As the train pulled into the railway station at half past six in the morning today, I was pleasantly surprised to see school students neatly turned out in NCC uniforms, two rows positioned for each bogie, their backpacks in place, caps sporting sprightly red feathers, hands by their side military style, and standing to attention as senior instructors patrolled the platform for signs of the Karjat bound train that’d take them to Neral, the site of their National Cadet Corps (NCC) camp.
They were barely ten years old. Freshly ironed for the occasion, their crisp fatigues that’d do professional soldiers proud only barely managed to hide their childlike enthusiasm but you wouldn’t have imagined it from the enthusiastic YES SIRs that followed each instruction their ‘Sir’, a middle-aged man in checked shirt and regular trousers, issued to them in Marathi, the local language.
Even a ‘So, you’ll have fun for three days’ invited a spirited YES SIR from the young students of Saraswati Vidyalaya, their demeanour barely hiding their excitement about the trip. It soon became apparent that the middle-aged man wouldn’t be accompanying the young NCC cadets when he turned to senior school students carrying rifles slung over shoulders and leading the groups and said ‘Take proper care of them.’
To the back, along the wall, parents come to see them off milled around, watching their wards while keeping an eye out for the train. It was still dark with barely a hint of dawn breaking over the city. A sharp breeze blew in the wake of each train.
Along the way, I had changed my seat to escape the strong, cold wind blowing into the bogie as the train had picked up speed. Half-asleep passengers, mostly men out for work, sat stiffly on wooden seats, their ears covered to keep the cold out. Not many people remember the last time a Mumbai winter had spilled into the second week of February, but no one was complaining. It was a welcome change from the humid coastal climate and the perspiration that accompanies a day out about the city in the summer.
A pair of drums used to accompany march-pasts sat on the platform by the feet of cadets tasked with their responsibility.
The drums reminded me of my time in school when march-pasts would happen to the beating of drums. While I never had the opportunity to enrol as a NCC cadet, for it was restricted to students attending the afternoon shift, whose logic I could never really fathom, I delighted in the sight of crisp uniforms, though different from those I saw today.
Over the loudspeaker the announcer announced the arrival of a Karjat-bound train. In orderly twos and threes the NCC cadets filed into the train in three separate bogies, a far cry from the everyday jostling Mumbai train commuters put up with.
Their parents crowded the windows, wishing them on their way. Just as the train pulled out of the station, an accompanying senior cadet in a white and blue windcheater, a rucksack on his back and a rifle in a cloth bag slung from his shoulder raised his voice and cried out:
before pausing for the choreographed response from those seeing them off on the platform and the ones inside. Sure enough a chorus returned with:
Then he cupped his palm to the face a la Tarzan, lifted his head and cried out even louder:
Shivaji Maharaj Ki
before pausing for the response.
On cue the chorus sounded from the platform and inside the train:
With the mandatory invocation to the Maratha King out of the way, quiet returned to the platform as the train picked up speed and soon disappeared into the gathering dawn, carrying a bunch of excited kids learning to behave like disciplined adults. I’d imagine only the uniform kept them from being themselves.
And I stepped out of the station and into the commotion of rickshaws revving their engines while calling out to passengers emerging from the railway station.
I woke up early today, at quarter past three in the morning and had every intention to return to bed later in the day and catch up on sleep if only to do justice to the Sunday morning. But the sight of the energetic lot on the platform has lent a Friday spirit to my Sunday morning.
I believe it’s no different on other Sundays, for only a few weeks ago, alighting from the train in VT on my way for a Sunday morning meandering about the city, I happened upon high school students in Sea Cadet Corps uniforms, Navy Whites, returning from their Sunday drills on their training ship Jawahar based out of Colaba’s Navy Nagar. They were heading back home by train. A few, no doubt hungry from their exertions of the morning, including sailing and other water activities, were tucking into Chaat and Samosas.
The two Sea Cadets I spoke to were in their first year of their training and said they won’t be making their next grade anytime soon. ‘We’re still junior.’ The Sea Cadet Corps (SSC) is a Non Government Voluntary Youth Organisation supported by the Indian Navy. On May 13, 2013, it will complete 75 years of existence in
On the other platform, school girls in matching Sea Cadet uniforms awaited their train. Soon enough more Sea Cadets arrived, turning the railway platforms into a sea of white, their distinctive caps and demeanour reminding of the men they’re trying to be.
Many years from now when they’ve settled into professions they chose or those that chose them, they’ll probably look back and remember these Sunday mornings when their day off from school bound them in a camaraderie that connected them to a long and rich heritage of service to the nation, and as a consequence, service to self.
It’s an experience I believe will hold them in good stead.