Aligning the moral compass

by Maj Gen (retd) G G Dwivedi

IT took barely an hour by the army truck from Pune railway station to Kharkvasla. Driving through the Pashan Gate, the bird’s eye view of National Defence Academy (NDA) literally catapulted us to cloud nine. For most us in the mid-teens, NDA was not the first but only choice. It was dream come true and what a great start for the New Year -1968!

We were offloaded in front of the mess and allotted an Academy number. Under the hawk eye of a Cadet Sergeant, with boxes on the heads, we hot-footed to our Squadrons. Within an hour, the ‘green horns’ were adept at the skill of front-rolling, the only form of commuting for a fresher. After the mass crew cut, we were lined up in the community toilet for the maiden shave, only to end up as battle scared soldiers from the razor cuts.

The day invariably started with a morning prayer. One of the key sentence was “oh God, give us strength to choose harder right instead of easier wrong”. Thereafter, with cycles on our heads, we went through galore of activities. The classrooms were a replica of modern art; cadets in different poses, varying from head stand to push-up position, depending upon the subject: physics, military history or Burmese. Late night when back in the cabin, one could experience live the earth in its full rotation.

We were ever ready to do and die for our Squadrons. Be it the boxing ring, athletics stadium or obstacle course: the ultimate mission was to keep the Squadron flag flying high. The cheer leaders often went overboard and had to be pulled out from the field of play. Victory treats at the Café, with free flowing mango drinks and hotdogs were the most sought-after reward. While passing out of NDA, leaving our Squadron champion was the finest hour of the three years stint, far surpassing every individual achievement.

At the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, for the final year of training, the initiation was with the welcome address in the Chetwode Hall. “The Safety, Honour and Welfare of Country always comes first ….., the Honour, Comfort and Welfare of the men comes next, your own ease, comfort and safety comes last …” was the gist of the eternal quote inscribed in golden letters on the centre wall. While taking the final step marking culmination of our training, one stood transformed, cast into mould, distinct from a civilian counterpart. At midnight, on the auspicious occasion of our commissioning, with one pip on the shoulder, we could sense the onus of responsibility that had been bestowed up on us by the nation. “This burden will increase, as you go up the ladder. However, only those will stand their ground whose moral compass always remained aligned to the ‘True North’,” quipped a distinguished soldier.

Recently, at a Veterans’ get-together, the discussion veered around the subject of propriety; and aberration wherein some of the top brass happen to be in the news for wrong reasons. Most of us were silent till someone wryly remarked, “Possibly, it is the consequence of aligning the moral compass with ‘Magnetic North’; transition from ‘rank and file’ to the lucrative mainstream!”

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