They were sent to Race Course as soon as they complete POP (Passing out Parade). Those trainees were from Jalahalli and Belgaum for participating RD (Republic Day) Parade 1990. Since billets were overcrowded by P-Staff, RD Contingents were put in military camping tents at AF Station New Delhi, which was one of the biggest establishments. The lines of billets originally made for stables by British. Such was the dwelling at Race Course that we were not disheartened. The large space at dining hall made it possible for five hundreds air warrior to sit at the same time. The CAS visits during National Holidays and Air Force Day. Meals are always available 24X7. Even one misses a dinner/supper at late night; anyone still hopes food for breakfast at mid-night. There were a thousand airmen living even outsiders entered as free rider. It was very difficult for Mess Member to identify them. Thus happiness and foods are really highly connected to everyone.
Our prime task was to practice for parade. There can’t be any more than a mug of chai and aloo-puri at break. There was delicious breakfast waiting at Shanti Path when we were hungry like the wolf. Even fried Samosas were failed to satisfy our appetite. We had several small meals at pre lunch. We were not following the old saying. Instead we ate breakfast like a pauper, lunch like a prince and dinner like a king. Our metabolism was perfectly suited for that occasion. We had a mouthful of everything from the buffet and enjoyed every bite at banquet. They were sumptuous, luxurious meal. The pleasure of meals made us happier as we could take umpteen pieces of chicken leg. Evenings were given us off for sightseeing. We moved around Delhi by DTC. We opted for Delhi-Darshan pass costing Rs 20 for any route of a full day. Many opted for free ride and even readied to pay penalty of Rs 100 for ticketless travel.
7 Race Course (now Lok Kalyan Marg) is just a stone’s throw away from our mess. It was the official residence of late PM Rajib Gandhi. The design from British architect Edwin Lutyens was behind today’s New Delhi. We witnessed horse betting on weekend at Delhi Race Club. The Race Course was founded for royal pastime of horse racing after British shifted the capital from Calcutta. India bans every other gambling activities but it’s holding horse racing events since 1940 as one can legally bet on horse since it’s a game based on skill and specialized knowledge, it doesn’t fall under the gambit of gambling. We didn’t win much but passing time was much more important for us. They were incredibly entertaining, traditional and exhilarating sport.
Evening was another great fun as a movie hall situated inside campus. The best part of being air-warrior was that it was for going a picture at a very reasonable ticket price. After early dinner at 7, we were rushed to reach. We were going everyday come what may. Language movies are played every alternate day. Even South Indian movies were not escaped from us. We remain daily goers despite time constraints. No subtitles for language movies were available but airmen of RD Contingents were determined to watch. By the time the movie gets over by 2200 hrs, we get hungry. Probably hectic schedule of Parade, PT and Health Run got juiced out our energy and those were the cause for our feeling of being ravenously hungry. We move to dining hall once again for supper. The head cook knew us of our arrival for another dinner but never denied. The dinner was not available by that time. However breakfast is still there as being prepared for next day. We took whatever available like half a dozen eggs, bananas, cutlets, bread & butter and a bottle of jam.
People enjoy food for pleasure but we gulped them for hungry stomach. A civilian can’t just believe what a joy of living for being soldier. It’s found that eating better food caused improving behaviour and a great source of happiness. Food is a fundamental part of our lives and a great starting place to make everybody happy. It’s a shift from being away from home to a healthy happy one. We’re avid foodies then but happiness came later.
On this 71st Republic Day, I fondly remember Flag Hoisting Ceremony followed by a Parade. We were marching 12X12 formations along the Raisina Hills listening behind the beat of pipe & drum, buglers and trumpet where Tanks rolling down from Vijay Chowk until Red Fort. We paraded and carried our Tricolour with pride. Toe marching wasn’t so easy to maintain a steady heel beat and cadence. We lose the battle often at gambling at Race Course but finally won the war at Parade. We adjusted the best marching contingent. But there was happiness surely related with food that appeased our hunger. It’s a symbol of true spirit that thousands marched behind shoulder to shoulder. Today there is another live stream from the India Gate scheduled at 9 am. Let’s celebrate it. Jai Hind.
A freelance writer based in Guwahati. He is a former Air warrior with IAF and currently working for SBI Dispur. He can be contacted at email [email protected]