are.

    Now, after bringing up two children through their teenage to adulthood in the Indian Army environs and in Canada, I have realised that they are much smarter than what we were.

    The children will always play their pranks, outwit and outsmart the parents for sure. It is the duty of the parents to correct them if needed (surely not by the stick or punishment) or many a times close their eyes or forgive them for their minor trespasses, but by making them aware of it.

    Like there are no Dummies for parenting, their are no Dummies for a good DivO. They got to believe that they are the parents of the Cadet and do what a parent would have done to their son. You did not like when your parents punished you and obviously you hardly ever punished your kid.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thamizh on said:

    Excellent write up Sajan. We faujis are extremely jumpy when it comes to taking decisions on any disciplinary case. Probably we have always been taught to take quick decisions but we, in our exuberance to follow this, generally jump to a decision. This is one good real life example to learn from. Well expressed buddy.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Madhav Datar on said:

    Excellent. The Div O has done his job well. Not certain if we have Div os like this any more
    As Commandant I gave such chance to three cadets , after checking up on the family through formations before they were marched up to me.
    But I have a regret. I withdrew two officers from course for repeated failure in academics. I wish I had discussed with the families their constraints. As a penance , I meet every new Commandant and narrate my regrets to him and offer my advice if a situation like this comes up. Managing human beings is NO easy task

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Very well narrated experience. Life is all about bringing change in others and changing yourself. It’s all about perception management. How you look at your surroundings . Actually what works for you are balance EGO, PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT & ATTITUDE if you are able maintain balance among three major behavioral components I am sure we can bring in changes everywhere. It reminds me of my personal experience where I had decided to experiment with human behavior. I was Pl Cdr at IMA Dehradoon, I decided not to award punishments to GC’s during my tenure and make sure they deliver in all spheres of training. During my two years of tenure, I didn’t even award single ED to my cadets and this gave me immense results. What you have done I think now a days nobody takes pain or put in so much of effort to add value to others. I am sure this incident would have changed your perception or attitude.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Appache (HS) on said:

    Hey Sir
    Thought that I would do a quick read of your latest anecdote, instead landed up lapping up last three, relishing each of them ….every word. I am so proud of you and our alma mater. Though NOT as blessed as you, one often wonders why can one not scale up what you and many like us feel so strongly about, have imbibed during our grooming!…demand side, is HUGE!..:)….shall keep working on it! BTW just dispatched a small write up the other day (acceptance awaited) which began with me quoting extracts of our NDA prayer!
    “Do good, individually and feel good, collectively”!!!
    … Keep at it Sir, love n regards!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Rajive Sinha on said:

    Dear Sajan, Awesome piece of life story, very moving and filled with important life changing lessons. We relish your intuitive style of writing which stirs number of memories and lingers on……..

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Sanjay Kumar on said:

    Hi Sajan, very well written piece. You have a great flair for writing. Keep then coming. On the lighter side, hope you had shared these while we were at the Academy, me toiling the night with ‘Hunter’ boys.
    Cdr Sanjay Kumar
    78 Cheetahs

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Col Rajesh Sharma (Retd) on said:

    Nice and emotional. Very well narrated !!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Col Vivek Bopiah on said:

    Hats off to you for having come to the aid of this fine cadet.
    Gen Kochhar was my coursemate in NDA. He didn’t have
    a great record himself then and finished way down below
    In the order of merit. He did brilliantly well thereafter.
    Hats off to him and his vision in helping the boy.
    Col Abhi has a brilliant future thanks to excellent guidance
    and support from officers like them.
    Col Vivek Bopiah (Retd)

    Liked by 1 person

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