Nostalgic memories flood the mind when one remembers the three years spent as a cadet under training at the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakvasla. Each former cadet has many stories to recount; some of them tall tales.
The three periods before breakfast were normally a mix of outdoors training and academics. Outdoor training comprised either physical training (PT), or drill, or horse riding. Sometimes it was a combination of PT followed by drill or PT and riding.
When PT was followed by drill, one had to change from PT dress to drill order - uniform including turban - and cycle to the drill square in 15 minutes. My 'on time' strike rate was about one-third. On the remaining occasions, I had to join the punishment squad of 'late Latifs'.
However, the real killer was PT followed by riding. Changing into riding rig involved having to tie my turban and roll the 'patties' neatly around the breeches umpteen times - a difficult proposition. It also meant cycling almost five km to the stables and 'drawing' a horse from the ride allotted to the squadron.
All of this had to be done in 15 minutes and it was beyond me. So, I would trickle in seven to 10 minutes late, be given a dressing down by the Equitation Officer and assigned to the punishment ride. This ride had all the leftover horses - foul-tempered, jumpy, forever bucking and, hence, difficult to mount. They often snorted angrily and were apt to throw cadets off with their frisky antics.
One hot summer morning, by the time I reached the stables, only one horse was left. Silver Spoon was probably an American breed. Huge in size, he was chestnut in colour, like the deciduous tree by that name. I patted and stroked Silver Spoon and muttered some words of encouragement to establish a rapport with him - just as we had been taught to 'make much of your horses'.
Silver Spoon looked me up and down but stood still and let me mount him without incident. I had been told to join a ride across the adjacent glider-drome. So, horse and rider set off on an easy trot. As things were going surprisingly well, I soon spurred him into a canter, which he seemed to relish. It felt good and I began to enjoy the ride.
Across the glider-drome, there was a small ditch. I did not prepare Silver Spoon as I thought he would sail over the ditch smoothly. At the rear edge of the ditch, suddenly, without warning, Silver Spoon came to a dead stop. And, I went s-a-i-l-i-n-g over his head and landed with a thud across the ditch.
I got back to my feet. My ego was bruised but my bones were intact. I dusted myself and adjusted my turban, which was still intact thanks to the chin strap. Normally, after dropping a rider, the horse bolts and goes back to the stables. But, Silver Spoon just stood there. I am dead sure he was grinning at me.
As the horse had established mastery over the rider, he appeared satisfied and let me mount him again without any fuss. We rode on without further incident. In fact, we became kind of friends and I asked for him by name several times after that.