The best days in my life were during my stay in the hostel in The Air Force School in Subroto Park, Delhi Cantonment. There are so many memories of those golden days that I could write a book on the same. I was always a very shy person. It was during this phase where I just let my heart go in any direction it desired. One of the greatest joys I used to get during the days was when we used to bunk from the hostel and go for watching movies and/or dinner in Hotel Taj Residency and/or Hotel Maurya Sheraton. It took me a while to join the gang in bunking. However, there was no stopping me once I made a start.
I loved the idea of bunking just because there was so much practice required to perfect the art. We used to have a night assembly at 9:00 PM after the evening prep session. The assembly used to end with a roll call and used to end precisely at 9:15 PM. Prior to coming to the roll call, we got the chance to visit the dormitory to leave our books we would have carried to the prep room. During the short interval for leaving the books in the dormitory, we used to set our quilt in the form of a man and cover it with the bed sheet and almost anyone would mistake it for a sleeping human body. Immediately after the roll call was over, we used to take off for the hole in the school compound our seniors had made for the coming generations. We went out of the school through this hole. At precisely 9:30 PM, a DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) bus number 790 used to pass in front of our school. We used to board the bus. We would get off the bus at Dhaula Kuan. We used to run from the Dhaula Kuan bus stop across to the bus stop on the Ring Road. Always there was bus almost the instant we reached the bus stop. We used to board the bus irrespective of the route number as all the buses in that direction would go through Moti Bagh. We got off at Moti Bagh and again ran across to the bus stand on the radial road. Again, almost instantly we found a bus there. We would board any bus again irrespective of the route number as we would get off near the Polish Embassy. From the Polish Embassy, we would run to the Chanakya Theatre which was about 300 meters.
We would head straight for the ticket counter and buy tickets. We generally had about 10 minutes before the show started. So, we would go to the adjoining Nirula Restaurant. Nirula was a huge craze in those days and we could only afford the All American Hot Dog for Rs. 10. We used to buy it and head for the show. After the show, we would walk back to the hostel as we would have exhausted all our money to take an auto-rickshaw as the remaining money was needed for a bigger purpose. We used to walk from Chanakya to the Safdarjung Railway Station. We crossed the railway station and walked along the road till we hit the Ring Road. We would walk on the Ring Road to reach Dhaula Kuan. We would rest in Dhaula Kuan and have Aanda Paratha and Chai. Then we would pack Aanda Paratha for our friends who would not have bunked that day. After we had our fill, we would collect the consignment and walk back to the hostel.
On reaching the school, we would enter the school compound through the hole in the wall. Here we had to be extremely vigilant as we had to avoid the night guard on duty. We would sneak to the ground floor Class 12 dormitory of Shanti House and enter the hostel through the window. Our seniors were again extremely resourceful in having filed out the grill in one window so that a human body could sneak in. Once inside the dormitory, one of the sleeping bodies would be woken up. He would go out in his night-dress to the toilet and do the needed inspection to find out that the warden was not on his rounds at that time. Once he returned and gave the green signal, we would all sneak out to our respective dormitories. We would quickly change into our night-dress. However, now only safety was assured and the mission was not yet completed as there was still the Aanda Parathas. We would now confidently go out and deliver the packages to the people who would have placed the order that night. Once the mission was accomplished, we would go back to our dormitories and sleep to wake up for the morning P.T. (Physical Training). I cannot express in words, the joy of the exercise and I used feel myself as the most accomplished commando every time the mission was completed. My fortune was that I bunked many times and never got caught even once in my stay in the hostel. Many others were not so fortunate.
It was during one of these missions, we saw the movie “So Fine”. Once we reached the Safdarjung Railway Station, one of my friends gave the idea that we could cut down our walk to Dhaula Kuan if we walked along the railway line instead of taking the road. We all wanted to try the idea and find out if there was a mechanism for optimization. We started walking on the railway line. It was very scary as it was pitch dark and no life was in sight in any direction. The railway line is in a gorge. After we had walked a bit, suddenly we heard some noise behind us. We were immediately alarmed. Very soon, we heard someone shouting “STOP OR WE WILL SHOOT”. My first impulse was to run. I do not know what made all of us at that moment just freeze in our positions. Soon, there were 2 fully armed Army Soldiers in front of us. Very aggressively, they asked us what we were doing there. We told them that we were walking back to our hostel. They asked where we were coming from and we told them that we were returning after watching a movie. They told us to show the tickets. Fortunately, we had the tickets with us and showed it to them. Then the soldiers relaxed. One of them explained that the railway line was barred for anyone to walk on and they had shoot-at-sight order for any offender. This was the result of the high alert that Delhi was subjected to. They told us to leave the railway track at that spot. We climbed up from the gorge and soon found ourselves on the Ring Road. We were still in a shock and walked without speaking till we reached Dhaula Kuan. Once we got to Dhaula Kuan, we smelled the Aanda Parathas and were instantly back to our own selves. However, we never ever took the Railway Track route and did not allow any of our hostel mates to use that route.