As told to Shailaza Singh
Most people believe that life in the Armed Forces Medical College is all about studies, discipline and responsibility. Though it is all that but it is also about fun, bonding and crazy memories of a life time. Maj. General Ashok Kumar Singh, an ‘I’ batch alumnus reminisces about his days and experiences in AFMC.
I had always idolized my grand father Brigadier Thakur Khem Singh, OBI who served as the Commander of Jaipur State Forces . Hence, my dream was to join the army and follow his footsteps. I was ecstatic when I found that I had cleared the entrance exam of AFMC (Armed Forces Medical College).
On reaching Pune and not Poona
After I came to know about my result, I impatiently waited for my call letter. My father was even more impatient than me and insisted that I visit the GPO everyday. The postmaster at the GPO got so used to my inquiring about my call letter that he used to see me from a distance and shout out ‘tharo letter kooni aayo Bhanwar sa.’ (Sir, we haven’t received your letter). Finally, the letter came. I met Karni (Lt. Gen. Dr. Kunwar Karni Singh (Retd.)) my classmate from St. Xavier’s School on the train and we soon reached Pune. But I refused to get down because according to me AFMC was in Poona and not Pune. Karni had to really convince me that this AFMC was in Pune and not Poona!
First Few Days
The first shocker was the our heads were practically shaved off. For some time, we became the cynosure of all eyes. Where ever we would go in Pune, every body would point to us and say, ‘Dekho naye ganje aa gaye!’ (Look the new baldies have come!). But soon we got used to it!
When we joined AFMC, Bhim (Wing Commander Bhim Singh Rathore (Retd.)) who was a batch senior to me told everyone that Karni Singh and I were university level basket ball players. In those days, the court in AFMC was red in colour and we were five people (Dr. Khalid Moidu, Karni, Bhim, me and Late Dr. Ravinder Sharma) became one of the best teams of AFMC. Moidu was a batch senior to me. We went to buy a basketball to Main Street on Moidu’s bike. He then took me to lunch to Kimling restaurant where he ordered prawns and rice as a special treat. At that time, I was a mere boy from Rajasthan who had never tasted prawns in his entire life. I didn’t like the smell of prawns and just ate rice with some chutney. Moidu got so cheesed off with me that he refused to give me a ride and asked me to run the entire distance of four kilometres from Kimling to AFMC while he rode on his bike.
My batch, ‘I’ batch was a sports team. Brigadier Mahadevan who was the dean at that time wanted sportsmen in his team because he believed that anyone who is a sportsman will always be honest and courageous person. So, our batch had the maximum number of sportsmen and top notch players from all games, whether cricket or football or basket ball.
Beat the game
Moidu had told me to deny playing football because he wanted us to concentrate on building a basketball team. I was a fresher and I could not refuse anything that he said. So, when some people from the football team asked me to come for trials, I purposely didn’t play well so that they don’t select me. But after five months in the college when the ragging was over, we first years played a football match against the same people, we defeated them 6-0. I cannot forget the look on their faces when they discovered that I was a good football player too.
High on Bikes
When we were in the third term, on April 1st, we decided to play a prank on everyone. So, we picked up the bikes of all students and placed them on different floors. We parked bikes in front of student’s rooms, on the top of the water tank, on the terrace and everywhere we could think of. Imagine we were so crazy at the time that we could pick up the bikes and carry them up the stairs to different floors without making a noise! We parked a student’s bike on the third floor in front of his room. That student was quite unperturbed when he saw his bike in front of his room. He got on it, started it and drove to the bathroom to brush his teeth! We laughed our guts out!
At one time I was a block monitor. I was quite strict. I would check all the floors and in case any new student faced any ragging, they would tell the person that I had called them. One day, Pawan Kapoor (Air Marshal (Dr.) Pawan Kapoor (Retd.)) who was from M batch was going up the stairs and a senior was coming down. The senior asked him the whereabouts of Pawan Kapoor. So Pawan told him that ‘Pawan Kapoor’ was in his room. The senior later on got to know that he had been tricked by a junior. Then he promptly ragged him by asking him to pose like a ‘murga’ or a ‘medical chair’.
I was in the ninth term and I had assigned Pawan Kapoor the duty to wake me up without uttering a word. He couldn’t come into the room. So, he used to climb on the glass pane above the door and pretend to be a cock and say ‘cock a doodle doo’ to wake me up.
I had instructed another junior named Chandola to sing a specific romantic song the moment he saw me anywhere. So, regardless of who he was talking to, the moment he saw me he would sing ‘lag ja gale’ and other people would wonder if he had lost his mind.
There was a senior B.K. Singh who used my name tag A.K. Singh to rag people. When people complained about the ragging, to the authorities, no one could not find any A.K. Singh in the that batch!
After college, girls used to go on cycle and we boys used to walk. Karni used to whistle in a particular way. But whenever he whistled, the girls used to tell me to shut up because they thought I was whistling! And the fact that I was a good basketball and football player also helped!
We had a warden named Mr. Purohit. He was also from Rajasthan and his English was crying out loud for improvement but he insisted on speaking English no matter what! So, he used to say things like ‘my car is understanding the tree’. Normally during lectures, the girls used to sit in the front and the boys sat at the back. The seats at the back were higher than the seats in the front as it happens with most classrooms in the medical college. One day, the boys decided to sit in the front. Naturally, the girls went and sat at the back. That day, Mr. Purohit came and saw the change. In his customary English, he said, ‘Hey! You the boys and girls! How come the skirts have gone up and the pants have come down?’ We didn’t know whether to laugh or hide our faces!
In AFMC, the boys to girls ratio was quite skewed. However, the girls were quite sporting and shared a camaraderie with everyone. In those days, our banter was quite harmless and every one loved cracking jokes on each other.
All about greenery
We learnt to fire guns in AFMC. During the firing practice, we were required to shut one eye while firing. Generally, after about firing 15 rounds, the eyes get tired. So, we were instructed to open our eyes and look at the greenery (hariyali) after every 15 rounds. Once, at a firing session, when we were told to stare at the greenery, I turned around and saw some of girls from our class sitting and talking. So, the instructor asked me, ‘Number 45, kya kar rahe ho?’ (What are you doing?) I promptly replied, ‘ Sir, hariyali dekh rahe hain! (Looking at the greenery sir!). After the firing was over, the instructor asked me to hold my gun above my head and keep running around the field so that I could see my fill of hariyali!
There was a beautiful student named Purnima Chatterjee who was friendly with everyone except the boys of our batch. So, we all had a grudge against her. We decided to teach her a lesson. We collected a lot of rotten eggs. The girls’ hostel was bang opposite the boys’ hostel. So, we stood in the balcony and threw eggs into her balcony which was always open. Since we were great basket ball players, most of the eggs landed into her room. One of them even landed on her bed!
Once on Diwali, we decided to burst crackers. One of the rockets was misfired and landed into a girls’ room! Thankfully nothing serious happened but an inquiry team was set up. The inquiry team was headed by Bhim (Wing Commander Bhim Singh Rathore (Retd.)) , who was the general secretary at the time and was himself firing the rockets! So, the inquiry team obviously couldn’t find out who fired the rocket!
My mother had made a shirt from me out of one of her odnis (stole). The shirt was quite a good one and whenever I used to wear it my room and stand in my balcony, the girls had a field time whistling and passing comments!
One for all and all for one
Once, I had a skirmish with a student from another batch which became a full blown fight. Thirty students from first year came and stood outside my room and shouted at me to come out. My room mate was a body builder who was known for his strength. So, I egged him and said that if I get beaten despite having a friend like him, what was the point? So my room mate came charging outside and told every one to back off. Meanwhile, all my friends also came. Soon, the mob left. Had it not been for my friends, I would have been beaten black and blue!
In my ninth term, we were playing football finals in Law College in Pune. They were a lot of Irani students. On a different occasion, when we had played against them and started winning, they had turned rowdy. So, this time we were prepared and we had taken the army jawans with us. Every one was armed with rods and chains in case of any eventuality. So, when our team started winning, the spectators started pelting us with stones because the locals were a huge favourite. One of the stones injured our officer, Brigadier Dutta, who started bleeding. When we saw this, we were enraged. It became a free for all fight. I saw an official from host college and urged him to do something. He attacked me and I hit back. Some one in the audience took a picture and it was published in Pune Herald the next day. As a result, I was suspended from the games. The Iranis had seen the photo in the newspaper and every day four or five of them used to come in an Ambassador car and inquire about me and my friends. I decided that I had to study and pass out of AFMC with my batch else I would be left behind and the Iranis would beat me to pulp. So, I kept a low profile and studied hard. When we passed out, we were so apprehensive of those guys turning up at Pune railway station or bus stand that we caught a taxi and went to Mumbai. From there we boarded a train to Rajasthan.
We were doing internship in Base Hospital, Delhi. During the internship, you are still considered a part of the medical college. So, we were called for playing basketball finals to Pune. As officers, we were given first class tickets. We won the cup and then poured all kinds of alcohol we had into it and drank up that cocktail. I had totally passed out. It was Karni who helped to dress me up the next day since we both had to catch a train from Mumbai for Delhi. Between both of us, we had only ten rupees. So, we each had a cup of tea and peanuts during the entire journey. By the time, we reached Delhi, we were famished. Luckily, Karni always kept some money with him in the room. He went to his room and got the money and we finally ate proper food after an entire day of peanuts!
We used to go in a three-ton truck to play matches. One of my seniors called Luthra had this habit of taking away my glasses. He then used to ask me to describe the girl walking on the road. I couldn’t see without my glasses but I used to describe the girl in all her finery and glory. Then he used to give back my spectacles and show me the girl he had asked me to describe. Obviously, the girl was very different because I couldn’t see her! So, I used to fib that I was describing another girl!
One day another classmate of mine Chinni who looked like a Punjabi but was actually from Tamil Nadu decided to rag a first-year student who was from Tamil Nadu. So, he asked him to say something in Tamil. The first year student thought Chinni did not understand Tamil so he used all the cuss words in the language. To his utter shock, Chinni replied in Tamil! To punish him, Chinni asked him to count all the seeds in a guava and report back to him asap! The poor chap kept counting the seeds for the entire day!
As told to Shailaza Singh
This article was recently published in Rashtradoot’s Arbit Section