On hearing the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, I jogged my memory to November 21, 1983, when she had visited the National Defence Academy at Khadakwasla along with Prince Philip. A grand parade was organised in her honour.
Being the lowly second termers of the 69th course, we had to face the brunt of gruelling drill practices at odd hours. The parade presented to the royals turned out to be the best in the annals of NDA’s history. The queen was mighty impressed and was quick to put it on record. She said in her formal address, “I say it from the core of my heart that I have never witnessed such an impressive parade in my entire lifetime. It was out of the world. I would like to have the same drill procedures in England.”
There couldn’t have been a better compliment coming from the queen. Prince Philip was also visibly impressed when he witnessed the perfect drill of our table orderlies marching with the table carrying souvenirs in true military style. He immediately ordered his ADC on the spot to get the pen sets he had brought from England. During the parade, as the jeep carrying the queen and NDA commandant rolled past the Champion squadron, the squadron cadet captain (SCC) was supposed to lower the flag as a mark of respect. However, the SCC got so mesmerised by the smart looks of the queen that he delayed the lowering of the flag by a few seconds, inviting the angry look of our admiral commandant, standing beside her in the jeep.
The parade was to be followed by a scrumptious lunch where all cadets and the queen were to partake of lunch in the massive dining hall. To ensure nothing went wrong in this high-profile event, the dispensation of the day had tasked a political dignitary to review all arrangements for the parade and lunch. The suave and dashing horse rider Col RS ‘Pickles’ Sodhi, our equitation officer, doubled up for the prince, while his gracious wife Nafisa Ali stood in for the ‘queen’ for the rehearsals. This political dignitary had a strong dislike for the English menu. This led him to fast forward his eating. He closed his plate, forcing us to do the same leaving all of us hungry.
Thankfully, after he left, the commandant allowed us to have our fill. On the final day, all cadets waited behind the chairs in pin drop silence, awaiting the six-course meal. As the queen took her seat, on a pre-determined signal, all 1,648 cadets lifted our chairs back in unison without any screeching sound and silently sat down. The menu was so impressive that I have preserved its copy till date. It had mulligatawny soup, several varieties of baked fish and chicken in some snazzy sauce, trifle pudding, coffee and chocolates. The band in attendance played different tunes for each of the six courses.
By any standards, it was the best-ever formal dinner we ever attended. We were the Champion squadron and got to sit in the central lobby of the majestic mess from where we could see the royals eating. I clearly remember that the queen took her time closing her plate between courses which showed her compassion for youngsters. The aftermath of the queen’s visit which impacted me the most was the generous waiver, the commandant gave to all the cadets whose punishment runs were pending, due to the thundering success of the event. Needless to say, I was the happiest cadet going around the academy. [email protected]
The writer is a Patiala-based freelance contributor