Humour in uniform
Shalini Rawat

Boots, Belts and Berets
by Tanushree Poddar.

Indiaink, Roli Books.
Pages 223. Rs 295.

Marrying someone is like opening a book midway; you really donít know what went on in the life of your spouse before you arrived. Curiosity, however, must have got the better of Tanushree Poddar when she saw the camaraderie between her Armyman husband and his National Defence Academy (NDA) mates. She goaded and cajoled him to recollect and narrate his experiences of his training, often taking notes surreptiously. This book is a tribute to everyone who has either taught or braved the tough training there.

The book comes at a time when recruitments to the armed forces are on the decline. One reason could be that the books hitherto written by the bigwig insiders and know-all outsiders have been too somber for anyone other than the most serious reader. With this book, which is an account of four cadets who stuck through thick and thin to survive the gruelling schedule at the famous NDA at Khadakvasla, near Pune, the Army just might learn to take things in a little lighter vein.

Based on the experiences of her husband and his colleagues, the writer recounts the growing up of four teenagers from greenhorns to bravehearts. So, while we all get to "read a few chapters" in the life of an officer, the book also serves to demystify what goes on behind the prestigious confines of the haloed institute.

The narrative is set in the 1970s, when actors Jaya Bhaduri, Rajesh Khanna and all things foreign were the rage. Coming from diverse backgrounds, the quartet goes through the rough and tumble of the ragging which includes puttie parades (endlessly changing gear), front-rolling down corridors and going to the seventh heaven (hanging from the wire mesh of your roomís ventilator for dear life!).

The instructors add to their academic woes with extra-curricular activities such as swimming and diving, horse-riding, firing, endless drilling and an assortment of sports. Like most teenagers their age, food, girls and lazing around is what they long for. And although the academy offers a Spartan lifestyle, they manage to binge over the mess food and fall in and out of love with the very few eligible females of the human species found on the campus.

Although the characters are not really well filled in and the narrative staccato at places, it goes to the credit of the author that the frailer and more humane sides of our officers and men have been revealed.