Schooling for valour: Shaping hearts and minds

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Schooling for valour: Shaping hearts and minds

The Rashtriya Indian Military College is rightly termed the nursery of India's Armed Forces; and its legacy is truly incomparable

Nestled in the Shivaliks in Dehradun valley is the most prized and elegant real estate. Four years short of its centenary, the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) is celebrating its grand Old Boys reunion today, like every year in the past. It was raised by Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales, who inaugurated the college on March 13, 1922 with 37 cadets.

He told them: “It is the first few blows on the anvil of life that give the human weapon the set and temper that takes him through life's battles”. In those good old days, it was called Rajwada Camp. Strikingly and skilfully Indianised, it is now rechristened the Rashtriya Indian Military College, the country’s

prime nursery for supplying ably endowed cadets for the three academies of the services.

Every morning when I go to the Okhla bird Sanctuary in Noida for my walk, I jump over a wall, crawl under a fence and negotiate prickly shrubbery —not to pluck rose-apples (jamuns) or litchies as we used to in the forbidden gardens near the college — but merely to take a short cut to the bird park. The learning of trespass and overcoming of obstacles to gather forbidden fruit ‘without being caught’ at RIMC graduated into higher skills of a cat burglar, poacher and taxidermist. These specialised trades embellished with the art of stealth and cunning paid dividends on raids and patrols later in my military life.

The principal, Hugh Catchpole, took care of us. He would say: “I am your mother and father”. He was ably assisted by EJ Watson, who married only when he was a sprightly 90, in London. Both were immaculately ‘suited and booted’ for the task of turning us into sound and sturdy cadets. Catchpole would take some of us in his ageing Austin to Mussoorie which sometimes needed a nudge especially near the toll barrier. The tax, he would say, ‘has to be paid by you’. He was a deft squash player and anyone who would get three points in three games became eligible for a squash ball. Although he was in his mid-50s and I a 14-year old greenhorn, I did stretch him to the wall and won many a ball.

The retired Catchpole once confided to my wife after I late-married on retiring from the Army that he had shunned matrimony fearing his wife would poison him. Not many Old Boys have been poisoned though during the days of wine merchant and Rimco Bikram Singh we were treated to the most expensive poisons of that era, gratis. Once tanked up, we would compete outside the senior ante-room on the tarmac in cyclic somersaults.

Lest you think RIMC is only about breaking bounds and surviving poison, here is the other  story. The accent being on quality and calibre, since 1922 just 3,000 cadets have graduated and a few handfuls have entered the RIMC and Military Hall of Fame.

After Partition, most of the Muslim boys left at the stroke of themidnight hour for Pakistan. The separation was painful but adequately compensated by the building of a replica of the RIMC at Hassan Abdal. As Catchpole was refused an extension in India, he regretfully left for Hassan Abdal to glorify Pakistan’s RIMC. With roots in RIMC Dehradun Pakistan has produced one Army Chief (Lt Gen Gul Hassan) and two Air Chiefs (Nur Khan and Asghar Khan).

The last grand reunion of Indian and Pakistani Rimcollians was in Dehradun in 1996. Subsequently, and the only time an Indian RIMC delegation went to Pakistan, it was led by Army Chief Gen VN (Titch) Sharma on the invitation of Pakistan’s Interior Minister in the Benazir Bhutto Prime Ministership, Maj Gen Nasirullah Khan Babar, a Rimcollian who is reported to have created the Taliban. The Pakistan newspaper The Dawn wrote, tongue in cheek: “Indian Generals Invade Pakistan”.

Today, strolling on the majestic lawns of the college, one will notice the Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal Birender Dhanoa, in conversation with former Army Chief Tich Sharma who is a permanent feature during reunions. The RIMC has given the Indian armed forces three other Army Chiefs — Generals KS Thimayya, GG Bewoor and S Padmanabhan — and one other Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal Nimmi Suri, apart from hundreds of Army Commanders, C-in-Cs of Air Force and Flag Officers in Chief of the Navy. The RIMC mafia is an exclusive club of excellence and notoriety and the association is resplendent with a who’s who of the armed forces, past and present.

Old Boy cadets become  the heart of soul of the military’s Higher Command. Rimcollians have won more than 100 gallantry awards including one Victoria Cross (Lt Gen PS Bhagat who missed becoming the Chief by a whisker) and Maj Somnath Sharma, the first Param Vir Chakra during the Kashmir operations of 1947. Lt Gen BS Negi of Central Command Lucknow has taken special care of RIMC as his baby and nurtured it in the last four years of his command.

On the morning of March 13, homage will be paid to Rimcollians who have laid down their lives in the line of duty. A special fly past will commemorate the event.

This morning at breakfast, the beeline was for the Scotch Eggs counter, the favourite treat of generations of Rimcollians. If waiter Thople is kind and generous and you exchange the customary wink, he will serve you an extra helping of Scotch Eggs. The waiters at RIMC, like Thople, De Souza, Noronha (all from Goa) were legends who used to double up in summer, when the college was closed, at the Savoy Hotel in Mussoorie as barmen and many times, as the jazz band. For Rimcollians it was a double whammy — Black Label on the house and an instant partner for the Miss Mussoorie nite.

Cadets from RIMC move into  the academy and service of their choice. Today, at the reunion, Old Boys will play hockey and cricket matches with cadets. Since the umpire/referees are Old Boys they invariably win the matches. Cadets will demonstrate their skill in sky-diving and their equestrian prowess. In the evening, there will be furious boxing bouts between contesting houses and many noses will be broken.

RIMC is truly the grooming ground for putting round heads on square shoulder and the bedrock of higher military leadership in India. Also, the school for valour.

(The writer is a Rimcollian of 1950-53 vintage)

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