Camp Green-Horn was an enjoyable event for the first term cadets of ISW-AFA (the Inter Services Wing of the Armed Forces Academy). I was a cadet there in my first term in the first half of 1950. ISW AFA was located in Clement Town, a picturisque little cantonment close to Dehradun which at that time was a part of Uttar Pradesh. Our camp was located by the side of a small stream called Suswa. Beyond Suswa lay a reserved forest named after a small village Doiwalla that the forest enclosed. Our first camp named Green-Horn was located in that forest of Doiwalla range of the Aravalli.
The first term cadets were all young. Our average age must have been around sixteen. The prospect of a camp in the forested mountains was clearly exciting. It was more so for those of us who were brought up in the plains. As the date of the camp approached, we went through some preparatory briefings and inspections. A kit list of what we must carry was passed around. There was a sketch showing us how the various packs of the FSMO (Field Service Marching Order) were to be packed. Two back packs were to be carried on the back, one a small one and another one that was rather big. There was a third pack that was to be slung over the chest. Two small pouches came over the belt on either side. A Water Bottle had to be hung over the hips. This whole paraphernalia was to be worn over dungarees secured over ammo boots with anklets. The various packs were attached to each other through numerous web straps and brass hooks. these hooks had to be properly positioned depending on the geometry of our body so that the packs remained firm and erect when we stood to attention. We were to wear a wide brimmed jungle hat over our heads and learn where to keep our 1/4″ maps, compass, torch and knives in the verious pockets of the dungaree.
The items to pack into these bags were also numerous. Blankets, ground sheets, socks, underwear, toiletry, anti-mosquito face nets, plate, mug, spoon and fork, housewife packet containing thread needle buttons and spare boot laces. We also had to carry emergency tinned rations. For some exercises we also had to carry DP (Drill Purpose) three naught three rifle with dummy ammunition filled into our pouches. The total load of the FSMO came to about 65 pounds. (A soldier carries an 80 pound load, but we were mere cadets, far from being adult soldiers). Considering that my own weight at that time was just about 95 pounds, it was a heavy load to carry.
We had to gather all items, shine all the brass fittings, blanco all the webbing straps, count arrange and display all the items, pack the items into packs and be inspected again. We had to go through this drill three times in succession. First it was the turn of the DCC (Divisional Cadet Captain). Then it was the turn of the SCC (Squadron Cadet Captain). Both these gents were from the senior most course that is the First ISW Batch. They were pioneers of the place and wielded enormous clout. After we passed through this scrutiny we were to be inspected by the Div Officer, the officer in charge of our Division within the Squadron. For me, the Div Officer for Able Squadron 2 Division was one Captain Darshan Singh Dhinsa. My DCC got us first term cadets to assemble in front of one of the billets and display our kit for inspection by the Div Officer and went away to report our readiness for inspection. Some time passed. Neither the DCC nor the Div Officer turned up. We stood by our kit as time passed. After a while, the need to visit the toilet pressed me hard. I excused myself and ran. I did not need much time for the sake of my convenience. I got back to my kit just before the DCC returned with the Div Officer. We stood to attention as the inspection began. Capt Dhinsa came in front of me and looked down at my display of my camping kit as I stood rigidly with my eyes focussed straight in front. He stayed in front of me for a period longer than what I thought was necessary. I grew anxious. Captain Dhinsa then pointed something out in my display to the DCC. My anxiousness grew to alarm. Where is your spoon? The question puzzled me and caused me to look down. Sure enough the spoon was magically missing from my collection. Some one must have flicked it when I was visiting the toilet! I mumbled incoherent answers. Captain Dhinsa was annoyed. ‘I cannot permit you to commence your camp with a deficient kit. Get hold of a spoon. Beg borrow or steal, I do not care. Show it to your DCC, else he will produce you in front of me.’ He marched on to the next cadet and soon the inspection was over.
VP Yadav, my DCC, was a kind soul. Quickly borrow a spoon from someone, he whispered as he went after Captain Dhinsa to see him off. We collected our kit individually and returned to our cabins. I had to borrow a spoon and I did not know who I should approach for such a favour. We were the junior most bunch of cadets and all of us were to go for this camp. Any other cadet would be ‘senior’ cadet. I had no intention of seeking any favors from one of those snooty guys who always tried to boss over us. My problem was not solved.
Soon it was time for lunch. While having lunch I had a bright idea. There was a waiter in the mess who used to behave kindly with me, bringing me a second help or a third when ever I felt specially hungry. Let me call him Ram Ratan here as unfortunately I have forgotten his name. Ram Ratan, I thought, would help me out. I found him in the pantry and narrated my problem. He was a bit hesitant at first. It was against the rules to loan out cutlery from the mess, he said initially. However, my sad face must have softened his heart. Wait a moment, he said and went into the kitchen store. After a few seconds he came back with a spoon and handed it over to me. My problem was solved.
The camp began as planned. We reached the camp site. A few tents had been rigged up there. One functioned as the camp office, another for an officers mess. A large tent nearby was earmarked as the cadets dining hall. We were allowed a tea break at the dining hall and then we were taken out for our first camping lesson; how to pitch a tent. We formed a hollow square and witnessed a demonstration of how to pitch a tent. Four jawans and an NCO instructor carried out the demo with impressive precision. We were then given a lecture on the various parts of a tent and the various types of tents in use by the army. Following this lecture, we were given out our billeting plan and were asked to pitch our own tents at the locations earmarked. It was an interesting activity. We complete the task and grew to admire the demo team who had just taught us how to go about this task.
The next three days were spent in routine trekking, map reading, and basic fieldcraft. On the penultimate night we also tried out a night cross country that produced some excitement. Crossing a ridge by night, one troop reached a sheer drop that was not clearly marked on the map. Trying to negotiate it without any supervisors present, two cadets endangered themselves by falling off that precipice. Fortunately there was an unseen ledge where they landed without severe injury. On the final evening we enjoyed a fairly lively campfire and then the exercise ended.
For me however, a new nerve wrenching drama began on the last day before we came back. After lunch on that day as I was going to the wash room to clean my plate and mug, I was stopped by a catering Havilder. ‘Aap ke haath mey jo spoon hai wo dikhana’ (show me the spoon in your hand). I sensed trouble but had no options of escape. The NCO examined the spoon an declared that this spoon was mess cutlery. I admitted that it was. On questioning on how I happened to be in possession of that item, I narrated the whole story. The NCO noted my name number and squadron details and let me go. I was happy to be let off. I had no sense of guilt because in my own eyes I had not committed any offense.
On return to the academy, I found myself charged with theft of government property. I was duly produced in front of my Div Officer. Captain Dhinsa asked me why I was found in possession of a stolen property. I denied the charge. It was not a stolen property I was in possession of. It was borrowed from the mess under pressure of time through the good offices of Waiter Ram Ratan. He may be summoned. He will vouch for me. I was indignant with the charge of stealing / alternate charge of being in possession of stolen property and I responded forcefully. Captain Dhinsa knitted his eye brows. Why was it necessary for me to ‘borrow’ a spoon from the mess? I then reminded him of his own words. I did possess a spoon in my camp kit. That can be verified by asking my DCC and SCC who had inspected my kit and had passed it. I had left the kit displayed for the Div Officers inspection to attend a call of nature. Some unmentionably horrible critter flicked my spoon from my displayed kit while I was away. You Sir found that the spoon was missing during your inspection and you sir ordered me to beg borrow or steal to replace the missing spoon instantly. I stopped for breath after this emotional answer. Captain Dhinsa burst out laughing. So you went to the mess and stole a spoon? My indignation knew no bound. No sir. I did not steal. I borrowed it from the mess through Ram Ratan. He can be called as a witness. I am sure he will verify my statement. Captain Dhinsa thought for a moment and then adjourned the proceedings. He would investigate the matter he said.
A couple of days later I was informed that my charge had been referred to the Squadron Commander and I will be presented before him. The date and time of the hearing of the charge by the Squadron Commander was notified. I dressed up in my best drill outfit as required for the occasion. I was kept waiting in front of the Squadron Commanders office for a whole day. The Squadron Commander did not see me. I was brought back the nest day only to be told after some time that the case had been referred up to the Deputy Commandant who will see me next week. I spent a miserable week.
As the days went by, psychological pressure on me began to build up. Initially I had been very confident that nothing serious will take place. After all, I had not stolen any thing and I had not lied. I faced a problem in being a victim of theft and I had been given borrowing as a viable course of action by my own Div Officer. My actions were transparent and Ram Ratan had corroborated my stand. But when the charge sheet started traveling up from Div officer to Squadron Commander to Dep Com, I was frightened. I did not know what to do. I was always a loner. I had no close friends with whom I could share my mental torment without the fear of being ridiculed. It was really a terrible week.
On the monday I was taken to the Dep Com’s office like a sacrificial goat. Dressed in spotless drill kit, I was inspected by the DCC, SCC and the Div Officer before I was sent off to the Dep Com’s office. Once again there was a long wait. When one is puzzled and frightened and when every minute seems to be longer than an hour, a wait of two and a half hours was excruciatingly painful. And again the charge sheet was referred up. I was now told that I would have to go and face the Commandant next week. The Dep Com was unwilling to handle a theft case at his level. Now I was really worried. I knew I was innocent but I did not know how to prove my innocence if my only defence, my honour on my own truthfulness, was excluded. I started having nightmares. If the Commandant decided not to believe me, then I could be dishonorably discharged and be marked as a thief for the rest of my life! I could not imagine how I would face my parents and the rest of the family under such circumstances. I considered running away. I was however too rational to dwell on such stupid thoughts. I had practically no money in my pocket. I did not speak Hindi well. I knew no one in or near Dehradun who would provide me with a shelter. I would be caught within hours. The charge of theft would stand substantiated. A new charge of desertion would be added to my record. It was not worth it.
As the next week rolled my misery increased. I was now certain in my mind that I would be suspended an sent back home. I was also sure that i would not be able to face my parents in such circumstances. I seriously considered suicide, but considered the action premature. I put it aside for reconsideration after I was thrown out. I do not know if I have ever been more distressed in my life. However, every thing ultimately ends. This week of misery also ended. I was taken to Prem Nagar to be placed before the Commandant. He refused to see me. I was sent down to the Dep Com. He did not see me either. I was then sent down to the Squadron Commander. Major Saran, my Squadron Commander, was away for a week of temporary duty. I waited for a couple of days. I was then told that the officiating Squadron Commander Flight Lieutenant WVA Lloyd will hear the charge against me. I was marched up to him. I narrated my story once again. Jock Lloyd dismissed the charge of theft and reframed a new charge of misconduct, that is inducing a mess servant to act against the existing rules and bringing out mess cutlery without authority. I was given three extra drills as a punishment.
It is now sixty one years that I have travelled away from those painful days. In 1950 I was too young to analyze those happenings. I never thought of the long term lessons from the searing pain that was inflicted upon me by the same people who I found to be affectionate and kind in later life. Now it is possible for me to look back and examine the whole episode dispassionately. From this episode I learnt that what you are and what you appear to be to others can be different. I learnt that while one is responsible for what one is and what one wants to be, one needs to be careful and conscious about what one might appear to be from another point of view. While one’s inner strength flows from ones’ inner intangibles, one has to prepare ones’ defences based on the visible and the tangible. It is not enough to be honest. One needs to be meticulous on one’s public actions and utterances so that one’s honesty and dedication do not leave scope for misinterpretation by the unkind or ill intentioned. That fortnight of pain at the age of 16 helped me adjust my behavior for the rest of my life.