Ah! Those were the days – very carefree years. Lucknow then was a quiet, sleepy town. Between getting whacked by the monitors and teachers of La Martiniere College (my alma mater – and yes, corporal punishment was more the norm than the exception…) life was a blur of flying kites, playing marbles and gulli-danda. What I remember most about Mart was the adaptability that it taught us – something that held me in good stead all my life. It was at Mart that I acquired the reading habit – thanks to Mrs. Dignum, my teacher and housemaster's wife. She was the one, who made me fall in love with story telling. I vividly remember sitting under the trees by the cricket / football field (yes, barring mind games, I was not much interested in sports…) and spinning yarns to other shammers like me….

Next came the National Defence Academy and then the Indian Military Academy. The sudden move from Mart to NDA was a shock to the system. All at once the carefree days were over. Life in NDA was fun and amazingly transformational, and certainly more gruelling…horse riding, hang gliding, sailing, all kinds of (some very insane) sports, firing and grenade throwing. NDA gave us exposure to a world we were not even aware off. Being a first generation soldier it was horizon widening for me.

It was at the NDA that things started coming together. Here we learnt to handle pressure, to work in a simple, focused and efficient manner. More importantly, here the ‘can-do' attitude became an integral part of our mindset.

IMA was also certainly fun, but I must admit, a rather pale cousin of the NDA. It was sometime now (at IMA) that reality began to sink in – that young as we were (most of us in the 19s) we would soon be commanding troops – soon be responsible for the lives of men. It was a sombre realisation that made us grow up really fast. Even during the Academy days my love for story telling remained alive. I remember hand writing my first book, which my buddy Sanjeev Kanal, would comment on for me. I'd called it “A Cry Is Heard” and can you believe it, it was my very first thriller. Of course, it was not very good and I shudder at the thought of unleashing it on an unsuspecting publisher now, but I still remember and cherish that one.

I was also very active in contributing articles to the various Academy journals. The two I clearly remember were on a cycle hike that six of us cadets had undertaken from Dehra Dun to Srinagar – yes, the one in J&K. It was indeed a long trek, but I remember it well. And the second was a comical love story…hard to believe, isn't it?

As far back as I remember my reading taste has always been very eclectic/eccentric – a bit like me I guess…During my school days I devoured everything I could lay my hands on, but it was Enid Blyton, Biggles, James Hadley Chase and Harold Robbins, who dominated my life. By the time I was through the two defence academies I had pretty much also gone through everything ever written by The ‘Boss' (Shakespeare), Wodehouse, Ayn Rand, and of course the plethora of thriller writers, too numerous to name…This remains a reality even today – I find myself lost in Sun Tzu, Sun Bin, Clausewitz, Mills & Boons, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Salinger, Camus and so many others – just about anything I spot lying around the house…You see I am steering clear of thrillers simply because I'm writing them and don't want to internalise any one else's thoughts, words or style.

(Known for his spy-military thrillers on terrorism, Mukul Deva is one of the panellists at The Hindu's Lit For Life festival. “Lashkar”, one of his bestsellers, is being made into a feature film)

As told to Anuj Kumar

Keywords: Lit for Life

More In: Metroplus | Features | Books | Delhi