And suddenly it was June. It really was hard to believe that we had spent six whole months in Dehradun and we were being asked to go home for a few days. From the moment we had arrived at the Inter-Servises Wing of the Armed Forces Academy at Dehradun in January 1950, time seemed to have assumed an illusive character. Our dawns merged into our dusks and our days dissolved into weeks and months without our quite realizing it. But indeed it was already summer and the Academy was shutting down for a break between terms.
Our terminal academic results came out. I was happy to note that the only -1 (minus one) grading indicating a Below the Average assessment that I had picked up in the mid-term test (in Hindi) had been converted to a zero grade (Average) for the term final. The grading for the other subjects had also improved. The humanities grades were mainly zeros, the science grades were mainly plus one (Above the average), with two subjects (Physics and Engineering Drawing) fetching a plus two (Excellent). I was happy to realize that there would be no need to to hide my results from Baba and Ma when I reached home.
On the last day of the week before the end of term the academic pressure was called off. There were no classes. PT in the morning and Drill after Breakfast of course did not count. Those had become a part of our daily life. For the rest of the day we were allowed to pack our bags, clean up our rooms, and remain in our billets. That itself was a strange and relieving experience after a six months grind. We were handed our break-instructions in a little cyclostyled sheet. We were also lectured on how to behave ourselves in public away from the watchful eyes of our mentors in the academy. We were reminded about our turn out and dress during the holidays. We were admonished about the misuse of uniform. We were reminded that our uniform was not to to be mixed in use with civilian clothes. It was impressed upon us to remember that we represented the Services to the general public and that we must not bring disgrace to our uniform by our behavior. We listened to all that sermon in total silence. Then came the surprise announcement. We were asked to collect our pocket money for the holiday! Since it was not yet the first of the month, I had not thought about collecting any pocket money. My surprise became bigger as the bursar gave back ALL the money in my account instead of the 30 Rupees per month that we were used to. Baba had deposited a caution money (perhaps 200 rupees?) and also paid in advance for my pocket money for the first six months, that is another 180 rupees. A couple of months after my arrival, my monthly government stipend of thirty rupees per month had been sanctioned. That added two months worth of stipend to the kitty for the two months already spent. Therefore, all the money I had brought from home plus the arrears of 60 Rupees was still in my account. All that money came back to me. I felt overwhelmed and very rich.
Dispatch of about three hundred ninety cadets on leave on one day was a large organized affair. Two convoys of trucks were arranged. The first one left at dawn. The Doon Express to Calcutta was scheduled to leave late in the afternoon. The group heading east was therefore allowed to go to the station by the second convoy starting at ten. Even so, we had many hours to kill before we could board our train. From the group heading east, nine of us from the third course formed a subgroup and went town-roaming. Apart from the air force Bong group of BK Chattoraj, Atin Das, Chinmoy Nandi, GC Dutta, and the two Sens – TK and KK, we took in two Pongo fledgelings, Pradeep Dasgupta and Dipankar Bhattacharya. All of us were headed for Calcutta except for G.C. Dutta, who would go on to Ranchi.
We strolled through the market; it was not very far from the railway station. We bought knick-knacks for our dear ones. It was a strange sensation of having time to think about home and having money in our pockets to think of purchasing little gifts and being free to roam in a bazaar all at the same time! After some time we grew hungry and we ate the packed lunch that we had brought from the mess. We still had some time left and our pockets were still heavy. By about two thirty we spotted a new (or newly refurbished) ice-cream joint. It was called the Kwality. We rushed in and settled down. The restaurant had a menu that was long. It was difficult to decide what to eat. The price tags on the right hand column also seemed excessive. There were items costing as much as three rupees! What the hell. It was an ice-cream joint. We were free to explore it as we had money in our pockets. We splurged and ate as much as we could. The bill came to a princely sum of rupees fifty seven plus some change. For the nine of us it averaged a little over six rupees each. Considering the base line large cup of vanilla at four annas a cup, that was a lot of ice-cream. Happily we returned to the station and got into the train as soon as it was positioned on the platform.
We had hoped that our gang will get our seats in a bunch together. We however found that we had been distributed over tour different bogies in twos and a three. Chinmoy Nandi travelled in my compartment. Rail carriages of 1950s were quite different from the ones that are used to today. Bogies were not inter-connected. Each bogie had four or five different compartments. Some were small, containing only two berths. These were known as coupe. Other compartments had four or six berths. Chinmoy and I got lodged in a six berth cabin. The other four seats were occupied by a Calcuttan family with of two adults and two kids. We got two of the upper berths, which did not bother us in the least.
It is rather difficult for a boy to look at himself from an outer point of view. All of us at the academy took our being in the teen stage of life without a second thought. To us, our growth and our appearance seemed normal. We did not realize at all that the six months at the academy had visually changed us. Now that we were going back home, we would realize how much we had changed. During the train journey we got a fore taste of what was to come.
We sat around for some time. The train went past Haridwar where we had some refreshments. (We seemed to be eternally hungry!) . As the evening turned to night we decided to get to bed. Without a second thought, we got up, put our weight on the chain holding the bunk from the roof and swung our legs up. It was the easiest way we thought of getting into the high bunk. For the sake of politeness, as we stretched ourselves in the bunk bed we poked our heads out and said good night to our co-passengers befriended over the last few hours. We found them looking at us with open mouthed amazement. It slowly dawned on us that our simultaneous athletic vault into the bunk was unexpected for our friends. Without realizing, over the last six months, we had become unusually agile. Our muscles were toned, and what we felt to be normal movement looked like acrobatics for the uninitiated! We smiled inwardly and fell off to sleep. Through out the next day however, we had to demonstrate our vaulting ingress and egress to /from the bunk a number of times at the request of the two kids who could not have enough of that athletic demonstration.
I reached home to a tremendous welcome. Grandma, parents, aunts and uncles every one was taken by my crewcut hair, smart dress and crisp movements. The transformation from a sickly college kid to a smart cadet of the Academy took them by surprise. To me, the household looked the same as I remembered and did not understand the fuss they were making about my ‘transformation’. Of course I had grown taller by an inch and had increased my weight by about twenty pounds, but was that not normal for a growing teen-ager? My first holiday after putting on uniform turned out to be fun.
From early next morning, I went around Calcutta re-connecting with my friends. Gora (Kumar Debakram Majumder) was full of news. He had cleared the UPSC exam in his second attempt. We had sat for the test together last time when I had passed and he had stayed back. He had now also cleared his Services Selection Board tests and had got his call-up letter. He would be joining me in Dehradun shortly. Of course he had opted for the Army and not the Air Force. None of my friends from the Academy lived close by. Automatically our old group of Anil Banerji, Gora Majumder and I resumed our daily Adda. For the moment, Parameswar Bhattacharya, the other regular in our gang of four was missing. He had joined the Indian Navy as a Boy Apprentice just before I had got into the Academy and was then under training at INS Cicars which was located at Vizag.
Slowly, a realization dawned on me. I had changed in the last six months! Previously, I would have readily agreed that I was physically the weakest in the gang. I was shorter and thinner. I used to tire easily. And I would be happier to sit and chat over a packet of peanuts than go for a long walk or run. That now did not seem to be case. I had grown taller and had put on some weight. I did not consider myself weak any more. I would happily wrestle and run, and often win. In the academy this change was not visible or evident to me. but now amidst my old friends it was very visible. The other thing I noticed was that my reactions to events and my speed of decision making had changed markedly for the better. I now felt irritated when the others took undue time to decide which movie to see or where to head for in the evening. The other nice feeling I enjoyed amongst my friends was of being rich. In my college days, my allotted pocket money of four annas a day did not take me very far. But now, with all the money that I had collected from the Academy before coming home on leave was still in my pocket. I had of course offered to surrender all that money to Baba as soon as I had returned, but he was generous and had permitted me to splurge if I wanted to do so. It was a great feeling.
A few days later Parameshwar Bhattacharya joined the gang. I found that changes on him over the past year were even more marked than it was on me. He was in any case a tough boy even in school, but now he was really tough. He never seemed to get tired of any physical exertion. I, with all my new-found stamina and smartness still could not outrun or outwrestle him. He had started smoking heavily and took pride in the fact that he could go through a whole tin of fifty cigarettes in one day. I did not like this change in him. In awareness of the world however, I had inched forward. We were good friends as we always had been, but there was this slow realization that all of us were well on our way to become individuals with our own distict identities.
For the three weeks of our break we kept ourselves busy. One round of get together in the morning either around the Dhakuria lake or around the Maidan or the New Market, A meal either in my mama-badi at Janak Road or at Gora’s house, and a second get together in the evening ending with a movie a day. The time ran out before we realized that it was gone.
On our way back we found that we were bunched closer together on the reservation chart. Three or four four-berth compartments were filled with cadets returning to Dehradun. In addition to the nine Bongs of the 3rd batch, the rest were seniors from first and second courses, traveling back with us in the same train. I was put in with a bunch of senior cadets. I did not have much to talk about with these guys; I had a lot of time to introspect and surprisingly a lot of things to introspect about. The first thing that surprised me was my own attitude about this journey to Dehradun. Six months ago when I had undertaken such a journey to join the Academy, the main feeling in my mind was that of an adventure admixed with a small strain of anxiety. This time in contrast, the feeling was similar to a feeling of returning home. I was surprised to realize that subconsciously I had started thinkning of the Academy as MY Place! I was happy to get back there. Another thing that surprised me was the realization that I was beginning to be more comfortable with my friends I barely met for the last six months compared to the friends I have grown up with over many years. These old time friends seemed to be frozen in a a social mould from which I was drifting away. It is not that I loved them any less. I still held deep affection for each one of them. So why was there this feeling of drift. It slowly dawned on me that the main difference was the expansion of my own horizon. I now knew many more people and about many more things. I had been exposed to a very large pool of human relations, human feelings and human emotions which had changed my priorities and my outlook. In comparison, the space occupied by my old friendships had shrunk from the time when my universe was much smaller. Perhaps such feelings are common to young people when they move from school to college or from home to a hostel? Still, I tended to feel privileged by the sheer enormity of exposure that was available for me just by stepping out of a provincial environment to that provided to me by the Academy. It was a happy journey back to Dehradun.