Captain's Log

Captain’s log 25022018 – The AFCAT story. Episode 4.

My shoes were black. The dress code was a white T-shirt, white shorts or tracksuit and sports shoe or P.T shoes, preferably in white. The only pair of sports shoes I own is majorly black and this was bugging me since day one. Of course, the instructions also asked for neatly trimmed hair and formal attire for screening day and yet people in jeans and leather jackets, with handlebar moustaches were screened in. So maybe dress codes don’t matter too much? Tell that to the voices in my head.

Day four marks the beginning of our group tasks. We had spent the previous night educating each other about all things going on in the country, so that none of us is completely left out in the group discussions the next day and as we were going back and forth through the topics, somewhere along all of us unanimously paused and realised there was no need to worry. This is how a group discussed things. We were all set.

Group Tasks begin with each batch being allotted a Group Task Officer, a GTO. Ours was straight out of a Bollywood movie. Tall, square jaw, well-set hair and a dark pair of shades. His English had just the faint taint of a north Indian accent but the full command of a military man nonetheless. It was somehow intimidating and inspiring at the same thing. If he asked you to leap from the roof, you wouldn’t leap ’cause he said it, you would leap’ cause hearing him say it suddenly made you want to do it more than anything else at the moment. Our first task was the group discussion. Two of them, back to back, fifteen minutes each. For the first one, we were given three topics and were allowed to pick one. The topic was regarding the various water conservation methods, if we should build more dams, go for artificially connecting rivers or look back to traditional methods. Luckily for me, we had had an ‘environmental studies’ course just that semester and one of the final topics of study was, thank you O’ great stallion who’s forever looking out for me, linking of rivers. However, before I could start fact-dropping #4 and #5 were already knee deep into the discussion dolling out all the obvious points. If I didn’t intervene soon enough, we’d all run out of stuff to say. So I did. However hard we tried the discussion stagnated around 4 or 5 of us and I thought the moment I caught a gap, I should attempt to try to rope in one of the silent members into the discussion, with a casual, “So #4 made an excellent point, but then #7 don’t you feel its rather an overly optimistic viewpoint?”, or something to that effect. You should get ‘good guy’ point if you try to aid your fellow teammates right? But no, #4 ended his talk by posing a question directly at #7. Smart move. You could feel the tension in everyone’s mind. All friendships and banter aside, in the hall, at that moment, it was a competition and each one of us was there to win. This wasn’t going to be like the discussion in our room from the night before. As I struggled to be the smartest guy in the room, the discussion came to an end. The second topic would be given directly by the GTO and we would have no say in it. I have tried hard, but I can’t remember what it was. I do remember that it was something regarding government policies and the start-up culture. It was something I had literally no opinions about. Luckily enough almost none of us did. So those fifteen minutes dragged on lulled with silences and repeated opinions and I could tell the GTO caught up on it as well for it really felt like he ended it a bit sooner than before.

The next item on the agenda was rather interesting – The Military Planning exercise. Ever since we walked into the room there was a big rectangular platform covered with a white cloth. Turns out it was a tiny model of a village. The GTO went on to elaborately explain the locations and added to it a story. The story differs from team to team, for some the chief minister was kidnapped, there was a bomb and for us, it was a bunch of goons attempting to set fire to the food reserve. The story varies, but it’s always a major crisis, surrounded by sub-crises. In our case, we were to assume the roles of college students on a hike, on our cycles. We find a tea shop owner bleeding from his head who reveals that he overheard someone discussing plans to burn down the food reserve and that they were, for some reason, also planning to mess with the railway tracks. Also, one of our friends had left his wallet behind at the boathouse by the lake. So we had the major crisis – grain silo about to be burned down, two sub crises – the man about to bleed out to his death and the impending railway disaster. And of course, the friend’s missing wallet. Timelines were established, there were many alternate routes and our only means of transportation were our cycles. We were all to write down our respective solutions to this problem in our notepads, and then also discuss them and chart out a common solution. The common solution didn’t go so well. Barely three of us got our voices in and it was less of a discussion and more of us trying to convince #4 that our solutions were valid too. In the end, when the GTO asked us to conclude, we had barely reached to any sort of consensus and #4 basically repeated his personal solution as the overall group’s decision as well. Dick move? I don’t know.

Next, we were taken out to the ground. This was what I had been dreading since day one. I don’t do very well in playgrounds. It’s not my turf. However, my recent experiments with marathons and cross country running and the practice sessions and workouts that came with it filled with me an ounce of confidence. Hopefully, I don’t end up looking like C3PO in Hogwarts.

Inside the compound, you always walk in a line. Me being #1 is always at the front. However the instant we set foot into the ground we were urged to start running to the other end. For tea and snacks. After we were done with the break, we were taken to the first ‘Progressive Group Task’. On a patch of grass, there were four distinct set of obstacles. Short wooden platforms and half cut barrels, painted in carefully color coded way lay in what seemed to be a haphazard manner to the eye, but were meticulously arranged to test our in-field decision making and problem solving skills. Each obstacle was set between 2 white lines. The team is given one plank, one cylindrical ‘boom’, a thick rope and a ‘load’, which is an empty paint can. The target is to use these materials intelligently to bridge the gaps between the obstacles and get from start to finish and retrieve all the helping materials and the load. There were five rules.

1) Rule of boundary – The obstacle is considered to begin from the first white line and to end when the last team member crosses the second white line. Between the lines, no one can step on the ground. All footsteps need to be on the provided platforms or the helping materials.

2) Rule of infinite extension – The white lines that denote the start and finish of each individual ‘task’ is assumed to extend indefinitely along both its ends. Essentially it means no smartasses can walk around the obstacle and call it ‘playing by the rules’.

3) Rule of rigidity – No two helping materials can be tied together. You can tie the plank or the boom to the obstacles themselves but not to each other.

4) Rule of something I forgot the name – The helping materials themselves shouldn’t touch the ground at any point of the exercise.

5) Color coding – Both cadets and the helping materials can touch all things that are white, only helping materials touch yellow, nothing can touch red.

Also only when all team members have finished one obstacle can we move onto the next. Which meant we leave no one behind. Which meant the last person has to come up with a new contingency to cross the obstacle while also retrieving the helping material. We had about 40 minutes for 4 obstacles. It was utterly disappointing. The gaps were always just a tad more than the length of the plank or the boom. All 9 of us being first-timers were utterly clueless and spent nearly half hour just to finish the first two. Our GTO noticed it as well and often intervened and gave us hints. Yet it proved to be quite challenging. Often, #9 jumped right in to try out anybody’s idea first, and almost fell a few times. #5 was surprisingly quiet this time. #6 kept trying to get our attention by crying out, “Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” but was mostly ignored. #3, #4 and #8 were the ones really shouting out ideas while myself and #2 mostly figured out what was wrong with each plan almost instantly. It led nowhere. For the last obstacle, our time was already up and the GTO let us move on after only hearing us out on what we might have done if we had the time. At the end of this ordeal, all of us were sure it was the end of us. The next task was ‘Half Group Task’.

It was an opportunity for those who didn’t get to contribute much previously to speak up. There was one obstacle this time. Same rules as before. Same items to help. Except, our band of 9 was now split into two. Odd numbers and even numbers. For some reason the GTO chose to move me to the evens team. ‘Just to mix things up’, he said. This time we did slightly better, but still couldn’t finish it entirely on time without any help from the GTO. The other team finished it in a heartbeat.

We retired to our rooms that night defeated and beaten. Nobody spoke much. I made my customary phone call to home and typed out the emails for the day, accepting failure in both. Claiming my team isn’t going to make it by the looks of it. We had one more day to go. But in our minds, the damage was already done.

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