Bonding over ragging

I played the ragas on flute in front of his cabin for the next 30 days for 15 minutes.

Only a sort of death wish would make one nostalgic about a practice as abhorrent as ragging. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as a verb meaning ‘to scold, reprove severely, torment, play rough jokes on, disarrange and be noisy and riotous.’ Such activities stand banished now from educational institutions including engineering and medical colleges where ragging used to be practiced rampantly, though disapproved officially.

In training institutions of the armed forces where brute physical strength and moral invincibility were idolised as hallmarks of a warrior, ragging enjoyed tacit approval of the authorities and was enco­uraged as a toughening up measure at least in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, incidents of inhuman treatment of freshers led to the ban on the savagery that benign ragging gradually turned into.

I had joined the National Defence Academy at Khadakvasla in 1961. Then, ragging did not suffer the ignominy as a subterfuge for hateful sadism and  often assumed very interesting forms. Looking back after 55 years, I feel ragging cemented a bond between the freshers and the seniors which grew stronger with passing years.

Can I ever forget the innovative ragging by my seniors like Dileep Parulkar who had perfected it to the level of an art? By the time one reached the fifth semester, one usually got tired of ragging as a pastime and handed over the baton to those who had just climbed the first rung of seniority. But not Dileep.

When I mentioned to him that I was fond of classical Indian music and played on the flute, he found in me an ideal candidate to hone his art upon. He declared that he hated the reveille bugle that woke us up in the morning and asked me to suggest an Indian raga that could substitute the jarring (in his words) notes of the bugle. I suggested Bhairawi and Todi ragas and he was suitably impressed.

I was then commandeered to stand in attention in front of his cabin for the next 30 days and play these ragas for 15 minutes before the reveille. I dutifully did so —  it was certainly better than crawling and frog hopping which most of my course mates were made to do first thing in the morning.

Dileep earned fame later when as a fighter pilot he was shot down over Pakistan in 1971 war. He successfully escaped the POW camp after digging a tunnel along with two more Indian POWs but  was unfortunately apprehended just short of the Afghan border and mercilessly beaten up. I met him 15 years later as his batch mate in the Defence Services Staff college at Wellington. I reminded him of his unusual combination of ragging and classical music.

“Oh, I hated classical music. I actually punished myself listening to your flute just because I fell in love with my innovative ragging,” he said. I then enquired about his old buddy Inder who had made me stitch three dozen buttons on my blanket after he found a button missing from my shirt, although we had orderlies to do the job. My wife would have thanked him for training me in such a useful skill.
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