Race-backs and life lessons?

Between 12th Oct 1991 to 22nd Aug 1992, I had the pleasure of being enrolled in one of the finest finishing academies of India. The academy infused and refined my character with a lot of qualities that I never imagined was possible in such a short period of time.

The academy that I am referring to is Officers Training Academy – Madras [now Chennai].

I was super excited to join the training, which would eventually culminate in my getting commissioned into the Indian army. I was a part of some disparate 165 gentlemen cadets from across the country. All of us were randomly divided into different platoons, companies and battalions – which would have far fetched ramifications in the years to come. I discovered that I was a part of platoon named Jessami 13, which was a part of Jessami Company, which was a part of Ranjit Singh Battalion. Post reaching the academy, I discovered that the bedrock of character building in OTA was a troika of gruelling, mind-numbing physical exercises, coupled being perpetually sleep deprived while being at the receiving end of rather flowery language which would serve as encouragement. I am sure this could be classified as stressful times but we were so tired and benumbed that we just stumbled through the days and weeks like mindless zombies.

The 1st term was a blur consisting of physical tests and classrooms training. All our anomalies in thought word and deed when detected by our illustrious seniors or even our ever-loving instructional staff was rectified with a ton of push-ups and other such strenuous soul searing exercises. After a couple of months of l these loving ministrations, the entire “junior termers” were packed off for a camp, which was called “Shatrujeet” [Defeating enemies]. At the campsite our instructors kept up the pressure by devising means to physically exhaust us and also ensured that we were deprived of sleep. I had just recovered from a broken left arm, which meant my endurance base was depleted, which I never realised. And to compound matters, energy conservation was not my forte, which had disastrous consequences for me subsequently.

The culmination of the camp was a race-back. This meant that the all platoons were given a map with a magnetic compass and an 8-figure grid reference [longitude and latitude] on the map and the entire platoon moved cross-country to that particular point. The complete route as the crow flies would have been some 25-30 kilometres, but the pertinent issue was that we were not crows and we had to use the map to navigate. So the entire meandering translated to about 40-45 kilometres. Do note that during this entire period exercise all of us were carrying a full battle load [consisting of an uncomfortable backpack and an unwieldy rifle] in energy sapping ~72% humidity levels in Chennai. My insufficient endurance base stood brutally exposed and I cramped up.

We had set a gruelling pace as we wanted to win but soon I felt a twinge in my legs however I gnashed my teeth and continued with the pain for 2 points. Between the 2nd and 3rd points, my quadriceps gave up on me and I cramped. I could not walk, and I fell down. I tried getting up but my legs were gone. The fast pace of the column came to a juddering halt. All my platoon mates gathered around trying to help.

After a quick check they discovered that I would not be able to move on my own. I had become an albatross around the platoons collective neck and an impediment in winning the race back. I could see various emotions on the faces of my platoon mates ranging from anger, frustration, and resignation et-al. I saw some of the natural leaders in the platoon going into a huddle and a decision made. I was suddenly divested of my entire battle load, which was redistributed, among my platoon mates. And another dragged and hauled me up and started carrying me. This went on for the next 30 kms. I was in a semi-conscious state and at each halt, these guys used to force water down my throat. I did not know what was happening around me. Somehow after being dragged and carried for 5 hours my strength came back and I informed my mates that I could keep pace but was not in any shape to carry my battle load.

The relentless pace never slackened and soon we reached the finishing point, which we finished in a jog trot, and to our collective elation we found that we had come first in the race back. In spite of my cramps slowing down the pace, we had made it. I rehydrated myself and then collected my battle load from my friends with a sheepish grin and subject to tons of ribbing on being a pansy. 

My Life lessons

I learned that life is a race and it’s a team event. You never leave a team member behind. 1 for all and all for 1 is the motto of successful teams. An individual never stands a chance against a determined team. Said Michael Jordan, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” Much water has flowed under the proverbial bridge and now I clearly understand, more than ever, that without the support of my friends and supporters I will never finish my race. I have become empathetic and now I make it a point to help in whatever little manner that I can in the race of life. Persistence and focus can make up for the lack of talent.

In fact, I think I can easily substitute the term ‘race-back’ with LIFE and it would still be relevant.

Footnote – My platoon Jessami 13 turned out to be a super successful group of individuals. We now have 3 serving brigadiers and numerous Colonels in the Army and my brothers who are out of army outside have also created a space for themselves. Obviously I can’t share names.

Let’s Talk


Know More


We believe in the philosophy To Err is Human, to Admit Divine! We are not perfect but we are trying. Keep visiting our website, you will see improvements and occasional blunders, Feel free to tell us how we can improve by writing to