By: Kamal Baruah
They were sent to Race Course as soon as they completed their POP (Passing out Parade). The trainees were from Jalahalli and Belgaum, and would participate in the RD (Republic Day) Parade 1990. Since billets were overcrowded by P-Staff, RD contingents were stationed at the military camping tents at AF Station New Delhi, which was one of the biggest establishments. The lines of billets were originally made for stables by the British. Such was the accommodation at the Race Course, that we were not disheartened. The large space at dining hall made it possible for five hundred air warriors to dine at the same time. The CAS would visit during National Holidays and Air Force Days. Meals were always available 24×7. Even if anyone missed their dinner, one could still hope for a breakfast at mid-night. Apart from the thousand airmen living there, outsiders entered as free riders. It was very difficult for mess members to identify them.
Our prime task was to practice for the parade. With only a mug of chai and aloo-puri at break, Jawans, as we were, we were always hungry for more. More exercise, and more food. So when delicious breakfast lay spread on the tables at the Shanti Path, we devoured like hungry wolves. Even fried samosas failed to satisfy our appetite. We had several small meals during pre-lunch. Contrary to the popular maxim, we breakfasted like paupers, lunched like princes and dined like kings. Our metabolism was perfectly suited for that routine. We had a mouthful of everything from the buffet and enjoyed every bite at banquets. They were sumptuous, luxurious meals. In fact the thought and sight of meals elated our spirits as we could grab as many pieces of chicken legs. In the evenings, we were let off for sightseeing. We moved around Delhi by DTC. We opted for Rs. 20 full day Delhi-Darshan pass. Many opted for free ride ready to pay penalty of Rs 100 for ticketless travel.
7 Race Course (now Lok Kalyan Marg) was just a stone’s throw from our mess. It houses the once official residence of late Prime Minister Rajib Gandhi. The design from British architect Edwin Lutyens was behind today’s New Delhi. We witnessed horse betting on weekends at the Delhi Race Club. The Race Course was founded for royal pastime of horse racing after British shifted the capital from Calcutta. Gambling is banned in India save horse race, a tradition carried on since 1940. One can legally bet on horse since it’s a game based on skill and specialized knowledge, it doesn’t fall under the gambit of gambling. We didn’t win much but passing time was much more important for us. Horse racing is an incredibly entertaining, traditional and exhilarating sport.
Evening was another great fun time for us, given that a movie hall was situated inside campus. As air-warriors, we had advantage going to the theatre at very reasonable ticket price. After early dinner at 7, we would rush. We never tired, and would go everyday come what may. Language movies were screened every alternate day. We wouldn’t even the South Indian flicks. Despite time constraints we were regulars. Although no subtitles were available for language movies, but the airmen of RD contingents were determined to watch. By the time the movie got over by 2200 hrs, we were hungry. Probably hectic schedule of Parade, PT and Health Run drained out our energy, perhaps the cause of our ravenous hunger. We moved to dining hall once again for supper. The head cook knew we were in for another dinner, but he never denied. The dinner was not available by that time. But breakfast being prepared for next day, was near ready. We took whatever was available, like half a dozen eggs, bananas, cutlets, bread & butter and a bottle of jam.
People take pleasure in food, but we gulped them to satisfy our hungry stomach. A civilian can’t fathom the thrill of soldier life. They say, good food does is an inevitable part of discipline, good behaviour formation, and a source of happiness too. Food is a fundamental part of our lives and a great starter to happiness. It’s a shift from being away from home to a healthy happy one. We’re avid foodies then but happiness came later.
On this 71st Republic Day, I fondly remember the Flag Hoisting Ceremony followed by the Parade. We were marching in a 12×12 formation along the Raisina Hills, synchronising with the beat of drum, pipe, buglers and trumpets while tanks rolled down from Vijay Chowk to Red Fort. We paraded and carried our Tricolour with pride. Toe marching wasn’t so easy to maintain a steady heel beat and cadence. We lose the battle often at gambling at Race Course but finally won the war at the Parade. We were adjudged the best marching contingent. But there was happiness surely related with food that appeased our hunger. It’s a symbol of true spirit that thousands marched shoulder to shoulder. Today there is another live stream from the India Gate scheduled at 9 am. Let’s celebrate it. Jai Hind.