Who Stole The ‘Three Ostrich Feathers Trophy’ by Brig Jasbir Singh, SM (Retd) Featured

15 March 2016 by Blog 2021 Views
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At night, somewhere around 12 Mar 1963-64, we the cadets of Ranjit Section were thoroughly dejected as we trooped to the Mess from the ‘Open Air Theatre’ next to the Principal’s house, a corner of RIMC behind the current Thimayya Hall[1]. The Boxing Finals had just got over and our hopes of winning the boxing trophy had been dashed to the ground, thoroughly smashed by Shivaji Section, as badly as the noses and chins of our boxers, with Tinda Kumar our class mate being declared the best boxer.


That fellow Tinda was just four feet tall, but he could jump up and execute a nasty upper cut on an opponent twice his height and deliver a knockout blow. We were proud of Tinda our class mate, but the fellow was in the wrong section, in Shivaji, and they had just won the ruddy Boxing Championship! To further our humiliation, there was lot of cheering from Shivaji Section in the dining hall and finally they arose from their chairs simultaneously and went around the mess tapping the rest of us seated cadets of other Sections on our head with tablespoons that they brandished with great pride and zest. As the crescendo of cheering reached ear splitting level, the wooden tables were tapped noisily with spoons in perfect rhythm. ‘Jeet Gaya Bhai Jeet Gaya, Shivaji Section Jeet Gaya’ , they jeered.


Our humiliation in Ranjit Section was complete as we sat at our tables in our part of the Mess, repeatedly receiving goodhearted knocks on our heads by table-spoons. I think that is when a few of us decided to launch a retaliatory strike, as we knew that our colleagues from Shivaji Section would regularly tease us and make our lives most miserable in class till the next tournament. But, what were we to do to retrieve the situation? The loud cacophony of cheering made it even more difficult for us to think and come up with an answer. So, we remembered the advice of our sagacious, swashbuckling and very inspiring Administrative Officer (AO) Capt KC Anand and decided to implement his words, ‘When you find yourself with a problem and no solution is in sight, then sleep over the matter and you’ll find the answer you’re looking for, the next morning’.[2]


Next morning was a Sunday and we met in the Mess, invigorated by sound sleep induced by the knocks on our heads. What immediately caught our eye was the beautiful silver trophy kept on the ‘Centre Table’ next to the seat of the Cadet Captain. The large silver trophy was a beautiful replica of three curved ostrich feathers gathered in a crown, it was the old RIMC crest with ‘Ich Dien’ (I Serve) inscribed below as the motto. We could never forget the number of front-rolls we had executed on bricks embedded at an angle and bordering the Quadrangle, for misspelling the motto as ‘Itch Dien’ (Dhobi’s Itch)! The ostrich feathers had recently been replaced by three peacock feathers, thereby removing all the colonial linkages of RIMC’s past. The beautiful trophy on the centre table sparked off our fuse and set in motion our juvenile plans for retaliation and retribution. In hushed tones we discussed and finalized our plans with utter glee and we gloated on our great brain-wave. We had not heard of ‘Psy War’ those days, but our minds were churlishly fertile with scotch eggs. Even at that young age we were aware that the war we had to fight, could only be won by using the ‘dirty tricks department’!


Like all good battle plans, the plan we hatched was very simple and we counted on it to work wonders in our favour. Our aim was to target entire Shivaji Section, using their venerable ‘Section Master’ as a scapegoat. We decided to launch a ‘whispering campaign’ that would be started with the positive investment of a free ‘Vimto[3] & Buns’ to a well known ‘gossip monger’ from Pratap Section. We were sure he would readily spread the word and Shivaji Section would become the laughing stock of RIMC. The ‘gossip monger’ would be told very seriously that the ‘Three Ostrich Feathers Trophy’ in the Mess, encased in a glass box, was a fake. We hoped to spread the word that the venerable and exemplary Section Master of Shivaji Section had replaced the large and heavy silver Ostrich Feathers trophy with an old ostrich feathers beret cap badge. To ensure that the fraud was not discovered, we planned to spread the word (Psy War) that he had mischievously replaced the plain glass cover that surrounded the trophy with sheets of ‘magnifying glass’. We had planned to spread the word that the Section Master had been ably assisted in his evil enterprise by a Mess waiter nick-named ‘Sondae’[4]. It was to be seriously suggested that the actual silver trophy had been sold to a Kabadi in ‘Paltan Bazaar’ and that the proceeds were to benefit both the Section Master and cadets. We spread the word that cadets of Shivaji Section were receiving Rs 3/- every Sunday, while cadets of all other Sections were given only the measly Re 1/- as pocket money.


Our ‘Psy War’ using the Pratap Section ‘Mole’, worked for a while like a John le Carré spy thriller. It demoralised Shivaji and they neither laid claim to the trophy, nor shifted it to their side of the Mess. They were silent and bore the brunt of all the jeering stoically. The poor Section Master, the smartest of the four Section Masters, unfortunately got a bad name because of our mischief-he was an honourable man. But our battle plan, the Psy War only produced short term results. When they went to claim their share of the loot, the Rs 3/- pocket money which they felt was their rightful share, their Section Master only gave them the same Rs 1/-, just like all other Section Masters. Afterwards, we invented a slogan, ‘Gali gali mein shor hai, ki Shivaji Section Chor Hai’. More Psy War to demoralise the enemy, but it did not last long, only till the next round of boxing competition in which Shivaji lost and then it was the turn of others to go round knocking every one on the head with table spoons !!!


Today, half a century later, all I can say with surety is that our grand plan was not totally a failure. Every time when the old folks go to RIMC and look at the ‘Three Ostrich Feathers’ Trophy, they still wonder with nostalgia whether there is a magnifying glass covering the trophy and whether it is indeed a cap badge masquerading as a trophy! Thus, the mystery of the ‘Three Ostrich Feathers’ trophy continues to this day. The old fogies still ask with a merry chuckle, ‘Who stole the ‘Three Ostrich Feathers’ trophy ?’ The only one who really knows the truth is Mamu our class mate who went on to become the Commandant and whose job it was to have the ruddy trophy polished. We have sworn Mamu to secrecy, though he was from Shivaji, and we humbly seek forgiveness from the venerable Section Master of Shivaji for taking his name in vain. He was genuinely a good man, and we rogues unfairly ruined his reputation.


Foot Note:


[1]        It used to be simply called Assembly Hall or Convocation Hall.


[2]        In those days the only man in uniform in RIMC was the AO.


[3]        The Coke and Pepsi of our times, bottled by the venerable contractor who ran the Cafeteria, Mochi, as well as the tailor shop. The Vimto was an incredible drink, the elixir of our youth. One sip transported to you to heaven, I think it had cocaine or ganja in it !!!


[4]        We had a big grudge against ’Sondae’, the long nosed mess waiter, who was thoroughly disliked only because he outright refused to serve ‘extra’ cutlets and scotch eggs. He would even run to sneak about our pestering to ‘Thopleh’ the imposing Butler, whom we unjustly suspected of eating all the extra scotch eggs, instead of giving it to us.