Originally posted on 16 Dec 2010 :

The Indian Military Academy in Dehradun is the alma mater for most of our Army officers. That is where they don the uniform and learn the rudiments of soldiering. However, for me and my younger brother, Brig Surinder Singh, it is a lot more. We went there as little children. I was eight years old and Surinder was five when our father, Maj Balwant Singh got posted there in 1949. And so we relate our ‘roots’ with the IMA campus. We have very fond memories of the various activities and so we were eagerly looking forward to our visit  to Dehradun, which was made possible by Col Nirmal Mahajan.

The weather was glorious and all that we saw there gladdened our hearts. The main campus has retained its majestic charm. The environs were pristine clean and every thing was exactly as it was when we first saw it sixty odd years ago. In the evening, Lt Gen Kamal Khanna, a former Commandant of the IMA and his wife, Madhu dropped in to meet us and they gave us an update on the life in the Academy. He is a ‘gentleman’ to the core, and therefore, was fully equipped to be the father figure for ‘gentlemen cadets’

The next day, Nirmal  Mahajan took us to the house of the late Col AL Sethi. His wife  was like a sister for our mother, when we were children. At 87, she has a razor sharp memory. In anticipation of our visit, she had pulled out two very well preserved pictures of the AEC staff of the IMA in 1950-51. Nirmal got the pictures scanned and mailed them to me at once. For our senior veterans who were in the IMA during that period, and might remember some of them, I am attaching a picture. I do not remember all the names, but as far as I can tell, the names of the officers seated and the ones standing in the first row were as follows (some one may help me fill the blanks marked as —):


Seated :Maj Sapatnekar; Maj LEG Smith, —; Lt Col King,(British Army, HAD), Majors Som Dutt, Balwant Singh, and AL Sethi

Standing (First row) Captains —,SS Nakra,HS Chandele, Harbans Singh,RML Bhatnagar, DS Sahi, —,Daleep Singh,—

(The picture is signed by Col HS Chandele, the father of Ajay, who retired as the DGEME recently)

( Please click on the photograph to get the original picture. The image has got slightly compressed during insertion )

Sethi aunty recounted some incidents of that period, and made us feel like little children. The most touching moment followed as we rose to take leave of her. She had two packets of biscuits and envelopes containing ‘shagun’ money for our wives. I protested and said that it was not called for, but she said, “These are my bahus, and I am meeting them for the first time, and so I can not send them empty handed…” And so my wife, who became a bride FORTY FOUR years ago, got a taste of being newly wed! This gesture would reveal the kind of brotherhood that obtained amongst the colleagues in the Academy then. I am sanguine it is the same now.

Nirmal Mahajan had gathered all our friends in the town, and those who have met him know why he is endowed with broad shoulders; it is needed to accommodate his  enormously large heart. He is the head of an extremely talented family in which everyone is enterprising. I was most impressed with the EOU being managed by his son, Saurabh, who manufactures medieval weapons and armory for export to Europe and the USA. Saurabh is an ex-NDA officer who left the army after five years service but has no regret, since he is doing good business.

A couple of pictures are attached for those who know the Mahajans. The name, Nrirmal given to him by his parents is most appropriate. His personality matches the meaning of the word ‘Nirmal’

We returned laden with love and affection.

  1. Inderpal Sandhu says:

    A beautiful piece on roots and reminiscences, not to mention the touching incident of Shagun and Bahus.
    Does the name, Maj. Sawinder Singh Pannu, ring a bell with any of the old timers of the years 1949?
    Major Pannu was on the IMA staff when I visited him in 1949. I was a student at the engineering college, Roorkee, UP.


    But that experience gained at the SGPC Kirpan factory …. paid off in the long run at IIT, KGP …. I would be the first one to make a chisel, hinge, T-square etc …… and guys used to wonder how come …. I was a born engineer…… even the supervisors were amazed ….. all that was peanuts for me …. and my Lab partner was a Bengali girl, whom no one was willing to take on as a partner …. I used to do her projects too….. including making single handily the Smithy jobs.

  3. Om Sikka says:

    Lets have more of stuff like this—-memories are made to relive past
    & ponder—those were the days,


    I really chose them, this was an instant thought process and I replied. I find very few people, who pen down their personal experiences, now a days. Mostly what one gets on the emails are forwards.

  5. Onkar pal Singh says:

    great to c u in NDA crested blazer at IMA.
    pics were really nice.

  6. A.G. Bewoor says:

    I think first person sitting extreme left is Capt PG Sapatnekar, Viveks father. I have never met Col Chandele.

  7. Jasdev Singh says:

    Lovely Pictures – I most enjoyed seeing the old IMAofficer’s picture – Pitaji’s ramrod straight posture – with gritand determination showing steadfastly in his eyes!

    He looks every bit a winner !

  8. Sriram Jayasimha says:

    Perhaps, in addition to esprit de corps, the following story is illustrative.

    Late in 1980, I listened to Arno Penzias, the 1978 Nobel Prize winner in Physics (for his confirmation of the big band residual cosmic background radiation) when he came to deliver a lecture at the graduate school I was then studying at. He said, “You can’t soar like the eagle if you mingle with the turkeys”. I wrote about this to my father and pat came the reply, “You can’t soar like the eagle if you mingle with the eagles either: the eagle is a solitary bird”.

    More than the obvious message, his response at one stroke erased the stinging disdain of the former quotation.

    I miss my father and often think of his attitudes to life. Many of his pursuits could be termed “elitist”, yet the thing I remember his most about was the respectful way he treated everyone.

  9. Surindar Singh says:

    Very nicely written Reminds me also of your dear parents They were
    kind to host my parents and also my dear sister Simran , at the
    time of our passing out . My father was then recovering from a road
    accident and this trip proved to be good for his recovery

    I came to know Nirmal’s father ,as his house in GK-1 was on lease
    with my company Ranbaxy which i served for 25 years after leaving Army

    I came know Col Nirmal and Mrs Mahajan when I was a BM in Nagaland .
    As families were allowed only for two months , we came to know and
    like Mahajans . . Subsequently when i was incharge of Ranbaxy project
    at Paonta Sahib , I used to often meet the family and infect tried to
    Nirmal get him job in my company

    Please gie me his e mail id so that i can get in touch with him again

  10. chinnappa kuppanda says:

    You look as fit as ever, and Mrs Surjit as young as ever…….coming to Bangalore anytime.. the weather is lovely

  11. Ram Gulrajani says:

    Such nostalgic memories are treasures which gladden our heart when we come across such lovely people. The gesture of Sethi ‘aunty’ shows how deep were the bonds and the ‘tehzeeb’ that still exists among old guards. Lucky are those who are still able to meet such people on the fading horizon. God Bless them. The old snap speaks volumes.

  12. SUBRAMANIAN AV says:

    Glad to learn that your Dehradun trip turned as you chronicled. You reap what you sow. When you exude love and affection, you get that in plenty.
    Much of what you experienced at Dehradun is in tact in the values of the Army.
    Happy to read the missive and relate to the attached pictures. May you spread more happiness all around.

  13. MAHAVIR JAGDEV says:

    Just like you old and fond memories evoked such lovely thoughts, which only people who have had the rite of passage to have passed through IMA would be able to understand, similarly most of my friends in Chandigarh are not able to fathom the thought of how I am still in contact with my IIT, Kharagpur friends since 1971 and yearn for my R.H.Hall of residence, where we young boys were nurtured in men, apart from becoming engineers.

    Thank you for this lovely write, do keep on sending many more, I really look forward to reading them

  14. Nirmal Mahajan says:


    I REQUEST YOU TO COME AGAIN AND STAY WITH US..we all..self, my wife promila, son saurabh dil nidhi and krish will be delighted


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