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The Cadet's Diary

In many of my posts over the past two years, I have made subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) allusions to my membership in the National Cadet Corps. About a month ago, I embarked on what is known as the "RDC chain", a series of eight camps which culminate with the Republic Day Camp and parade in Delhi. Being, as usual, out of things to write about, I decided to write about the camps.

I was fortunate enough to have been born into an upper-middle-class family. I also happen to have a mother who is more than somewhat compulsive about cleanliness. Let me put that into perspective for you: when I was a kid, all our bathroom breaks on road trips coincided with the appearance of a Coffee Day by the wayside,  and not because anyone enjoyed the food (we're all tea drinkers at home, and anyway, you can't really enjoy a soggy, week-old sandwich). We stopped there because Coffee Days have reliably clean toilets. Sixteen years I was raised like this, and then packed off to an NCC camp. It has now been four days since I last saw a western-style toilet. Even by the NCC's (somewhat lax) standards, these toilets are bad. A 3-foot-by-3-foot cubicle of corrugated iron with a hole in the floor that leads directly to a pit underneath. There's no running water in these toilets - you have to carry a bucket in from outside to wash your backside (I don't know what happens if you run out of water before your bum is clean and at this point, I'm too afraid to ask). The pits are far from airtight. There's a word in Kannada, 'suvasane', which means 'divine aroma'. It's not often that I get to be sarcastic in Kannada, but I don't know a more apt term to apply to the smell around those toilets.

For food to leave the body, it must first be ingested. I'm used to three square (until recently, more than square) meals per day. At least once a week, we go out for a meal to relieve the monotony of our consumption. The problem at camp is quite a novel one for me - one of not having quite enough to eat. It's not that they starve us - they just have to cook for 500+ people and somehow consistently underestimate the kind of roaring appetite that doing drill all day gives your average, already-ravenous teenager. The bottom line is that we are all restricted to two chappatis and a single helping of rice per helping, and by the second round, they've always run out of something. This quantity of food falls into the category of "way too much" at home, but into that of "not nearly enough" at camp.

I don't know if you've ever been hit with a stick before. For me, too, this was a novel experience, and I can tell you that it feels exactly like you think it does. The explosion of pain you feel as soon as the stick makes contact rapidly gives way to a burning and soreness that can only be soothed by loving massage, an urge which we, as cadets, cannot satisfy. Partly, this is a question of modesty - we live in a society which, for some reason, discourages spontaneous grasping of the buttocks. More importantly, though, grabbing the aching part is an invitation to the drill instructor for the further application of 'pitai'. We don't call it a bum in camp, we call it 'government property' - it's the only part of the body which has no purpose.

For all that, though, I love the NCC. I love the camaraderie, I love the camps, I love the simplicity of earning respect - if you're good at what you do in the NCC, people respect you for it. At the end of the day, I suppose the NCC wouldn't be the NCC without the stinky toilets and malodorous tents, the running out of food and sneakily pilfered snacks.

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