Vipin Vijayan/Rediff.com witnesses the passing out parade at the Indian Naval Academy in Ezhimala, Kerala, and comes away with mixed emotions.
Being a part of the armed forces had been a cherished dream many moons ago. The lament that I could not make the cut would stay on with me forever. Destiny, though, time and again kept giving me a ringside view of the armed forces.
This last week I saw myself at the gates of the prestigious Indian Naval Academy in Ezhimala, Kerala. My 10-hour journey, at times a test of my patience courtesy Indian Railways, was well worth it.
Spread over a jaw-dropping 2,500 acres, the academy gave me a glimpse of why it swears by the motto of being the cradle of naval leadership.
The occasion was the passing out parade of the autumn term of the academy. The passing out cadets belonged to four courses: Indian Naval Academy course, BTech and MSc courses, and two Naval Orientation courses -- extended and regular.
The naval officer escorting me to my accommodation (a room named Thalassery in a guesthouse named Malabar) handed me more trivia on the academy.
He told me about a 900-year-old temple within the academy, the presiding deity of which was Kannoor Appan (from whom Kannoor district got its identity), about how Mount Dilli (which rises sharply from the sea to an altitude of 260 metres) was the highest peak in Ezhimala, and how every hill-top set of residences (aesthetically constructed) was allocated as per the naval hierarchy.
Barely had I settled down in the guest house, was I told to be ready for a pick-up in half an hour. There was special event lined up for the evening.
1745 hours. The setting at the parade ground was perfect.
Twilight had set in along the vast expanse of the Arabian Sea, flags bearing the naval insignia fluttered majestically, the hills on the other side of the ground stood tall as if they were watching over and a proud audience awaited the spectacle that would forever be etched in their memory.
The origins of the 450-year-old Beating Retreat ceremony lie in the practicalities of early warfare, when the drums signalled to the troops on the battlefront to cease fighting and return to their camps.
The tradition has withstood the test of time. Just that as the years went by, more instruments were added as accompaniments.
The naval band left the audience spellbound.
The band started its performance with the ‘Fanfare Poseidon’ tune, then did a quick march on ‘The Trombone King’ and slowed down with the ‘Royal Marines’.
At one point, they even paid a glowing tribute to Boney M with a rendition of ‘Rasputin’, the 1978 euro disco hit single by the Germany-based pop and euro disco group.
If the naval band elevated the mood of the gathering, which comprised the kin of the graduating cadets and top naval officials, including Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R K Dhowan, the physical training display that followed brought them to the edge of their seats.
The cadets impressed with their skills, showcasing the might of the sea warriors. Be it jumping through a ring of fire or leaping over obstacles, the young cadets executed a flawless performance. The crowd cheered their every step, their determination.
But providing a whole new meaning to the flawless performance were cadets of INA’s fourth term with their drill display.
For the defence forces, drill is the bedrock of discipline. The ‘Continuity Drill’ is considered the purest form of drill, as it requires a high degree of teamwork and coordination.
Armed with .303 display rifles tipped with shining bayonets, the cadets performed the movements in unison sans a word of command. The drills were identical to the tactical manoeuvres employed on the battlefield.
Words truly can’t describe the performance as much as a video can. Watch it below.
Then came the tattoo (no, not the one on your body). In Navy parlance, it means beating of drums within the billeting-areas, which orders the troops to proceed to their tents, cabins or quarters.
The smartly-dressed naval cadet band arrived, played their drums with LED sticks, and gave a fitting finale to the evening's proceedings.
As the parents of the 89th INAC BTech and MTech cadets headed out for the valedictory dinner at the Katari cadets’ mess, the news of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar skipping the following day’s passing out parade started filtering in. But nobody seemed to mind or care.
I got into a conversation with a naval officer on my way back to the guest house. He gave me an insight into what life in the academy was all about and how he hoped more youngsters came forward to study there. I couldn’t disagree, the facilities and faculty are indeed top notch.
We spoke for long; the conversation drifted from one topic to the other. By the time we called it a day, we were good friends.
0730 hours. That was when I was told the naval vehicle will be at my doorsteps to escort me to the parade ground.
It was perhaps the best morning I have had in a long, long time. The music of waves crashing on the beach, birds chirping and a light breeze hit me as I woke up.
The escort came on time; I was ready too. As I neared the parade ground, Navy Chief R K Dhowan’s convoy whizzed past. I could hear the buzz in the stands, as he arrived at the saluting dais.
Congratulating the outgoing cadets, who stood tall in pristine white uniforms in their platoons, Admiral Dhowan advised them 'to serve the country and the Navy with pride and always uphold the five values: Commitment: to make supreme sacrifice for the nation and navy; Courage: both physical and moral; Compassion: towards men and women you lead; Credibility: in performance and character; and finally to have integrity beyond doubt -- always and every time'.
The successful cadets then gave the naval chief a guard of honour before forming up in two columns, and marching, with their gleaming swords held in salute, past the saluting dais (known as the Quarterdeck), in slow march, to the traditional notes of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ -- the poignant farewell tune played by all armed forces of the world when bidding adieu to colleagues and comrades.
Passing-out courses were bid farewell by cadets of the junior term who manned the mast as the successful cadets streamed past the hallowed quarterdeck.
On completion of the parade, the ceremony of ‘Shipping-of-Stripes’ was conducted. The proud parents/guardians of the passing out cadets shipped the naval (or coast guard) epaulettes, popularly known as ‘Stripes’, on the shoulders of their children/wards, thus symbolising their transformation from ‘cadets’ into full-fledged Naval or Coast Guard officers.
The cadets’ celebrations were loud; they hugged, performed the traditional drill, sang and threw their caps high. Their family members joined in, some with moist eyes and others with a sense of pride at what their sons and daughters had made of their lives.
The moment was too overwhelming. I spoke to few of the sub-lieutenants (the new designation for the passing out cadets), all of whom said that their life’s purpose had been met and hoped to see more young Indians joining the Navy (and other branches of the armed forces).
As the special train (from Payannur to Delhi) that the naval academy had arranged for the passing-out cadets and their parents rolled out in the afternoon, I took a stroll to the Ettikulam beach nearby to introspect -- what if I had pursued my dream as much as they did.
Later that evening, I packed my bags and headed to the train station. During my short journey, I met a few 6th term cadets on their way home for term break.
They looked tired yet had their spirits high. Our conversations drifted from life in the academy to personal takes on which of the three services had an upper hand (the navy, obviously, did win that argument). Their daily routine, they said, started at 5:30 am and went on till 10 pm.
As I prepared to disembark, I ask them how they manage to keep their spirits up despite the rigorous training schedule. The answer came: “It’s a brand new day everyday till that one day when we earn our stripes.”