Not too long ago, IndiaÃÂs brightest chose the National Defence Academy over that other elite institution: The IIT.
While the IITs gave us our best techies, the NDA made sure that the defence forces got its finest men.
The leadership at NDA, among the many institutions so lovingly built by Jawaharlal Nehru, ensured that despite inferior equipment, low salaries and bureaucratic apathy, IndiaÃÂs security was in safe hands. But like complex machines, institutions need constant care.
Especially now, when the armed forces is no longer the first career choice among young people. Even those who join get tired of the rigours of training and want to opt out midway. As the NDA enters its 60th year, here is an attempt at taking a long, hard look at this ÃÂcradle of leadershipÃÂ.
Many years ago, on a cold bleak December night in 1971, six of my jawans and I fell into enemy hands while on a reconnaissance patrol. As I was being escorted to the rear for the inevitable interrogation, my Pakistani escort, a young Lieutenant, remarked that it was going to be like another First Term at the Academy.
One year later and safely back in India, I was often asked about the tough time I must have had as a Prisoner of War. My truthful answer then and now is: ÃÂIt was a cake walk compared with the First Term at NDA!ÃÂ
The Academy prepares a cadet for anything -- in life or on the battlefield. Except perhaps on how to deal with the fairer sex! The training in physical fitness and mental robustness is not part of any regular curriculum but is woven into the traditions of the Academy.
Image: Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru unveils the foundation stone of the NDA, October 6, 1949. Picture courtesy the NDA website