Twenty-three years ago, 42 National Cadet Corps (NCC) cadets left their native land, and represented India in an international youth exchange program (ICYEP) with Canada – a team of 21 cadets went to Ontario and then on to Rajasthan, and another team of 21 went to British Columbia, and then on to Haryana.
For most of us, it was our first time on a plane, the first time out of the country, and the first time we were immersed in a culture that was so starkly different from the ways in which we were socialised. Collectively, we spoke 18 different languages, but very few of us would claim English as our first language. While some of us hailed from urban centers, many of us came from small towns, inner cities, and villages. With the exception of a handful of Defence and Services brats, and two scions of the erstwhile princely families of Rajasthan, we were solidly middle and lower middle class in our backgrounds.
Our selection was an arduous process – out of a potential pool of 1.3 million cadets nationwide, the 42 of us were spread across 26 States and Directorates, and underwent an intensively competitive and brutal series of selection camps, until we were part of the 3000 or so cadets emerging onto the cold and misty platforms of New Delhi railway station in the waning days of December ’93, making our way to the 1994 National Republic Day Camp. A month of blood, sweat, tears, sleepless nights and endless days later, we topped the selection lists for the ICYEP Canada program.
What we did in Canada and then back in India with our Canadian counterparts over the rest of the year deserves its own blog. Suffice to say, it was a life-altering experience. For most of us, those experiences have deeply embedded themselves in our psyches and shaped our personalities, careers, and life-paths.
Today, this group has produced:
– 3 All India Best Cadets – Army (Female), Army (Male), and Air Wing (Male)
– 8 PhDs
– 9 Army, Defense, Commandos, and Police officers
– 3 Broadcast and Print Journalists and Media Personalities
– 2 of the first female pilots in the Indian Air Force
– 5 Professors, Educators, Education Management professionals
– Multiple Entrepreneurs, one of whom recently won an award for their startup from the President of India
– HR and talent recruitment professionals
– Global Heads of Digital Media and Marketing for MNCs
– Doctors and Counsellors
– Director, Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Corps of Diplomats, Govt. of India
– Advocate on Record, Supreme Court of India
– Finance and Banking Heads and Professionals
– Music and Talent Management Executives
– Event Management Company Owner
– Beauty Queen and Philanthropist
– And many, many, MANY more Milestones!
We owe a great debt of gratitude to our unsung heroes, our parents and families who made numerous sacrifices for us, our teachers, our senior EXPA-ites, our friends and fellow cadets, our trainers, drill sergeants, commanding officers, support staff, our Directorates, DG NCC and staff, and of course our long-suffering ICYEP team leaders (I hope your retirement brings you comfort enough to make up for the grey hair courtesy us!)
We met again in Goa this past week 23 years after the Exchange, and at heart, we are still those skinny, hungry kids, eyes bigger than our stomachs, fire in our bellies, chin up when the chips are down, never giving up, reinventing ourselves, moving constantly forward.
My comrades are, in the words of Tennyson – “…one equal temper of heroic hearts made weak by time and fate, but strong in will, to strive, to seek, to find, and never to yield.” I’ve drunk greedily from this pool of brother and sisterhood, and now my cup runneth over. Girish (photo below), we miss you and love you, and hope you are at peace wherever you may be.
To our next reunion!! Jai Hind!
P.S. Five years after attending the exchange programme, Girish (photo above) died in a road accident.
Note: Janta Ka Reporter’s editor-in-chief, Rifat Jawaid, too was a part of the team that represented India in the Indo-Canada Youth Exchange Programme in 1994-95.
About author: Priya Raman is an Associate Professor (Media Effects, Intergroup Communication, Quantitative Research Methods) in the Department of Communication Studies at San Jose State University. Dr. Raman was recently tenured, promoted, and is currently on sabbatical. She was part of the Sudbury-Banskhoh group, Ontario-Rajasthan team, ICYEP ’94-’95)