Down Memory Lane

A personal tribute to NDA on the completion of 75 years of its existence

Brig BL Poonia (retd)Brig BL Poonia (retd)

Joint Services Wing (JSW), later rechristened as the National Defence Academy (NDA) in January 1955, was born in January 1949 at the recently vacated Italian Prisoners of War (POW) Camp, Clement Town, Dehradun. Located in the salubrious climate of Doon Valley, it was close enough to the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun, and so was chosen to kick-start the tri-services Academy, as its new complex at Khadakwasla was still six years away. Located next to Suswa Nadi, the POW Camp became JSW, and IMA Dehradun became its Military Wing. IMA was asked to provide administrative and operational support to the infant JSW.

It was the first military academy in the world to train cadets of the three services under one roof, though a few countries later followed. The joint training of cadets proved to be a rewarding experience that produced life-long friendships between the officers of the three defence services.

The 1st course, comprising 191 cadets between 15 to 16 years of age, joined the JSW in January 1949. It was a young lot of matriculates from all over the country who had cleared the Services Selection Board (SSB) but not the UPSC written examination, since UPSC received Constitutional status only on 26 January 1950. But strangely enough, it turned out to be a remarkable course, which produced 63 Flag Rank officers. General S.F. Rodrigues, Admiral Ramdass Katari and Air Chief Marshal N.C. Suri rose to become service chiefs.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation stone of NDA on 6 October 1949. It took five years for the new complex to come up, after which the JSW was moved from Clement Town, Dehradun to NDA Khadakwasla, Pune, in October 1954, under the supervision of Maj. Gen. Enaith Habibullah, the then Commandant JSW.

The NDA was formally inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Bombay State Morarji Desai on 16 January 1955, and the first Passing Out Parade (POP) was reviewed by Prime Minister Nehru on 5 June 1955.

The NDA, spread out in an area of 6,700 acres with lush green and undulating terrain, is surrounded by hills from the northern and eastern sides. Towards the southwest of the academy, across Khadakwasla Lake, stands the imposing Sinhgad Fort of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the very sight of which is an inspiration for the cadets.

A memorial called the Hut of Remembrance was completed in 1957 through voluntary shramdaan’by the cadets of the 10th to 17th NDA courses. It is a memorial for those ex-NDA officers who sacrificed their lives in service of the nation. In addition, paintings of the three ex-NDA Param Vir Chakra awardees, Capt. Gurbachan Singh Salaria (3/1 GR), 2 Lt Arun Khetrapal (17 Poona Horse), and Capt. Manoj Kumar Pandey (1/11 GR) adorn the Central Hall of Sudan Block, the main administrative block of NDA.

The layout of the entire NDA complex has been aesthetically designed and the architecture of the buildings is superb. Its vast expense hits you when you reach a little ahead of the Pashan gate, the main entrance of the NDA. Apart from the imposing red stone Sudan block dome, one can also identify the silver dome of the Science block (now known as Capt. Manoj Pandey block), which houses a clock _the Big Ben of NDA, and a siren. Nothing has a bigger role in running the academy than the Science block siren. Its wail starts at 05.30 am and it stops hooting only at 10.00 pm, with the last call for lights-out. For the entire day, the siren is the master of ceremony, hooting away to glory, period after period, moving the cadets from the PT ground to the swimming pool, from the drill square to the equitation lines, and from the cadets’ mess to the Sudan block, the science block, the tactical training area, Khadakwasla Lake and the glider dome.

The three-year training at NDA is divided into six terms of five months each. After each term, there is a four-week term break, which the young cadets eagerly look forward to after the gruelling five-month training. This has resulted in the evolution of an interesting tradition of writing “DLTGH” (Days Left To Go Home), followed by the exact number of days left, just below the parade state, written on the blackboard of each classroom, every day.

Moments to Cherish

Every cadet has his nostalgic memories of the three-year training at NDA, and so do I. Gen. Manekshaw was the chief guest during the POP of December 1970, and once again for the June POP of 1972, after the 1971 war.

Commodore R.L. Pereira, our deputy commandant, who later became chief of the naval staff, was a thorough gentleman, but a stringent disciplinarian. Anyone caught by him, breaking any rule, used to get Sinhgarh Hikes as punishment, the number of which ranged from one to four. Each hike involved going to Sinhgarh Fort on foot with a packed lunch, on a Sunday morning, dressed up in Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with a rifle. One had to collect a slip from the top of the Fort and return within the specified time frame, failing which one had to repeat the punishment.

Maj. Darshan Singh, our physical training officer (PTO), popularly known as ‘Dhaka Singh’, was a tall Sikh officer with an imposing personality. Every term we used to have an inter-squadron cross-country competition, the most prestigious of all the competitions, since it involved the participation of each cadet, and the prestige of the squadron was at stake. The starting point of the race used to be the glider dome. When the cadets in their exuberance to take a lead, took off before firing of the green signal to start the race, Maj. Darshan Singh used to shout in his commanding voice, “Wapas”. He would then go galloping on horseback along the start line, and instantly fire the green signal through a very light pistol. 1,500 cadets with 3,000 drill boots, gunning for the lone tree hill enroute, marked a thundering start. The gap between the leading cadets and the stragglers kept on increasing as the race progressed. After panting and sweating, we used to reach lone tree hill, which was not only a landmark but a symbolic representation of half the battle won.

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