As a result of the travails of NDA training, stimulated by a 6500 calorie diet, and 12,000 calorie bursting bullshit from senior cadets, Cyclic grew up at Mach 2, into his 4th term in NDA. This story is not about Cyclic, it is about his course mate AK, a man much like him, ‘Usi Chakki Ka Atta’!!.
One Sunday morning in 1968, I think in our 4th term in NDA, we reported to the swimming pool in PT Rig with a costume and towel, to jump off the 7 mtr board and swim a length to pass the minimum swimming ability test, failing of which usually led to relegation. Jumping off the 7 mtr board was a monkey trick which many of my course mates dreaded to do. At least the ones like me who were not born to be a fish or volunteered to join the Navy. The swimming tests were scheduled between 0600 to 0800 hrs, after which the pool was reserved for use by the officers and their families.
The tests were conducted by venerable Maj Darshan Singh (Dushman – Dush behind his back), who was the PTO. On that particular day Dush had a plaster cast on his right leg, an accident that took place from a misplaced kick at the backside of one of my die hard course mates two weeks earlier. The cadet was quick and agile and shielded his backside with a medicine ball and hence Dush kicked the wrong ball. A dislocated ankle was not something that deterred the highly conscientious Dush from his work, basically to mentally, morally and physically cast our mind in RCC and Portland Cement. The tests commenced on time, one Sqn at a time, with Alpha Sqn leading.
Dush would blow the whistle and the cadets would troop up the ladder to the 7 mtr board, and form a line. On his next whistle, they would jump off the board one by one like para troopers after shouting their name and number on top of their voice. That was the plan. But like all battle plans, there were glitches. Some cadets would not jump and it took lots of persuasion and threats to make them jump. Often Dush would laboriously climb up the ladder, and using his plastered foot, kick the cadets down from the 7 mtr diving board. It went on like this and it was almost eight O’clock by the time Echo Sqn’s turn came. Those of us from Fox were still sitting on the side of the pool in swimming costume waiting for our turn.
Very soon a crowd began to gather, officers, their wives, and several of them with their grown up daughters, all of them in their swimming trunks or gowns. There was also Sunita Bakshi, the very buxom daughter of an ex Cmdt. I think she was at that time staying with one of the officers to complete her school education from Poona. She was a very good looking girl, very dynamic and good natured, more or less our age.
In due course everyone from Echo Sqn also jumped, after some form of persuasion or the other, and the kicks, all except Cdt AK from Echo Sqn. AK refused to jump.
When Dush climbed the stairs, AK would find a shortcut to come down usually by monkey crawling along the vertical supporting structure. When Dush came down, AK would climb back to the 7 mtr board like a monkey going up the pole.
‘Cadet, I will punish you’, Dush roared, blowing his whistle, long bursts, for emphasis. ‘Sir, Sir, please Sir, give me a chance, I will jump, …….I will jump on my own’, AK would say. The drama would be repeated all over again. It was really very hilarious to see Dush and AK doing monkey tricks on the diving board. We could not stop giggling.
First the Div Ohs stepped in and when that did not get AK to jump, the Sqn Cdrs took Over. Nothing made AK jump, his antics became more and more hilarious, monkey like, crawling all over the place with Dush chasing him up and down. After a while, Dush managed to corner AK on the 7 mtr board.
‘Sir, I will jump, …….I promise I will jump, …….can you come up to the edge with me, just to give me confidence ?’ AK shouted and poor Dush took him on his word. When they reached the edge, AK pretended to stumble and gave Dush a push. Dush fell from 7 mtr board like a sack of potatoes and some of the PT ‘Ustads’ had to jump in to fish him out.
The Cmdt, I think AVM Goel (or perhaps R Adm Batra ?), had arrived quietly and was watching the ‘tamasha’ from a corner.
‘Let me try and make him jump’, said Sunita Bakshi sweetly. I told you, she was that kind of a lady, with 9/9 OLQ, very dynamic. ‘Can I come up there ?’, she called to AK with a very invigorating smile. If looks could kill, Fox Sqn would have sentenced AK to be shot by ‘Looking Squad’ out of sheer jealously.
‘Yes Mam, but don’t push me OK ?’ AK called down to her. ‘No No, I just want to talk to you’, she said to him loudly, as she climbed up the diving board, swinging her ample hips, a very visually stimulating trait that God bestowed on women, just to make men go crazy.
For next ten minutes Sunita cooed and hushed, put her arms around and cajoled AK, right there on the 7 mtr board, right there in the public view. Fox Sqn died with jealousy.
Finally, inch by inch, Sunita managed to bring AK to the edge of the diving board. And when they reached there, AK put his hands on her backside and gave her also a push. Sunita too fell from 7 mtr board like a sack of potatoes. Many of us wanted to jump in to save her, hoping that we would get to act like a life guard and resuscitate her. But the young bachelor Div Ohs beat us to it, with the same intent.
Dush, the spoil sport that he was, blew several long continuous burst on his whistle and the Div Ohs returned most disappointed.
‘Call the Bugler’, the Cmdt roared. ‘I am going to relegate this bugger right here’. ‘Come down here’, he commanded AK. AK came down hesitating at each step. The Cmdt gave him a long bullshit, we couldn’t hear much of it. ‘Are you going to jump ?’, he asked loudly, once again. ‘Yeeeeeees Sssssssssssir’, AK answered in a loud parade ground voice.
He made a big show of going up the diving board, came down half way and went up all over again. He stood for a while contemplating on the 7 mtr board. ‘Sir …….can I jump from 10 mtr instead ?’, he called to the Cmdt. ‘Well done AK, that is it, show me that you can do it’, answered the Cmdt, equally loud with a broad satisfied grin.
AK slowly climbed to the 10 mtr board. He went to the middle of the board and stood at attention for almost two minutes, taking deep breaths. He was short, very muscular, perfectly built, with prominent biceps and pectoral muscles, 6 toffee abs. He was like Adonis, waiting for the inevitable. Sunita huddled on the side of the pool like a wet otter, looking at AK with doleful eyes. The Cmdt was probably hyper ventilating. We sat there holding back our giggle.
There was pin drop silence, all eyes turned upwards to look at AK.
Slowly AK took three steps and went to the very edge. He took another few deep breaths, shook his shoulders to relax, his eyes focussed on distant horizons. Very slowly, in perfect slow motion, he did a hand stand at the edge of the 10 mtr board. He stood on his hands for another minute, perfectly still, head craned backwards, his stretched toes pointing at the sky.
All of a sudden he pushed with his hands upward and forward like ejecting a Polaris missile from a submarine. For a second or two, he stretched his hands out, in crucifix position, body stiff and straight. As the gravity took hold, he rolled himself into a ball hugging his bent knees, somersaulting backwards once, ………..twice, ……….three times. As he approached the water, his body uncoiled, hands above his head, ram rod, and entered water in a perfect dive, with hardly a splash. In terms of diving it was an inverted triple somersault, with a pike value of 4.9, a most difficult one, executed by AK like an Olympian diver.
There was loud and reverberating silence. I couldn’t hear anyone breathing. Every one held their breath waiting for AK to surface from the deep diving end. We waited, and waited, for almost three minutes. There was no sign of AK.
Suddenly there was a splash at the opposite end of the pool, the shallow end.
AK ejected himself out of water like a Dolphin. There were shouts, ‘Cadet, come here’. The Cmdt shouting louder than the others. Everyone was laughing and cheering, Sunita Bakshi loudest. But AK ran for his life in his swimming trunks, he ran past the Gym, behind the QM fort. He kept running as if the devil was after him. He went back to Echo Sqn in his swimming trunks and hid in the tea room behind the parapet for next two hours.
AK was marched up to the Cmdt next morning in drill order without a belt, for relegation. I believe the Cmdt got up from his chair to shake AK’s hand. But AK was awarded 28 days restriction for ‘Shirking’. Do you have any idea what ‘Shirking’ means? I don’t. I think it was just healthy tom foolery, the fun of youth.
The swimming tests were cancelled that eventful Sunday and Foxies had to go again the following Sunday, with the lot from G to L Sqns. We were told by the PT Ustads, ‘Cadet, No Shirking, Relegate Hoga’. And in any case Sunita was not there to watch, so there was no fun to take ‘Panga’.
Afterwards, AK was the runaway diving champ in NDA and there was none to beat him. He had been a diving champ even before he joined NDA, but had not told anyone about it. I think he received blues in swimming and PT, probably some other games too, perhaps a blazer. I don’t remember. AK served in Sikh Regiment with distinction. Many years later, he grew old like the rest of us, and hence retired. Col AK (Rtd) continues to be a very lively old man and enjoys orchestrating elaborate pranks on daily basis, especially if there are ladies watching !!