When Shoes Said Goodbye to Soles

    I recall ‘CHINDIT CAMP’ which I attended during October 1980. This camp, if I remember correctly, was of twelve days duration. It is conducted about a month before one passes out from Indian Military Academy (IMA). This was the last major endurance activity before one could be commissioned as an officer into Indian Army. Going through this camp, one certainly gets a rare opportunity to discover hidden mental strength and potential determination of self. Revisiting ones strength is not always by choice. Rather, it is circumstantial, more often than not. This is what I discovered while undergoing this camp.

    It made me realize, that ability of a human being is seamless and beyond imagination. It made me recognize ourselves as a store house of undiscovered potential energy, subject to personal realization or some specific exciting reasons. This camp created a template of conditions, where one would walk and sleep in harmony. Need of sleep and rest was so empowering, that hardly did we wait to find an appropriate place. Template of respite and breather was in the opportunity, whenever it came our way. The places where we rested overlooked even the safety towards self. Protection from insects around would not prod our mind. Every second available for relaxing mattered a lot.

    Aim of the exercise was to avoid detection of human presence from assumed adversaries. So movement during the day was not permitted. We kept a low profile during the day to prevent detection. Change of location on daily basis added advantage of evasion from enemy. Moving from one location to another would only be during the night. We had to settle down at a new location before sunrise. Digging trenches at new location was one of the prime activities. It provided protection to us, in case there was an attack having been detected by the enemy. It provided advantage of fighting with added protection. After sunset, the reverse routine would follow.

    Most interesting test of human endurance was our final journey to Indian Military Academy. It involved movement through dry water channels, forests, hills and cross country. Wild boars could be often roar. Their shining eyes during dark nights were enough to indicate their proximity. Possibility of them attacking us could not be ruled out. Horns of wild boars showed all signs of inherent danger. Best strategy we followed was to stop making noises and allow them to pass through peacefully. We could make out from the noises they made while moving in groups, how close they were to us.

    Dry water channels were having roundish and reasonably big stones. They appeared well polished. Walking on them was painful and exhausting. Restoring balance was a big issue. However, they added to easy navigation, as they were prominently marked on maps and chances of losing direction were minimal.

    Packs with heavy weight on backs and shoulders added to our miseries. However, they provided cushion to backs while we rested, wherever we had an opportunity to do so. The terrain being uneven and difficult, it had taken its toll on shoes soles. That heels were the first to be worn out. A stage came, when we were walking with shoes which had no soles. For some time, woolen socks provided interim relief. However, beyond providing some cover to feet, socks had its limitations. They couldn’t protect from against sharp edged surface and other possibilities of danger while walking cross country.

    It was not too far before a stage arrived when we were walking with blistered feet. Remnants of socks reminded us of the toughness of the journey. Integration of socks left over’s in bits and pieces with blistered skin added to great degree of pain and agony.

    At such times you understand the significance of the team, which we, generally, underestimate. That’s when you appreciate and value each other in right perspectives. In the moment of predicament, helping hands came forward. Even words of encouragement from each other mattered a lot and kept us going. That depicted an ideal situation or setting, where we did discover the more authentic side of each other. Those were the footprints and images of each other which continue to remain in our back up memory till date. Sharing those memories with each other at different turns of life have always been moments of fun and cherishment. It created a bond and association for life. Our realization was clear, lasting bond emerges during the rough weathers.

    A stage came, when we could see city ‘DEHRADUN’ from top of the Mussorie hill. Destination still looked extreme far and distant. We were just rolling down the hill, without bothering whether the track existed or not. Pain of walking with shoes, which had soles in symbolism, did not appear to bother much. Walking down the hill took its maximum toll on legs. Most impacted were knees. This was testimony to our endurance and discovery of inner strength. By the time, we reached IMA, we had already walked throughout the night and mast of the day hours on the subsequent morning. Distance which we covered may be more than seventy kilometers. Complexity of the journey was difficult to be measured in distance. It was variety and roughness of the terrain which made it interesting, eventful and multifaceted.

    Versatility of the journey was life’s one time opportunity.

    Efforts to separate remnants of socks from wounded feet were a tedious and painful task. It needed courage and chivalry to accomplish the task. Separation was a slow, steady and deliberate exercise. Once it was done, most of us were walking on our toes like ghosts for many days that followed. Healing process took its own sweet time.

    This was a God’s given opportunity to discover the real substance hidden inside. It left us more humbled and confident. This was a great lesson, in which created a deep rooted base for a team in any mission. It was a way to transform young boys into future army leaders; the most practical way to realize the importance of being connected to the ground. The underlined message was loud and clear, transformation is only possible through self-realization. And the best way to realization is thorough personal experiences. By leaning on these experiences, pain of others could be felt and empathised with far more than what we did before. Pain that troubles for a few days often has the seeds of leaving one strong forever; this was a great take away from the camp. To understand, to feel, to act and to not give up. This was conversion of charcoal into diamond after handling limitless stress, and handling it extremely well.



    Author : Col. N. S. Malhan

    Col. Narinder Singh Malhan was commissioned from the Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun. On having served for almost four decades in Indian Army, he loves to share his experiences through his writings. In his opinion, every life has a lot to unfold. Each life is unique and is a historical document with its own identity. He strongly feels, real discovery is through introspection by looking back in own time. He believes, sharing own experiences are like revisiting life's milestones with more intensity. He thoroughly enjoyed his journey in uniform.


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