Art of Sleeping during Training
Long time ago, 46 years to be precise, I had joined National Defence Academy ( NDA, Pune, India) for being trained to become a commissioned officer into the Indian Army. NDA is a joint-services training institute where cadets undergo three years of rigorous military training. These cadets then go on to final commissioning training at respective Army, Navy and Air Force training Academies where the training varies from one to two years. NDA is a very prestigious institute of India on the lines of West Point and Sand Hurst. After passing out from NDA, the Army cadets go on to attend training at Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun on their way to become fully commissioned officers. This is just a preamble as I am coming to the topic of falling asleep during training be it academic classes, centralised seminars or even outdoor training ( sounds funny but happens).
Daily routine in the Academy used to be waking up early in the morning say by 5 AM, getting ready and going for the muster ( a squadron/company attendance drill) and then going for Physical Training ( PT ) , Drill training or Weapon Training (WT) prior to the breakfast. The breakfast used to be between 9 to 9.30 AM followed by academic classes in various wings of the Academy named as Science Block, Sudan block ( named after the country Sudan) etc till lunch time. With array of bully PT and drill instructors plus Academy Cadet Appointments one was sufficiently harassed and fatigued by the time we sat on the breakfast table. The breakfast was a high calorie affair aimed to boost health of budding young cadets and we ate to our heart’s content. So by the time we reached our academic classes in respective blocks, one was literally floating in the air. En-route to classes the Academy Cadet Appointments played havoc and gave various punishments to junior cadets like lifting up the bikes and running with it etc. To top it all, there was a breed of civilian teachers who were posted there in the Academy for a very long time; Each one of them had typical characteristics, accent, mannerism and to sum it up were rather monotonous and boring. Thus a class room was a perfect place to rest. The front benchers had a great difficulty in keeping awake as they could be easily detected on dozing off. Those sitting in the rear of the class were somewhat lucky. I, by virtue of my early alphabetic initials in the name was always alloted seat in the front row. As the boring academic class of science subjects would start, I could not keep my eyes open. Next moment, I would be hit by a chalk by the instructor who would ask explanation for falling asleep. Once I did admit that I was tired during PT, WT and on top it had eaten a heavy breakfast. The entire class had burst out laughing.
Many other cadets also used to fall asleep during classes. Some had mastered the art of sleeping with their eyes wide open. When caught they would offer various excuses which were quite funny by themselves. Some of these were ” No Sir, I was not sleeping, I was meditating” or one even had the audacity to say ” Sir I was sleeping because your lecture is very boring”. Such comments resulted in cadets being awarded minor punishments including leaving the class ( which was quite welcome).
After passing out from NDA, we went on to attend training at IMA Dehradun, a final step towards becoming commissioned officer. Here the training was even more stringent, less in the class room and more outdoor. Outdoor training consisted of tactical exercises, long route marches, camps, battle drills and what have you. At times the cadets who were now called Gentleman Cadets (GCs) would go to sleep even while walking on long route marches. One cadet while walking dozed off but kept walking for about two yards and hit a tree. He woke up for a second and said “Excuse me” ( thinking that he had collided with another GC and not the tree ) and changed direction of his walk still semi asleep.
Most interesting anecdote in the art of sleeping, which I am going to narrate , took place during final outdoor exercise called ” Chindits “. This exercise is in the final term just before passing out from IMA and involved various outdoor battle exercise including a march of about 30 miles. I shall not write the actual name of the person who later retired as a Brigadier from the Indian Army and was my course mate. Let us call him Gentleman Cadet Sleepy Joe. He was very fond of sleeping and once he had missed one half of the duration of a written examination. The Directing Staff (DS) realised after the test had started that Sleepy Joe was not present for the examination. Other GCs were sent to track him and he was found sleeping in his cabin from where he was pulled out.
Anyway now to the Story of camp Chindits, it dates back to October 1971. Our Company had gone out for this training camp along with other two Companies of the Battalion. Fully laden with combat load we were walking through the Shivalik range of mountains (having jungles and full of wild animals) some distance away from the town of Dehradun, India. It was the night-time. One Major from Infantry was the DS who would grant us five minutes break after regular interval ( for Rest and Pee). Some GCs would sit or lean against a tree and sleep off for this duration. To wind up the break, the senior of the lot would go around and wake these guys, in some cases with difficulty. There after there would be a fall in ( muster ) to take the head count of GCs and we would march off again. There was such a five minutes break during the night and Sleepy Joe went to sleep leaning against a tree. There was muster, all correct report was given to the DS and we marched off again. In the morning we had reached our destination objective which was at a distance of about 20 miles away from the location of the last five-minutes break. There was a muster for the head count and one person was found to be missing and that was Sleepy Joe. DS was very wild and he fired the senior GC as obviously he had not done his duty during the last night in counting the heads after the break. And if he had indeed counted the heads correctly then where could Sleepy Joe have gone? Since there were wild animals like Cheetah ( leopard) etc on those hills, there could be chance of a mishap or he could have easily slipped of the mountain during the night. These were our worries. DS ordered us to go back on the route and look for Sleepy. We cursed as we were dead tired and could not afford another 20 miles journey. Anyway, orders are orders, the entire strength of GCs started the search on the route that we had travelled. We could not trace Sleepy anywhere on the followed route. After ten hours of walk, when we reached the last night’s five-minute break point, all GCs started searching for Sleepy in that hilly and jungle area. Sleepy Joe was found sleeping leaning against one tree and was snoring away to glory. He had slept now for twenty hours. In desperation one GC kicked him and yelled ” Wake up you Louse”, Sleepy opened his eyes, very startled and said ” Is five minutes break over?”