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out Parade rehearsal. Madras (now Chennai) could sap you up like a sucked up mango with its killing humidity. There was nothing saintly about the Saint Thomas Mount address of the Officers Training Academy (OTA) and nothing tranquil about the Adyaar River that trickled by, guess the Tamil poets were just pipe dreaming. Humidity was a part of the grueling training! Chaprana, the drill sergeant major unlike the never raining but unwieldy clouds, was always showering, the choicest of invented expletives at the unruly mass of gentlemen cadets under his charge who would soon become officers. The vernacular flavor of an expletive is lost in translation. But his words would still ring in the ears of most of the target victims, long after we shed the uniform. Some real creative ones were, “Don’t stand there like a satiated dog with a bellyful of buttermilk”, “Stand at ease, does not mean, you stand like a dazed whore” “ a screwed up female donkey should have no doubts about her virginity” and “Your frigging knees must touch your nipples”, boy I never knew till then that I had any nipples.” Well, drenched in sweat and chastised from the drill square, I had just stepped in and was hurriedly stripping in our room when the company sergeant major barked at us to wear Number 1 uniform and move to the office for photographs. I did not think that the Army was keen on shooting photos of endangered wildlife specimens like us. So I went for a recce in my undies. Guys were being lined up and shot one at a time right up against a tepid wall. It wasn’t actually execution but it was executed in a military manner for making passport size photos for Army officer I cards. So I quickly borrowed a shirt, not wanting to get mine drenched in sweat. “Are you posing for stinking lingerie and hairy thighs” bellowed the platoon sergeant. “Hey, you need my handsome mug for this, if you wanna shoot over thighs, I’ll tell ya, who got the creamy ones” I smirked. “You imbecile, this photo will remain on your I card till you retire and you better preserve it more than your balls.” Talk of preserving; I had even forgotten where my balls were. Anyways that was how my photo was shot; sporting a fuck you smirk, donning a borrowed shirt, less the sweaty undies as it was a close up passport size photo. Looking back, there was a kind of premonition about it, I kind of made my hell may care attitude officially tagged to me. This I Card was to remain with me till yesterday. 23 years, much more than the wife, and we survived each other, I mean the I card and I! Ahem! As we passed out from the academy, in my case, stumbled out; barely passing the Drill square test, we were handed out our Army Officer I cards with long sermons full of gory anecdotes of what befell officers who lost them. “Till death, doth you part”, you will wear it in your left breast pocket secured by a chain around your neck” ordered the Major. I was left wondering if we had breasts and what if they were larger, could we have pockets for breasts. Youth has its share of brashness, some of us got to realise the power the I Card wielded, getting out of sticky situations like police raids in whorehouses by flashing it
to come clean or to traffic cops who hauled you up for driving without a license or a helmet. Very soon the charm wore off and you realised, damn it, you are supposed to be the disciplined ones and then you hid it in your left breast pockets and molded yourselves into model citizens. A drunken officer may not remember where he left his wife but he would always remember where his I Card is. There are no excuses for losing an I Card; there can be a dozen excuses for deserting a wife. An officer risks losing his seniority for the loss of his I Card and in the Army seniority matters much more than the size of one’s balls. Gradually it becomes a part of you, a second skin; you protect it, do not flaunt it and are responsible for it. There are many a interesting episode about how officers lost their I cards, one poor young officer was in deep thought sitting on the thunder box while travelling in a train when calamity struck and the I card chain snapped and off it went through the commode to the running track. Irretrievable circumstances, yet the poor guy evoked no mercy from the court of inquiry. Another colt flashed it to some unruly ruffians who snatched it and bashed him up instead; now this is something I would have never done in my youth. When you have an opportunity to teach some disciplining, why spoil the fun by showing your credentials, give it to them. An I Card is never carried to the battle zone or where life is at risk. It is safely locked away. There all of us carry identity disks aptly named dog tags, a round one and an oval name that has your name, number, blood group and the prefix letter of your religious denomination etched on it. You wear one around the neck and the other around your wrist. If you are badly wounded, dead and retrieved in whole or in limb, there is a probability that you may be identified after the fog of war clears up. You may then receive medical aid or last rites according to your faith. I often thought of writing “L” for love as my faith but I wasn’t allowed to do so. How does it matter, how my body is disposed off, of what use is any religious faith if it cannot calm and care for the soul. All zealous supporters of any faith leave me with an unpleasant distaste. They seem so engrossed in the rituals and have scant regard for the underlying philosophy of humanity which each religion espouses. These dog tags however, also have great sentimental attachments for families of soldiers. My elder daughter got to learn the meaning of these disks and would grow morose when she would see me getting ready to wear them. Last year, at Walong , a historical place near the IndoChinese border while clearing a landslide, border road personnel stumbled upon the mortal remains of one No 3950976 Sepoy Karam Chand, a martyr of the 1962 war. His remains were discovered after 48 years and could be identified through the dog tags. He is thus no more missing in action but a declared martyr who fought at the fierce battle of Walong. Luckily there is no need to surrender your dog tags when you leave the Army, you can carry them away as Souvenirs. After all, they are made of cheap aluminum and will not get you out of trouble from the cops or elsewhere. To return back to a sense of identity and the I card. Before you know it, the I card becomes a crucial part of your identity. But, when you leave the Army, you must deposit it back. It is shred and destroyed by burning to prevent misuse.
As the Adjutant at various establishments, I have done these destructions hundreds of times and it seemed like a routine office procedure. Yesterday, I handed in my I Card after dithering a couple of days. I still have a few more days to go and could have prolonged it but that would have meant delaying the procedure for issue of my retired Army officer I card. This retired bit may seem like second rate citizenship but that is the choice I have made by my own compulsions and deliberations. Why I feel naked without my I card is inexplicable. In a couple of days, I will even shed my olive greens, the green beret of the Infantry and the stars I wear. I have been the kind who would always shirk wearing the uniform and it seems funny that I am going to miss it. I care two hoots about losing my perks but the sentimental attachment is hard to shirk off and is bound to remain, may be like a hangover. My name will continue to carry the suffix of Shaurya Chakra; blissfully decorations and awards are immortalized with the recipient unless you disgrace yourself with treason. Yet, I know I shall have to discover my own identity for the remaining part of my life and not bask in past glory, if need be; forge it in this furnace of my personal turmoil. Shedding the I Card is not the end but just the beginning to carve out my fresh identity.
30 Jan 2011
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